Day 5: Breaking news – Aussie tourist reaffirms Finland is part of Europe
Worth a mention:
- Petrol here is €1,1189 / AUD $1.53
- I entered Sokos department store to the sound of Gabriella Cilmi’s ‘Save The Lies’ across their speakers
- Matt: “I think if we had our own radio show no one would listen but we’d have a good time.”
- Guy from our hostel dorm: “Last night, one guy was snoring really loudly. And then, another guy started up soon after as if to say, ‘sure, I’ll join in the chorus’.” I hope neither of those were me.
Today, Matt says goodbye to what has been his home for the past nine months and we both catch the bus to Helsinki, Finland. Fourteen of us pile into the minibus that would be our carriage across the border to Europe, almost all other passengers are Russians going to Helsinki for a spot of shopping and to escape Russian society for a day or two. Being a cold morning I was suffering a runny nose and soon learnt that blowing your nose in confined spaces was frowned upon in Russia; the two babushkas sitting in front of me scowled every time I reached for a tissue. Lesson learnt.
The ride out of Saint Petersburg was a bumpy one; the combination of a consistently large number of pot-holes, our driver swerving between cars and oncoming tragic to overtake vehicles on the single lane highway, and sitting at the very rear of the bus meant getting any sleep was out of the question. “Imagine trying to breast feed a child on this bus,” said Matt. “Even the train isn’t this bumpy.”
The drive was interrupted by three hours waiting at the border, first to be processed out of Russia then to wait in literally no-man’s-land to then enter Finland. The Finnish boarder control asked what I was doing entering Finland. “I’m on holidays, going to Helsinki and then Europe.” He asked me if Finland was a country of Europe, and I freaked out as I knew the answer but the mere fact that he had to ask made me think I was wrong. “Finland is a country,” is all I managed to reply. He then clarified that my response sounded strange so I rephrased it as, “I’m going to Helsinki then other parts of Europe.” The man and I then started talking about Sydney and from then on we were as good as friends. Most awkward and embarrassing moment of my trip; Matt hasn’t stopped giving me shit for it (and I’m currently writing this from Paris, so it continues).
They say Saint Petersburg is the Venice of the north because of its network of canals, yet I later found that Amsterdam was not too dissimilar to Saint Petersburg in this respect. Matt said Finland feels like the Tasmania of the north; a very small city, easy to navigate and very little to see and do. I beg to differ and found it a quaint city where everyone was easy going and exuding happiness.
Our hostel was Stadion Hostel, part of the Olympic complex when Helsinki hosted the 1952 Summer Olympics. Even almost 60 years later, the area is still an active sporting complex.
Dinner was at an unassuming pizzeria Matt had frequented last time he was here. I read the City street press paper and was mainly fascinated by its photos and pictures as I can’t read a word of Finnish. The stick figures on page 21 were intriguing.
In a bid to win the cost of our hostel back from Helsinki we went to Grand Casino, the IGA of casinos if you use supermarkets to compare with. We spent over an hour at the roulette screens. Matt knew from past visits that it’s cheaper to gamble here than at the table, and it streams the wheel that’s over my shoulder three meters away. I cashed in and came away €37 up, Matt took double my time and walked away €40 up, but just ask how much each of us bet to get that far…
Not bad for one night in Helsinki, Finland, Europe.