Day 17 (8/17/2010):
We woke up at 6 AM once again and left Maria’s house. We went to the Oslo central station and barely made our bus ride. The bus was delayed 5 minutes because Wagner had to drop an Azerbaijan since the night before but he couldn’t due to the same reason as the shower. He ended up taking a Moomin’ in a portapotty filled with flies.
We got to Stockholm and booked our tickets for a ferry to Helsinki. On the way to our ferry, which turns out to be a small cruise boat, we went to a Chinese Buffet place with sushi.
Rule #77: Never underestimate the buffet when traveling. It is worth the price.
Rule #77.5: This is for the buffet owners. You will decrease in profit margin when Wagner and I are eating at a buffet.
Wagner must have eaten at least 50 pieces of Salmon sushi. It was an incredible feat to watch. After the stomach explosion amount of food, we headed for our boat, which was with the company Tallink Silja. The boat must have been made in the early 90s, but nevertheless it was a cruise boat (no all you can eat), but it gave us the comfort we much needed. It seems as many people use this cruise boat in order to buy duty free products. We saw a guy carry out 5 cases of Heineken off the boat!!! It was so heavy that it actually broke his carrier and the laces got caught in the escalator.
Wagner and I had a huge meal, which included a large piece of steak, pork, chicken, and lamb with a side of creamy potatoes, baked potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and a salad. We haven’t eaten this well since the states.
Lost some money at the roulette table, watched some eastern Europeanesq shows, and then went to sleep.
Day 18 (8/18/2010):
Helsinki…Good Morning!!! It was a bit rainy when we reached this city. Our first impressions of the city was that it had a lot more Russian influence (obviously), then its other Scandinavian counter parts. Nevertheless, once we got to Helsinki, we found out that our Couchsurfing host had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances.
Fortunately, one of the couchsurfer was able to host us last minute. Crazy part was that they knew Vivek…what a small world.
Helsinki is filled with beautiful architecture with many Swedish and Russian influences. The first thing we noticed about Helsinki is that food prices were actually reasonable! We weren’t paying $12 for a sandwich from a seven eleven. We did our standard walking tour around the city seeing the beautiful Tuomiokirkko, which is the white Lutheran church.
After eating another buffet, we headed over to our couchsurfer, Bogdana and Miika’s place.
Wagner and I worked out and headed to dinner with our hosts. We had sautéed reindeer, which was a little strange for me because of the association with Rudolf, but Wagner ate it up.
Day 19 (8/19/2010):
We woke up quite early and headed to Suomenlinna, which is a fortress on a separate island that was meant to protect the Swedish empire from the Russians. It reminded me of West Point meets Alcatraz kind of feel. We both fell asleep (not together) on the rocks with the sun beaming on top of us with the waves crashing in.
Afterwards, we met up with Miika to watch a contemporary dance show in the western part of Helsinki. The dance was definitely something that I did not expect but it was very interesting. There were no music and sound except for the ones made by the dancers.
It seemed as Helsinki was starting a festival month in music and arts so we went to check out a choir that was singing in one of the bars. It was a very interesting experience as there were Finnish folks that were singing American music.
We ate at a restaurant that specialized in Soul Food. I got the Pork Fat Gravy (there is a Finnish way to say this, but I cannot remember it currently.) It was basically shredded pork chops with boiled potatoes all in a huge vat of beautiful, beautiful gravy. The only minus was that they gave you spelt bread to soak up everything.
Day 20 (8/20/2010):
We took our train to Russia today. It was pretty much a standard ride except that once we got to the border, the border control consisted of Finnish/EU folks stamping us out while the train was moving, and then Russian border control stamping us in. There was a bit of nervousness when the Russian folks took our passports and walked somewhere with it then handed it back to us stamped and such.
When we got to St. Petersburg, there was some sort of militaristic like welcome music and it felt as if we won some sort of prize. We got out of the station and we realized something. Everything was in the Cyrillic alphabet and we had no clue what was going on at all. It took us an hour and a half to buy a sim card and learn how to use it. Another thing about Russia is that unlike the other countries we have visited, no one in Russia speaks English! We also learned that sometimes Russians seem super rude when you speak to them in English because they are very shy and are very self-conscious of their English. (That’s what a native told me, I think it’s because they are pissed off that we don’t speak Russian.)
Once we got in touch with our super amazing host, we went on our first mission in St. Petersburg. As we walked through the beautiful city filled with canals and such, we followed the directions to our host’s apartment in a similar fashion to following a FAQ for a role-playing game.
Here is an example:
The St. Petersburg Metro system is amazing. First of all, it’s approximately 50 cents in order to get in. On top of that, the metro system is so deep; there are escalators that take you down at least an eight of a mile (200 meters) down. I later learned that this is due to the fact that St. Petersburg was built on a swamp.
Funny story, so the metro system is 22 rubles for a token. Wagner tried to pay with a 10-ruble bill, the lady kept on telling him that she needed 22 rubles, but he kept on saying that’s all he had. She laughed at him. He didn’t realize that the ruble was the same thing as the dollar.
St. Petersburg also has these small bus systems called marshrutka. They are only about 75 cents and are great ways to get around.
After getting into our host’s apartment, we passed out for an hour then headed back to the center of the city to an expat bar called The Other Side. We stayed there for a short time, but it was interesting and a definite change with our usual nights.
After a long night, it is normal to flag down a random car and ask them to drive you home for about 100 rubles. Well the host, Jay, and I did this. Right after we got into the car, the driver told our host excuse me and pulled a gun out of the headrest of the passenger side and put it in his glove box. That was definitely interesting.
Day 21 (8/21/2010):
The next morning, we headed to Moscow Metro Station in order to buy tickets to Moscow. The crazy thing about this whole mission was that all the signs were in Russian. We also got there during lunchtime, so we had to get there before the ticket vendor’s lunch. We lucked out; Jay was able to get an English-speaking vendor after basically elbowing an older Russian lady out of the way. After we bought our tickets, the vendor turned off the lights and walked away, even when there were 5 or so people behind us!
We walked down Nevsky Blvd which is the main strip seeing a lot of the sights. The most breathtaking site was the Church of the Saviour on the Split Blood. This is a Moscow style church and it received its name because this is where Tsar Alexander II was murdered.
Rule #607: It sucks, but foreigners sometimes have to pay more to get into museums.
The canals of St. Petersburg are dirty but it gives the city personality. Taking pictures at night with the canals reflecting the lights are the most amazing pictures to take.
We met up with a couple of Couchsurfers to do a ‘local’ walking tour. Unfortunately, the group was too big so I couldn’t really hear too much. We did go to a puppet museum, which was interesting. We tried to go up to someone’s roof but we got yelled at by a bunch of Russians.
Anya: What are you guys thinking about doing in St. Petersburg?
Wagner: Well, we are thinking of going to the island, Peterhof.
Anya: That’s great, but Peterhof isn’t an island.
Wagner: Oh yeah? I just made the island up.
While we waited for some of the other CSers, a random guy came to us to ask us to see if we spoke English. Then he asked us to wear these strange headphones that seem to block out certain types of sounds and enhance other sounds. Anyway, he had a gun as well…that’s two days in a row with someone with a gun.
We ended up eating at a restaurant called Teplo, then headed back to the Other Side for another fun night.
Hiroki: Yo, Wagner, take a look at your 9 (talking about a girl)
Elena: What are you talking about it’s 10 o’clock
Wagner: Yes, you’re absolutely right; we are still one hour behind since we just got in from Hel-something, Finland.
Day 22 (8/22/2010):
Another day in St. Petersburg! We decided to head out around 11:30 PM and went out to eat at a Georgian restaurant called Salkhino. The food was amazing but a little pricey for Russian standards. I got the Talmo, which are lamb meat within grape seed leaves with their version of white sauce. Jay got some sort of chicken dish with tomatoes and vegetables.
After lunch, we headed to the Cruiser Aurora, which is a battleship that became a Soviet shrine. It fired blank shots that supposedly started the revolution in 1917. Unfortunately, most of the museum is in Russian, but I suppose there was a lot of Soviet communist propaganda as there was many sickle and hammer material.
We went to Peter and Paul Fortress, which is the State Museum of history of St. Petersburg. This is where Peter started St. Petersburg’s first settlement and the Cathedral of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul is housed. There was people sun bathing outside of the fortress itself.
The Winter Palace aka the location of the State Hermitage Museum is an unbelievable palace in which words cannot describe. There is so much art and treasures at this museum that it can take one a very long, long time to see everything. The unfortunate thing is that the line to buy tickets are so long, so for all you people that come to St. Petersburg, buy the tickets online, then you do not have to wait on line. Also, buy it before you come to St. Petersburg as it takes 1 to 3 days for them to send you a printable voucher that you have to show the ‘palace guards.’
Scantily dressed woman guard to Hiroki:
Hiroki smiles and shrugs
Woman: : Where are you from?
Hiroki: The States
Woman: Would you like a picture with us?
Hiroki: Oh no, I’m good.
As usual, we were probably hungry at this point, so we went to the Pelmeny Bar, which is a cheap Russian restaurant. I got potato pancakes with salmon and Wagner got a steak all for about 500 rubles, like 17 dollars…Amazing. I think we may go back to try their Pelmenies, which are like Russian dumplings.
We walked over to the famous Yusupovsky Palace, the location where Rasputin was supposedly poisoned by some sort of cyanide-laced wine. He didn’t die so, they shot him…then he didn’t die, so they wrapped him up and threw him in the water. Supposedly, they found him a couple of days later and it looked like he drowned…guy just couldn’t die that easily.
We met up with a couchsurfer named Anya and went to a rooftop bar called Mod Roof. It was definitely different from most other bars. Cool furniture, great music, and beers at 100 rubles ($3.25) make it a nice bar to head out to.
A strange event occurred when we stopped by a sushi restaurant. I ordered noodles but it was going to take them twenty minutes, so we wanted to cancel the order. They would not let us cancel the food unless we filled out a questionnaire!!! It was indeed an interesting experience.
So after getting back home, of course we got hungry again so we went to O’Brien’s Irish Pub. You would think that since it was an Irish Pub, there would be a menu in English. Unfortunately, for us not…so we had to play Russian Roulette Food Style. I wish we had a picture of the menu, but either way, when we ordered the food, we just pointed at something. I thought we were going to get sheep’s intestines or something but somehow, Wagner chose grilled chicken with onions and potatoes, and I chose peel your own shrimp. I guess Wagner just has a keen skill in finding his health food.