Day 115: The Floating Valhalla


I’m never going to get any sleep, am I?! Cursed! Cursed I am to spend this month wide awake like a teething baby. Ah well. I somehow managed to struggle free from my bunk after a microscopic amount of shuteye; and furthermore I managed to jump in a taxi to the port for the crack o’ dawn ferry to Finland.

Talk about 24-hour party people! The Finnish and Swedish onboard had turned the ship into a floating Valhalla for the sole purpose of getting as drunk as humanly possible. The cabin corridors looked like student digs and reeked of booze. Everyone who attempted to speak to me fell over before they could finish their sentence. Most of the people on board hadn’t even got off the boat when it got into Stockholm – they were just going to Sweden and back to get rotten and have a party.

Now, being a kind of travelling version of Keith Floyd, I would have, under normal circumstances, manoeuvred myself into a position which would have seen me joining in with the festivities – dancing on the ceiling, showing strangers my appendix scar etc., but today it was all catching up to me and I crashed out in a particularly uncomfortable chair.

By the time I was back in the land of the living, I was possibly the only sober person on board. After desperately trying to organise somewhere to kip for the night (everywhere was fully booked in Helsinki), we reached the port of Turku at 7pm. All in all, a bit of bad timing – the train to Helsinki left at 7:45pm, getting in at 10pm, but the last boat of the day over the water to Tallinn in Estonia leaves at 10 also, so there is no chance of making the connection.

I had finally found somewhere to stay for the night, but I didn’t have a CLUE where it was – the lady who ran the hostel said something about an island. Now, there was another Backpackers on a sort-of island to the east of the city, so I assumed it would be close to there. So I walked. And walked. And walked.

The fine, clear spring day had given way to a frosty cold night and the chills were running down my back legs (as opposed to my front legs, of course). I finally got to the Backpackers listed in the Baloney Planet, when I found out that no, the lady had meant an island, a proper one called Suommelina – one that you had to get a boat to reach. By now it was past eleven. Luckily, the ferry runs once and hour until 2am, so I headed down to the harbour and waited.

The island is a UNESCO world heritage site, an old fort from back in the bad old days when Sweden and Russia liked nothing more than to knock seven shades of crap out of each other every bank holiday weekend. The youth hostel was sparse, but more than adequate. Got chatting with a bunch from Spain who had fallen into the same trap as me – all the other hostels being full. Cabron!

Here be the vid of the last few days:

Day 116: Arrested Development


The boat over to Tallinn was quick and easy and got me in to the capital of Estonia in fine fettle just around noon. I grabbed a cab across town (and what a marvellously delightful town it is!) and jumped a bus to Narva, on the Russian border.

Here’s the plan… I don’t have a Russian visa, so I can’t actually go into Russia proper, but what I can do is go up to the border and talk to the border guards, and then I’m technically in that country, yeah?

Er… no.

The border post, and there was only one, was on the European side of the river. Fences, CCTV and border guards standing all around. This was not going to be the cakewalk I expected. IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

So I had a gander at a map on the wall near the border and discovered that further down the river it splits in two and runs either side of an old industrial complex. There was a chance that I could sneak onto this island and sneak back without arousing suspicion.

Or so I thought.

IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

I walked along the riverbank until I saw what I was after – a concrete strip, probably dating from the war, half submerged in the shallow water which created an artificial ford. I could just amble across – as long as I didn’t attempt to scale the CLIFF on the far side of the river, I figured I’d be fine.

So I started picking my way across the river. I had got half way and was fairly satisfied I had stepped foot in Russia when the flares went off. Where they for me?

IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

I trotted back towards the European Union as nonchalantly as I could. Just keep walking, Graham, you’ll be fine, you’re just a tourist who’s a bit lost. With a HD camcorder! And a GPS device!

IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

Oh god… I could hear the sirens… two border guards came running at me, hands on their holsters…

Before I knew it, I was being whisked away to a tumble-down industrial complex on the outskirts of Narva. It was all a bit surreal to be honest. I just acted dumb (not too hard!) and explained that I read the map wrong and was trying to get into the island in the middle of the river which was still Estonia. The island that was a half-mile upstream from where I was trying to cross.

The good thing was that these guys were Estonians, not the Russians. They told me that if I’d been caught by the Russians, I would have been held for three days because they would assume I was a British spy WITH A SILLY HAT ON.

Thanks to my schooling, and especially my time spent in Mr. Row’s office, I’m not a bad liar, and I tend not to stress out in situations like this. So I remained calm, they gave me cake (cake or death!) and orange juice until a lawyer got there. The border guys were really nice, they didn’t shout and scream and one even drove across town to pick my bag up from the museum where I had left it earlier.

When the lawyer arrived we had a chat, I think they were just concerned that I was exiting Russia illegally, but my pockets where stuffed full of evidence that I had arrived in Estonia that day. They photocopied all my stuff and then made damn sure I was on the next bus back to Tallinn. Given that Estonia is now a frontier of the European Union, I guess they aren’t too impressed with stupid ginger types who go wandering off into no-mans-land like borders aren’t a matter of life and death.

The sad thing is, although us merry band of brothers in Europe can wander about our 40-odd countries willy-nilly without so much as a passport, there are still borders out there that people are still in danger of being shot dead if they try to cross.

On the bus back to Tallinn I got online (thank you Vodafone!) and checked my GPS log – oh YES! I did step foot in Russia – I made it far enough across the river, only a few meters, but far enough to claim my entry.

Okay, so I feel it’s cheating a little to say I’ve visited the biggest country on Earth (all 11 time zones of it) but my task is to step foot in these places, and it’s not like I’m going to go any further than a couple of meters into Somalia is it?!

I took the overnight coach to Lithuania. It passed through Latvia on the way. I was so thirsty, I nearly cried. Are there no vending machines in this part of the world?