One thing we haven’t covered yet is of course taxes. In reality you would have to deal with that soon enough after moving, certainly before your first paycheck.

Finland, along with the other Nordic countries, is generally known as the land of high taxes. You know, to finance the social policies and blah blah. Very broadly speaking this is true, but the reality is more nuanced. Certainly for an average salaried worker taxes are fairly reasonable, especially considering that, to use a tired cliche, you can actually see every day where your taxes go.

Compared to some countries Finnish tax system is certainly relatively complicated though. In Russia especially, the only tax the average person will likely ever have to pay is the flat-rate income tax of 13% (and property and car taxes, which you just get invoices for; the low income tax rate is mostly compensated by the high rate of employer contributions), and the average salaried worker may conceivably live his/her entire life without ever having to deal with the tax office and to file a tax declaration. This would not be possible in Finland. You do not need to know exactly how the amount withdrawn from your salary is split, but you need to know some basics like what a tax card is.

Continue reading “Finnish Bureaucracy (Part 2)”


As mentioned before, all Finnish apartments are normally rented without any furniture. The exception might be a kitchen top, a wardrobe and other big embedded things; and also bathroom fixtures and a freezer and stove. But otherwise there won’t usually even be lights (except possibly in the bathroom and kitchen). Same goes for basic household stuff like plates. Of course this is all not some hard-set law and there might be exceptions, but this is generally what is universally expected by landlords and tenants.

For this reason, the Finns generally move with their own furniture, and moving companies making the process relatively pain-free are an important cottage industry (just Google for muuttopalvelut). But for an immigrant bringing much furniture from abroad will likely be too expensive and impractical, so it would be easier to buy it all here. Personally I never really owned almost any furniture of my own in my St. Petersburg years, which was good since this meant I didn’t have to spend time and nerve cells trying to get rid of it before the move.

Continue reading “Living in an Apartment (Part 2)”

Paying rent

Paying rent for the apartment is a rather straightforward process: just do a bank transfer of the specified amount, to the specified account, with the specified reference number once a month. Pikipruukki housing company gave me an invoice with dates and amount of payments up to mid-2019. I actually already showed it in the post about banks. The due date is the 2nd of every month, and the amounts are all the same, although they increased a bit (for 6€ of so) since March 2018. I’m doing this payment with online bank, and it’s really easy, having defined it as a payment template (maksupohja). The due date comes two days after my monthly salary, so this is quite a convenient date.

Continue reading “Living in an Apartment (Part 1)”

Everybody needs to live somewhere. If you got to that part, you probably have some place to stay and sleep temporarily, but you need to get your own place as fast as possible, both to save money and to ensure you have a permanent address.

If you have just moved to Finland, your only option is probably renting an apartment, rather than buying an apartment or a house. Finland offers ridiculously low mortgage rates, but you need to have at least 10-20% of the price as a downpayment on hand, which is going to be a pretty significant sum (two room apartments in Vaasa cost 50,000-250,000€ depending on location, area, and building age and condition; you probably want to look at something not cheaper than average). And I doubt a bank will give a mortgage to someone who has literally yesterday arrived to Finland. Well, I don’t know, maybe they will, but I haven’t tried.

Renting, on the other hand, is something you can do right away, with much lesser initial spendings. There are some countries where renting an apartment is quite difficult in general (I’ve heard Sweden has some rather weird regulations in that area, for example), but Finland isn’t really particularly bad. Of course if you’re looking for the absolute cheapest price, or want to live in a highly desirable area, or possibly coming here in a bad time of year (particularly when the university students are looking for apartments) it would be more difficult, but still hardly impossible.

There are two basic options for renting an apartment: from a private person, or from a housing company. You can find better prices and more interesting offers from private people. And in buildings belonging to housing companies there is often rather high tenant turnover rate, and the tenants themselves will likely be poorer people. This is by no means certain, however, and furthermore renting from a housing company is easier, and they will usually demand a smaller security deposit.

Personally, I went with the housing company option. I’ve been living in an apartment rented in this way for over two months now, and I’m quite happy with it. My apartment block has decidedly an immigrant background; less than half of tenant names are Finnish. But this is not a ghetto or anything — the house is exactly as nice as every other Finnish house is. And I’m an immigrant myself and in general I find it quite distasteful when the people who are immigrants themselves shun other immigrants because of their background or skin color or anything. The location is also nice, 3 km away from the city center, and I’m not planning to move away anytime soon.

Continue reading “Apartment Search”

Using a bank is a pretty basic part of life in Finland, even if you don’t need any loans or saving accounts or anything. A Finnish person may get his/her first bank account as early as the age of 10. Without a bank account you are basically crippled. This contrasts to Russia; I’m not sure if there are still jobs there that pay in cash (legally as least; there’s certainly no shortage of jobs with “grey” salary, paying a minimum wage legally, and the rest under the table in cash), but many people just use whatever bank accounts their employers open for them, and immediatelly withdraw their entire wages in cash in ATMs upon being paid. There are options for online payment like Webmoney and Qiwi that do not require you to have a bank account as well; Qiwi, notably, has a wide-reaching network of payment kiosks that accept cash. I myself got my first bank account the same time I got my first salary, when I was 22; this job actually paid completely under the table (“black salary”) so I didn’t even really need that at the moment, but I still deposited my envelopes of cash on that account for convenience.

All of this wouldn’t really fly in Finland. There are three things you most definitely need a bank account for:

1. Receiving salary and paying bills, i. e., bank payments. Your salary must come to your account from your employer. I’m pretty sure this is the only legal option in Finland. You also almost certainly will need to pay some bills from that account from time to time, at least rent and utilities. Buying really expensive things, like a car, is also done from a bank account. And while transferring minor sums between friends and the like has special apps to make this very easy and swift, these still do a usual bank payment between accounts.

2. Bank card. This is going to be a simple debit card at first, of course. This is what you’ll use for everyday grocery shopping and the like. There might be some places where you need cash (public buses, if you don’t have a bus card; old parking meters, possibly some markets) but these are very few and far between, and it doesn’t really make sense to carry more than 50€ or even 20€ of cash with you; you’ll use it very rarely anyway.

3. Online banking authentication, which will be used by various government online services, including, but not limited to, population register, tax office, Kela (social insurance service), post, traffic safety agency, and others. Thus you won’t have to visit all these organisations in person (unless it’s for something relatively exotic). Online banking is quite useful by itself as well; for example to pay invoices online which is, of course, hugely more convenient than going to a bank branch for that.

Continue reading “Banking”

In order to legally work in Finland you do not, in principle, need anything other than a residence permit with a right to work, and an employment contract (which you will need to get a permit in first place anyway). So you can drive to Finland or go there by train or something and go to work right away and enjoy your first workday in the company of the Finns. But obviously you still need to get a number of Finnish papers in the near future (so that you can actually get paid, for example). Getting them is simple and doesn’t take long; the most important thing is to actually know what you need to do and in which order. I don’t know of any exhaustive manual on that matter, so I guess you can use mine if you want. Myself, I got pieces of information from official websites, from Twitter and other social media of people who had already moved to Finland, and from web forum (not the most pleasant place on the web but a valid source of information anyway).

Living in Finland is for the most part pretty simple and easy (much easier than in Russia in most aspects) if you are, well, a part of the system. If you’re not, you don’t really have a right to most services; just try going to a Finnish health center or opening a Finnish bank account as a tourist! But since you are not a refugee (probably) or something, but rather a work immigrant, becoming a part of the system will be easy for you. Although there still might be a few annoying gotchas.

Continue reading “Finnish Bureaucracy (Part 1)”

…I set the date of the actual move to the end of the same week when I picked the residence permit card at the St. Petersburg consulate. It could have been faster, really. I didn’t do all that much before the move; found a new home for my rabbit, bought boxes for the move, packed my things, visited my parents, resigned from my St. Petersburg job. I actually was on a long unpaid vacation at that point; my boss suggested it to me it case the Finland move doesn’t work out. Although I doubt I would have wanted to return to that job even in that case. And I could have taken the rabbit with me, in theory; the main difficulty would be that I wouldn’t be able to leave him with anyone when I go on vacation or something. But I can assure you that the big-eared rascal is in very reliable hands now, and gets sweet banana and apple treats regularly, along with more healthy food of course.

Continue reading “The Actual Move”

Mattias warned me that this part could be a little slow because they didn’t have a HR person or anyone else to deal with the paperwork, and he was busy enough as it was. Well, I wasn’t in any hurry.

In a week or so he sent me two documents by email, an employment contract and a TEM-054 form. For two options of applying for a residence permit at once: as an expert and as a regular employee. I guess it’s a good time to examine how these options differ now.

Unlike many other countries Finland, in principle, allows hiring any person from abroad, regardless of qualifications. But it still would be much easier for a specialist. The company would have to fill in much more paperwork for a regular worker; the main paper is the aforementioned form TEM-054. More importantly, the job opening will have to go to the unemployment office, and they will have to make sure there are no possible unemployed candidates from Finland who could fill that position. I suppose it might be possible to state the job requirements in such a way that this step would become a mere formality, but of course I don’t know for sure. But in any case that’s a pretty long process; getting an employee residence permit takes 3-4 months in total.

Things are much easier for a specialist; he or she should get a permit in just a month, and all that is necessary is: 1) a company which is willing to hire them (and made an employment contract with them to prove that); 2) a high enough salary (at least ~3,000 € before tax); 3) high enough qualifications of the person involved. And of course I, and my employer too, had concerns about the third part; this generally means a university degree, which I don’t have, and Migri and most of other relevant official websites say the degree is required. But I saw some mentions on various web forums that it can be substituted by work experience, especially in IT. So of course we hoped for the specialist route, and went for that.

Continue reading “Applying for Permit”

The first thing I have to note here is that this part of course describes my own experience in finding a job in Finland. Job search is kind of an art in itself and there can be no single unified procedure here, while I only ever looked for a job in Finland once, and that didn’t actually take too long. So it’s possible that I miss something in this part.

Okay, so, if you decided to move into Finland on the grounds of having a job here, then you need a job (duh). A good starting point for job search is website. It has only Finnish interface, so you may just well begin to get used to Google Translate being your friend! (Chrome automatically prompts to translate pages in foreign languages, and there are similar extensions for other browsers; I use for Safari.) Google Translate by now is fairly good at translating Finnish, and you can read Finnish websites without too much trouble. You should however always choose the option to translate into English, even if that’s not your native language; otherwise Google would actually make two translations, from Finnish into English, and from English into another language, and that will be a big source or errors.

But you probably won’t need to translate much on yet. Just type “php” or “frontend” or whatever kind of developer job you’re looking for into the first field, and optionally a city or a region into the second one. Some (maybe most) of the results will be in Finnish, and others in English. It’s likely, although not certain, that the language of the job advertisement will correspond to the language that is actually used on the job.

Continue reading “Job Search”

Let’s start with reading up a bit on the theoretical part: what do you need to legally live and work in Finland (of course it doesn’t make sense to even consider “illegal” options). In principle you need several papers for that, but there’s only one that’s really important (and which gives you access to others once you’re in Finland): a residence permit (oleskelulupa in Finnish). It is also sometimes known as work permit or work visa, but we’ll use the official term to avoid confusion.

Continue reading “Residence Permits”

Well, as a matter of fact, it’s pretty!

I originally began to write yet another pretty generic text about pros and cons of Finland (climate like St. Petersburg … so-called Nordic “socialism”… beautiful but a bit repetitive nature … severely introverted mentality … and so on), but then I thought, why bother? In my opinion, if you really want to move into another country, you have to already know and feel, deep into your heart, why you want to do that. It’s impossible to give a summary of a country in two pages or so anyway. I’ve been to Finland about 35 times before, I saw plenty of different places there, I have some general idea of its culture, I’ve been reading its news, I know some memes even (which is the most important part obviously), and I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Finnish. And I think I can say I actually can claim to know this country a little bit. Perhaps I’m actually mistaken, and time will tell. But I feel that even if I am, it’s not by much.

I want to emphasize that I am deeply convinced that you should be moving into a different country only if you really really want to be in this particular country, not just to escape Russia and Putin or whatever place you want to escape (well unless you’re literally running away from some life-threatening situation of course). I’m not really a patriot of Russia and I can’t say I love it much (although I try hard to be objective and base my opinions about Russia on facts, and same about Finland too actually) but I can’t say I had it bad there. In Moscow or St. Petersburg (or if working remotely for Western employers) developers have every opportunity to earn very good money by any country’s standards, six-digits sums in rubles. It is fairly easily to save for a car, an apartment or house, to feed a family, and to travel. This by itself makes IT workers perhaps not the cream of the crop, but quite privileged people stil.

And if you’re moving into Europe, particularly not to Britain or Germany but to somewhere like Finland, it is very likely you won’t earn much more there, if at all. In my case my salary at my new Finnish job, after taxes, by the current euro/ruble rate, is almost exactly similar to the one I had at my previous Russian job. A tiny bit smaller even, actually. And the cost of life in Finland is obviously generally higher. Money is by all means not why you would want to move to Finland. If you’re in IT and you want to have as much money as possible, try to go to the US, it’s a no-brainer.

Of course there are higher salaries too (but not that much higher; by 50% perhaps if you’re lucky and if you have really good qualifications). I agreed to this salary knowing that well. My salary is what it is largely because I went 1) to a small company; 2) to a smaller city. Most people moving into Finland want to go to Helsinki, which is basically the only large (by worldwide standards, not by Finnish ones) city, and IT companies and other qualified jobs naturally gravitate there. The salaries are higher than in other cities, but also not by that much; by 20-30% probably. But more importantly, Helsinki actually has jobs, while smaller cities have great difficulties in that regard, especially if you don’t know Finnish. Still, as my example shows, it’s not hopeless their too. And if large companies have HR depts, several rounds of interviews, and, often, already existing procedure for hiring foreign employees, small ones like mine have it more on a personal level, so to speak. For example, for the first two weeks in Finland I lived in a house on a farm belonging to my boss’ family, for free. How cool is that?!

In general this kind of move was sort of like downshifting for me. Many people in our field want to work in cool big companies like Google or Facebook or Apple or at least Yandex, and/or work on some really interesting tasks, and/or found their own startup, and/or just make a shit ton of money. None of these apply to me; some time ago they did but not now, when I’m almost 30. I just want to live in a quiet beautiful place, close to nature, and earn my living doing something useful (if not particularly exciting), and have plenty of time for my hobbies (which, as you could notice, are mostly about travelling around Nordic countries and learning about them). And to get a house somewhere in the archipelago and make some berry liqueur there when I get old 🙂 Finland is pretty much a perfect place for it all. But of course this way of life wouldn’t be for everyone, and of course many people would say there’s not enough money for them in Finland, or not enough action, or the Finns themselves would seem unlikeable, or something else.

Lahti (Part 1)

Päijänne Tavastia Region, Finland

It’s been two months since I last visited Finland. I kind of had to save up a bit of money and Finland trips, even short weekend ones, usually end up being quite big money-sinks (even when it doesn’t really feel you are spending money on anything in particular at all). In the end though I lost my patience and made a day-trip to the city of Lahti with my friend, in early November 2017.

Lahti and Kouvola are the only two cities in Finland (apart from Helsinki) which make sense as day trip destinations when going from St. Petersburg, because these are the cities the high-speed Allegro train goes through. A car trip practically requires an overnight stay; it’s a 200 km drive just to get to the Finnish border, and then crossing the border takes some time, and then you’ll need to drive to somewhere in Finland, and if you have to make the return trip on the same day it gets very exhausting and you end up with not much time in Finland itself at all. And it’s the same with Lappeenranta/Imatra buses, although at least you do not need to drive youself.

Allegro train, first introduced in 2010, on the other hand makes the St. Petersburg-Helsinki trip in about 3 h 30 min (and the border formalities are all done on board and don’t require any extra time), and it’s even faster if you only go to Kouvola or Lahti. There are four departures every day; the first train leaves St. Petersburg at 6:40, and the last one arrives to St. Petersburg at 23:27. So you’ve got plenty of time in Finland. The only downside is that it’s a rather costly option, several times more expensive than going on own car or by bus, unless you buy a ticket well in advance (which I never do).

Still, a day trip to Kouvola on Allegro was my first ever trip to Finland (in fact my first ever trip abroad) way back in February 2012, and this time we did the same thing only to Lahti, which incidentally was the Finnish city closest to St. Petersburg that I had never visited before.

Lahti (Finn. bay) is actually quite a big city by Finnish standards, at 115,000 population, located about 100 km northeast of Helsinki. However it’s a relatively young city and, like Kouvola, it pretty much owes its existence to St. Petersburg-Helsinki railroad (or more propery Riihimäki-St. Petersburg railroad, as the town of Riihimäki was where it connected to Helsinki-Hämeenlinna line which had been the first railroad built in Finland) built in 1870. Before that Lahti had been a rather unremarkable village in Hollola parish, by the Upper Vyborg Road (Ylinen Viipurintie), an old road going from Hämeenlinna to Vyborg/Viipuri, approximately along parts of modern National Roads 10, 12, and 6. Old Lahti had some twenty houses, and also a manor belonging to the noble Fellman family.

Lahti village burned down in the 1870s (with no loss of life), and a new city was planned in its place in 1878. Modern Lahti still keeps rather closely to the city plan of 1878. The location was a really favorable one, at the crossroads of trade routes. Apart from the old road and the railroad Lahti is located on the shore of Vesijärvi Lake, which had been connected via short Vääksy Canal to the huge Päijänne Lake System in 1871, which made it an important lake harbor, connected by waterways to Jyväskylä and other relatively remote places; lake steamships were a hugely important mode of transport at the time. And in 1900 a narrow-gauge railroad (eventually converted to a regular-gauge one) connected it to the Loviisa harbor, allowing easy export of goods by sea. Industries boomed in Lahti, and it remained an industrial city throughout the 20th century, although the 1990s recession hit it hard. As of the 21st century, Lahti enjoys excellent connections to Helsinki; the entire section of National Road 4 between Helsinki and Lahti enjoys motorway standards since 1999, and a direct high-speed rail line Kerava-Lahti (bypassing Riihimäki) was constructed in 2006. Since then Helsinki center can be reached from Lahti in about an hour (via Z-line suburban trains), making Lahti effectively an outer suburb of Helsinki.

Lahti doesn’t have many historical sights or much of old architecture due to its young age, but nonetheless in our opinion it’s quite an enjoyable place to visit. It also has some very beautiful nature (Vesijärvi Lake and many steep hills, including Salpausselkä Ridge) really close to the city center; something quite common for Finnish cities, of course, but I’d say Lahti is even better than others in that regard. Lahti is also a famous winter sports center, holding world-renowned Lahti Ski Games in particular.

Lahti is located in the historical region of Häme (Tavastia). Tavastians/Häme are considered to be one of the first tribes which made up the Finnish people; they are mentioned as Yem (емь) in Novgorodian chronicles. Lahti is the capital of the modern region of Päijänne Tavastia (Päijät-Häme), named after Päjänne Lake System; this is one of the smaller Finnish regions by area. Its other towns are Heinola and Orimattila but both of these are many times smaller than Lahti.

Continue reading “Lahti (Part 1)”

Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve

Karelian Isthmus; Priozersk District, Leningrad Oblast, Russia

Last weekend I visited the Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve, in Leningrad Oblast, Russia; on the Karelian Isthmus 100 km north of St. Petersburg. I do not often make posts about Russia (where I happen to live), and even less commonly, about Russian nature. Nothing wrong with it of course; it’s just that Russian nature isn’t particularly accessible. It’s not like Finland, where you have national parks, various trails ranging from municipal jogging trails to long-distance ones hundres of kilometers long, excellent topographic maps of the entire country, and a dense and well-maintained road network which make reaching even quite remote locations easy (assuming you have a car, of course). In Russia you’re basically on your own. Designated hiking trails only really exist in major nature reserves and national parks few and far between (which often have entrance fees and/or require getting a permit to visit them), maps are very hit and miss depending on the region, and only the major federal roads can be really relied upon; secondary roads may be in terrible condition, while logging or mountain roads are generally passable only on a 4WD car. Arguably, of course, this only makes the experience more genuine, as you don’t have anything pre-made for you. And Russia, being the biggest country in the world and all, does have some stunning nature. The “stunning” part however isn’t really uniformly spread. Most of Central Russia and Western Siberia really looks very uniform and bland. And for the most part so is Leningrad Oblast, which is the St. Petersburg region.

Finland, my favorite destination, is a very beautiful country — especially if you’re into forests and lakes! — but truth be told, it doesn’t have much variety too (unless you’re really familiar with it and begin to spot lots of minor details). However its landscapes actually do look a lot more interesting than Central Russia and most of Leningrad Oblast. The reason for that lies in basic geology: Finland is located on really ancient bedrock (Fennoscandian Shield), only thinly covered with soil; the bedrock was cut up by a great glacier in the Ice Age, resulting in innumerable lakes in depressions that the glacier scoured, rocky outcroppings where it scraped off the topsoil, boulders that it moved a great distance, and so on. Central Russia on the other hand is covered with a very thick (3+ km) cover of sediments (Russian Platform), which are very flat and remained very flat even after the glaciation. The boundary between the Fennoscandian Shield and the Russian Platform cuts across the Karelian Isthmus, fairly close to the Russian-Finnish border, approximately following Vyborg (Viipuri)-Priozersk (Käkisalmi) line. Most of the Karelian Isthmus, and the vast majority of the overall Leningrad Oblast lies south of that line, in the “boring” Russian Platform area.

Still of course there are some beautiful places, and Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve is one of them. It’s located on the Karelian Isthmus, and I’m not sure whether it lies north or south of the geological boundary; most probably south of it. It’s still beautiful, with low but steep sandy hills and ridges covered with pine forests, and small rivers and lakes among the hills. So after much deliberation about my day trip destination I chose this place. I knew essentially nothing of it but it seemed fairly easy to reach at least.

The name “Väärämäenselkä” is Finnish; the nature reserve has no Russian name. The name is transribed as Вярямянселькя into Russian, although Вяярямяэнселькя would be more precise. It means “Crooked Hill Ridge”. It can be found in old Finnish topographic maps and texts, spelled as Väärämäen-selkä, and sometimes also as Väärämäen-harju. The regional nature reserve was officially established in 1978.

Continue reading “Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve”

V: Murmansk

Murmansk Region, Russia

The biggest city north of the Arctic Circle in the world! That’s Murmansk (Мурманск), the center of Murmansk Oblast region in Russia, located on the coast of the Kola Bay, a long narrow fjord of the Barents Sea of the Arctic Ocean. Like Petrozavodsk, Murmansk is the only major city in the region. Its modern population is about 300,000.

A small town at the bottom of the Kola Bay, named also Kola (Кола), existed for centuries (and still exists today as a suburb of Murmansk), but by the end of the 19th century the need for a major seaport on the Barentz Sea became quite urgent. The new city, originally named Romanov-na-Murmane (Романов-на-Мурмане, Romanov upon Murman) was founded in 1916 (when the railroad connecting it to the rest of the country was finished), the last city ever founded in Tzarist Russia era. Shortly after the February Revolution of 1917 it was renamed to Murmansk. The northern coast of the Kola Peninsula has always been known as Murman Coast; “Murmans” was an old Russian word for Norwegians (likely from Norwegian nordmann, “northern man”). The tiny town quickly grew in Soviet years, becoming the base for many Soviet explorations of the Arctic.

Murmansk was extremely important to the Soviet Union in the World War II, as a warm-water port which the Germans could not blockade. Much of the lend-lease aid from Britain and the US came through Murmansk, shuttled south on the railroad then. Despite bloody battles Nazi Germany, attacking from Northern Norway and Finnish Lapland, never managed to capture the port of Murmansk or sever the rail line. The city itself was nearly completely destroyed in the war, and had to be rebuilt afterwards. This was accomplished as soon as 1952.

Murmansk continued to be the Soviet “capital of the Arctic” of sorts, but underwent a great depopulation after the fall of the Soviet Union. As many as a third of its population left. Although Murmansk climate is not as harsh as one could expect, it’s still colder than most of Russia, and polar night doesn’t make it a very attractive place to live in as well (unless of course you really like the Arctic). So people who lost their jobs mostly just moved elsewhere.

Nonetheless modern Murmansk looks quite good, much better than Petrozavodsk (the city we visited before Murmansk) anyway despite similar size. Despite the depopulation it doesn’t really appear to have any abandoned buildings (perhaps we just didn’t see them but still). The city is rather boring, truth be told (its surroundings are probably way more interesting, but we were just passing through and didn’t see them), but it appears to be kept in a nice shape.

Perhaps one reason for that is the closeness of Russian naval bases. Russian Northern Fleet is the most important one by far, as it is the one with most (if not all) nuclear subs. Most towns near Murmansk are naval bases: Severomorsk, Polyarnyi, Snezhnogorsk, Skalistyi, Ostrovnoi, Vidyaevo, and other smaller ones. In fact Murmansk is almost the only Russian populated locality on the Barents Sea that can be actually visited without a special permit! Severomorsk and the others are “closed cities”. Although Murmansk is located deep in the Kola Bay and you cannot actually see the open sea from it; the only place where you can is the semi-abandoned fishing village of Teriberka (Териберка), lately known as the place where Leviathan movie was shot. That’s a pity of course. Barentz Sea is incredibly beautiful but you really need to go to Norway to appreciate that (or to places like Sredny and Rybachy Peninsula, reachable only with a 4WD vehicle).

Continue reading “V: Murmansk”

IV: Petrozavodsk

Republic of Karelia, Russia

Petrozavodsk (Петрозаводск, Russ. Peter Works City; known as Petroskoi in Finnish) is the capital of the modern Republic of Karelia (Russian Karelia), and its biggest city by far; with its population of 280,000 it is almost ten times bigger than the second biggest Karelian city (Kondopoga).

I do not often make posts about Russian cities, because I rarely actually visit Russian cities, because I’m just not interested in them much; over the latest years my heart has always been with the Nordics, and it’s likely to remain this way. Which is not to say Russia isn’t worth exploring! Most of its cities and regions do not really have any major sights, but then, neither does Finland, yet I find exploring Finland so interesting and satisfying. And indeed a great many blogs about Russian cities exist, and I know of a few good ones, though I’m not aware of any that post in English. And as for us, we were passing through Petrozavodsk on our way north and staying here overnight, so of course we didn’t sit around in a hotel room, and went out to have a look at the city.

It should be said that Petrozavodsk is not really a Karelian city; it was founded in 1703 by the Russians and its population has always been predominantly Russian (at the moment there are 4% ethnic Karealians, <2% Finns, and <1% Vepsians). You wouldn’t find signs in Karelian or Finnish there. In fact Petrozavodsk is fairly typical of a minor Russian regional center, with dusty streets, crumbling plaster on buildings, potholed roads, and the general air of underfunding and neglect. It doesn’t really have any sights either. At the same time I must say I oddly liked Petrozavodsk. It’s a pleasant city to be in; it’s hard to express, but the people in the streets just seem… so nice and friendly. Far less alcoholics and gopniks that even in my native Yekaterinburg which is like five times bigger. Petrozavodsk is fun to walk around, taking pictures of various minor details. So this post is going to be a really long one, with 75 pictures.

Continue reading “IV: Petrozavodsk”

Autumn in Finnish Karelia

Various locations in South Savo and South and North Karelia, Finland

Just some pictures from Finnish Karelia (okay and a little bit of Savo too). I went there last weekend, this time not to explore anything new but mostly just for good company and some drinking in a cottage by a lake; thus I pretty much just revisited some old places. The weather however was exceptionally good (even more so considering the wet cold summer we had), and I managed to take some really nice pics

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III. Kola Route

Federal Highway R-21 (Kola Route), from St. Petersburg to Norwegian border, Russia

It really took me quite some time to get to these trip reports again, didn’t it? Well, uh, better late than never 🙂

St. Petersburg — Petrozavodsk — Murmansk — Norwegian border highway was previously numbered M-18, but in the confusing renumbering of 2010 it was redesignated as R-21 (Р-21). Nonetheless, its popular name didn’t change: it is still the Kola Route (трасса “Кола”, Trassa Kola), after the Kola Peninsula of course. At least in St. Petersburg it is also known as Murmansk Highway (Мурманское шоссе, Murmanskoye Shosse), or informally Murmanka, after its most significant destination.

The official length of Kola Route, from St. Petersburg to Norwegian border near Kirkenes, is 1592 km. Although our primary destination was Northern Norway, it was of course hardly possible to drive all those kilometers without an overnight stay. Thus we stopped in both major cities along the way, Petrozavodsk and Murmansk. I’ll tell more about both of them in the following posts, and this one is about the Kola Route itself and the minor cities along it.

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Originally published at (in Russian):

Let’s talk about Finnish highways. This is written from a Russian perspective and won’t be a new subject for many St. Petersburg, Leningrad Oblast, and Russian Karelia citizens (and of course not for the Finns as well), but still there’s quite a number of some interesting points to examine. This is mostly about highways only; we won’t cover city parking, traffic jams, etc. As usual, all the pictures are mine, shot over 2015-2017.


Over the centuries Finland had historically been known for its poor (or non-existing) roads, just like Russia. I once read some travel notes by an Englishwoman about Finland, dated to the beginning of the 20th century; she was writing that roads basically did not exist, and no one seemed particularly concerned about that; after all, snow covers everything for like half a year anyway.

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Loviisa: Coastal Fortress

Loviisa City, Uusimaa Region, Finland

Loviisa Coastal Fortress, also known as Degerby Fortress, is much less widely known than Svartholm (and Svartholm of course is probably not the best known fortress in general). This is easy to explain though; there’s simply not much of a fortress. All that remains of the coastal fortress are two bastions, a few moats (including one big one in place of an unfinished bastion), and the garrison neighborhood of old wooden detached houses (likely actually dating from after the Loviisa Great Fire of 1855). Not much more existed in the better days of this fortress, although earthen ramparts were probably more recognizable.

Still, it could be fun to visit this part of Loviisa if you’ve got some time. Mind you, that won’t take long. Loviisa town has actually created an easy 2 km long walking route in the area of the former fortress, with insightful information signs (with English translations!  Yay!). It’s called Ehrensvärdinpolku (Finn. Ehrensvärd’s Trail), after the principal designer of the fortress back in the 18th century. There’s a map available on the town’s website, although you won’t really need it except to find the start location.

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