To Russia with love

Trip Start Apr 29, 2006
Trip End Nov 15, 2007

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Flag of Russia  ,
Friday, June 23, 2006

Lynn woke us at 5am to get ready for the big train trip on the Sibelius - Helsinki to St Petersburg. After 2 or 3 warm, sunny weeks, (I've lost count) this would have to be the only night it rained. We had to put the camper down in the wet, and it would stay that way for 3 days while we were in St Petersburg.

We were met on the train platform by a nice Fin, Aki Snabb, cute name, for our 5 hour trip to St Petersburg with a delay for passport control in between. Passports were stamped by Finnish Immigration on the train before the border. Then Russian Immigration collected them at the border, took them away for half an hour and returned them with the appropriate stamp. They actually changed engines at the border of Finland and Russia

We had to buy a visa for Russia when we bought the train tickets. If you can wait 6 working days it's about 30 Euro and if you want them in 2-3 days, as we did, you can add 91 Euro to that. This gives you a 4 day pass to Russia (one day extra for unforeseen eventualities).

The trip went smoothly enough with the occasional coffee from the dining car. I had a little 2 year old girl, Alexandra, sitting next to me who kept me entertained. Her daddy spoke good English, but between Alexandra and I it was just drawing and cutting pictures. I don't think she noticed I wasn't Russian.

Peter the Great commenced the construction of the fortress named Sankt Pieter-Burgh in 1703 on the banks of the Neva River to protect the area from being taken back by Sweden. The citadel built on the site was called the Peter and Paul Fortress after the apostles. Saint Petersburg has a checkered history of invasions, this is why it was decided not to make St Petersburg the capital of Russia, as was planned.

I have to start somewhere with my description of Russia and I might as well start with the traffic at 5pm on a Friday as this hit me straight away. The traffic lights are just a guide; red does not necessarily mean stop, not everyone and not right away anyway. I think the trick is to drive as close as you can to the person in front of you, so no one can cut in. Indicators are for decoration but headlights on all the time is compulsory (for everyone). All in all it seems to go pretty smoothly for the locals, but for the uninitiated, it's a heart stopper. I didn't see one prang though, and all the cars, mostly older types, looked in pretty good nick. The buses are another story. Tourist buses are fabulous, all the whistles and bells, but the government buses are in bad need of repair, physically they look horrible though I suppose the weather has something to do with that.

It was the longest day of the year, 18 hours and 56 minutes on 23rd of June the day we arrived and also a day of celebration as all the tertiary students celebrated their graduation that night, so the lift-up bridges of St Petersburg remained closed the whole night (one of only 2 nights this happens). Normally the bridges open for river traffic between 2 and 5am, so you have to make sure you're on the right side by 2am. There are 364 bridges in St Petersburg, almost one for every day of the year. It's a beautiful city and one can't help but be impressed with the generous roadways and footpaths, it seems very well laid out for traffic, and with a population of 4.6million people in St Petersburg traffic is a big consideration.
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