A Detour to St. Petersburg.

Because Helsinki is so close to St. Petersburg and because St. Petersburg is (in 2003) celebrating its 300th anniversary we decided to make a short detour. But because of the problems of taking a vehicle into Russia and the security risks in leaving it unattended, we decided to take the train rather than drive the 400km to St. Petersburg.

There are two trains daily from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, one Finnish, one Russian. We chose the Finnish one. Naturally you need a visa to visit Russia and naturally it cost more if you want it in 3 days rather than a week. (Rough Costs: Return train fare: $150USA per person, Three day visa: $90USA to $140USA depending on nationality). The cheapest St. Petersburg hotel room we could book from Helsinki was $150USA per night. In the end we stayed at the International Hostel Holiday at $15USA per person per night. This hostel is very basic and makes the Helsinki hostel, near where we parked Mog, look like a five star hotel.

Getting round St. Petersburg on the metro was fairly straight forward after we had bought a "Ten Trip Card" for 70 Roubles (about $2USA). However in spite of the huge sums of money reputedly spent in preparing for the 300th anniversary of the city all the street signs and the metro station names are still only in Cyrillic and do not always exactly match the names on the tourist maps. ATMs are now a common sight in St. Petersburg, they do however have one idiosyncracy, if you want 3000 Roubles you may have to key in 300,000, an unnerving exercise if don't want to accidentally convert $10,000USA into Roubles!

One interesting aspect of buying a meal in St. Petersburg is that many restaurants price the menu in "Units". The value of a "Unit" is not given on the menu. When you come to pay, the bill will be in Roubles and each "Unit" will have been converted to Roubles at the US Dollar or occasionally the Euro rate. It is not legal in Russia to price things in any foreign currency, but "Units" are...

The highlight of a visit to St. Petersburg is the Hermitage (Winter Palace). To avoid the worst of the queues to get in, it is best to be there around 09:00. It opens at 10:30 every day except Monday. There are 350 exhibition rooms and to visit them all involves walking 10km. Some selectivity and planning is therefore required. Also highly recommended: the Kazan Cathedral and St. Isaac's Cathedral (alas no longer housing the excellent Museum of Atheism of Soviet times).

The reason why there are no photographs of St. Petersburg on this page is because we decided not to take our digital camera to Russia (or indeed anything of value). This was probably justified as in three days we experienced one half-hearted attempt at pickpocketing on the metro and observed another that ended in a minor fight.

On our return to Helsinki we continued our trip (now back in Mog) by taking the Viking ferry to Tallinn (Estonia). This trip takes three hours by conventional ferry or less by catamaran or hydrofoil. The cost for two people (no cabin) and a six metre campervan was $95USA.

Wild Camping in Tallinn.

The entry in Estonia was fairly painless, with no customs inspection, but our passports and vehicle registration documents were examined in detail. Although we have "Green Card" insurance for Estonia, evidence of this was not required.

Around the old city of Tallinn there appear to be three types of parking available.

  • Pay and Display parking at up to $30USA per day.
  • Free parking on waste ground.
  • Fenced and guarded parking.

Wild camping in Tallinn. We chose the last option and are parked in a fenced compound (at N59.44528° E24.75201° just across the disused rail tracks behind a Statoil fuel station) with an English speaking 24 hour guard.

We are about 200 metres from the north east corner of the old city (The Great Coastal Gate and Fat Margaret, "9" on the map) and only about 500 metres from the dock gates. The cost is 40EEK (about $2.50USA) per day. The fuel station has a better selection of of low cost wine than we have seen in months!

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2003-08-27.