Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And I'm out.

I'm on the train to Helsinki, perhaps two hours away from my final destination and my demeanor is much improved.

My cabin was with a nice married couple who practiced their English with me, and graciously allowed me to practice my decrepit Russian with them. Upon finding out I went all the way to Russia, but hadn't drunk any vodka, they promptly produced a bottle (like magic!) and started pouring shots. They also shared their bread, meat, cheese, fruit, chocolate, and tomato juice with me.

I think they sensed I was a drinking lightweight as they insisted I have a sandwich and a glass of tomato juice after every shot. They would say in thickly accented English, "Eat, Cora, eat," but once I had finished my sandwich and juice, they would immediately pour another shot. I had four shots total.

In retrospect, I wonder if I was being very stupid by accepting food and drink from strangers, but I had a good feeling from them, especially the woman and they helped the 13 hour train ride pass a bit faster. All the same, I slept with my purse under my pillow and my backpack latched to the railing.

In the morning, the train attendant knocked on all the cabins and told us to get ready for customs. All bathrooms were locked as were all the doors between train compartments. An announcement was made that the train was under customs control and we were to sit in our assigned cabins until customs was over.

The process was much less painless than I expected. I told the customs agent that I did not speak Russia (this is, quite possibly, my best phrase in Russian) and responded to all his questions with "I don't understand" (also said in Russian). Satisfied that I was a dumbass who couldn't possibly have the sense to smuggle anything out of anywhere, they quickly left me alone.

My travel companions were less fortunate. The customs agents gave them much grief over the bottle of vodka, and made them fill out several forms but were still unsatisfied. Only when my companions gave them money did they leave our cabin.

About an hour that, we reached the Finland border and Finnish customs. The officials seemed genuinely surprised to see an American passport, and asked several useless questions ("Where are you from?" "America.") before returning it. About a half hour later, they came back and asked to see it again, bringing "an expert in American passports" with them. The "expert" studied the passport very intensely, asking me to take off my glasses and headscarf (I woke up with a serious case of nappy head and so had tied my shawl over my hair). They consulted with each other in Finnish, flipped through my passport several times in each direction, stared at me, and then, finally satisfied, handed my passport back.

I exchanged e-mail addresses with the female half of the couple and then my trip was over.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the hotel bellhop (in his street clothes) escorted me to the train station last night as my train did not depart until 11 p.m. I noticed that no one, no one at all, bothered me during the walk. Not a glance, not a stare, not a request (or mobbing) for pictures, not a shove. Nothing. It was a relief and only reaffirmed that I was right in my decision to leave.


gOnZoRiFFiC said...

i dig the happy ending here.

Unknown said...

Hi there Cora, it's Lara's friend Aki here. I've had good times reading your blog so far and since you're in Helsinki (where I happen to live), it'd probably be fun to meet up for a cup of coffee, see a couple of sights or whatever :) Could recommend you some very addictive finnish chocolates too.. hehe. Anyway I believe Lara gave you my e-mail address, I'm free to meet up basically whenever on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daytime too (like for a lunch for example)!