St Petersburg to Helsinki: Friday 13th March 2009

We had a 6:00am taxi set-up by Maria, our apartment contact, in order to get to Finlandsky station for our 7:17am train. Maria said there would be traffic congestion as this is a main artery in St Pete. We arrived at the station at 6:12am. The extra hour in the chilly railway station did give us the opportunity to observe 50 or 60 old men heading off on various trains to do ice fishing. We knew this because they were dressed very warmly and the give away sign was they were carrying augers to drill holes. Andrew did wonder how far away they had to travel to do this, but will never know.

The Repin train left on time. Reports had suggested westerners preferred the evening train run by the Finns because the (Russian) Repin was crowded and general comments were pretty negative. But it was a good trip. There was lots of leg-room, the attendant bought coffee to your seat (which you paid 30 roubles for or about 66 euro cents), and there was a free drink and snack given out.

The scenery through the Russian landscape was not particularly exciting – lots of snow, quite run-down housing and spindly trees. Once we crossed into Finland the increase in prosperity was evident and the scenery slightly more varied.

We had a lovely Finnish border guard, a quite young man who was quite cross eyed, who once the formalities were completed wanted to know how we enjoyed Russia and which route one had to fly to get to NZ and how long it took.

We hit Helsinki at 12:35 local time – a 6 hour journey from St P. We had a lovely set menu lunch at a restaurant, Zetor, decorated with farm implements and with 2 tractors in the restaurant. €26 for 2 soups, tasty Wiener schnitzels and coffees and one beer.

After dropping our bags at our apartment we wandered around the town. We like this town. People are friendly, a fellow customer went out of her way to help AJ find marge in the Supermarket. Most people speak some English, there is lots of colour and it just feels good. We picked up some cold smoked salmon for a light evening meal at specialist market down by market square which was absolutely divine. There was also a good selection of NZ wines there, Cloudy Bay, Jackson Estate, Martinborough Pinot…

The harbours, on which Helsinki is situated are white sheets – full of ice, with some broken up, and some paths where ferries plough through.

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