Our Journey to Russia : Part II : Sleeping Like Sardines

Getting in and out was a process. One bag under the table, one behind the bathroom door, two more on the bed. Purses teetered on ledges and a bag of food we’d surprisingly been allowed to carry on board was better to be eaten than to take up much-needed space. Four of us at once could not fit on the floor of our home for the next fourteen hours. A moving capsule of dining, lodging and entertainment, we were more compressed than bear meat stuffed into cans we’d seen for sale earlier that day at Helsinki’s Harbour Market.

The St Peter Line Lobster - Cruise Helsinki to St Petersburg - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
The St Peter Line Lobster – Cruise Helsinki to St Petersburg – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

Bringing down four beds which hinged to the walls, we found our places and became quiet, processing our night’s home. The door to our room was still opened into a narrow hallway with carpet the color of the sea we were floating on. Was this really it? This would be our trip to Russia? How exciting! How charming! How…quaint!

“I’ll go listen to the bands.”
“I’m going to read my book.”
“It’s nap time for me.”
“I’m going to rest my foot.”

We’d agreed to meet up in a couple hours. Deck 7 provided onboard entertainment all night long, ending only to allow the cruise’s night club to offer a “black tie” event well after midnight. I made a sandwich, grabbed book and went upstairs to relax while listening to a pianist play hits from Sinatra and Adele. Luxury travel at its best.

Click on an image and scroll through to see photos from our Helsinki – St. Petersburg Cruise:

On Deck 7, families gathered and couples sipped glasses of wine. The bar offered a two-for-one special during the first hour, and a group in their forties took advantage as the little ones released their energy on an otherwise empty dance floor. A sign posted near the entrance clearly prohibited outside food to be brought in, so I took small nibbles only when eyes weren’t staring hard in my direction.

While some had splurged on suites with balconies and meal packages, the four of us had booked the most affordable room available with no added luxuries. That meant sneaking nibbles and cramming ourselves and our belongings into a four-bed room with no window and a bathroom big enough do what’s needed and get out fast.

I was well into a trance of reading and tapping in time to the music when G joined me. One of the greeters when we’d entered the ship had been a member of a band and invited us to watch his show. She’d arrived just in time. “D and K are going to the restaurant for a bite to eat. We’ll meet them in a half hour.”
Good idea.
We needed to be out of the room, and meals offered on board looked surprisingly tempting and priced more toward the Saint Petersburg market than the outrageously expensive Helsinki clan. Why not? We all had something to celebrate, and could use more gossipy, get-to-know-you girl time.

The rest of the night was filled with the most ridiculous stories and never-ending giggles. We drifted around the boat watching the black sea pass out the large windows laughing at a pair of pirates make balloon animals and gawking at the cabaret dancers. Long before that oh-so-enticing black tie event, we were all back in our cell for a good night’s rest. We’d done enough celebrating for the night, one made all that greater because of something that had happened just before boarding the ship: Something that at the time had scared us to no end and left us wondering if our one pre-set goal “Avoid getting arrested in Russia” was actually going to be put to the test.

Click on an image and scroll through to see photos from our Helsinki – St. Petersburg Cruise:

What happened? What was the storm before the calm?
Flashback to:

Our Journey to Russia : Part I : A Missing Person Alert

While waiting in line to go through border control before boarding the ship, D announced she was walking not 50 feet away to purchase a bottle of water. Three of us held our spots in line, creeping slowly forward as passengers one by one had their passports stamped and moved to the boat. By the time we’d reached check-in we were still only three and assumed D had minded her P’s and Q’s and gone to the back of the line rather than cut in front of other passengers to stand with us.

We continued on our way and waited on the other side. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. I’d asked to go back into the main terminal after explaining that the fourth member of our party had not come through the line, which was now completely empty. They told me to be patient, speaking little English and I speaking an insignificant amount of Russian.

Thirty-one. Thirty-two. Forty minutes. We’d all split up, staying within eyesight of each other and simultaneously keeping an eye on each of the entrances and exits of the border control area. I asked again. This time they were more aware- seeing a bit of panic in my eyes and wondering for themselves where she could have gone. I showed them a photo from my camera taken the day before and described her height and stature through hand gestures. An official looking border patrol agent took his walkie talkie, spoke with a few other guards, and crossed into the terminal, a crease of concern making its way onto his brow.

He didn’t return. Our stomachs were tight with anxiety and fear. What if G was gone? What if they hadn’t let her through, or something awful had happened? What if she’d actually gotten arrested? That thought made us chuckle if only for a brief moment – as it was a goal we’d made for no real reason, but one that seemed might have been serious. I imagined so many things, but tried to wipe them from my mind.

We knew we had to do something. With that, an elaborate plan was formed and set into motion. D would go to the boat. First to our room to see if G was there, then around the ship. She wouldn’t be able to leave again, but would come back to the gangplank and give us thumbs up or down if she found G. K would wait near the window and I near passport check, all still able to see one another and still guarding our bags which had become heavy nuisances during this process. We were nervous, nearly to the point of tears. We were about to be four people in three different places with no way to communicate between us. Not ideal.

D left the terminal and walked toward the ship waiting outside. After a few moments in the sun, she turned around and came back inside to ask us a question.
It was in those few seconds of sunshine that G spotted D and the biggest panic of our trip was soon solved.

An hour earlier, just after purchasing her bottle of water, G been ushered to another security checkpoint and had managed to pass through before us. When she came to the room where we’d stood waiting, we weren’t yet there. Assuming we’d all boarded the ship, she continued on. Once she found our room empty, she returned back to the front of the ship and asked to be let off to no avail. For security reasons, it was another point of no return and therefore our greatest separation. She couldn’t see into the room where we waited, and we couldn’t see her standing behind the guards at the ship’s entrance.

When D popped outside, G managed to eagerly convince the guards to let her down. “They’re looking for me! That’s my friend!” 

No sooner had D returned to K and I to ask a question than G came running in. A huge smile was on her face and quickly spread to ours, helping keep the tears away. Those were the biggest hugs and most sincere seals of friendship any of us had experienced, maybe forever.

Three Little Bunnies - Cruise Helsinki to St Petersburg - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Three Little Bunnies – Cruise Helsinki to St Petersburg – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

 

Our Journey to Russia : Part III : The Lesson

Lesson Learned. If you split up for any reason, even something as silly as to walk a few yards away for a bottle of water, have a game plan.

We didn’t. The four of us are well-traveled, but in the solo sense rather than in groups. We are each strong, independent, and used to fending for ourselves. G was fine. We were fine. Our communication was not, and that’s what led to a catastrophic misunderstanding which, in the end, was solved by a ray of sunshine.

That night on the cruise ship in our sardine can of a room, we had so much more to celebrate than we’d originally anticipated!

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