Thursday, April 28, 2016

French fries in Finland

This post turned out rather long, definitely don't have time for this every day! However, check out my IG feed for frequent snapshots.

David and I (and the other concerned family members) can check this year's border run off our to-do list...whew. Until we figure out if we're going to get permanent residency for him, the 3 yr visa requires him to leave the country every 6 months. Or rather, he's supposed to be just coming for 6 month visits, but he's allowed right back in.

The search feature on Blogspot isn't always the best, so here and here and here are previous border runs with David, and here is one of my own from way back in 2008. Oh yeah, and wayyy back in 2007, one of my first blog posts was about visiting Estonia.

Sometimes we try to make a little trip out of going to Finland, but for the past few years we have found that it isn't very relaxing for all the effort we put in. Plus, it tends to fall between February-April, not the nicest months for exploring any northern countries.

This time, I decided as an alternative method to ask another missionary friend of mine to go with me and David, instead of going through the visa process with Andrei to get into any Schengen countries. My friend has Canadian citizenship, so it would be easy for her to go, and we were counting on that.

Unfortunately, my friend had to rush to Canada due to a family emergency, right before our trip! We were already planning to go on the last day of David's registration, so there was nothing we could really reschedule, and as usual, it was too late to get Andrei a visa, so David and I were going to be on our own. It took some effort to get tickets, as well. I found conflicting information on various websites, and had trouble entering David's birthdate. So Andrei had to make a special trip to the train station to get the tickets, but it ended up being a lot cheaper than via the tourist agencies!

I had planned everything out to end up with an optimal schedule. I always remind myself of this when it appears as though we're completely disorganized. The good intentions were always there! In this case, I picked a later morning departure and then a train back that would have us home for bedtime. We chose a town just 2 hours away, to make for easy travel.

David woke up on his own just in time to get dressed and leave for the train. We were making good time, nothing to panic about. He did start melting down though when he realized Andrei wasn't going with us. David has been having a lot of separation anxiety lately and goodbyes can take a long time. I think today and possibly yesterday were the calmest he's been in a while about Andrei leaving for work and such, but if any part of the goodbye ritual is omitted, he gets quite upset (if so-and-so didn't wave the right way, etc.). He asks for me at bedtime after wanting Andrei and/or Babushka all day! Anyway, I had to take out our emergency toy in order to distract him so that we could say goodbye to Andrei at the train station.

Watching loads and loads of birch logs go by!

The train ride was just 2 hours, so wasn't really a big deal. I didn't pack quite enough entertainment and we had some random stickers out that David was sticking in places he wasn't supposed to. We actually left one stuck to the back of the seat in front of us, as I knew it would be easily removed, but I had to quickly peel a few off the window and tray table.

On a short train ride across the border, the majority of the commute is spent in passport control. It's nice having the border patrol come right to your seat instead of having to get off and wait in line as on a bus. However, it's a little harder with a child who wants to be up and running around. I was also nervous because our stop was coming up. My one fear was about getting off at the right stop since we'd never been there before and it was in the middle of the route. I had checked the schedule and seen that we would only be stopped for 2 minutes.

Since we were seated in the children's car, we were also the last to have our passports checked. As soon as we got the stamps, I asked if we could make our way to the door, and they said we could. I looked around to see what other passengers were doing so we could get off with someone. One man immediately left for the front of the train, but there was another who was standing by the door, so I figured we could get off with him. There were no train or border staff in sight.

The train stopped and I waited for the male passenger to press the green button to open the door. He pressed it repeatedly and nothing happened. He pressed the emergency button and nothing happened. He then tried the adjacent door and nothing happened. I didn't try to press the button myself as I assumed he would figure it out. 2 minutes passed pretty quickly, and the train was moving again. I had done everything that seemed necessary to get us off at our stop, and yet here we were, stuck on the train!

At 6 months pregnant, I couldn't very well have run with David in my arms throughout the length of the train, or jumped off as it started moving! At least we had the same fate as this other passenger. We followed him through the other cars to the service office, where he explained what had happened to a member of the staff. Of course it was odd. Why hadn't he been able to open EITHER of the doors? He claimed to be a frequent commuter, so I mostly trusted that he knew what he was doing. Why hadn't any emergency buttons worked? Again, were his button-pushing skills up to par, or not? And as a side note, why wouldn't the children's car have a staff member on stand-by in case someone with a baby/stroller needed help getting out? With tickets purchased in advance, couldn't they make a note of how many passengers were supposed to get off at each stop? Self-serve technology can be efficient, until you need a human being!

I tried to prepare myself mentally for going all the way to Helsinki, another 1.5 hours or so. And then back another 3.5 hours! We had plenty of food, but I'm pretty sure David (and I) would have gone crazy. The train employee told us we could get off at the next stop, and wrote us a ticket for going back the other way.

When we got off, we had to wait an hour for the next train going back. This wasn't the end of the world since we would have had a few hours to kill anyway. The only catch was that David's naptime was approaching! I had expected to be off the train and wandering around at this time, getting some lunch and relaxing somewhere. Instead I had to keep him safe while still in the actual train station. We were in a new country and I couldn't read the signs in Finnish. I didn't see any ATMs nearby, but had about 25 euros from a previous trip. We made the time pass by riding the elevators and making several trips to buy lollipops for all of our family members.

Stairwell stowaway
(eating gummy bears)
On the commuter train, for which we had a handwritten ticket, David was quickly losing patience. There was also nowhere to sit down. For a 30-minute ride it wasn't the end of the world, but I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed that no one offered any sort of assistance. The man who had been stuck with us mentioned that we should file a complaint, especially in my "condition," but he seemed to feel too awkward to offer additional help or advice. We only kept track of each other to bear witness to what had happened.

As we finally were approaching our intended stop, David had had enough, and wouldn't allow any physical contact. He started screaming as I tried to hold his hand on the bumpy train, and I was irritated that he wouldn't follow a basic safety rule! And of course, we shouldn't have been on a train at that point in the first place. It was a relief to get off, even if we were almost 2 hours late. Now we had about 2.5 hours until our train home.

Nap-mode David is not very cooperative, and requires lots of bribes and creative distractions to get anywhere. In this case, I kept promising him "potato," AKA french fries. This was our main goal of the day, nevermind that there was no time to do something like visit a museum. I had abandoned the idea of finding a playground, due to David's broken collarbone (more on that in another post).

We chose a family restaurant instead of fast food, so we could kind of camp out and relax a bit, plus I could order right at the table. I spotted an ATM about 10 meters from the entrance, but didn't see David approving of the detour, so bypassed it. We were seated right away in our own section and David quickly made himself at home in a playhouse where there were toys. I put in our order, visited the salad bar, and made use of the free Wi-Fi. My phone doesn't have an international plan, so I had used Wi-Fi at one point to let Andrei know of our plight, but hadn't been able to update him before he left for a work meeting.

I could get used to this!

David seemed to be having a good time, and I soon discovered why...he was busy turning off and rebooting the little computer drawing game that was set up in the playhouse! Thankfully it still seemed to work. I managed to convince him to come eat, and he settled into a chair with his arms on the armrests. Then I dutifully went to push him in, and caught his finger in-between! I took a look and his fingernail even looked a little dented, ahhhhh. I stuck the injured finger in a glass of cold water, but he wasn't thrilled with being wet. We went back and forth a little with a napkin bandage, french fries that were too hot but not allowed to be broken, etc. Finally I turned on YouTube videos on my phone and we commenced eating lunch.

The time was passing quickly and I was nervous about getting back to the train station (which, by the way, was literally right down the street, another reason why I had picked this destination). I wanted to allow for a lot of extra time in case we had trouble finding the platform or David was resistant. I asked for the check, and as usual, my debit card wasn't working. It rarely works abroad, though in this case I had actually forgotten to notify my bank anyway. It was going to be quite the feat to get David away from YouTube and to the ATM and back. However, as I counted out my cash, I realized that I had just enough to pay the bill and leave 1 euro for the pay toilet in the train station. :)

I somehow managed to get David out the door. He didn't want to go towards the train station, and I told him we were going down a hill/small mountain, so he kept wailing "I want the small mountain!" We got there and played with the "thank-you" doors (automatic) again, and even found a sensor-activated escalator to ride until it was time to go.

My last nerve-wracking task was to get us ON the train, since we were in the middle of the route with that 2-minute stop again. This time, I hovered near the border guards even though they were getting on in a different car. Once on the train, we had to walk all the way back to the last car. David didn't like our initial seats, so we moved a bit closer to the play area.

Peace at last-there was only one other family in the play area, and they had toys to share. However, a few stops later, a large group of Finnish elderly tourists got on, with huge suitcases. Apparently they had booked late (?) and had reserved our section! I asked if they wanted us to move, and they nodded yes, so I had to quickly gather all our things and get David to grab his shoes, and move back to our original seats, while maneuvering around the Finns and their baggage. Just as I was in the middle of moving everything, my cell phone service came back and I got a call from Andrei checking in.

Meanwhile, we got in our seats and put down the tray tables, where David's yellow balloon sticker from the morning greeted us! :) That meant we were in the same car, and the door button was clearly working...hmmmm.

The wait for passport control began and we were going to be last again. I made David stay in his seat even though the Finnish group had gotten off and we technically could have moved back to the play area. He asked to go to the bathroom twice, and then a third time JUST as the border patrol was getting to our car! We were not supposed to be in the bathroom at that point, and they waited for us to come out to check our car.

We arrived to rain in St. Petersburg, and I was about out of patience at that point, though still very thankful to be home in one piece! We still had to ride the metro and tram, though. And the tram had broken down, so after a long wait, we went and got in a route taxi, which then sat at the stop accumulating passengers, while the tram commenced working and 3-4 trams passed by. David put his head down on the window sill and started to go to sleep, then cried as his sleep was interrupted. When I got up to open the door for us, he started crying hysterically, the stress of the day having finally gotten to him!

We bought a toy for him on the way home. :)

Andrei and Vladimir went to the FMS today and got David registered for another 6 months, though we'll be leaving for the summer soon, but still good to have everybody legal!

As for future trips to Finland, I have to say that it was a convenient itinerary and location. We'll have to work on getting those train doors open (and another travel companion) next time.


  1. Hi Elizabeth, I just came across your blog today and really appreciate all you are saying. Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. God bless you. :)

  2. Thanks! Your blog profile sounds familiar to me for some reason, but at any rate it is also nice to hear from new people! :)

  3. Loved this post. It was like going on the trip with you. I wish I could have! I hope at least the fries were good. (Must say I felt for you when I read about smashing his finger - been there, done that.) Makes you feel awful, especially when they scream like you'd just amputated it.

  4. Awesome article. It is so detailed and well formatted that i enjoyed reading it as well as get some new information too.

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