Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia Trip
by John Fuhring
Leaving Russia for Finland
When we finally left Russia we exited at the Finnish border. It was like coming out of a dark tunnel and suddenly I felt like I could breath again as if some heavy weight had just been removed. A young Finnish soldier came on our bus to check passports and welcome us to Finland in halting English. I know this is silly, but I had the most warm feeling toward this young man as if he had rescued us from some great peril and was now taking us to safety.
Talk about Yin and Yang, black and white, Finland and all of Scandinavia was the total opposite of Russia in almost all respects. Every part of Finland and all of Scandinavia for that matter, seemed to me to be much like the very best parts of the USA. Everything was clean and very, very modern with many of the same stores and brand names we see back home. The buildings were beautifully designed and constructed - and landscaped. There were good hotels, the people all seemed well educated and all spoke great English, but, and here's the big but: prices were very, very, very (very) high. Everything was three times what it would cost in America. Very much the same as home and very nice, but very expensive; a little hamburger at a McDonnell's (they are everywhere) that would be under $1.00 here costs $3.00 there.
Mary Ann showed me a little trick while in Germany on how to save the cost of lunch. At breakfast you just drop biscuits, cheese, etc. into a little bag and there's your free lunch. If you get caught, it might be a little embarrassing, but that's all. However, we were warned to not, by any means, do such a thing in Scandinavia. Mary Ann said she was going to do it anyway, but I warned her that in Germany stealing food is a misdemeanor, but in Scandinavia, because food is so expensive, it's a felony with probable jail time.
Certainly the nicest and most deluxe part of the trip was the over night ferry boat ride from Finland to Stockholm Sweden. This ferry "boat" was really something. It was titanic, it was huge, it was so big that our bus looked like a little toy when it drove into the ship. The ship had several different bars, restaurants, a shopping mall, a glassed in pool area and all different classes of rooms. All the men in our tour had to share a couple rooms in the very bottom of the ship and all the women likewise had to share another couple of rooms, but there was so much to do on the ship, who even wanted to spend any time in a room anyway?
The dinner that night was in the main dining room and it featured "haute cuisine" prepared by a master chef who presided over the meal with a look of great satisfaction derived from a feeling of a job well done. The meal was a gala seafood extravaganza and people were beside themselves at how wonderful it all was. Everybody but me, that is, because (I'm sorry to say) I absolutely detest the sight and (especially) the smell and the taste of fish or crab, shrimp or any seafood for that matter. To tell the truth, I couldn't find a single thing I could eat. I thought I was going to have to go hungry and was about to leave when I spotted a large stack of french frys and catchup prepared for the children. When I thought the chef wasn't looking, I helped myself to the frys, but I got caught.
The chef saw me taking the french frys and started yelling at me, loudly, in front of the whole ship. He shouted that he had made the frys for the children and I was to eat what he had made for me. People stopped eating and stared; oh god, I was the center of attention and you could hear a pin drop. Normally I would have been extremely embarrassed and angry to be humiliated in public like that, but you know, I didn't give a damn what any of these "foreigners" thought. With an equanimity that surprised even myself, I quietly told the chef that I would put the food back if that's what he wanted me to do, but I could not and was not going to eat seafood and I would go hungry. When I failed to be intimidated or humiliated by him, the chef said nothing more - perhaps he was a little embarrassed at his outburst. I was allowed to resume my meal (such as it was) without further embarrassment. I guess the reason I didn't get mad was because I felt sorry for the chef and that masked my anger. Even under these circumstances I realized that chef was a gifted craftsman and had done his best to make me a superb meal. I was sorry I had unintentionally insulted this chef and I was sorry for myself that I had been made a public spectacle. When I had filled up on french frys I slipped out of the dining room by myself.
Sorry to say, but that unpleasant incident in the dining room kind of put a damper on the evening for me and put me in a bad mood. I just wandered over the ship by myself until I finally saw everything I wanted to see and then headed for my stateroom at the very bottom of the boat. To tell the truth, I had planned to do a little drinking at some of the many bars on board, but I've learned over the years that drinking makes a negative mood just that much worse (actually, way worse) and so bar-hopping was off the agenda for that evening. Even my sister Mary Ann was no company. She was so deathly afraid of becoming sea sick that she drugged herself and fell into a stupor in her room before the boat even left the dock. As it turned out, the night was beautiful and the sea was glass smooth without even a hint of a wave or a swell or even a ripple. The huge ship exhibited not even the slightest motion and the only way you knew we were moving was seeing the wake behind us in the bright moonlight.
Everybody must have stayed up all night because after seeing everything, I turned in early and had the men's cabin all to myself all night. When I got up early the next morning for breakfast all rested and refreshed, we were wending our way through the most beautiful little archipelago off the coast of Sweden. I was delighted because I wasn't expecting to see all these little islands and it was worth getting up early (or staying up all night) just to watch them go by at dawn.