On Route Finland to Russia,to St. Petersburg, on May 2006
On Route Finland to Russia,to St. Petersburg, on May 2006 Today is start of another day. Get up early for a good breakfast down in the hotel restaurant. A buffet with great Finnish pancakes. Really good way to start a good day. We are off to Russia today, an adventure into the unknown and back into time.
Your welcome to come along on my journey to Russia, stay tuned for rest of this blog. We gather onto our Contiki bus with Lee driving and head to the Finland russian border? Peter our tour manager, talks about Russia and what to expect, tells us that its best not to drink the tap water.
We stop on route at a supermarket to load up on bottled water. Everyone goes in a buys many large bottles of water, enough to last for the 12 days we will be in Russia and Belarus.
On route to border we arrive at Finland border and get out and get our passports stamped for proof for the Russians of where we are coming from.
We then cross out of Finland and drive up a road to the Russian Border. There a 10 minute stretch of road we are on that is referred to as “no mans” land. As no one owns this area. The sides of the road are full of garbarge and the road itself its quite rough.
We arrive at the Russian border and get off the bus to get processed in immigration. Once off the bus, the guards enter the bus with K-9 and do a quick search of the Contiki bus. We stand in line at the Immigration booth and get our passports stamped, without incident.
However we are waiting at the border for 3 hours, which is consider a quick border time for Russia. Reason, our drive had to go to many booths and had lots of paper work to get process to which is a long line process. We wait outside and talk while we wait for Lee.
Finally he is done processing and enters back onto the bus and we finally are on our way to St. Petersburg. The roads in Russia are quite rough, no lines, 2 lanes and an invisible lane in middle of road for passing to which is shared with on coming traffic, quite different.
Traffic seems that most russian drivers are very brave and will pass vehicles on the gravel shoulders of the road as well. As many cars do pass our bus on the gravel side of the road.
As we are driving we are stopped by a police checkpoint, a police officer stands on side of road and points at bus, so we have to stop. All it ends up being is a permit stop only, once Lee shows permit, we are on our way again. Roads in Russia are quite dirty, lots of litter on both sides of the road that goes on for endless miles.
We make a stop at the city of Vyborg, which is our first actual touch down point in Russia. Its a small town, with some rustic buildings all around. We go inside the train station nearby, its a very grand building but being in Russia, looks like its needs to be painted, a different experience. Outside a public bus goes by and its really rustic, looking, an old bus from the 70;s and black smoke coming out the back. The bus is over flowing with people , as you can see people hands and legs poking out of the windows.
We get back on board our bus and make our way to St. Petersburg. We arrive into the city, its very big and interesting. Many historical buildings all nearby and many many people everywhere.
By looking at all the vehicles on the road, it seems there is a big divide between the poor and rich. Some people are driving old beater LADAs and some are driving brand new Benzes and Cadillacs. Quite unique.
We arrive at our hotel which is ok, but its kinda dodgy, the parkings lots if full of cars with doors and windows missing. The hotel has a bowling alley in it and bars. At the hotel, rules in Russia, is you have to surrendor your passport to the front desk and your issued a piece of paper with a number on it, this is your identity in Russia. The elevators are quite smelly and slow. To get to your room you have to how your card to these ladies who work on each floor that have the keys and they hand you the key, you to give them key when you leave. These ladies are called the nyet nyet ladies.
Now let me tell you about the nyet nyet ladies. In most Russian hotels you get your keys to your room as well as a card that has your room number on it. When you leave your room, you give the nyet nyet ladies the key and they give you the card back. There are nyet nyet ladies on every floor. If you are too loud or annoy them they yell nyet nyet (hence the name) which means no no.
At the St. Petersburg hotel we had our first experience with Russian food. Dinner started with a “salad” of cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers and no lettuce. After that came perhaps the worst mistake ever produced by the culinary arts: Russian food is not good, the food area we ate in was dodgy. The table cloth was stained, all the glasses had mouth stains on them, were not washed.
The salad was ok but the rest of food was nothing good. The main course was just beef strokanoff and some potatoes, hash browns. Mores of a greasy spoon, very greasy, like crazy.
Now we leave dinner for a tour of St. Petersburg. We are greeted by our local guide, named Anna who has lived there all her life. With the tour we are giving russian vodka and I quickly had some vodka, wine and champagne (aka “champansky”). At each stop on the city tour we stop for a drink or 2 or more. It turns into a drunk feast almost, but it is lots of fun. I give you list of places we visited:
St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It took 400,000 people to build it and most of them died doing so.
Nicolas I statue in St. Isaac’s Square.
Bronze Horseman (Peter the Great).
Most of the buildings in St. Petersburg (such as museums and the folklore theatre) are former palaces.
Church of the Bleeding Savior
Most of these sights we get to explore more indepth tomorrow and next few nights.
We head back to hotel and have a few drinks in the bar. Try for first time Vodka and Red bull and nice mixture.
But only a few as tomorrow is early start and I want to see this amazing city.
Off to bed. Stay tuned for my next entries.