En Route To Russia

By Jane | July 29, 2013

4621 km so far.

Considering Stephen slept for about 8 hours yesterday afternoon, it was a minor miracle that he also slept solidly all night, but he did. We’re not sure what’s wrong with him, but we’re hoping it goes away before we reach St. Petersburg, which we will just call Piter from now on, for the sake of brevity and sounding cool.

Hoop Jumping

I have been a little anxious about this trip to Piter. After being given the runaround with our initial request for Russian visas, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on this 72-hour visa-free excursion. We have followed the posted rules to the letter, but there’s no guarantee the posted rules are the actual rules, or the current ones.

I’m finding there’s also a lot to organise and remember when you’re not travelling on your own steam. With bikes, you get up when you want, stick the bags on, and go where you want. There’s really no need to plan ahead, or think that hard at all. Just the way we like it.

When you travel by public transport, you have to choose days, and book tickets, and read about regulations, and print out documents, and look at schedules, and memorise bus numbers, and… it’s annoying and kind of stressful, especially now that we’re really out of practice doing these things.

Another complication is that we had to sort through our luggage and figure out what to take and what could stay behind. We’re so used to carrying around everything we need to live that it’s a real mind-bender to try to whittle that down to one lightish pannier.

For the 376th time, we really wish we were cycling to Piter. Oh well, we’ll take what we can get.

Misreading Signs

Before catching the ferry, we had a whole day to experience Helsinki. I decided to ride my bike around the city and check out the major sights. After much hemming and hawing, Stephen decided he was feeling well enough to join me. His decision was based, at least in part, on giving Jaakko and Yacine a little privacy in their own home, of which we had completely robbed them yesterday.

Cycling in Helsinki is so easy. There are bike paths almost everywhere, and even signs pointing you in the right direction. We started with some of the big sights: the central market, Helsinki Cathedral, the train station, and the main shopping street.

As you would expect, around every corner is another example of gorgeous Finnish design.

We then headed to a little district south of the center with some vegetarian restaurants we’d looked up.

After eating lunch at an OK veggie restaurant, we did the big chore of the day – getting food for our ferry ride tonight. The last thing we want is to be stuck eating whatever passes for vegetarian food on a 3rd-rate cruise ship.

We opted for a few rolls of veggie sushi, which was breathtakingly expensive, even from the cheap place. Money just seems to slip through one’s fingers in Finland.

Cycling back through the city streets to the apartment, we saw our ferry docked in a different port than the one indicated on the website. This port was very near the apartment, within walking distance. “That’s weird,” we thought. “I guess it has to dock there until it’s time to load.”

That last sentence is an excellent example of foreshadowing, folks.

Burning Banknotes

Around 4pm we headed for the bus stop where we would catch a bus to take us to the tram station to take us to the ferry terminal. Yep, we took the breathtakingly expensive public transport. €2.80 each for a ride of about 4km! Dear Helsinki, did you know public transport in Tallinn is free?

As you may have guessed, when we arrived at the ferry terminal, clearly indicated as the correct terminal for departure on the ferry line’s website, it was deserted. All closed up. No one around. Nada.

Fortunately, there was a lone taxi outside, and the driver knew where we needed to go, as did we, since we had seen our ship in port just a few hours ago. Sigh.

Dear St Peter’s Line, I want my bus fare and the €25 taxi fee back!

Our planned arrival time included a good hour of buffer for mistakes just such as this, but still, I couldn’t help feeling miffed. I am looking forward to getting online and seeing exactly where I went wrong. Because I looked the information up like 3 or 4 times, and I had never heard of Olympia Port until I check to see where we were departing, so I’m pretty sure the website is full of misinformation. However, everyone else seemed to know where to go, so I can’t help thinking there was something defective in my planning process.

Jane’s note from the future: When we got to Piter, Stephen looked up the information again, only to find the St. Peter Line website was down. “They’re probably updating their site,” I joked. The next day, we checked again. The information on the site now shows the correct departure port. So either I hallucinated the whole thing, or they are listening.

At least the check in process was painless. We showed our passports and our ticket confirmations and our hotel booking form and they let us on the ship.

It’s about as tacky as we expected, though it’s a darn sight cleaner than the ferry we took from Italy to Croatia. There are several cheesy bars, several different kinds of cheesy dance music being piped in all over the ship, and a couple of sad-looking restaurants, one of which smells quite strongly of garbage. Very glad we have no need of their food.

A final note, we are booked into the very cheapest cabin type, which is the equivalent of a 4-bed dorm room in a hostel. Stephen is in a men’s dorm, I’m in a women’s. We haven’t met our bunkmates yet, but we very much hope they don’t snore.  

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