Vaasa to Helsinki to St Petersburg to Moscow (Day 32 to 40)
Unfortunately, this chapter will have to be rather brief, as it's the eve of our Trans-Siberian (Mongolian) journey and there's quite a lot to sort out. Also, there's a small French child hovering near the computer who keeps tutting rather loudly and four beers are chilling nicely in our dorm room for us. We've hung them from the window in order to benefit from nature's own fridge.
After leaving Vaasa behind, we headed for another stint at Hannu and Reetta's place in Helsinki along with Antti. We managed to rise in enough time for the 9:15 train, but as our sleeping patterns had altered significantly it was a bit of a chore. We split the chores we had to tie up in Finland over the 4 days to ensure that we were keeping ourselves reasonably busy. Aside from the little odd-jobs, we celebrated Hannu finding new and improved employment and generally just tried to prepare ourselves for Russia and beyond with minimal expenditure (very difficult in Helsinki). Upon leaving Finland, we were both happy to get on the road again and as we were slightly out of the travelling mode it was good to have that 'new city' feeling again, where you don't know what's around the corner and there's a sort of challenge in the smallest of tasks. Although I enjoyed Finland on the whole, I think we will definitely have to return with a sizeable pot of money to really see what it has to offer, as it's a big struggle on a traveller's budget unfortunately.
We set off on the Saturday morning and headed to Helsinki station to continue our voyage. The train to St Petersburg was relatively plush and comfortable. However, it was the exact opposite of all other train journeys across Europe as the passport checks were very thorough. First of all, there was the conductor with a Finnish border control chap checking that the ticket and passport correspond. Then there was the Finnish border control doing their routine checks (my passport obviously was singled out for closer inspection, as is becoming the norm). Then there was the Russian border control, which consisted of a 'James Bond-lady' type officer asking 'Look at me' when she was inspecting every inch of my passport and visa. Unsuprisingly, Anne didn't get the same... what is it with my face?! That question was rhetorical, in case you were wondering.
We arrived in St. Petersburg around early afternoon. The metro system was surprisingly easy to navigate around and we were in our hostel within the hour. After unloading and freshening up, we decided to check out the town and as the afternoon had moved into evening, we ended up in the 'Rock Pub', which appeared to be a poor-mans take on a Hard Rock Cafe with it's decor. After sinking a few beers, my inevitable trip to the toilet turned out to be quite intriguing. An inebriated Russian chap had stopped me in my tracks. "What country you from?"
"England" I replied.
"England very bad country".
"Bit harsh, but go on"
"Russia very beautiful country"
"You must see Vladivostok and Island of [I couldn't actually understand what he said at this point]"
"Well we've already bought our train tickets to Moscow and we leave..."
"Moscow is beautiful but you must buy train to the Island" He interrupted.
I could see I was getting nowhere so I just agreed to meet him at the train station the following day to buy the tickets. I don't think he turned up either.
Upon returning to the hostel, we bought a few more beers as a Bristolian (I think that's what they're called) named Steve and his Russian girlfriend Elena had advised us of a party there. When we walked in, a few of the staff were sat around listening to Steve's tale of how he met Elena, which to be fair is a heartwarming story. We jumped straight in and cracked open a few beers and started mingling with the staff and other guests, including a fantastic couple called Heikel and Martina from France and Slovakia respectively. They both study in Helsinki, so we discussed the cost of living there and just generally gabbed the hours away. After taking photo's of ours and Heikel & Martina's travelling companions together, we decided to hit the sack as it was 1am and we only had the following day to see what St. Petersburg has to offer.
The following morning was a struggle due to the inevitable hangovers which ensued. In fact, it was the afternoon before Anne could lift her head off the pillow but we managed to get out and see the wonderful sights of the city and also pick up the train tickets to Moscow for the day after. As the train was departing at 7am, it goes without saying that we took things easy that night. Heikel and Martina had generously left us some wine in the fridge at the hostel, which helped to cure Anne's headache. However, we were in bed by 10pm after I had managed to watch City v Arsenal through the Russian sport channels. We didn't actually manage to drift off until after midnight though, so waking up at 5:30am was difficult.
The train to Moscow was comfortable enough but neither of us managed to get any further sleep. Arriving in Moscow and locating the Godzilla's hostel was as easy as St Petersburg, despite meandering through the Metro system with signs printed in only Russian lettering; we must be becoming dab-hands at this travelling lark now!
We were shown to our 4-bed room and one of our beds appeared to already be occupied as there were sheets already on there. However, we were assured that they were empty, so just as in St. Petersburg, we freshened up and set off to take in the sights. The Red Square is beautiful and the St. Basil's Cathedral is spectacular. However, I think I preferred the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Both were amazing though and definitely must see places.
When we returned to our hostel, we were greeted by Lee, a Chinese national who has spent time in Australia, France and now resides in Japan. Lee is actually taking the Trans-Siberian train on the day before us and so will be literally just setting off as I type this (21.35 local time). Unfortunately, Lee was actually sleeping in the bed which we had taken over, but thankfully didn't argue about having to obtain new sheets and make the new bed up. He had warned us of the other guest in our room and his eccentric nightly activities. We didn't actually catch this guys name but he was an absolute nightmare. He was a British teacher who has just taken a post in Moscow (I overheard a phone conversation of his, as you do), but he must have gone in and out of the room about 7 or 8 times in the night before finally setting off to work at 6am. Our hopes of a good nights sleep were dashed, but thankfully, after explaining the situation to the hostel staff, they have moved us to another room which appears to be our own for the night. It would be sod's law that a snorer moves in though!
So, even though I said this was going to a quick one, it's turned out to be quite comprehensive and I've been taking breaks to speak with an Australian lady called Susan, who has offered us digs for when we're in Australia and a lady from the Welsh/English border called Lucy, who has just arrived in Moscow from Mongolia and has handed us some Mongolian currency to get us started. Susan has been travelling for over a year and Lucy has been going for two and a half years. Both have literally been all over the world! Those beers I mentioned in the first paragraph must be nice and chilled by now so as it's almost 10pm, now would be a good time to wish you a Merry Christmas as it'll be Boxing Day before we have any internet access.
Dusty Vinyard, as they say in Russia.