19-30 April, 2010
Kata was still in Russia, so I went to Russia again. Can't get enough of that girl. The world tried pretty hard to stop me going, and I could barely sleep the night before my flight, as Eyjafjallajökull had been busy shutting down as many airports as possible in europe. But there was a six hour window into central Finland, so my Helsinki flight became a Tampere (where?!) flight, but I got there! We were among the first flights in Europe after the shutdown, and the first into Finland, so there were hoards of reporters there, taking pictures of us coming into land and interviewing travellers. And then we all got on buses that took us into Helsinki, a couple of hours away.
Fun fun! The first time I went to russia, I flew into St Petersburg via Riga, and the second time I flew into Moscow. This time, I was going more russian, less tourist. Kata had organised me onto a Marshrutka, basically a minibus taxi service, that would take me from downtown helsinki, to Kata's doorstep in St Petersburg for only 30€. Deal. Of course, you could be crammed into capacity, like my friend Ásta, who spent 7 hours sitting on the middle of the front seat wedged between two large russian men. I was lucky, there were only three passengers today. It's quite a ride, particularly if you don't speak russian :) At the border you get out, you follow some hand directions, you stand around, you wait, you follow more hand directions, and you get back on the van, and eventually, you're there. Pretty straightforward really, as long as someone organised the address with the driver first :)
I had two weeks in St Petersburg this time around, but having seen a lot of the major sights in the last two trips, this time I got to enjoy just spending time with Kata, and doing the smaller, odder, more out of the way sights, and doing general life things instead of tourist things. I bought new shoes and clothes, I went to the mall, I tried a bunch more russian foods, like pyshka (пышка) which are super airy deep fried donut sort of things, served straight from a fryer, and buried in icing sugar. Delicious, and outrageously cheap. They were often sold in tiny little hole in the wall cafes, standing room only, at small benches on the walls, selling only pyshka and tea, or maybe soft drinks. I thought they were tasty, Kata doesn't agree :)
I went for more walks around other parts of town, finally getting out to see Smolny Convent and Cathedral, and the political history museum, which had, amongst other things, one of Vladimir Vissotski's guitars. I went to the Artillery Museum finally as well, which had been on the list since the first trip. That place is insanely huge, and if it had all had labels in english as well, I'm not sure I ever would have gotten out of the place. It's an enormous building, and absolutely crammed with relics.
One thing I felt, was that even in the last year, and certainly since my first visit, was how _fast_ St Petersburg was modernising. We got in taxi's that were new Mercedes, instead of Ladas, and indeed, there seemed to be less Ladas and Volgas on the streets total. The clothes were becoming more western, less vinyl and garish colours.
All too soon, as always, it was time to go home, but Kata was moving home in the summer, so it wasn't going to be too long til I'd see her again. However, the marshrutka was fully booked this time, and I ended up on the train, another option for Helsinki-Petersburg travel. A little more expensive, about 60€ if I remember rightly, but still cheaper than a plane. It's roomier than the bus too. And of course, a different view. Most of the drive into russia had been at night, but my trip back to Helsinki was during the day, so I got to see it all go past. And, as you can see, it's mostly the same :) At least the eastern parts of Finland are basically identical to the Russian side. The workmen wear different coloured vests, but that was about it.