Neighbours

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.

The Maiden of Finland

The Maiden of Finland

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.

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Even Google is celebrating

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.

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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.

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Not the ferry we arrived on

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.

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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.

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There is a huge collection of art …

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… and historical displays….

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…. and rooms dripping in gold.

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For when understated is overrated

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Tips on redecorating your entranceway abound

While fascinating, to be honest I found the displays of wealth that so many could benefit from, at times felt a little grotesque.

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Not available at IKEA

As we left we found a military display taking place in the square outside.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Independence Day Finland

 

4 thoughts on “Neighbours

  1. We went to St Petersburg a few years ago and despite some of the grand buildings, I found it depressing. My grandfather grew up under Russian rule, possibly the reason he migrated to Australia in 1912. He lived in Sakkijarvi, not far from St Petersburg. The whole are was taken by Russia in the Winter war.

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    • So much history for me to learn and so many people here directly affected by recent history. We have also visited another town that used to be part of Finland and is now under Russian rule and had much the same experience as you had. The boat ride was fun though – five hours there and five hours back singing from a songbook in with a room of 100 Finns!

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  2. I love St. Petersburg – it’s so beautiful. Some buildings are similar to the ones we have in Helsinki but they are ten times bigger!! I didn’t like the ferry though, next time I want to try to go by train. I have advised all my friends who go that they should get up early, so they are first in line to exit the ferry – that way time isn’t wasted at the passport control 🙂

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