We left the hotel at 9.30 am after a much needed sleep in and a delicious breakfast. We decided to spend the next few hours wandering around the town. The hotel had a fax machine so Yolanda from our office was able to send us a copy of the equipment list for the Earthroamer. We understood we would need this in Russia.
We walked around the narrow streets and into the town square on an overcast day with a few sunny patches.
Near the Russian Orthodox Church, we found a beautiful pink building, which we discovered was the Centre of the Parliament of Estonia.
We also photographed the Freedom Stone. This had been placed on 20 August 1991 to commemorate the freedom from the Soviet Union.
Dick remembered how Gough Whitlam, when in power in Australia had recognised the “Soviet occupation” of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and agreed that these countries no longer existed. Who could have ever believed the change?
Estonia was more like Austria or Switzerland because there wasn’t the slightest hint of the old communist system. We even saw a notice in the street saying WiiFi internet was available free of charge by courtesy of the local council.
There was an obvious high standard of living here now, nothing like the Soviet Union that Dick had visited in 1966.
We had been using Pip’s NextG LG phone from Australia. It obviously had jumped onto the GSM network and it worked all the way from Scotland with a perfect signal.
It was amazing to be able to sit in the Town Square in the capital of Estonia and telephone Australia as if you were talking to someone across the road….we are just waiting for the huge phone bill to arrive!!!
All the young people we spoke to in the town spoke English. It is almost as if Estonia has decided to cast off any hint of being part of the old Soviet Union. Many of the shops had beautiful goods for sale, many from the top European Designers. We wondered how the people could afford to buy such expensive goods. All the famous brands were there, even a McDonald’s store!
We caught a taxi out to the Sea Cat terminal and while we waited for the 2.00 pm departure for Helsinki, Dick used Pip’s phone to call Dimitry in Moscow to advise him that we were heading that day into Russia. We had met Dmitry when we arrived in the north of Scotland on Day 42 of our trip back in November. You will see that we mentioned meeting a “mad” friendly Russian who had just driven in some incredibly short time from Moscow to John O’Groats. Pip had given him her email address and a few months later, he emailed us with his contact telephone number, and he said he would look after us while we were in Russia. Wow, we had to accept that wonderful offer.
At 3.30 pm, we were back on the wharf at Helsinki and walked across to our Earthroamer parked in the car park.
Pip had found, the afternoon before that there was free WiiFi in the area. This enabled us to send and receive our emails as we had a quick cup of tea in the van - these Scandinavian countries are incredible.
We got going at 4.30pm on a lovely afternoon with the sun shining at 55°F. We were now off for our great adventure to head into another country, a country where we knew English would be sparsely spoken.
It was heavy peak hour traffic as we departed Helsinki, but after we went through the town of Kotka we moved well. There was an occasional speed camera beside the highway and this reminded us that the most speed cameras we had seen anywhere in the world so far was in Sweden.
Twenty kilometers from the border just near Vaalimaa, we came across trucks parked beside the road waiting to go through the border.
Great lines of them were parked on the right hand side of the road. We found out later that trucks can take about three days to get across the border. Fortunately we just kept driving past them until we finally got to the Finish Border buildings.
The Finish exit formalities were simple. We just walked into the building, spoke to the Finish Immigration officer who stamped our passports and we drove on.
As we drove into no mans land we saw a turn off to the right which said “cash refund”. This looked like a short cut and meant we got in front of a few trucks so we drove through to the cash refund area then straight onto the Russian border. The border had huge lines of cars waiting. Dick promptly drove past all the waiting lines right up near the front, got out, and asked if anyone spoke English. Unfortunately no one did and all the signs were in Russian. A Russian man approached us speaking in Russian in a strong voice. We thought at first that he was complaining that we had jumped the queue but we realised later that he was telling us that we had lined up in the wrong area – very helpful.
We managed to get the passports stamped by an immigration woman in a small booth who spoke some English. They then kept pointing to another booth. Fortunately, we found an English speaking lady – Anna Eyskova who was driving through the border with her husband. She was Russian and spoke very good English. She very kindly went with Dick to another building and showed him where to buy the insurance for the vehicle - $250 USD for six months. This also required changing money into rubles for the insurance firm. Anna then assisted us in the customs box where an import form was created and printed by a modern computer. The lady customs official insisted we could only have an import permit for two months for the vehicle. Pip had managed to find a young lady who spoke a little English who helped her fill out the form written all in Russian for the vehicle’s driver. We had noticed that the border guards were looking in everyone’s boot so when it came to our turn, we opened the door of the van but the guard didn’t want to look inside and with a friendly face lifted the barrier and waved us through. It had taken us one and a half hours (thanks to Anna’s help), quite a record compared to the truck drivers three day wait.
We left the border at 9.00 pm and in ten minutes we stopped in a parking area beside a service station where we could see a couple of campervans parked. Pip walked over and spoke to a Russian man who was in a small office. It was ‘communicated’ that we could park there and pay in the morning. Dick even found a 220-volt electricity socket on the side of the fence, which we plugged into, and this charged our batteries and kept the inverter going.
We cooked our dinner using the food we had brought from Scotland.
Unbelievably the Aussie LG phone was working perfectly so we were about to send some text messages to our family at home and tell them “we had made it into Russia”! We also found that our TV worked and we found ten stations, some in English. We were not sure if they were Russian or Finish as we were still close to the border.
198kms Today 17,328 Total since Anchorage, Alaska