Monday, May 9, 2016

Overnight by ferry to St. Petersburg

We arrived at the ferry terminal for St. Petersburg where we picked up our arrival and departure tickets as well as our boarding passes after showing our hotel reservations in St. Petersburg. After clearing immigration we hauled our luggage up the gangplank and found our cabin. It was a reasonable size with two beds lining the walls, fair sized windows and a bathroom with a little shower.

There was plenty of time before departure for us to explore the Princess Maria, which had several restaurants, a casino, a disco, bars, lounges and a duty free. Once we set off the duty free opened and was jam packed with people stocking up on vodka and other duty free drinks to get them through the trip. People of various ages were wandering around drinking, beer, champagne or vodka, ‘yobos’ I would call them. This wasn't really our thing. However, the people watching was interesting as well as entertaining. This was only the second ferry of the year from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. By taking the ferry we would be able to spend 72 hours in St. Petersburg without needing a visa. Many of our fellow passengers were taking advantage of this provision, while others were Russians returning home. Some women were very dressed up in slinky dresses and very high heels. I wondered if some were hookers but others looked like regular people traveling with friends.

We had dinner in the Explorer restaurant that served Russian food in addition to a regular menu. We both had a fairly mediocre meal. I had halibut that didn't really taste the way I remembered it. The baked apple for dessert was much better but a bit tasteless. Fortified we decided to check out some of the entertainment. In the lounge there was a rock and roll cover band that started out with Del Shannon and worked backwards through Elvis to Bill Hailey and all done with a Russian accent. Next came something that can be described like a Russian game show with contestants drawn from the audience. People seemed to enjoy it even if we didn't have a clue what was happening. Then came the St. Petersburg show with singers, dancers and showgirls. We watched for a bit before returning to our cabin.

It was a very long night in a most uncomfortable bed. Finally I put a layer of the duvet under me as a barrier against the lumps but it still didn't help eliminate the noise and vibration of the ship. After not too much sleep but a refreshing shower we watched the approach to St. Petersburg through endless dockyards. It just kept on and on right through breakfast. Finally, the Princess Maria tied up. At that point we joined the scrum to leave the ship but had to wait and wait. Once off the ship we waited another hour in lineups at Russian immigration where we presented our arrival cards and passports. Then we stood facing the officer for what was a very long time before the passport was returned to us. At last we headed out of the terminal to be immediately greeted with the sign, "Visa free excursion. Mr. and Mrs. Nesling." This was Oxana who was to be our guide for the next few days. We had finally arrived in Russia.

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