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Planes, Trains & Automobiles

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After crossing borders on trains, planes and boats we decided to round it off on a bus.  We booked a 6 hour mini bus ride to take us from St. Petersburg to Helsinki.  As we climbed aboard we were greeted by 6 rows of couples.  We walked to the back and each row in turn chirped “Good morning! How are you?”  As we sat down in the back of the bus we looked forward to meet 12 sets of staring eyes and smiling faces.  “Where do you come from?” the obvious leader inquired.   We replied and, before we could ask in return, 12 voices responded collectively, “We are from Holland!”  They all broke into a synchronized laugh and I tried to block out similarities of their voices to “Gold Member” from Austin Powers.  The group talked non-stop and made the journey zip by as they quizzed us on our trip and simultaneously recommended places not to be missed.

I was a bit nervous coming into the Russian border crossing.  Russian visas supposedly require registration when you enter the country for more than one week.  We were coming up on our third week.  I thought that the rule read you must register if you stay in one Russian city longer than a week.  Every place we stayed or person we asked gave a different response on the rule.  Of course we heard horror stories of people being detained or fined exorbitant sums for not registering.

Being a tight ass I did not want to pay the $50 to get registered.  I talked Nug out of it several times.  As we waited in line Nug reminded me yet again, “I’m going to be pissed if we were supposed to register!”  “We will be fine,” I said trying to assure myself instead of as a response to Nug.  As the border guard waved me up I couldn’t decide what scared me most…being detained, a fine or Nug’s fury.  I wondered what Nug would do to me as the guard reviewed my passport.  Several excruciating minutes later my passport was handed back and I continued through the border.  Later that night as we watched an epic sunset rainbow at the Helsinki port I confidently scoffed at Nug, “I told you we didn’t need to register.”

Helsinki

Told you Nug!

Glad we made it.

 

5655 km in a Nutshell

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The Russian portion of the Trans-Mongolian Railway covers over 5600km and 5 time zones.  To ride straight through would take nearly a week.  The journey took us through vast stretches of untouched Siberian wilderness where it would sometimes be hours between any signs of human settlement.  After visiting this area of the world I find it difficult to argue that the earth is getting too crowded.  After our longest leg (50 hours) I was glad that we chose to make several stops along the way.  We met some people who made the trip straight through and they had the look and smell of drunken derelicts.  The particularly long stretches of track made us appreciate the little things in life…taking a shower after 50 hours, eating food that is not just made by adding hot water or being able to piss without the ground swaying under our feet became absolute treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed in 4-berth cabins so we normally had 2 additional roommates.  Everyone would practice their English skills on us and if they could not speak it they would find someone on the train that could in order to translate.  We were repeatedly asked to compare and contrast the U.S. and Russia.  One girl happily told us that she loved American music and followed up with, “Do you like Russian music in America?”  Not being able to recall a single Russian artist I said, “Sometimes, but we love Russian vodka.”

Another cabin mate of ours, Vladimir, was an older gentleman who was on the train for 5 days after a trip to visit his grandkids.  He was amazingly nice yet had body odor that had the same effect on my eyes as a sliced onion.  He shared some beer with me that tasted like a microwaved Colt 45 and insisted on showing us hundreds of pics of his beach holiday where he wore a banana hammock that would have been tiny on Nug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One time after tiring of noodle bowls we broke down and went to the restaurant car.  We were the only ones and the rubbery “chicken” confirmed our suspicions as to why.  I asked the attendant for the “best Russian beer”.  He came back with a Budweiser.  I looked at him skeptically but he was dead serious.  “This is best beer from Russia!” he proudly stated.  He waited while I took a swig.  “How good is that, huh?”  I smiled and gave him the thumbs up.  “Great recco,” I stated.

As we ended our Russian train journey in St. Petersburg I could not believe how much more European the city felt compared to our entrance to the country in the east.  The Russian people we met along the way were so much more helpful and friendly than I had expected especially after our run in with the female Ivan Drago several weeks prior.

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

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