Today Julie and I set off on a 17 day trip to Singapore and Bali, Indonesia. We booked Premium Economy seats through Air Canada for just under $1200 return. Some of the cost was covered by Air Canada Aeroplan points.
We had to take a bit of a milk run approach to get to Singapore, travelling from Calgary to Vancouver on an Air Canada Boeing 737-8 MAX, then from Vancouver to Tokyo on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9. We were upgraded to Business Class (Air Canada Signature Class) for only $200/pp on the Vancouver to Tokyo portion of the trip because of my Aeroplan status. We had a six hour layover in Tokyo and used it as an opportunity to take a shower ($10), and relax in the lounge. COVID is currently having a major impact on Japan at the moment, and foreigners are not allowed to visit, unless it’s for business purposes, therefore the airport was ominously quiet. In fact, our flight was the only one that evening, as you can see by the flight billboard. Originally we were only supposed to have a four hour layover, but our next flight was delayed due to a late arriving inbound flight.
The next leg of our journey was on a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER to Singapore in Premium Economy. The seats were fairly comfortable, however the food wasn’t as good as on Air Canada.
We finally arrived at 3:45am and checked into our hotel; Yotel Singapore Changi, a pod style hotel which is located inside The Jewel at the airport. I have previously stayed at a Yotel hotel in Amsterdam in 2018 when I went to Kenya. You can checkout my blog on that adventure here. The Jewel is a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex inside of Changi Airport. The Jewel, which cost $1.7 billion to build, was opened in mid-2019. It features the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the Rain Vortex, and is surrounded by a luscious terraced forest setting. I’ll check it out more tomorrow morning.
The Rain Vortex was designed by WET Design, which has created some of the world’s most famous fountains including The Dubai Fountain, Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, 1988 Lisbon Expo Fountains, Fountain of Nations at EPCOT in Florida, etc. I’ve seen all the above forementioned fountains, with the exception to the Dubai Fountain, as I’ve yet to visit Dubai. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) was founded by Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson in 1983. All three worked as Imagineers at Disney. Their original creation was the Leapfrog foundation at EPCOT.
Having been awake for over 30 hours it was time to get some sleep. We opted to not set an alarm, as we wanted to catch up on some much-needed sleep. It was about 4am by the time we went to sleep.
Today I slept in until 8:30am. After getting dressed I walked a few minutes away to Cafe Rotermann and had a coffee and a traditional Estonian breakfast.
First stop of the day was Patarei Prison, a former sea fortress and prison, located on the shore of Tallinn Bay. The fort was built between 1830 and 1837 as part of the fortifications for the tsarist Russian state. In 1863, Tallinn was removed from the Russian Empire’s list of fortressses due to Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, and the fort was converted into a barracks. After the Republic of Estonia declared independence in 1918 it was reconstructed into a prison, and was used until 2005. Patarei is one of the most prominent symbols of Soviet and Nazi political terror. The prison was closed and is currently planned to open as a museum in 2025. I was able to sneak a few photos of the site, due to poor security. I had to be careful as there was barbed wire everywhere. What a special treat it was to explore this place!
Second stop was the Town Hall Pharmacy, which is Tallinn’s oldest pharmacy, of Europe’s oldest pharmacies, dating back to the early 15th century.
Close by is St. Catherine’s Passage, also known as Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street to Müürivahe Street. The alley is lined with buildings that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries. The alley retains its medieval charms and was last restored in 1995.
When you exit St. Catherine’s Passage you can see Hellemann Tower and the Town Wall Walkway. Hellemann’s Tower, a three-story tower, dates back to the 14th century, and is integrated into the Town Wall.
It was time to grab some lunch, and I didn’t feel like sitting down at a restaurant, so I just grabbed a cheeseburger from McDonald’s.
My final stop in Tallinn was the KGB Museum at the top of Hotel Viru. Hotel Viru was completed in 1972. The building was the first high-rise building in Estonia. The Soviet Union hired a Finnish construction company (Repo Oy) to build the hotel. Construction started in July 1969, however the construction company went bankrupt in the middle of the project in 1971 due to a fire breaking out on the top floors in December 1970. Finland found another company to finish the project, and the hotel was opened on May 5th 1972. During the Soviet era, the 23rd floor of the hotel housed a KGB radio centre, which was used to eavesdrop on hotel guests. 60 of the ~500 rooms had concealed espionage devices, as well as some of the tables at the hotel restaurant. They were even clever enough to hide espionage devices in cigarette trays.
The KGB, known as the Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 to 1991. It was the chief government agency of “union-republican jurisdiction”, carrying out internal security, intelligence and secret police functions. The KGB was officially dissolved on December 3rd 1991 when the USSR fell apart.
The KGB left in a hurry in August 1991 when Estonia gained independence, and the secret rooms were not found until 1994! The former radio centre is now a museum, and is left virtually untouched from how it was found. The hotel is still in use today, with 516 rooms.
Once I arrived at the airport I went through security. I made a mistake at security and forgot to drink all my water in my water bottle, so I was pulled aside to check my bags. While my bags were being checked there was this elderly Russian lady who was also getting her bags checked. The security guard unzipped her bag and pulled out two containers. Container #1 had some weird dark brown frothy liquids, however was under 100ml. He asked her some questions in Estonian, and she responded in Russian and used a lot of gestures. He placed the container back in the bag. Container #2 was a re-used gummy vitamin container (~250ml) that had a clear frothy liquid in it, with… a bunch of leeches! He pulled her aside and they went into a private room with the bottle. I’d love to know the discussion that occured in that room. Upon returning he placed the bottle back in her bag, and zipped it up. It appears she was likely using the leaches for some old wives tale treatment…
After going through security I had a beer, and a croissant with ham and cheese while I waited for my flight. My flight to Helsinki was on a NORRA (on behalf of Finnair) ATR-72. This was my first time flying on an ATR-72, and it was really neat to watch the de-icing boots work on the short 30 minute snowy flight.
Once I arrived in Helsinki I took the train into the city, which took about 45 minutes. Once I arrived at the central station I took a short walk to Friends & Brgrs, and had an absolutely scrumptious cheeseburger, while overlooking the busy street below.
Next door was a liquor store, where I picked up a few IPA’s, before heading to my hotel to check in. Alcohol in Finland is by far the most expensive of all the European Union countries.
It was time to check-in to my hotel; Noli Studios Katajanokka. The room was $115/night which was actually a steal for Finland, which is one of the most expensive countries in the European Union to visit, besides Norway. The room was very well appointed, with a small kitchen, a gorgeous bathroom, a small living room area, and a bed on a raised part at the back. After checking in I went downstairs and spent a few hours in the spa.
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