Our trip began Sunday morning (18.04.04) at 7 a.m. in front of Allstars. Everyone was punctual, except Mat, the French. He was still sleeping until Philip woke him up. Allegedly his alarm-clock wasn’t working. Finally he arrived at 7.15 o’clock at the bus and now the bus could leave Vaasa.
During the drive we made several breaks. In the bus wasn’t very much space for the legs, especially for Giuseppe and Philip. At the border to Russia we made our last stop in Finland. Despite my lunch packet (rolls with salami, cucumber, carrots and apples) I decided to buy additional food. I bought a champignon soup and a salad. The price of 5€ included an ice-cream or a coffee. After I had been at the toilette I changed money. Till 10€ we didn’t have to pay fees, so I changed only this amount.
Then we finally continued to the border. Totally we had there three checks. Two times a military man entered the bus, one time also with a dog. Once we also had to leave the bus and to fill out a kind of residence permit. Then we had to show it with our passport. It was very strange that we couldn’t understand the Russian language at all, although we still knew it from the Finnish language. But in Russia you can’t even talk English. After we passed the last check we made a stop on a parking place. There was a shop where you could buy cigarettes and alcohol. Most of us already bought very much stuff because it was so cheap. The price for cigarettes was around 1€, Vodka around 5€. Especially the Finnish tutors enjoyed the low prices and bought sparkling and also beer. Then they opened the bottles directly and began to drink. We all concluded that it’s nearly impossible to stop smoking or drinking in Russia because of the general cheap prices.
Then we continued to St. Petersburg. Beside the street we saw much garbage and the whole area was very marshy. When we drove through the street we were partly shocked. The streets were made up very badly and there were also deep potholes. We worried very much about the shock absorbers of the bus. I was sitting in the bus beside Roland and during the drive we learned a little bit Russian what should be helpful in Moscow and St. Petersburg, because it’s very important to read Russian words and texts. If you can’t read anything you are really lost. Furthermore we studied the city guide of St. Petersburg, which Sabrina had given me beside the one of Moscow. I and Roland began to read Russian texts in the suburb areas of St. Petersburg.
In the evening we finally arrived at the Hotel St. Petersburg. After we unloaded our luggage we entered the hotel. At the reception we had to leave our passports and we got the advice that we always should leave the original ones in our rooms because of safety reasons and only carry the copies of them with us. They would be sufficient in checks. So we mostly left the original passports in our rooms or at the reception. I made the right decision with my stomach belt because it was one of the safest solutions. Later we received the keys for our rooms – I shared a room with Roland. We took the “Krone” elevators up to our floor. The rooms were well equipped. We had a bathroom, where everything was desinfected, a television but unfortunately the view was to the backside of the hotel. Mat and Philip had a room on the other side of the hotel and enjoyed a very nice view to the city.
We also received the advice not to use the tapwater and not to clean our teeth with it. So we only used mineral water. Sometimes in the morning there came brown water out of the water tap - disgusting! In the evening we met again at the lobby. We decided to make a little walk, but not very long because the bridges in the city opened during a special time frame in the night, so that the ships could pass. In this time it isn’t possible anymore to cross the bridges. The centre was very far away so that we only came in a smaller area of the city. The atmosphere was very eery. We saw prostitutes standing on the side of the street and going to cars. It was not very light and we only saw a few dark forms. Soon we went back to our hotel to drink and eat a little thing there.
When we arrived at the hotel we still saw a firework – very impressive.
In the hotel we went to the bar, where we saw the same situation every evening. On one table the prostitutes sat and sometimes went away with a man. On the other table the Finns sat and drank.
We ordered a few beers and the people who were hungry still ordered a little pizza. There was also a restaurant in the hotel but it was firstly too expensive and secondly the atmosphere was very strange (a guy was playing a musical instrument and walking around the tables). Only a few of the new exchange students went there to eat something. We drank Russian beer and got to know to Martin from Slovakia. He could speak a little bit Russian and was in this case beside Veronica, a Finnish woman who could also speak Russian, very helpful. But generally he was a little bit strange. The whole time he was very proud to be in Russia and his love to beer was extreme. Cedric lived with him together and reported us that Martin was sometimes sitting in front of the mirror and drinking beer alone. His photo passion was also wack, especially in Moscow where he stopped almost every minute to make a picture. After a few beers we went to bed, firstly because of the late time and secondly because of the early meeting at 8.45 o’clock in the morning.
The next morning we went to the breakfast room. This hall seemed to confirm my impression about the hotel. It was a huge building, which was designed to impress the people through the height and the size. You could only enter this room with your room card. There was also a green area, where birds were flying and chirping. The breakfast buffet was very huge – there were different kinds of meat, cheese, bread, muesli, juice and coffees but also warm food. It was incomprehensible for me that in the morning someone could already eat such solid stuff – but it was offered. I also saw 2-3 servants running around. The service “without smile” was very obvious. Because you didn’t get money for it you don’t have to smile – the past greets. During the breakfast we were already wondering about the absence of Mat and Philip, because it was already late. Finally they arrived when we were already leaving to our rooms and to the bus.
When we were sitting in the bus a few people were still missing. After 10 minutes we left the hotel with the bus because of the time plan. Philip, Mat and two Greece came later with a taxi (after a long odyssey through the city because they couldn’t speak Russian). They also had to pay very much for this extra trip, because as a foreigner with no Russian language knowledge you always have to pay more - destiny.
Anyway the bus drove to the St. Petersburg State University. It was very much traffic on the road but finally we arrived at the university. In front of the building was a bridge with two lions where we made some photos. Afterwards we went to the lecture. The university had been renovated short time ago, but the differences to the German universities were still obvious. The lecture, presented by a woman, started with some problems, because the slide projector wasn’t working. The lecture was very much a repetition of old expertise but also a presentation of new knowledge, especially about St. Petersburg. During the lunch break we had a big problem to find something to eat. Firstly we were such a big group and secondly we didn’t have a map. We finally entered a baguette shop (Subway), where we could individually choose the ingredients. Unfortunately the sellers couldn’t speak English at all so we had to use the sign language.
The baguette tasted good but soon we had to rush to Stockmann to our next company visit. Altogether we already realized that the time plan was in short supply. These should inevitably lead to stresses, especially in such a big group. The problems of the Stockmann visit were the soft-spoken women and the closeness to a café with very much noise. Furthermore it was very warm in St. Petersburg. We all had winter jackets but at the latest in Moscow it was a good decision to take them with us. After the Stockmann visit we went back to the bus and began a sightseeing tour with a female guide.
When we left with the bus we noticed that some people were missing again and the first dispute arose between the friends of the missing people who still wanted to wait and the other people who wanted to follow the time schedule. After we almost reached the Nevskij prospect, the main street of St. Petersburg, the missing people finally came and pleased the bus to stop. They were some of the new exchange students who didn’t make trouble to study the city map or to learn a little bit Russian – they acted like tourists of a party. Alone they already would have been lost in such a big city with 5 million citizens. You can see the mass of the people during heavy traffic, on the streets or in the metro. There you have to orientate quickly, also because of the danger to be robbed.
We made a city round trip and we saw among other things the Winter palace with the Hermitage, the Palace square, the university where Putin has studied, the St. Isaak’s Cathedral, The Kazan Cathedral, the Church of Christ’s Resurrection, the cruiser Aurora, the Bronze Horseman and the Smolny Cathedral. It was very annoying that we made very much breaks. They generally should only last 5 minutes but in such a big group it always lasts longer.
Near all sights we saw sales people, which wanted to sell souvenirs for excessive prices to tourists. Many of them mainly sold military stuff. But most of us decided to wait for later occasions to buy such stuff, for example at flea markets.
In the city you find like in Moscow many contrasts if you compare the city centre with the outside areas. St. Petersburg always wanted to be a European city in contrast to Moscow. In 2003 St. Petersburg celebrated the day of birth (300 years) and therefore it was made up. The city, which was called Leningrad in the past and already had been the capital of Russia always competed with Moscow.
After the city tour we went to the city centre and searched a possibility to eat. Our female guide recommended us a domestic restaurant, which would serve Russian meals and also wouldn’t be so expensive. So we began the search but soon we realized that is was impossible to go through St. Petersburg with such a big group. Therefore we divided the group which should lead to a big dispute in the next days. We finally found the Russian restaurant, where we could assemble the meals. The price was ok: 5 - 10€.
After we had eaten we went back to the hotel. But we were walking through half of the city to find the meeting point.
Particularly the mass of military was conspicuous, which was everywhere present. Furthermore we saw many luxury cars with toned screens. In the evening the main street was an only motorway. In the hotel we went to the bar and drank some beers.
At the next day there was a company visit on the schedule – we could choose between Valio and Outukumpu – I chose Valio.
Many of the exchange students were so tired that they were sleeping during the visits and some of them only stayed in the bus and slept (Vanessa). During the drive to the city centre we saw a man who was climbing outside the house (contortionist).
In the city we drove past the palace square and casually noticed a parade at the winter palace. We pleased the bus driver to stop and went to the parade. Later we still made some photos with the soldiers – altogether it was very impressive. Afterwards we went to the city.
The free time we mainly used to walk around. We also visited a market with shaped us as a tourist market. We bridged long ways through the metro although we wanted to avoid it, especially in Moscow – but it was impossible. A drive with the metro was very cheap (only 30 cent) and was still one of the fastest means of travel. Furthermore we went to an internet cafe (expensive!) and bought the train tickets to Moscow.
We needed approximately 3 hours until we finally had the damned tickets because the desk was very full and a system existed, which I couldn't understand. Some desks were closed, opened or weren’t busy. All people of our group had to stay because we needed the passports of everyone. That’s why the afternoon was lost for everyone. We couldn’t buy train tickets for Sylvaine and Mercedes so they still had to go there.
After we had eaten we went back to the hotel and immediately to the bar. The next day we visited Baltika, the biggest brewery in Russia. This visit was very interesting and I also wrote an excursion report for a lecture. After we had waited in the entrance hall a guide called us and we had to leave our cameras and our jackets. Then we went to a saloon where we heard a speech about the history of Baltika. Afterwards we went to the actual survey. After we had seen the gallery with all the awards we arrived at the brewery. Our guide was very proud and self-confident.
We constantly went through a diaphanous channel whereby we could watch into the brewery. There were huge tanks with beer and the size was really impressive. The depository warehouse went beyond the scope of all I have ever seen – especially the speed in which the warehouse was charged and discharged. Later we still saw a horse stable and a coachman with a beer trolley which was used for advertisement goals. After we had seen the bottling and packaging system we went back to the entrance.
There everyone of us received a beer glass but regrettably no beer. We only had the chance to buy it in a near shop for a cheaper price then in the shop. After we had thanked for the visit we took our cameras and jackets. Then we went to the shop. There I bought a blue T-Shirt and a beer and skoaled with Giuseppe and Anthony. Giuseppe had bought a strong beer. When Cedric came we advised him also to buy such a beer and to drink it with us. Cedric is normally drunk after two beers and now strong beer – could be funny! After he had bought the beer he directly began to drink, despite the fact that he didn’t like it at all and his mood gradually was getting better.
In the bus we had a big discussion. Many of us didn’t want to go to the next visits although they signed in. Our lecturers referred to the next years, where other exchange students could only go to such firms again when today the registered people go to the offered visits. Cedric’s opinion was “I give a shit on the company visits, let’s drink” – the alcohol was too much for him. We only made fun of him.
When we stopped at a metro station many of the group nevertheless left the bus, which were registered for the next visits and so some of us had to stay in the bus although they hadn’t signed in for the visits and weren’t interested now.
The bad mood was enforced by the boring visit. When we talked with the others in the evening they wanted to apologize, but the dispute remained, because the others who didn’t go to the visits had more time to do other things and weren’t bounded. And the people who went ot the visits hadn’t seen so much and only one day remained.
So we talked with the others and the lecturers arranged that we could stay at home the next day and that the others, who always had left the visits in the last days had to go to all visits during the last day.
In the evening we met Dimar, who guided us to a nightclub, where over 1000 people fitted in. On the way we ate a doner kebab for a spot price. Furthermore we met Barbara, Viktoria and Alberto, students of the first term, which were eating in a good restaurant – we arranged a meeting at the club and left. The admission price was around 7€, but it included free drinks.
The club had different floors, although we only stayed on the third one, because there was a huge bar.
Beside Russian beer we also drank vodka and champagne. Giuseppe puked after 5 or 6 vodkas “Russian Standard”. I also drank very much but I also have been very long on the dance floor. In the upper floor almost naked men were standing on platforms – couldn’t there be women? Late in the night we went home.
The next morning Mat told us, that Dimar and Veronica had visited him and Philip in their room in the night and had continued the party – Mat was alone.
After the breakfast we still had the whole time of day to undertake something. Before we had a guided tour in the Hermitage in the afternoon we went through St. Petersburg again. We went to the Church of Christ’s Resurrection, made some photos and entered. Afterwards we visited a nearby market and went to the waterside of the Neva. There we walked on the backside of the Hermitage. The weather was fantastic.
We walked along the waterside, made some group photos and went to the St. Isaak’s Cathedral. There we climbed to the top and had a fantastic view above St. Petersburg. After the descent we went to the Hermitage, where a guide was waiting. Before this guidance we ate something in the city at Kentucky Fried Chicken. At the Hermitage we also saw Philip and Veronica again.
In the Hermitage we had to leave behind our jackets and bags. Anthony was the only one who bought a permit to make photos, because the others hadn’t so much photos left.
The guidance was only partly interesting because there were so many rooms, you could stay here for at least one day without getting bored. At the end we only walked through the rooms and were glad that we went through – but the rooms were generally impressive with many paintings and facilities. We used the remaining time to eat something. In the evening we met with Barbara, Viktoria and Alberto again to drink something. It was a nice atmosphere and everyone was happy to see the others again.
Later Dimar called 2 taxis in Russian style. He shortly made a telephone call and one minute later suddenly two taxis were parking directly at the roadside. Dimar discussed about the price and then the taxis brought us for 150 roubles (5€) to our hotel. The drive was a racing which went along with loud techno music. The taxis left at our hotel with creaking tires.
At the next day the others had already left to Finland and we were still sitting in the breakfast room. Afterwards we went to the station to get our train. There was very much traffic on the streets and I thought about missing the train. But it shouldn’t be a problem.
At the station we still bought some stuff for the trip and went to the train. We had to walk very long until we arrived at our wagon. After we had shown our tickets we could enter the train. The seats were tolerably comfortable and it was possible to sleep and to relax. After we left St. Petersburg we decided to eat something. First I went to the diner with Martin. There it was very nice designed with curtains, nice table cloths and female services. The price for a meal was around 5€. Martin drank a beer to his meal and reported about his enthusiasm for Russia.
Later we went back to the others. Martin stayed with our luggage and we went to the wagon where we stayed almost the whole afternoon. A man constantly ordered vodka and water – a combination which is quite common in Russia.
In the evening we slowly arrived in Moscow. In front of the final station of Moscow we heard “Moscow” from Dschingis Kahn and “Winds of Change” from the Scorpions – fantastic!
It was very late when we arrived and we still had to find our hotel. Outside the station we found a metro station with a long queue in front of a desk. Two of us bought tickets and soon we could continue. In the train to Moscow we had already found the metro station which was near our hotel, so it was no problem to find it now. Furthermore Martin could speak Russian and Roland was a good organizer.
When we arrived in the hotel we first had to leave our passports and got them back the next day. After we received our keys we went to our rooms and unpacked our stuff. We had again a lousy view out of the window – we only saw a backyard. In the Hotel we saw many restaurants and bars so that we decided to eat something there and not outside in the city. The prices were ok, except the meal of Mercedes, because the price depended on the weight. We were really angry.
Some of us were already tired and wanted to go to bed but the others still went to the Red Square, which was opposite to the hotel. It was a strange atmosphere on this big square - almost deserted. A few guards were standing at the Kremlin. We made a little walk and returned to the hotel.
The next day we went to the breakfast buffet in the twelve floor (fast elevator), from where we had a fantastic view on the Red Square. The buffet was ok, not so good like in St. Petersburg but for the price it was acceptable.
Afterwards we went with all of us (I, Roland, Giuseppe, Mat, Philip, Cedric, Mercedes, Sylvaine, Martin) to the Red Square. Many people were walking around. We first tried to visit the Lenin Mausoleum. But there was a queue so that we decided to come back tomorrow morning. Different people offered us a guidance but we weren’t interested.
So we visited the Kremlin. We had to leave behind the bags and to pay for making photos. The Kremlin area was huge. There existed many cathedrals, which we almost all viewed. At the edge of the terrain we saw walking lanes, where the soldiers were patrolling.
In the afternoon we left the Kremlin to eat something in a nearby pizzeria. Afterwards we went through the city, saw the university from a distance and made a break in a café.
In the evening we didn’t go out. The next day we went to the Lenin Mausoleum. It was a spooky atmosphere. You entered the Mausoleum and walked down. It was very dark. You were not allowed to talk, had to go constantly and you also had to leave your camera outside – we left ours in the hotel.
Then we entered a room where Lenin was lying in a glass casket in the middle. Later we also saw the caskets of other famous men of Russia.
In the afternoon we visited a flea market where we bought military stuff, T-Shirts etc.
In the evening we took the night train to Finland. After we had checked out in the hotel we went to the station. On the way we still bought some souvenirs.
In Finland we changed the train once in Riihimäki.

Report 3:  St. Petersburg and Moscow St. Petersburg and Moscow