Vancouver. Reykjavik, Helsinki. We are travelling from Vancouver with friends Frank and Lindsay to their home in Helsinki. Happy to have arrived after a long trans-Atlantic journey, we stay up as long as we can and then collapse into bed, hoping to sleep through the night in an attempt to reset our body clocks to local time.
Next day: assemble the bicycles and go for a ride around town with Lindsay, making sure the bikes are functioning properly. Pack a bag, meet Frank at his office and ride to the St. Petersburg Line ferry terminal in downtown Helsinki.
It’s June 21. Solstice. On board the ferry, we stay up to watch the sun set over the Baltic Sea at 11 pm. More sleep. Or an attempt at sleep. The droning in the back of my skull finally drives me out of the small, stuffy cabin at 6 a.m. as we sail into the outer harbour of St. Petersburg, Russia. For two hours we sail through an industrial landscape until we dock not far from the centre of the city.
The traffic is chaotic. Mostly slow moving cars, trucks and buses. But we can weave our way through on sidewalks and bike paths. We stop in places to take in the view of this historic city as we ride along the Neva River into the centre where we booked a small apartment for the night.
We dump the bikes and set out on foot. There is no time to waste as we’re here only the remainder of this day and part of the next. This “cruise” is a scheme for tourists to visit St. Petersburg without requiring a visa.
We wander the city centre, trying to visit landmarks and non-touristy spots alike to get a flavour of the city. It’s a jam-packed day. We must have walked about 15 km. Hard to say. In the afternoon, as we sit on a sunny sidewalk patio watching people, beer and jet lag threaten to overwhelm us, so, we keep moving. We try to find a place where we can get up high for a view of this flat, expansive city that used to bear Lenin’s name. St. Isaac’s Cathedral on Admiralteyskiy Prospekt offers up 262 steps on the edge of it’s imposing dome and gives us what we want.
We end the day at Trappist, a restaurant offering Belgian beers and food. It is excellent. A day well spent. We sleep like small children.
We have to be out of our apartment by 1 p.m, giving us 2-3 hours to see the Hermitage. It’s an impossible task with its hundreds of rooms and more than 3 million pieces in the collection. But we tackle it anyway. After two hours of soaking up the overwhelming opulence of Russia’s bygone empire, we bail and retrieve our bicycles for a ride around the city on our way back to the ferry terminal and the return journey overnight to Helsinki.
We board the ferry and sit in our little cabin drinking Russian beer, tired from our whirlwind tour.
Some more images from Helsinki and St. Petersburg.