Day 19: Helsinki to St. Petersburg: An early start this morning as we head to Russia. Stopping en-route at Vyborg – your first taste of old-style Russia, we continue to our hotel in St. Petersburg. (Breakfast and Dinner included)
Breakfast: 6:45 Bags to the bus: 7:15 Bus departs: 7:30
Today we were leaving Scandinavia, which meant a lot of different things. Firstly, we were leaving 19 people behind, which I was sad about. I was also sad to leave the relatively slow paced Scandinavia, where the sun was always out, people were nice, they spoke English and nature was abundant. I was going to miss this place. But we were exchanging it for Russia: dirty water, dirty cities, corruption, bad bathrooms, people who don’t speak English, and the remnants of czarist and communist Russia, I actually was excited about this.
I got up early this morning, 5:30. I wanted to actually get a shower before going to Russia, St. Petersburg in particular, and I wanted to try and call home again.
I woke up Nancy when I got up, which I felt bad about since she had come in even later then me last night, but she would be one of the few to see us off this morning. I did get to talk to mom and let her know I wouldn’t be calling from Russia and that I was ok. Then had breakfast and everyone made their way to the bus. Nancy, Leah B, Karl, Sara and Ash saw us off this morning. Later on I heard that a bunch of people from the Scandi part of the tour went to Estonia for the day.
The rest of us got an introduction from Maggy and Ash as we hit the road for Russia. We were also introduced to our day song – Rasputin, fitting for a trip to Russia. Our first stop was just after 10am before the Russia border. This was our opportunity to go to the bathroom, get money, eat and get supplies for Russia. It was suggested that we split a case of 4 large bottles of water with someone, that that would be a good start for Russia since the water wasn’t safe to drink or brush our teeth with. Around Moscow it was realized that some people considered this community water, some people must have taken more then they purchased and we ran out, leaving some people screwed out of the water they had purchased – nice.
We left there at 11:05 and went out of Finland, the customs guy came on the bus, looked very grumpy and stamped all our passports, yea, I got a stamp. We drove through no-mans land to the Russia border. We were told to go in the building and get on line, apparently we weren’t supposed to and were sent back to wait until 12:15. On line I got to talk to a couple people, Fraser and Brittany and some others. The line moved well sometimes and then other times one person would take a half hour. One person had a lot of trouble getting in – he had lost his passport recently and so there was something with either the new passport or the new Visa that was a flag – they even took him to another room. In the meantime Maggy couldn’t find out much about what was going on. Everyone finally finished going through customs at 3:00 and we actually got into Russia at 3:30, then had to change our watches ahead 1 hour.
After all that Maggy gave us a bit of history about Russia and as interested as it was I still fell asleep. At 5:15 we stopped in Vyborg, which used to be part of Finland, and were told to use the bathroom and find the train to St. Petersburg. Well I couldn’t find the train since I don’t read cerilic and the bathroom is best described as a cultural experience. My cold and congestion (I had felt better for about 1 day and then felt sick again) were a good thing in Russia, it’s good when you can’t smell the bathroom.
On the bus Maggy spoke to us about the trip and what to expect. At the hotels they have “Niet, Niet Ladies,” when you check in you give your passport to the hotel and they give you a hotel card (in place of the passport). When you come and go from the room you exchange your hotel card for your room key. By the elevator was the Niet Niet lady who exchanges the key for the hotel card. She’s a grumpy lady and says Neit Niet to everything – she’s the stereotypical old Russian lady. Niet Niet ladies aren’t only in hotels, any time you need something you’ll have to deal with a Niet Niet lady. At some point I looked out the front window and saw the infamous “death lane,” we were in it and straight ahead you saw headlights. hmmm, I probably shouldn’t do that again. In Scandinavia the cars were all very nice and well cared for, in Russia they were all old junky looking cars. The roads are lined with trash and the road isn’t in good condition, and we were on “highways.”
Before our next stop we were introduced to our wake up song – Wake Me Up Before You Go Go by Whamm. We got to our hotel at 8pm, LDM means “youth palace.” Maggy had warned us that it was neither youthful nor a palace, she wasn’t kidding. Just to emphasis this, Fraser got stuck in the elevator, most people ended up taking there bags up the stairs, thankfully I was only on 1, which was actually up 4 flights of stairs. We had dinner at 8:30, it was pork and rice and it wasn’t too bad.
After dinner Anna, our local guide, took us on a Champanski Tour of St. Petersburg. We had stops at Decembrists’ Square to see St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Mariinsky Palace, the statue of Peter the Great (the Bronze Horseman) and the Astoria Hotel (where Hitler planned to have his celebration after he won St. Petersburg in the war). Our other stop was in front of the Central Naval Museum. We also saw the deformed baby museum (we didn’t go in), Stroganov Palace, and Nevsky Prospect. We got back around 10:30 and Maggy set up Dodgy Serge’s samples and took orders from everyone. It was a long day, but a good one.