New Zealand and Finland have a few things in common. While at opposite ends of the globe our positions geographically are not too unlike and we are both strong in beautiful nature. Of similar size and population we also both know what it is like to have big neighbours.
While NZ’s relationship with Australia could be likened to that between Finland and Sweden, we’ve never had to contend with a neighbour like Russia. Today is Itsenäisyyspäivä, when Finland celebrates 98 years of independence from the Russian Republic.
I made my second visit to Russia earlier this year when my parents were visiting from NZ. While many Finns have never been and say they never will go, we felt having travelled from the other side of the world it was worth making a visit.
We could enter visa-free for 48 hours by arriving on a certain ferry, so we travelled one evening, sleeping on the boat. We arrived early in St Petersburg the next day, where we queued for 90 minutes at the passport check before being allowed to enter the city.
Obviously it’s impossible to see St Petersburg in a day but we managed to visit sites of note, including St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Saviour on Spilled Blood.
We also visited the State Hermitage, where I realised the enormity of the place after spotting a ‘small cloakroom’ designed for a population bigger than a town I grew up in back in New Zealand.
There is a huge collection of art …
… and historical displays….
…. and rooms dripping in gold.
While fascinating, to be honest I found the displays of wealth that so many could benefit from, at times felt a little grotesque.
As we left we found a military display taking place in the square outside.
Despite the tanks, guns and number of personnel there was a moment of levity as we watched a group of women practice their dance moves to the side.
Heading back to the boat we queued again for nearly two hours to get through security and customs, with checks continuing onboard as food and electrical items are not allowed on.
While the visit was nice, we have no plans of defecting to Russia, especially as Finland prepares to celebrate its centenary of independence.
Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivä Suomi!