With Binoy piloting I soon hit M10 to Helsinki. At the start of the Freeway I took leave of Binoy to continue his studies. The speed limit varied between 90 and 120 kmph with excellent road conditions. At Vyborg I tanked up so that I could avoid fuelling in Finland. We also had breakfast of hotdogs and coffee. While at the fuel station I saw a desk where the Alliance representative was selling insurance for vehicles going to Finland. I approached the desk and was told that insurance is available only to Russian registered vehicles; others have to get the insurance after crossing over to Finland.
Pretty soon thereafter we reached the Russian border at Torfyanovka. It was under 200kms from St. Petersburg. The first delay at the border occurred in the Customs station. The officer asked for previously stamped Customs documents, which we did not have. I explained that I was not given any at the entry point. He vanished with my passport for an hour. He came back with his Supervisor, a lady, who immediately authorised the filling up of the document form. She was extremely courteous. Thereafter, we moved to the Immigration queue and Lal got his passport stamped without much delay. The lady staff at the counter saw the mistake made by the Russian Embassy in Delhi in the visa and detained me till such time the matter was resolved by another Officer. Altogether we lost close to 2 hours at the Russian border. We knew, however, that we would gain an hour on crossing over to Finland! The Finnish border control at Vaalimaan was a breeze. No questions asked and English being freely used we had no problem in explaining our mission. The passport was stamped and the vehicle document accepted within 15 minutes. I asked if I could get insurance for the car at the border. An Officer guided me to the Customs office, from where I secured a two month insurance that covered the Schengen States, UK and Ireland. It cost Euro 180, but was facilitated easily.
The relief of exiting Russia and the fact that now we had access to the next 19 countries made us hungry. We went into a gas station and ordered lunch – Lal ordered a fish dish and I a Pork Steak. After paying for that and the coffees the pleasant lady at the counter directed us to the salad counter. If we had known that the salad came along with the meal we would have ordered something light. However, despite large helpings from the salad bar I mustered enough appetite and will power to finish the meal, which was a large steak with fries and boiled greens. At the gas station we also got a SIM Card that promised to be pan-Europe.
Anu Jacob had got in touch with us promising hospitality in Helsinki over Fb. In fact, it is he who had suggested that we drive to Helsinki from St. Petersburg instead of doing a double ferry from Talinn. He arranged with his friend Shaji to find us accommodation in Helsinki. Anu works in Porvoo, Finland as a nurse. He moved there with his wife, working as a nurse too, and young son a couple of years ago. He met us at the exit to Porvoo on the way to Helsinki and piloted us to the city, which was 55 kms away. The drive into Helsinki gave us a good city tour and the serviced apartment Shaji had sourced for us was magical. It overlooked the Cruise bay and gave us a panoramic view of the busy market centre. The apartment belonged to the Company that Shaji works for and is seldom given out except to very valuable guests of the Company. The area houses mostly diplomatic missions, including the US and many European countries.
One of the first things on the Helsinki agenda was to book the ferry to Talinn. Shaji drove us to the booking th. The ferry cost Euro 124 and we were asked to report by 6.30 am. The duration of the trip to Talinn would be 2 hours, we were told. Shaji then dropped us off to take a leisurely walk on the waterfront and the embankment. Anu got us each an ice cream and we explored the area on foot. The Finnish, as I found the Russians, are outdoor freaks. They do not let go of any chance to soak in the Sun. A company called Skybreakers offered bunjee experience from a crane. I was enthralled by a young brave heart who took up the challenge. There was music and food everywhere and people were only outdoors walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, cycling and what have you.
centre and confirmed the 7.30 am ferry on 26
centre and confirmed the 7.30 am ferry on 26
Shaji later drove us to a provision store where we picked up ‘Black Bread’, a Finnish speciality, eggs, cheese, salami and fruits for breakfast. Shaji, full name Saji Kafoor, brought us tortillas, pulav and mutton curry for dinner. Shaji could not join us for he was on Ramadan fast. I spent quite some time on the balcony of the apartment before bed, watching Nature play out her magic on the city as the Sun went down and twilight descended after 9 pm.