Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helsinki to St Petersburg, Day 1 (Part One)

Tonight I caught the plane from Oslo to Helsinki, followed by a private van from Helsinki to St Petersburg.  This time I had plenty of time and since the trains were running I arrived at the airport more than an hour early.  I didn't have a big dinner as I didn't have time to cook dinner at home.  And there was a "work Olympics" at a beach nearby work that I had to miss, ah well.  My flight was at 7:10pm with Finnair, it's my first time flying with them.  I booked the ticket through a Russian website called "anydayanyway", it saved me a few euros but I had to take a photo of my credit card and provide id before the payment would go through, so maybe it wasn't worth it.

Arriving into Helsinki.

I arrived into Helsinki at 9:30pm.  I didn't pick up my luggage till 30 minutes later and waited out in the car park for the supposed van, in the end I had to go up one level to the departure hall where they were waiting.  I recognised the van because it had a Russian license plate.  The driver informed me that they had another passenger to pick up and wouldn't leave till 11:15pm, so I had more than an hour to kill.  Most of the shops in the airport were shut at this point, but I manage to grab some sandwiches and a drink at one of the kiosks and spent the rest of the time wandering about the airport.

Helsinki Airport Ground Level

Jenga with chairs and other blocks of wood.

Airport ceiling, woooooooo...

Not many flights running at this time of the night.

11:15pm came and nothing happened, because the people who were supposed to show up hadn't.  Eventually we left at midnight.  I sat right in the front of the van, next to another Russian on my right and the driver, also a Russian on my left.  It was a van full of Russians.  There were 9 of us in total.

The journey is roughly like this, take the european route E18 then the M10 highway, going through the Torfyanovka-Valimaa border where you have to stop and get inspected by serious Russian and Helsinki custom officers thinking that every person going through the border is a crook.

View Larger Map

I got no sleep on the bus, my shoulder was bumped up next to the guy sitting next to me and having street lights and incoming vehicles shine their beams into you doesn't make you want to sleep.  I got some shut eye out of tiredness and can't remember the time when we arrived at the border, I think it was about 2am or so.  Customs treated me like I was a criminal.  First they asked if I spoke Russian in Russian and I replied no in Russian, so someone in the queue had to translate for me, a Russian guy who was travelling with us.  Asked me why I was going into Russia, my response to visit a friend, then they tried to scan my passport which wouldn't work, and for some reason they can't even scan the visa which I paid 520 nok (72 euros, 112 singapore dollars, 86 australian dollars) for.  The customs officer asked if I had any other id (yes, they didn't trust my passport) and I said no.  She called her supervisor who then asked if I had a student card (hahahaha??).  I said no, but here's my norwegian id and showed them my bankcard.  Eventually they let me pass.  Going through Finland customs or any other customs I've never had any problems, it's always Russia.  Ridiculous.  Anyway those geniuses let me through but had forgotten to give me an embarkation/disembarkation card!!  More on that later.

Back on the bus I tried to get some sleep but not sure if I did, I was more coming in and out of the trying to sleep trying not to sleep part of sleeping.  I arrived in St Petersburg around 6am where I slept a bit more till 11am or so.

To be continued...

Cost of overnight van: 45 euros
Cost of Russian visa: 72 euros
Cost of putting up with stupid custom officers: Pent up rage costing me several hours of my life!!

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