Our entry into Russia was both scary and entertaining.
For now, there’s only one way into The Russian Federation without a visa for United States visitors like us–St. Peter Line. I had booked an overnight cruise on its Princess Maria from Helsinki, Finland, to St. Petersburg. Ruth & I didn’t know until we boarded that Maria was a Russian ship.
After settling into our De Luxe Class Cabin, which was OK but far from deluxe, we explored the ship and ended up in a bar, one of several, where we listened to a sincere Russian woman play the piano and sing. After she found her thrill on Blueberry Hill, she told us to “Let It Be”. Most of the customers in the huge lounge were young couples. On the dance floor their children were running back & forth. The next song was the old standard “You Belong to Me”. We were told charmingly about the marketplace in Old Jeers. Actually a pretty good singer, she next launched into a medley that included “How High the Moon” & “Fly Me to the Moon”. I began to wonder why we were listening to American standards instead of Russian. As Ruth & I left for our prepaid, definitely 1-compass buffet dinners, she was plaintively warbling “You Were Always on my Mind”. Two weeks later I learned that Willie Nelson remains the most popular country/western singer in Finland.
At dinner, unrequested vodka shots were placed before us as Ruth & I listened to the Russian couple at the next table rave about the food to their drink server.
The next morning we stood in a crowd of Russians for the gate to open so we could disembark. We clutched a handful of cards to get through customs and had been warned about the dire monetary and political consequences of losing them. In the half hour, no one spoke and it seemed as though we were all waiting for a funeral to begin.
Ruth & I boarded a van and waited for another half hour. The previous day, Ruth and I had learned that the city tour for passengers without Visas that we had paid for was actually just a transfer to the Sokos Hotel Vasilievsky less than 5 miles away. The price of this “tour” had not been specified on our confirmation.
As we sat in the transfer van, we were entertained by a military band just outside the terminal’s exit. Several portly Russian women danced happily with each other to a medley from My Fair Lady, the first real gaiety I had seen in 19 hours. As I listened to “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” as march anthems, I fully understood Dmitri Shostakovich’s music for the first time.
As the shuttle bus finally pulled away, the band was festively playing the Flintstones’ theme.
Welcome to Russia.