Saturday, November 14, 2015

Train Ride 2015 - Helsinki to St Petersburg with Allegro train, 4th leg

Date of travel: 20th October 2015

The hotel that we stayed in Helsinki is without receptions. Everything is being arranged through email confirmation and password numbers for all entrances. Therefore, we had to look for a taxi on our own. Lucky that people do speak English in Helsinki, so, you would not find any  difficulties to ask for directions and/or assistance. When asked about where and how to get a cab, a passers-by advised me to walk a little bit further to the shopping street. While we talked, I saw a comfortable van with a taxi sign on its roof. The driver immediately stop when I held out my hand to stop him. God bless, he was passing by, else we would have to pull our heavy luggage on a quite long distance.

It is not really that far from the hotel to the main train station, Helsingfors as it takes less than 20 minutes to arrive. It was drizzling a bit but not much. The cab driver is too kind hearted man. He parked his vehicle at the nearest possibly so that we would not be drenched by the drizzle that may wet our jacket. The train staff or rather a security immediately showing a sign to an entrance direction into the station. After we have done with platform checking, I excused myself to take more photos of Helsingfors external fa├žade station. This train station building is being ministered by VR or VR Group Ab, a state-owned railway company in Finland. It was formerly known as Suomen Valtion Rautatiet means, Finnish State Railways until 1922 and Valtionrautatiet or State Railways until 1995. Most of its important function is the operation of freight and passenger rail services.

Since 2010, the maintenance and the construction of the railway network are the responsibility of the Finnish Transport Agency. The operation and network were originally carried out by the parent company Valtionrautatiet until 1995, when it was split into VR Group and the rail administration entity, Ratahallintokeskus. Rail transport started in Finland way back in 1862. Its multiple main lines were built at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in addition to a smaller private railways. Valtion Rautatiet operated mainly on the bigger and longer main lines. During the twentieth century, most private railway companies were shut down and Valtionrautatiet assumed a monopoly in rail transport. In 1995 the company was privatised into VR group. If it was not because of the Allergo train was on service and can only picked us up at Pietari station, we would not have an experienced of riding VR trains. While waiting for the departing scheduled time, I was admiring the cleanliness of everything inside this Helsinki Hesingfors. Adore the people too.

Okay, admittedly I have another story, shameful to me that I wish to share with you. If I revisit this entry again in future I would be reminded again of my carelessness. In the 3rd photo of this entry was my travelling luggage that I placed on the bench while taking Ane's photo. On the 5th photo 1 bag was missing, i.e. my Samsonite bag-pack. I did not realised that it was not with me for almost an hour. When we have done with our breakfast and heading towards the train, I only discovered that it was not with me. Inside was my Macbook air, all my cash and credit card, some souvenirs I bought and note books plus foods. I was started shivering inside out, thinking that hubby would said "you deserve it". Almost at tears, I left my whole belonging with Ane and started to trackback where I was  at ever since we arrived at the station. The coffee ship girl advised me to report to VR office, whilst another gentleman directed me where to lodge a police report. Within that split second, my self instinct told me to follow the 1st advice. When I was about to cry while sharing my lost bag story to the lady at the VR counter, I suddenly turned my face to the bench where I snapped photo number 3 and saw the bag-pack was safely there, untouched, unmoved. It was waiting patiently for me to remember her. Oh dear, the station lady was shaking her head while I repeatedly said my gratefulness to Allah, Alhamdulillah. It is Him who has made people on this region so truthful to His teaching, dare not touch other peoples belonging as it is forbidden. This is not a majority Muslim country but the values of life and the teaching of the Holy books has trained them to be truthful as Jesus has said in the New Testament that those who steal shall be cut-off his hand, i.e. a hudud punishment. Hence, I pray to all Muslim peoples to mirror ourselves and goes back to the original teaching of Holy Book before speaking about implementing hudud law.

When I get back to the station, I saw that Ane has loaded my luggage inside the train too. But my coffee and croissant disappeared. She must have left there and the cleaner immediately discarded them away. Apparently, we were not the only passengers waiting for the Allegro train to appear, others too including a big group of tourist from Hong Kong. The VR station officer tried his level best to make us understand that there shall be 2 parts of travel while waiting for Allegro train to finish it's service and quickly pick us at at the destined station. I was at that time able to smile and cheerfully eating Totilla Chips that Ane bought for herself. Gosh, what an experienced again. I lost so many expensive things thus far, among others are a Tag Heur diamond watch and Channel shades. Lucky that this Macbook Air is safely with me until now. Ops, Ane has kept my passport and all our tickets with her since day 1, so at least, if anything bad were to happen, we still able to go back.  

Allegro is a high-speed train services between Helsinki in Finland and St. Petersburg in Russia, connecting only these 2 main cities. The name Allegro is a musical term for a quick tempo, thereby suggesting "high speed". Allegro services commenced on 12th December 2010. The aim is to reduce travel time between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. The journey time before Allegro is being introduced was 5½ hours but currently it is cut to only 3 hours and 36 minutes. There are plans by the operator to bring it further down to 3 hours by increasing efficiency. For your information, the wifi in VR train is no joke. I managed to update my blog, Helsinki Roses, while waiting for Allegro train to arrive. All tourist from Hong Kong were enjoying themselves at the platform and I was also playing with VR train automatic door with Ane in below photo.

Allegro trains are owned by Karelian Trains, a 50–50 joint venture between VR Group (Finnish Railways) and Russian Railways (RZD). The trains are able to run on both Finnish and Russian tracks. The inaugural service ceremony was by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Oy Karelian Trains Ltd is a joint venture entered who into agreement on 23rd November 2006 between Russian Railways (RZhD) and VR Group (Finnish Railways) to facilitate the operation of international express passenger rail services between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. Karelian Trains is registered in Helsinki; VR and RZhD both own 50% of the shares. The services henceforth are branded as Allegro.

I'm using the latest Instacollage to combine all 4 photos that Ane recorded when Allegro train has finally arrived. Simply blessed for this rare moment, happened only in this leg. Thank you Ane for this shot and for a beautiful friendship that we had all these year, since 2010 

Allegro is using Alstom Pendolino trains, ordered in September 2007 to be used during its launching time in 2010. Investments included an infrastructure to enable a higher speeds to be achieved. It has cut journey times between the two cities from the previous 5½ hours to about 3 hours. There are 4 daily train departures on each direction, compared to 2 for the older service. However, the daily night train Helsinki–Moscow is continuing as usual.

Visas are required for many foreign nationals, including Finns, to enter Russia and likewise for Russians to enter Finland. Passport and customs checks are conducted on board the trains. Traditionally the passport and customs checks have delayed the trains by at least 30 minutes according to the time table (1 hour for 30 km Vyborg-the border). On board the train, each passenger is visited by four officials: a Finnish passport control officer, a Finnish customs officer, a Russian passport control officer and a Russian customs officer.

During the first year of operation the service has had 280,000 passengers, far more than expected. It has achieved the purpose of its inception and steadfastly growth. A train traveler like me is looking forward for more of this kind of improvement. Allegro connects the following stations in between:-
  • St. Petersburg (Finlyandsky station)
  • Vyborg
  • Vainikkala
  • Kouvola
  • Lahti
  • Tikkurila
  • Pasila
  • Helsinki
Vainikkala (on the Finnish side of the border) and Vyborg are a special stations. It is on trains bound for Finland where passengers are not allowed to leave the train at Vyborg, as the train only stops to pick up passengers; and on trains bound for Russia, passengers are not allowed to leave the train at Vainikkala, for the same reason.

The view on this route is another Godsend. He let the sun out to play, lighted up the whole universe for us to enjoy His awesome creation. Another painting stories which I fallen deeply in love again. By the way, I made new friends with Finnish lady, Marko in this train route. Whilst I invited her to enjoy suns and rains in my home country, she invited me to have a special holiday at her beautiful place, Lapland. Lapland is another heaven place on earth that I might be exploring on my retirement day with my other half. InshAllah...

When we arrived at St Petersburg Finlyandsky station, we were not allowed to go straight into the train station building. Instead, all passengers were directed toward an exit gate where cabs, shuttle busses etc was waiting. I felt irritated as I need the closer look and the stations photo for my entry. However, it was not permitted. Welcome to Russia. The cab driver taking us to the hotel is another Godsend. He speaks fluent English being an ex-sailor himself. Most importantly he advised of few more places which was not in our itinerary that we immediately explored once we filled up tummy. The best recommendation ever.

After a few minutes in St Petersburg, I started to fall in love again with this region and the enormous nation. Pray for many returns to Russia.

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