Euroland. A fleeting glimpse

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Helsinki, Finland.
Prague time +1hr
Days to get to Prague - 7

Slow down
Whenever I think back to Helsinki I seem to remember only our entry and exit from the city. That really doesn't say much for Helsinki, does it? The fact that those 2 events were a mere 5 hours apart should tell you why there aren't too many things to report from the Finnish capital. Maybe we're moving just a bit too quick?

The trip to the EU
We left St. Petersburg at 9:30 in the evening and we were told it would take about 6 hours to get to our destination. That would have been nice. While the though of spending 6 hours on the bus didn't sit well with either of us it would have been at least bearable had the trip taken the advertised 6 hours. But of course it didn't, and it certainly didn't take less than 6 hours. But I'm probably whinging a bit here? Here is an entry from my diary for that night;

Got on a very uncomfortable bus which seemed to stop every half hour before finally reaching the Russia/Finland boarder at about 2am. Once we had our exiting Russia-entering Finland beer I tried to sleep but had the usual difficulties.

Yep, we toasted the occasion of leaving Russia by sharing (ahhh) our final Baltika beer, one we had purchased in St. Petersburg earlier with our last few roubles. But it didn't help with the trip much. I guess Asia doesn't have the monopoly on uncomfortable overnight bus trips. But at least we got to our destination in one piece. We though we might run into difficulties at the boarder check because if you've been following along you may recall we were not given back our customs forms when we entered Russia from Mongolia a few weeks earlier? This stamped form is supposed to be surrendered upon exiting the country as a way to prove you're not taking more out than you brought in. Cheap vodka anyone? But I guess the Russians don't really care about that sort of thing, at least not at this broader crossing and not at 2am in the morning. What they did seem to find interesting was my passport which was taken away for further, back-room, analysis. Probably best that I didn't find out what that was about.

Boaring Helsinki?
With all my bitching about the bus trip I guess I did manage to sleep somewhat because I vaguely remember arriving in Helsinki. That was about 6am, only 3 hours late. We were allowed to stay on the bus until 8:30am but trying to sleep on the motionless bus was no easier than on a moving one. At eviction time we made our way to the main train station, a few minutes walk from the bus stop. Aside from having a pamphlet on Helsinki that I had acquired in the hostel in Moscow we had no idea about what to do or see in the city. Nor did we have any idea how long we'd be hanging around and no desire, for the few hours after we got off the bus at least, to do anything other than get some information on our surroundings and have some sort of a wash. Walking the streets to the train station the contrast between rough-around-the-edges Russia and clean, modern Helsinki was striking. The city, its streets and buildings, are clean, modern and ordered and its habitants are well dressed, happy looking people who have euro currency in their pockets and, mostly, speak English. While all that was in some way comforting it made me realize within minutes of walking the streets of Helsinki just how unique Russia and its people are.

Having made our way to the train station we took some time refreshing in the surgically clean toilets before waiting for the tourist information desk to open. When it did it was manned by a polite, blond-haired (of course) English speaking lass who, unknowns to herself, failed to convince us to spend any more time in the city than we deemed necessary to see the few 'sights' Helsinki has to offer. She also divulged to us the ferry timetable to Estonia, our next stop a short ferry ride across the Baltic Sea. We then decided that the 4 hours we had to kill before the next scheduled sailing was enough for us to complete a quick loop of the key sights of the city, 4 hours we spent scooting from sight to sight. If you bother to check out the pictures you'll see photographic evidence of our goings on and, as a bonus, you'll also get to witness the momentous occasion that saw the Henkster spend his first ever euros. For 2 coffees no less. Enough said. Get to the photos right now and we'll speak again in Tallinn, Estonia.
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