You wouldn’t think choosing a route through Europe would be such a palaver, but oddly enough, the very start of this trip is the thing I’ve been having real trouble deciding on.
I’m currently stacking up a list of places and things I want to include in Russia, Mongolia and China – and there’s PLENTY to stack up. And once I get to southeast Asia I’m just going to kind of thaw out from nearly 2 months in the frozen Northern hemisphere and go wherever my whims take me (which will be mostly amazing beaches interspersed with epic wanders around cities whilst stuffing myself with amazing street food). But getting to St Petersburg is one of those things I realised today that I need to stop overexamining all my options for and just buy into one. I think I’ve finally bullied myself into doing it (with a little encouragement from Kristina to be fair).
Here’s what I was trying to chose from:
Pros: No problems with getting trains all the way through. Also the most direct way.
Cons: You need a transit visa just to pass THROUGH Belarus on the train. That’s £42. And if you want to stick around and look at some stuff, you need a tourist visa (£90) and an approved hotel booking. MEH.
I’d SO much rather go a less-direct route and spend that visa money on seeing another city. So I never really loved the idea of this route.
Via the Baltic states
Pros: Get to see Lithuania, Latvia, and possibly Estonia. Avoids Belarus visa malarkey.
Cons: There aren’t trains running all the way through because of all sorts of rail work. And now the direct overnight train from Vilnius to St Petersburg is being discontinued.
This was originally my preferred route. It takes a bit longer, but I was keen to see Riga, Vilnius and Talinn. And any smaller places in between that some of the coach replacement services would have dropped me in. But then that train to St Petersburg got scrapped, which makes this a kind of nightmarish route to choose in terms of planning and saving any kind of time or money. And it would be a whole lot of buses. Which also: Meh.
Pros: I LOVE SCANDINAVIA. This would take me through Helsinki as well, which would mean I’d probably get to see Carolina and Johanna again which would be awesome! Trains most of the way, plus one ferry. Avoids Belarus.
Cons: A bit pricier. And I’ve been to most of the places I’d be hitting already. And not strictly doing the whole way there on a train.
The thing that bothers me about this route is the fact that I’m giving up the Taking The Train All The Way thing. I know that would have been the case with the Baltic states, but it somehow seemed more legit because the buses were only necessary as the rail route was in a state of being worked on. So. I’ve just been trying to decide how important the train thing is to me. For months now.
Pros: Avoids Belarus. All on trains. Get to see Kiev.
Cons: Ehhh. I’m not sure going through Ukraine in the current political climate is the best plan.
I’d love to see a bit of Ukraine, and the gov.uk advice on Kiev isn’t as scary as the advice on Crimea and some other areas (‘leave now’). But I’d also be crossing the Ukraine/Russia border, which: inadvisable, it seems.
That being said, Russia itself is not exactly in the rosiest light at the moment. I’m not super worried about this, nor does the UK government seem to be, in terms of general travel advice for the majority of the country anyway. But it’s been an underlying concern throughout my planning. (More on this in a later post, for sure.) Hopefully things get better rather than worse. I imagine they’ll do a lot of staying the same though.
It’s been looking for a while like Scandinavia is the answer. I should just suck it up over the ferry thing. I’d be going all the way to Stockholm by train, then getting a quick boat to Finland, and back on the train from there.
I’ve taken part of this trip before. When I was backpacking I did Copenhagen to Stockholm and then Stockholm back to Hamburg on the train. They accidentally put me in first class on the Copenhagen to Stockholm leg, and on the way back I remember meeting loads of lovely people on the train. It’s not a bad decision.
Plus: Denmark, Sweden and Finland in winter (or anytime)? SWOON.
So that’s that. DECISION. BOOM.