Trip Start Aug 26, 2010
Trip End Jun 24, 2011

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A ship

Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Friday, October 22, 2010

I was talking to an American student, Ian, at the university one day, and he told me about a cruise ship that traveled from St. Petersburg to Helsinki and back in only 2 days.  As Helsinki was a city I did want to visit, I looked into it more. 

I researched the companies that provided this service and found that a 4-person room with no window was going to cost over 300 euros,so I got turned off from the idea.  Ian managed to find a cruise for 250 euros.  When would I ever get the chance to go to Finland again?  So, I took him up on it and agreed to join him and two Norwegians, Hakon and Ane, on the voyage.  I actually got my multi-entry visa the day before it expired, so I was ready to leave Russia anyway. 

On the day of the cruise, we met up at around 5:00pm to make our way to the port.  We tried finding a taxi, but none were to be found.  Instead, we utilized the tried and true "gypsy cab," where you wave down any car on the street for a ride and a preset price.  A very new, very expensive Land Rover pulled over and offered us a lift.  I asked the driver how much it would be to the port and he shouted something other than a number..... FREE! We got in the car and he turned his hip-hop music up very loudly.  He spoke to us in a mix of Russian and English, and he explained he was an Irish-heritage Russian Jew from Israel!  That is quite the mix.  After going to the wrong port, we finally made it to our destination.

The entry onto the boat went seamlessly, that is, until I made it to passport control.  I had left my migration card, something all foreigners get when they first enter the country, in my room.  The controller did some typing and made some phone calls, then gave me a new card to fill out.  I was the last person to go through the passport control.  I made my way to where passengers board, and they were pulling the stairs away from the boat! I ran to it and went up the stairs, having to jump over a small gap to make it onto the ship.  I was in.

The boat was like any other cruise ship in the U.S.  It had over-priced restaurants, bars, a duty-free store with very cheap liquor you could drink on the boat, and of course the corny live music in the tail of the ship.  The most interesting thing about the boat was the on board club night club called XXXX.  It had a wine/cigar bar on one side, and a small dance room on the other. 

The ship left at 7:00pm and arrived in Helsinki at 9:00am.  Of course we didn't sleep, so we got off the boat very tired.  The passport control was a massive two-lane line of people, with one side being for EU-citizens (the Norwegians) and of course empty, while the other was for everyone else (Russians, Ian, and me).  After an hour in line, we met up and made our way into the city.

Priority number one was to find coffee and food, so we went to a small cafe.  I ordered a 3 euro coffee and a sandwich from the barista who spoke perfect English, even catching myself trying to speak Russian from habit.  After warming up and finishing our lunch, we wandered into the city with no real plans.  The city is actually very small, so as we walked along it, we saw virtually all of the major churches and buildings in the city.  There was even one ancient church made of stone with an iron dome.  After just simply walking and taking pictures, we made our way to an outdoor market with everything from furs to vegetables for sale.  Everything was very high quality and I bought a pair of gloves with fur lining. 

We ate at a Chinese restaurant and had the only good Chinese cuisine I've eaten since leaving home.  Once we left, we made our way to a few more churches and headed back to the boat.  I must have walked back and forth over the whole city at least twice in a few hours, so a day is actually plenty of time to see everything

The boat was very low key on the way back, and I actually did not stay up too late on the voyage back.  We met some crazy Finnish guys who loved to talk and we watched some very bad musicians play cheesy music to cheesy background music.  We made it back to St. Petersburg at around 9:00am on Sunday and it was snowing lightly. I managed to make it through passport control with no new migration card (that I should have gotten on the boat).  This would later give me issues when I decided to leave Russia again.  Overall, I liked the city, but it was small and could be pretty boring to a lot of people.  Everything was clean and it was a much needed vacation from Russia.  I was actually not excited to return to Russia, but here I am again.
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