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From: Sandy Lubkin
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 1997 17:06:17 +0000
Subject: Beyond St. Petersburg

Hi! Sorry to have neglected you for so many weeks, but after the adventure in St. Petersburg, we both really needed some time to rest and recuperate.

For a while it seemed as if we'd never manage to leave St. Petersburg -- that something more would always require us to stay "for just a couple more days". But finally, enough loose ends were wrapped up that we were able to leave on 31 October - Halloween day for us Americans.

We spent the day packing, trying to get rid of whatever we could to get our luggage down to something the two of us could handle by ourselves. We had tea again with our next door neighbors, Nina and Sergei. Then we went back to our apartment to meet with our landlady, Natalia. She and her daughter arrived, bringing us some video tapes of St. Petersburg, and her wishes that we'll come back again and have a much nicer visit. About this time, her mother arrived. She had made me a Ukranian doll - absolutely wonderful! - because Natalia had told her about Maryanne. Maryanne was also presented with some slippers woven from reeds like a basket, and a traditional shirt which is too big. I'll have to see if it's possible to take it in (a lot) without ruining the look. It's very beautiful. Then Sergei came over to help us carry our luggage down the stairs and round up a taxi. The best thing about our visit to St. Petersburg was all the wonderful people we met.

We had tickets for the 16:15 (4:15pm) train from St. Petersburg to Helsinki. There were no problems with finding our seats (seats only on this train, no compartments like on our previous trips) and storing our luggage in the overhead bins. We had to leave our passports and visas with the conductor this time, as well as the tickets. He gave us some customs declarations forms to fill in for our exit from Russia. We compared them to the old forms we'd filled in when we arrived. This time the forms referred to Russian roubles rather than Soviet roubles. It was soon dark so after filling in our forms, we read rather than looking out the windows.

After about 2.5 hours, the train reached the city of Vyborg, near the Russian- Finnish border. Our passports were returned (minus the visas, but with exit stamps). One American across the aisle from us was hassled slightly by the passport inspectors for his passport photo (he looked very young in it) and a typo on his visa which made him 80 years old. Then the customs inspectors came around. All of this happened without us leaving our seats. It was very well organized. The customs inspector collected and read our declarations, and asked each of us which bags were ours. He saw we had a cardboard box tied up with string (books which we had intended to mail home from Moscow, and then from St. Petersburg, and then from Helsinki) so he made us take it down and open it. He pawed around in the box for a bit looking at titles (an interesting mix of classic fiction, non-fiction and children's books in both Russian and English) and then went on to the next person.

The train continued its journey for another hour, perhaps, then stopped on the Finnish side of the border at a town whose name I forget. There the Finnish passport control officials stamped our passports and the customs officials asked us if we had anything to declare. Not knowing *what* we might need to declare, Bela asked him. He started listing a few things (no problem, no problem, electronics? We've got a few things.) We told him about our electronic camera and two computers. But since it's not a video camera, he didn't want to hear about it. Again, this was all done without leaving our seats.

We had another couple hours on the train, and then pulled into Helsinki station. We pulled our luggage off the train (still just a bit more than we could handle easily ourselves) and were met by Dag (pronounced more like "Doc"), a friend of Bela's from the Net.

Helsinki was a bit of a shock after Russia. There were large well-lit signs everywhere, and the buildings were smaller and more spread out than I had gotten used to seeing. Helsinki is a large city, but very spread out, with lots of parks, trees and lakes all around. The residents call it the "Littlest Big City in the World". That seems to be a very good description of it. We'll tell you about our adventures there (and in St. Petersburg, and even some left from Moscow) later.

-- Sandy (Cannady) Lubkin
Currently in Kose, Estonia

All text and pictures copyright 1997 Sandy and Bela Lubkin, all rights reserved.