We checked out of the hotel fairly with a big drive ahead of us. We headed north-west towards the border with Norway. There isn’t very much between Inari and Norway. Trees, some reindeer, more trees, mosquitoes, and rain. We managed to find a lot of rain and mosquitoes. Even though Norway is not a member of the EU, they are part the Schengen Area (like Iceland). If we blinked we might have missed the border crossing, just a tiny sign on the side of the road that said Norge.
We got up fairly early in the morning after a decent night’s sleep. Breakfast provided the usual affair of bread, pastries, eggs and fruit. With a polite sign asking that you didn’t make sandwiches to take with you. We got our stuff together and headed off for a walk to Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church. There was another car in the car park before when we set off, so we were pretty sure we were in the right place. The start of the track was a bit rough but was fairly easy going.
The next morning we enjoyed another hotel breakfast including eggs, bacon, sausage and numerous pastries before loading up our backpacks and heading out to find the Arctic Circle. Conveniently there are a few signs, and even a line on the ground to let you know where it is.
After a good sleep-in and a cooked breakfast in the hotel we caught a taxi to the airport. Dad tried to talk his way into the lounges, but none of them would accept his Qantas Club membership, despite our tickets being booked through Qantas for the internal flight.
I meet Dad at the train station in Helsinki and caught a taxi back to the hotel. We had an early night because we had to get up 4 something something the next morning for a boat across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia. Good thing about Europe, the countries are so close, which seems like a silly thing to say, but they are a lot further away in Australia.
The train ride back to Helsinki was punctuated by the Russian border control taking my passport for a while and going for a walk, to another carriage. Turns out my visa had been stuck in the passport upside down, and they couldn’t scan it on their machines. Didn’t have any issues getting into Russia, but this time they wanted to check with a supervisor on what to do – manually type in the visa details on their machines.
The first day we had booked a guide for The Hermitage. It was within walking distance from the hotel, so we set off on foot. The cost of the guide paid for itself when they negotiated our way through all of the queues and straight into the museum before it was actually open. I think they used dad’s walking stick as an excuse. The only down side was I didn’t like being rude, and cutting past that many people was a bit award, they had been waiting a long time to get in.
One thing I really do love in Europe are the trains. They are such a more civilised way of travelling than aeroplanes. No giant queues, no need to take off your belt and shoes (although I am good at dressing in stuff that never sets off the metal detectors), and there is so much more leg room. Not that I need lots of leg room, but there is still much more of it.
We spent the next couple of days around Helsinki. What we didn’t know was this time of year was holidays and a lot of things were closed. Dad had bookmarked a few museums to go to, but even these were closed. I was desperately trying to find a place to fix my laptop, but most of the shops were closed.
Today started early, again. 4 AM alarm, got dressed, checked out, and into the car.
We negotiated the rather quiet and slightly familiar streets back to the highway to the airport. There were hardly any cars, but there were some roadworks at 4:30AM! Good time to do them, no one about. Dropped off the car, walked the 1.5km back to the terminal, and lined up for baggage drop. They asked to see passports, but only to confirm our tickets. Dad asked about passport control, “Not until you return to the UK.” Ha! Jokes on you, I mean, of course, not until we return to the UK.