Jani Laitiala is a nice guy. He just is, can`t help it, its in his nature. He is also the loudest Finnish you`ll ever meet. What does this have to do with anything? Not much, maybe only the fact that this trip came out of his head.
While on a trip in an exotic country, he told his good friend Louie Barletta and some others how it was possible to go from Finland to Russia by train. It was in one of those typical “drink and dream on trips you`d like to do”. I`m sure you`ve all been there before…..
Anyway, this train trip sounded more interesting than all of the others’ dream trips. Jani would be in Helsinki so he`d show us around all of the good spots he knows there. Then a 6 hour train ride would take us across the border to St. Petersburg. Out of Finland into Russia. From there another 8 hour train ride would take us to Moscow and from there fly back home. It was great, excellent trip. Now it was only a matter of waiting for the right time of the year to arrive.
Months past and as with most of trips, things didn`t come out the way they were planned. Unfortunately Jani wouldn`t be able to come but the Ezekiel team tagged along. Derek Fukuhara and Jeremy Holmes had been travelling all over Europe. Helsinki was the meeting point. Louie has been there many times before so he knows most of the good people out there. Essa, a guy with lots of Control, showed us spots and a good time. Sammy would come by every now and then and Jussi would come and skate too. Helsinki was great and fun, as it usually is in summertime.
Russia was next. 180 euros and a nice woman with a weight problem gave us visas for it in 2 days. We had the tickets, we had our visas, we had a couple of beers, we were ready for the train ride!!!!!
Russian trains go a long way back. Russians are proud of their railway system that can take you to any corner of this vast country. The trains are clean and they work fine, though you can tell that not long ago they’d been luxurious. It only took 3 hours to be out of Finland and in Russia. The natural landscape didn`t change much but the houses, cars, towns and people were pretty different. Impoverished. That was the first impression we had of Russia, a giant country that once held the world in its hand but which no longer does. A country hit hard by economic crisis and crises just in general, their system, their values, all of it collapsed to Capitalism.
St Petersburg is a beautiful city. Founded by Peter the Great it was built and created to be like any other European city. Architects, painters, artists and other cultural elites were all brought here to design and build a proper european city. They did a good job. The city is amazing, boasting with cultural activities and beautiful downtown walks. You shouldn`t miss a boat trip through all of the canals that go across the city and that gave it the nickname of “Russia`s Amsterdam”. Unfortunately for us the spots there are very limited and few, as Jani had warned us. We spent more days there than we should but we definitely didn`t spend as many nights as we`d have liked!
The train ride from St Petersburg to Moscow is only 8 hours long. The train was nice and we got second class tickets wich meant bunk beds. This train barely had foreigners in it and I guess it doesn`t usually do since the ticket officer apporached Louie and questioned him in Russian on how he was planning on travelling the country without speaking Russian. We didn`t see many tourists around nor people who spoke English, it isn`t an easy place to do the tourism thing.
Luckily for us we had Natasha and Denis who took care of us, drove us around, took us out for good food, gave us some history lessons and treated us the way friends do. This tour wouldn`t had been possible without their help.
Moscow is an incredible city. The capital of an empire that stretches from Europe to Asia. It is a huge city, with a very big traffic problem, with capitalism at its best, with fancy cars like you only see on American movies, with amazing Soviet buildings and humungous war monuments, many of which you can skate. The skate spots are really nice. Lots of marble and Soviet architechture produced a variety of spots hard to find in any other place. The kick- out rate is high in some spots but not as big as in the rest of Occidental cities. You will need someone to show you around though because the city is so spread out that you could never find the spots on your own. Local photographer Andrey Artukhov and his filmer friend provided us with good spots while we were in Moscow.
The skate scene in Russia is growing very fast. A big country with a lot of consumers who are looking ever- more like the rest of us capitalist fucks could only make skateboarding grow fast and wide. Andrey showed me photos of a skate trip he had done to Siberia. Skaters skated the same spots, same tricks, same clothes, same set up as the rest of the world. It looks like the old Soviet days are gone and the new generations have been brought up mainly in the capitalist world we all live in.
It must have had been interesting to experience a different way of life to the capitalist-consumer life we live in, Russia once did but those days are gone and you can see it in their young people, they are all about telephones, fast food, buying, skateboarding…..just like the rest of us.