Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Eurotrip 2012 - Day 7 (6/21) - To Helsinki

We woke up a little earlier because we wanted to hit up a couple of sites before catching the train to Helsinki. We were just about ready to head out when they brought in breakfast a little after 9. This time they gave us a small pancake stuffed with jam, a peach, yogurt, and a flan-like (only not as disgusting) thing with cream that I couldn't identify. After eating, checking out, and stowing our big bags, we left the hotel around 9:45, about 15 minutes later than planned.

We took the metro to Gorkovskaya and walked to the nearby Peter and Paul Fortress. The fortress is apparently free to roam about, but we bought tickets for the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Trubetskoy Bastion prison. We first headed to the cathedral, but we found the entry queue too long for our liking so we walked over to the prison instead. After touring the mostly unimpressive prison (except perhaps for the exit door that I couldn't figure out how to open because I temporarily forgot how to read signs), we headed back to the cathedral and joined the long line. We eventually went through and took some pictures, then headed to the Neva Curtain Wall. We noticed that there were a lot of people on top of and around the wall looking at, and even filming, something to the west, but we didn't know what was going on. We climbed the stairs to the top of the wall, but didn't go through the turnstile since we chose not to buy tickets for the walk around the curtain wall. We were just hanging out up top when we noticed that some music that had been playing stopped. Then suddenly there was a super-loud boom - they had just fired a blank round from one of the big artillery guns on top of the wall. We were slightly stunned, as we were not expecting that at all. When the church bells began ringing a few seconds later, we reasoned that this was something that was done daily at noon. After sufficiently recovering our senses, we headed over to and through the Neva Gate to check out the river below. This was the last thing we did before leaving the fortress.

After the fortress we trekked across the Neva River, through Marsovo Pole (the Field of Mars), and to the Church on Spilled Blood. Though impressed, Joe still maintained that St. Basil's Cathedral was better (mostly because it was on the Tetris cover). We then walked down to Nevskiy Prospekt and found a restaurant near the metro station to have lunch. The place was classier (and more expensive) than we had been frequenting on the trip, and the food was good (though the portions may have been a bit small). I has some beef stroganoff and mashed potatoes while Joe had the hot borscht with sour cream. After eating we took the metro back to the hotel, arriving a little after 2:15. We immediately gathered our bags and headed back to the metro station to go to the Finlyandskiy train station. There, we boarded the 3:25 train to Helsinki.

Both the Russian and Finnish border patrol didn't let me slip through very easily. The Russian officer kept looking at my passport picture, and at me, and even had another officer check it out. Both of the Finnish patrolmen asked extensively about my/our travel itinerary, but Joe was able to placate the first one by asking about the Chicago Blackhawks tattoo on his arm. The train ride took about 3.5 hours, putting us in Helsinki around 6 PM (since they are one hour behind SPb).

When we arrived in Helsinki we walked from the train station to our hostel, the Domus Academica, which took about 20 minutes. We checked into our private room, and then went searching for dinner. We found a kebab restaurant, where Joe and I each had a huge kebab meal (though I had garlic potatoes as my side dish while he had rice). We then walked to a frozen yogurt shop, making it 2 minutes before they closed at 9. I had €3.35 worth (not that much, really) of frozen yogurt, even though I was stuffed from the kebab that I didn't even finish. We walked over to Temppeliaukion Church (the "Rock Church") just to scope the outside, knowing full well that it would be closed. On the walk back to the hostel we stopped at a small grocery store across the street to pick up some cereal, milk, and juice for breakfast the next couple of days (instead of each paying the hostel €7 each day). After putting the stuff away we went downstairs and eventually found a couple of seats in front of their tiny CRT TV in the lounge to watch Cristiano Ronaldo go beast mode again on the Czech Republic in the Euro 2012 quarterfinal game. After that we went up to the room and went to bed.

Observation of the day: This is nothing unexpected but...Helsinki has a totally different (and way more Western) feel to it than the Russian cities. There was a lot more change going the shorter distance from SPb to Helsinki than from Moscow to SPb. This is totally understandable, but for some reason was a bit jarring (not in a bad way) for me - I had become used to being a complete foreigner after 6 days in Russia.

1 comment:

  1. I find it strange that the Russian border patrol had a lot of questions for you as you were leaving the country. I mean you were leaving, if they wanted to interrogate you, shouldn't they have done it on the way in? I should probably be in charge of Russia, they obviously don't know what they are doing.

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