Before heading down to Moscow we took a quick day trip North to Vyborg, a fairly small town 25 miles from the Finnish border.
Like Tallinn, it felt quite scandi, but unlike Tallinn, also quite Russian. It’s changed hands a few times in its history (first Sweden, then Russia, then Finland, then Russia, then Finland… you get the idea).
While we were wandering around town checking out the sights we got stuck behind a wedding party, who were dutifully marching to each place of note to have their picture taken.
This is a phenomenon we observed every Friday and Saturday in Russia (when the offices where marriages are registered are open). You can tell the day of the week by it — from out of nowhere fleets of cars adorned with mounds of flowers and giant plastic wedding rings will appear. The first couple we saw in Vyborg were doing their photo-shoot pilgrimage on foot, but there were plenty of motorcades about too. Later we were treated to a selection of banging tunes from another couple’s driver. He was parked in a square waiting for his charges with the stereo on loudly enough to prompt spontaneous dancing from people several hundred metres away.
Vyborg is a nice size to wander around, and it’s pleasantly run down. Old fortifications are dotted around, between leaning wooden houses and Soviet concrete. Splashes of colourful graffiti and sculpture dot the streets, in between permanently parked cars, missing wheels or engines.
Gently crumbling port towns are clearly my thing. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I lived there, but there’s something alluring about disarrayed cobblestones and rusting cranes.
The highlight for me was the library. It was designed by Alvar Aalto in the late 1920s when Vyborg was still in Finland, and I want to move in.
(More info and better photos here.)
Aside from the architecture, the best thing we did in Vyborg was going to a bar and watching the football. St Petersburg were playing, and the place was full of fans who made us very welcome. Every time they scored the staff dished out vodka shots to the whole bar in celebration. We weren’t sure if they were on the house or if the people thoroughly enjoying themselves on the next table were paying for them, but it made for a great atmosphere. Especially as the final score was 5-1.