Monday, July 9, 2012

Three Countries in Three Days! Love Europe

Classes sure make for a long day but the first week flew by. 8am-5pm is a hard schedule to get used to four times a week. This past weekend we got our first break and headed out of the country. VERY early Friday morning a group of 9 of us headed to Estonia for a visit to Skype Headquarters and a weekend away. After two 30 minute flights and a short layover in Latvia we made it to Estonia. We had an hour at our hostel before we left for our visit at Skype. Basically enough time to change into business casual attire and fix our hair and makeup and head out the door. Luckily everything was in walking distance from our hostel, unluckily our professor had no idea where he was going so we wandered around the university for a while. Finally we reached the building we were supposed to be at for a quick lecture on Estonia. The plan was; a forty minutes lecture on the background of Estonia and then we would walk over to the Skype headquarters for a tour. Since most of us had anywhere from 0 to 3 hours of sleep, we were quite tired going into the lecture which did not help. But mostly the professor must have been a history buff because even though  she was quite excited the lecture could not have been more boring and put at least three people to sleep. We felt bad but she should have been more entertaining. She presented a 13 slide PowerPoint with a bullet pointed timeline of Estonia and a quick tutorial on the Estonian language. Yeah not entirely worth our time. But after we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the school cafeteria (yes it actually was good) and the professors led us to Skype. The building on the outside was relatively simple and plain. A simple Skype sign was the only thing signifying the location.

Skype on the inside is much more visually appealing. In fact it was stunning and innovative. The culture inside the work place was casual and designed to feel comfortable, operable, and inspirational. The employees were completely open and free. There are no scheduled work hours, and places on every floor to store your shoes, rooms to work in that were full of color and unique designs, kitchens on every floor, and rooms with special walls to make the sound better to skype with. The building was great and our tour guide was better. She was in charge of making the culture of Skype what it is today and she gets to design every part of the building. She has been around since the beginning of Skype and she is well known as the "mom" of the headquarters. This is the type of company all of us would like to work for. Kids and dogs are welcomed every day, bosses work side by side with their employees, and there is plenty of room for creative thinking. What a great tour!

By 4pm on Friday, we had finished the main purpose of this trip so now we have until Sunday night at 6pm in Estonia. Estonia is pretty and the town center is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, but is relatively small and in one day you can see the whole town. We went to the town center for a little bit on Friday night but didn't stay out long because we all had gone way too hard for the two days prior so we decided sleep would be well received. Side Note: It is only dark in Estonia for three hours of the night because it is so far north. By 11pm it looked like it was 7 maybe 8pm, so it threw us off guard for sure. Early the next morning we headed to the port and hopped on a ferry to Finland!! This was exciting to us to be able to reach three countries within a couple days. All nine of us wanted to go to Finland but since 4 of them slept past their alarms they missed the first ferry out, which left five of us to spend the day together. Through this we discovered that its a little better to travel in smaller groups. Our day in Finland was amazing and we discovered the whole city. We saw churches (one with a traditional wedding going on), museums (architectural), and of course good shopping. We discovered a huge market down by the sea and decided to have a picnic for lunch down there. I ate a mixture of wild pig, moose, and reindeer sausages and potatoes for lunch. Delicious and fun to try something new. Strawberries are in season now so we of course had to taste them, and they were amazing. We spent a good couple hours in the market shopping around. There was food vendors, crafts, and all kinds of goods. I found a super cute winter hat hand-made by a little old lady who did not speak any English. I tried negotiating the price with her but she wouldn't budge. I walked away a couple times but in the end I felt sorry for her and bought it anyway. I love it and its got a Norwegian feel to it so it was worth it. I also finished my souvenir shopping for my family. Successful day? I think yes. I definitely gained a few blisters on my feet that day from all the walking around. We compared Helsinki to San Fransisco because the city was placed on rolling hills similar to San Fran. It was beautiful weather and I was so thankful to get away and discover another city in a different country. By 7:30pm we were on the Ferry back and we spent the rest of our evening showering, and watching Mob Wives on TLC (seriously crazy ladies). Sunday we slept in a little and had to check out of our hostel by noon. We left our bags there and we caught the bus to the town center to walk around and see the sights. We ate lunch at this delicious place that was super hidden. You had to walk behind the building and walk up this pretty garden. The chairs had sheep skin (at least i think it was sheep skin) draped over them as a cushion. I ate the fisherman's special and it was delicious. Afterward a group of us took off and walked around the city. It didn't take us long to find all the sights and realize that we had seen it all already. Sooooo...what to do now to eat up four hours? After asking many strangers who apparently had nothing for us to do, we discovered a Seaport Museum that was awesome and huge. By that time we only had a little over an hour to walk around two floors and a few ships outside. It was disappointing to have such little time but I took a lot of pictures and it was cool to read about the history of Estonian ships, bouys, and ancient boats. Outside one of the boys and I walked around the ships before we had to catch a cab back to the hostel in order to make it to the airport on time.

We accomplished a lot on this one little weekend trip and it was a lot of fun to be able to travel around again and get out of the classroom for a while. My only disappointment was that they never stamped my passport :(

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