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Trip Start Feb 05, 2006
Trip End Jun 30, 2006

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

From Joensuu to Saint Petersburg (II)

There's a direct bus from the Joensuu main train station to Saint Petersburg. The bus drives by several important places in Saint Petersburg, i.e. Hotel Europe, and costs 25 € for students. It leaves Joensuu on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The train is more comfortable but also triple the price. It takes three or four hours longer than the road travel.

As I sat down in my chair and the bus pulled out of the parking lot of the Joensuu train station, I felt sad. Sad to leave my finnish friends, this great and beautiful country, this wonderful and lovely place. My English really isn't good enough to describe the beauty of the land and its people in an appropriate manner. I thought about switching this blog back to German but gave it up again, since many of you readers don't know German. Leaving Joensuu, I already felt how I would miss the peace and tranquility of this quiet town in East Finland. The laid back people, the great lakes. Sparkling sunshine on crystal clear waters. The sky never turning dark at night. Fresh and clean air permeating every cell of my lung. For sure, I will be back. Maybe for a lifetime...

I tried to sleep. It didn't work. I pulled out a book. Erick Kästner's Drei Männer im Schnee (Three Men in the Snow). The book was a good read. Easy going, not too much to think. Nevertheless, there was a moral inside, you had to think about it. In the end everything was ok. As always. I haven't read all of Kästner's books, but it seems like in the end always everything's ok. Drei Männer im Schnee is a about a millionaire (his name is Tobler) from Berlin who decides to travel to a luxury hotel in Switzerland, disguised as a poor man who won a contest about advertising in a newspaper. In this way Tobler wants to study people, find out how they really are. Excellent read. Especially while traveling.

After reading the small book (unfortunately there is no dimunitive in english, because this would be the right place to use it), my eyes were tired. The bus stopped at a gas station so that I could get off and buy some salmiakki (world famous sweets from Finland) and coffee. Back in the bus, I enjoyed the sweets and the drinks while the Russians were smiling at me. They must have thought that I'm a Fin. They also must have thought that salmiakki and coffee are absolutely disgusting, when consumed together, which is why their smile hat some traces of disgrace inside. Still, their smile was warm and understanding.

I gave up sleeping. It just didn't work. I thought, maybe the coffee would make me a bit tired. But it didn't. So I took another book out of my bag: Kopfgeburten (Creations of the mind) by Günter Grass.

Talking about everything and nothing at once and leaving the reader behind in a chaos full of fear and confusion, Kopfgeburten was quite interesting to read. Grass discusses Germany and its people in a multilayered story. Reading the book, soon I felt that the two major emotions felt in Germany are fear and worry. If people here aren't worried, they are afraid of something for sure. And if they don't feel fear, at least, they are a bit worried.

Always thinking. We Germans are always thinking. Back in Germany I was constantly offered life insurance packages or to participate in private retirement funding programs. At the time I was 21. I felt much too young for anything connected to old age (besides my grandparents). The agents would always say: "You cannot start this soon enough, you have lost precious time already." When I was born, I should have ordered my coffin already.

After a while we had reached the city of Imatra. From here it was only 20 minutes to the Russian border. A lot of Fins got on the bus, some of them with Russian speaking wives. We left Imatra and everybody on board prepared for the border crossing. Europeans filled in the Russian registration cards.

The border crossing at Svetogorsk proceeded without any difficulties. Nobody had stayed in Finland too long. Everybody had a visa for Russia. It just took some time at the Russian side. The x-ray machine didn't work, so some of us had to unpack all of their stuffs on a table. The Russian officers examined the old clothes with a smile and let us go.

The bus went through the border crossing quite fast. Maybe the bus driver had connections. He's doing the trip every day. The other cars were still waiting outside when we left the building at the frontier. There were even some people going by bike. I heard, the Russian officers wouldn't allow this. Moreover, I heard, they would also prohibit to cross the border on foot (maybe to give the taxi drivers a chance to make some money).

We went towards Russia. Before leaving the border, we got checked once more by a Russian officer (the third check). He examined whether we all had the stamps in our passports. This is part of the Russian approach to things, at least the approach the officials have: checking everything twice or thrice, just check one part at the time. In the West, there's only one check, but it's profound. It is important to understand, that the Russian officials in no way represent the Russian people (there are so many officials, however, that you could easily be trapped into this assumption). Don't forget that Russians and foreigners are harassed by the Russian officials alike. It seems like the Russian officials just want to make life hard for everyone. Don't forget, they are just doing their job. And they get paid so little. It's all a bit complicated and not so well.

Back to Kopfgeburten. Grass writes in a confusing way. His book looks like my room: it's total chaos. I like his writing style. The main characters of the book, Harm and Dörthe, are a married teacher couple. They are quite intelligent in terms of how much they know. Otherwise they are just two dumb kids in the disguise of adult bodies. They are discussing whether they want a baby or not. They always find excuses not to have one, i.e. the world is a bad place, there will be a nuclear power plant in the neighborhood, our president is a looser, ... etc. .

I didn't know Grass was that political. But this book is quite political. I finished it. We were almost in Saint Petersburg by then. I gave my eyes a little break. Just rest. Watch the country move by in the window like on a silver screen. The trees in Russia were not as green as in Finland. Obviously, the roads were not as good. Trash everywhere. Smoking chimneys arose on top of the green forest roofs. Heavy industry everywhere.

Petersburg was jammed in traffic. There seemed to be no order. Just watching people, cars, buildings, lights, traffic lights, ... made me very exhausted and tired. I started a third book. Der kleine Grenzübergang (The Small Border Crossing) by Erich Kästner. I couldnt focus anymore. I had read too much already. I just closed my eyes and waited. After one hour or so the bus dropped me at hotel Europe. From there I walked over to FINEC. Went upstairs into my horrid little room and tried to sleep. It didn't work. So I read. It didn't work. So I packed the clothes for the next day. It didn't work. Then Sandra showed up. We smoked and drank some tea. There were many new people in our dorm. A German-Russian couple who had come to Petersburg for honeymoon. Some Russian girls, maybe 12 or 13, always giggling like chicken.

Nothing had changed. I felt like I couldn't breathe already. I was sweating. The loud music from the streets banged into my ears. My pulse went up. I just wanted to go home immediately.
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