by Bob Sparrow
Day 5 – Estonia In the morning we find ourselves docked in the city of Tallinn, capital of Estonia where we can get off the ship and walk into town for the day. I must admit that, prior to this trip, if someone had asked me to locate Tallinn on a map, I might have been looking around Saudi Arabia. Fortunately I wasn’t driving the ship. Because it is strategically located on the Baltic; countries like Russia, Germany, Sweden and Denmark have all had their turn at occupying this country. We walk past the gates in the wall that once encircled the entire city and walk the streets of ‘Old Town’. John Billham, the Canadian member of our group has done his homework and guides us through the history of this picturesque town with the help of his Rick Steves guidebook. Lunch is in an Irish Pub; yes, the Irish seemed to have occupied every county we visit – thank goodness!
Getting In With my soon-to-be-expired passport in hand, I sheepishly disembark in the port of St. Petersburg and head to customs and get in line. I check out the Russian immigration officer who is working the line I’m in. I walk up and hand him my passport – he gives me a stare that could chill beer; he says nothing and doesn’t smile; it appears to me that he’s having a bad day, but as I look at the other immigration officers, they all look like they’re having a bad day. They’re Russians for crying out loud! Contrary to popular belief, being an immigration officer in Russia is not all kicks and giggles. I fear that he’s going to take one look at my passport, see that it doesn’t have the required six months on it before it expires, blow his whistle and have me thrown back on the ship or who knows where. My heart is beating out of my chest, I feel like I’m reenacting the scene from Midnight Express, trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey.
I search his face for a clue as to what’s going through his mind. He looks at my passport again then looks back at me, then looks back at my passport again. Oh shit, I knew it; I’ve been caught! I try to look exactly like the picture in my passport, but it was taken ten years ago, so that’s not happening. I’m sweating and I’m sure he can hear my heart beating from inside his little glass box. These guys are highly trained to notice people who are nervous. I know he knows I’m hiding something. Again, he looks back and forth between my passport and me several times, expressionless. I put on an encouraging smile as I start to wonder what they will do to me if I’m in violation of their passport/visa laws. Will they just send me back to the ship, or will they make an example out of me and let everyone know that I was trying to get into the country on an invalid passport and . . . OK, I can’t think about what they’d do. The inspector now seems to be studying my passport in depth. How long have I been standing here, twenty minutes? An hour? I wonder if I should run, I look for an escape route. I consider the possibility that perhaps I’m over-reacting. No, I know I’m breaking some Russian law and they are not going to just let it slide; these people don’t let anything just slide. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my vacation is going to end with me breaking rocks in some Siberian gulag. Then I hear the word, “Next” and my passport is stamped and passed back through the window to me. I try to act casual, but I’m frozen in place, I’m pale white and the sweat rings under my arms are now down to my waist. “Next”, he repeats giving me a stare that was colder by several degrees from the one he first gave me. I smugly walk through customs – nothin’ to it!
As I finally walk onto Russian soil, the first question to myself is, will St. Petersburg be worth all the anguish I went through? Absolutely!
Next: Day 6-7 St. Petersburg, Russia