For some reasons I needed some flights to Moscow and during September Pobeda, the low cost arm of the national Aeroflot Group offered an excellent fare of 60EUR return to Moscow Vnukovo from Frankfurt during a sale. To book that, it took more than one hour as the server was way overloaded, but in the end luckily it went through and some minutes later an e-ticket was in my mailbox. ( The Pobeda flights will be covered in the next report )
As after New Year there is a week of holidays in Russia, we started to explore options where we could go and decided that we wanted to go to St. Petersburg again for a day or two. To get there I booked tickets on the russian carrier of UTair. Normally my preffered mean of transport between Moscow and St. Petersburg is the „Sapsan“ train, which uses the same platform as for example the ICE in Germany, the Siemens Velaro.
The UTair flight would be operated by a B735, a type which is also rather fast disappearing from the skies. In the St. Petersburg, I booked a night in my to-go hotel there, the Radisson Sonya, it isn’t directly on Nevsky Pr. but I like the location of it and they offer a decent quality for the prices they ask. From St. Petersburg, we decided that we want to try the ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn, so there needed to be found a way to get from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, which has basically three options: a very expensive flight, a nice fast train and busses. I went, like last year, again for the train option, as the train only takes around 4 hours between the two cities, and all immigration and customs formalities are dealt with while the train is going. In Helsinki I booked the Hilton, which looked quite nice. The ferry companies between helsinki and tallinn are Eckerö (finnish), Tallinksilja (estonian) and Viking line (finnish company but that ferry they use is flagged to estonia). We went for the MS Finlandia of Eckerö as they offered the departure time which suited us the best. Tickets were just 18EUR each.
In Tallinn in booked the new Hilton, which only opened last summer, and it is a fabulous hotel. To get back from Tallinn a booked tickets on a train of russian RZD, something I wanted to do for quite some time. And indeed it was very interesting.
In St. Petersburg I booked again the Radisson Sonya fort he last night of these holidays before the next day taking a flight on Nordwind Airlines back to Moscow:
Part 1: UTAir Moscow Vnukovo – St. Petersburg Pulkovo
Luckily the departure time of 09:25 was not so early, as I was still a bit tired from the Russian New Year celebrations. To get to the airport we took a taxi and due to the very light traffic in the capital, it only took a bit over 30 minutes and we were already in Vnukovo.
After a quick baggage screening, we were in the check in hall and got our boarding passes. Vnukovo is my favorite airport in Moscow as it is very clean and not as crowded as Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo.
Airside we passed by the shops a bit, and soon enough it was boarding time.
When we walked to the gate, they just stared boarding, so we could go as first on the plane.
Boarding was quickly finished and before pushing back, we were deiced. After 5mins of taxi, the engines started spooling and off we were into the northern skies.
Flight time was announced as a quick 01h05.
UT Air nowadays offers BoB, but it was nice to see, that everyone still got a cookie for free. Completely fine for an hour long flight.
Soon enough the captain already announced that we leave cruising altitude, and indeed 20mins later we touched down in a snowy Pieter. After 2 rounds on the apron our gate position was free and we could deboard.
Part 2: St. Petersburg and the Radisson Sonya
To get to the centre we used the bus line 39, which brings you for a very reasonable 40 RUB tot he Moskovskaya metro station, from where you are basically anywhere in the centre within 20mins.
When arriving at the hotel, we were checked in by a friendly employee and thanks to ClubCarlson Gold, we were upgraded to a BusinessClass room, which is quite a bit bigger, offers a Nespresso machine, upgraded amenties and free breakfast.
The room was nice and after relaxing a bit, we went off into the centre. Our leisurly walk took us over Nevsky Pr. And back again.
For dinner, we went to the Trattoria Limononcello, which in my opinion has quite a nice pizza and pasta.
As our train to Helsinki was already leaving at 06:40 the next morning, we called a night early.
Part 3: Allegro train to Helsinki
The Allegro train is a joint venture between the Finnish VR and Russian RZD and offers up to 4 trains a day between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. We booked the first train of the day at 06:40 to have the whole day in Finland.
All the trains leave from Finlandsky Vokzal ( although it should be Finnsky Vokzal ), which is only a 15min walk from the hotel.
Check In for the train is done at the station and today’s train seemed to have a healthy load.
Between St.P and the Russian border city of Vyborg, the Russian customs and immigration officers do their work, then the train crosses the boarder and between the Finnish cities of Vanikalla and Lahti, the Finnish do their checks.
It is a nice system and at 09:00 we already arrived at the main station in Helsinki.
Part 4: Helsinki and the Hilton Strand Helsinki
In Helsinki we were welcomed by a lot of snow, really a lot. To get to the hotel we still decided to walk as it was only around 10mins away from the station. The hotel is located, to quote a certain Finnish friend of mine in the „communistic“ part of Helsinki, but I liked the location and our room was already ready by 10 AM which was very nice to refresh after the train ride.
In the Hilton we were upgraded to an Executive Room with sea view, which was a very nice room. This came with Executive lounge access and free breakfast. In this hotel one could choose between the full buffet or a smaller version in the lounge.
After we went for a walk to the centre.
Of course we needed to stop at the famous Fazer café for some cake and coffee. It is every time very tasty there again.
After we went tot the National History Museum of Finland, which gave a great overview of Finnish history.
As the cake was very filling, we just had a light dinner and some wine in the hotel lounge.
Part 5: Eckerö Line Ferry to Tallinn.
In order to get to the harbour, we cought a tram, which was leaving just 2 mins away from the hotel and took about 15mins. It was packed with Finnish teens, who went for the day to Tallinn, mostly already drinking at 7 in the morning.
In the harbour I checked us in for the ferry at one of the check-in machines and we could board straight ahead.
The ship, the MS Finlandia is very spacious and offers a lot of entertainment onboard. It offers several bars, gaming, shops and outdoor terraces, although the later was only visited by some smokers, given the temperatures were quite a bit under 0.
We went for a walk around first and later settled in the forward bar, where a band was playing live music.
The two hour ride passed way too quickly and soon enough we were in Tallinn.
Part 6: Tallinn and the Hilton Tallinn Park
Just as in Helsinki we decided to walk to the hotel. As we haven’t been to Tallinn before it was nice to get a first impression that way. The Hilton isn’t located directly in the Oldtown of Tallinn, but only a 10 minutes walk away. After arriving there, the bellman took care about our luggage and we headed straight to the executive lounge for check-in, where we were informed that we were upgraded to a One-Bedroom-Suite. That’s a very nice welcome. Of course, this also comes with lounge access and complimentary breakfast in the lounge.
Our suite was located on the 8th floor, whereas the lounge was on the 11th, the top floor.
Our room consisted of a living room, with sofa, TV and working desk, then, a dressing room with big wardrobe, a seperate sleeping room with a Kingsize bed and TV and a big bathroom with a double sink, shower, bath tub and toilet.
After refreshing ourselves and a drink in the lounge, we first did some shopping and then went into Old Tallinn for sightseeing. There is a lot to see, and we first checked out the chirstmas market and after the most famous orthodox church in the city, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. After we went to the Tallinn City museum, a smaller museum about the history of the city, very interesting and well done.
In the evening, we had a reservation at the Väike Rataskaevu 16, a very high rated restaurant at TripAdvisor. It was absolutely fabulous, the menu is small, but quirky and well thought of. They also have a good wine menu and the waiters gave recommendations. The prices are also completely fine for the quality they deliver.
I can only recommend it to everyone who will travel to Tallinn.
When coming back there was a full size bottle of decent French wine waiting for us as welcome gift. Much appreciated.
The next day we had a lazy start and then went to the KUMU, the national art gallery of Estonia, which was fairly interesting with a lot of exponats, paintings and sculptures.
Only the modern art they showcast is a bit strange and not my piece of cake.
After the KUMU, we went to Vapiano and had some pasta for lunch before getting back to the hotel for some coffee and to check out.
Definitely one of the best hotels I have stayed at: the property is stunning and the service very attentive and good.
Part 7: RZD train to St. Petersburg
To get to the train station in Tallinn, we went for the tram, which was leaving from the block next to the hotel.
The main station of Tallinn is not very shiny, but it does its job. We arrived around 30mins before the departure of the train to St.Petersburg, which after continues to Moscow.
At around 20 minutes before departure we could board the train after the tickets were checked. Our carriage, an older Russian one, already showing its days, was rather comfortable and particularly interesting that it was heated still by a coal heating. That way it was kept warm the whole way. After departure the train attended collected all passports to enter the numbers in a list and after gave them back, along with immigration cards for non-Russian citizens. The train isn’t very fast, so after about 2 hours we reached the Estonian border town Narva, where first customs came onboard to make their check, as well as validating duty free forms. After that, the Estonian Immigration officers came onboard and checked every passport and also compared them to the list the train attended was doing earlier. All this took a good 1h15. After we slowly rolled over the boarder into the Russian border town of Ivangorod, where the Russian officers took the passports to check them in the station’s office. They were very friendly and welcoming. This took again a good 90 minutes and we were finally good to go again and with some 3 more stops on the way we made it to St. Petersburgs Glavny Vokzal ( Moskovsky Vokzal) bang on time at 23:54 local time.
Part 8: St. Petersburg Take II and the Radisson Sonya hotel.
To get to the hotel, we prebooked a taxi and 10mins and 150RUB later we were dropped off and quickly checked in. The room was very similar like the first one some days before, again a Business class room.
The next morning we had a long lay in before going for a walk.
After eating some pancakes, we got back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and then went back to St. Petersburg Pulkovo airport, again first by metro and after by bus line 39.
Part 9: Nordwind Airlines St. Petersburg Pulkovo – Moscow Sheremetyevo
After arriving at the airport, we quickly located the Nordwind check-in desks and gave our baggage, which become double as heavy over the holidays, oops.
Security was also a breeze, and we quickly were airside, where the drama began.
Originally our flight was scheduled for 20h50, but the aircraft was late by 30 mins, so the initial delay was 30 mins, but over the time it grew to more than two hours, without any given information. Also when we called their office, the only answer we got, was a very rude: I have no idea.
Finally after more than 2 hours late, we could board.
The flight was not eventful, but the seats and seat pitch must be the worst I have experienced. I don’t know why such narrow seats need to be put on a 321 as there was a good few inches between seats and wall. My guess is, that it is the same seat, that they use on their 3-4-3 77Es.
The service consisted of a small water and that was it.
It was nice to log a new airline, and the fare was certainly very competitive, but they won’t get my business again.