Looking for a taste of Russia beyond Saint Petersburg, we planned a day trip to Vyborg (pronounced Vee-bork), near the border with Finland. Vyborg was part of Finland for large parts of its history, and although Stalin deported all of the Finns after the Great Patriotic War, it is now is a common day trip for Finnish tourists on the weekends.
There’s a “fast” train that has only a few stops and takes about an hour and a half from Saint Petersburg, so we got up early enough to catch it. We were careful on timing — not realizing ahead of time that we could use kiosks (in English) instead of the ticket window (not in English) — so we ended up with an hour for coffee and a walk around Lenin Square before our train left.
We learned that Russian commuter trains check your ticket — a paper receipt with a barcode — at the entry turnstile, on the train, and an exit turnstile. Keep your receipt until you are out of the station!
Also, the train prohibited drinking alcohol on board. Opposites I guess — back home I can drink alcohol on trains but not outside in public spaces.
After a comfortable train ride, we arrived. We walked through a park to the architecturally notable library designed by Alvar Aalto during the Finnish period. Apparently we were too early to visit the interior (still confused by Russian open hours), so we returned later. I’m not sure how to describe the style other than “undulating,” so here are some pictures:
For the morning, we made our way around town to see the strange museum building (also called the Hermitage), the docks, a church, a “round tower,” market, and castle on an island.
In the church, Elizabeth and I both noticed big furry Russian hats on the carpet. I knew men take off their hats in Orthodox churches, but I didn’t understand why they were on the rug. Then Elizabeth noticed that one of the hats stretched out — they were not hats, they were cats. Sadly no photo allowed.
I’ve learned some Russian pronunciation, so I know that p is r, c is s, and e, t, o, and a are similar to English. I figured out that the tower with signage PECTOPAH was probably a restaurant. Elizabeth figured this out by reading the guidebook, which says that the round tower is home to a restaurant. [Elizabeth’s note: even though I understand that the word is more or less pronounced “restaurant,” in my head restaurants are “pectopahs” in Russia. As in, “I’m hungry, let’s find a pectopah.”]
The castle was the highlight, and included a tower with excellent views.
Before the castle, we picked up a “pretzel” (looked like a pretzel, and tasty, but did not taste like a pretzel) and a gingerbread castle modeled on the real one:
As much as we enjoyed the town, we had extra time because we decided to skip visiting the small museums. I’ve been to so many that a town museum, even well set-up, won’t hold my interest. So after a return visit to the library, Elizabeth suggested that we enjoy a Russian pastime while waiting for our train: drinking in a park.
Unsure if public drinking is legal in Russia (or if not, would we be the first people ever arrested for drinking in Russia?), we bought a Zatecky Gus beer at the supermarket, went to a park bench, and quietly enjoyed our beverage with a view.
Due to timing (leaving at 4:25), we took a local train back, complete with a longer ride on less comfortable seats.
Our train was mostly empty until about 5:10, when the train stopped at a platform that appeared to be in the middle of the woods (it was not the first such platform). A large group boarded the train. Two men sat down near us with baskets of large mushrooms that appear freshly picked from the forest. One took a nap but I refrained from sneaking a taste.
We would later see at least a dozen people with baskets, either of mushrooms or berries, brought back to Saint Petersburg.
Vyborg turned out to be a relaxing and easy day trip from Saint Petersburg. For the average tourist rushing to see all of the sights in a limited time period, it might not be at the top of any “must see” list, but it hit a nice sweet spot for us.
[We’re making yet another attempt to get caught up on our blog posts. This post describes our visit to Vyborg, Russia on September 13, 2016.]