The bus departed St. Petersburg at 10:30pm and arrived at the Russian border at 1:00am. Customs went smooth on the Russian side and soon I arrived to the Estonian border. Customs officer came into the bus and asked me a several questions. Why are you traveling alone? Where in Europe is your destination? Why don’t you have a return ticket? Do you have travel insurance? They probably thought that I was trying to immigrate illegally to Europe. I can imagine that not so many single Japanese women will be traveling this border after midnight.
“I’m planning to meet a friend in Czech. This is my flight ticket from Estonia to Czech. Here is my friend’s address. I haven’t bought a flight ticket because I haven’t decided which day to fly back. I’m planning to go back to Tokyo in a month. Here is my travel insurance card.” I hid the fact that I was traveling around the world because I thought that it’ll make things more complicated. In fact, everything except “going back to Tokyo in a month” was true. The officer looked convinced after checking my insurance card and collected everyone’s passports. She came back in 30 mins telling only me to step outside of the bus. She told me to open the trunk and get my suitcase. Not even after a minute I took out my suitcase, the bus drove off into the darkness. I was speechless. The officer told me to come into the customs office and guided me into the building. I was taken into a room in the basement.
“Excuse me!” I shouted. “Why did the bus leave me? Are there any problems with my passport?” Inside the room were 5 officers. I asked the lady who guided me here. “There is something we want to ask you about.” She called her boss inside the room. The chief officer, a man in his 40s gave me a suspicious look. “You went to Italy last year, didn’t you? What is the purpose of this trip?” When I heard this I knew exactly what he was talking about. Last year when I went to Italy for my business trip, the stamp given to me at the Italian airport was so light that you could hardly see it. Therefore I made the mistake of foolishly outlining it with a pen. It was my first time to Europe and I didn’t want the memorial stamp to be covered with another country’s stamp. I knew that I was going to get into trouble one day, but more than a year passed and not one country noticed it. Well, not until today.
“I went to Italy for business.” When I remained silent about the stamp, they started asking me questions like which exact date were you there from, what is your job, what’s the name of the company and address in Tokyo, what is your father’s contact number and how much money did I have. After answering all these questions, I was taken into a small room where I was body checked by 3 female officers and had my suitcase checked inside out. It was funny when they put up a small plastic bag filled with powder detergent in front of my face and asked what it was. They probably thought it was cocaine. They also found a little purse with 20USD inside and asked me if this was all the money I had. “No, all my money is in the internet banking account. If you need to see my balance, I will show it to you right now.” A young male officer came up to me and said “The problem is not your money. The problem is the Italian stamp on your passport. You forged it, didn’t you?” My mind went blank.
“No, I didn’t. I just outlined it because it was almost disappearing. Please check my immigration status.” The officer gave orders to the others and made many phone calls. After 2 hrs of restriction, they found me innocent. “We thought that you forged the stamp so that’s why we took you out of the bus. We have confirmed your entry to Italy just now. However for any reason what so ever it is a crime to write in the passport. We have thought about arresting you too, but you didn’t have any bad intensions so we decided to release you.” I was shocked. For the past 2 hrs I imagined that the worst case scenario is being deported, but didn’t think there was a possibility of being arrested. The officer told me to take the bus coming in 3hrs and I slept on the chair while waiting. On the bus I kept thinking about how stupid I was and felt intense self-hatred.
Although when I took one step out of the bus, I found something that made me put a big smile on my face. It was the sign of the bus terminal in roman alphabets. Ever since Mongolia, the signs were all in cyrillic letters so I had a hard time understanding them. After 4 weeks I finally came to a country where I could read again. I felt delighted.
When I got off of the bus and asked people for directions, they surprised me by speaking good English. They also smiled when talking unlike the Russians. The city was filled with bright sunshine and a little part inside me that was frozen from the trip to Russia melted instantly. My hostel was packed with young European students. They were enjoying their last days of summer vacation. Even though I was sitting right next to them, they ignored me like if I wasn’t there and let nobody in their small group. I felt that I have arrived to a developed country.
I went to buy breakfast at the super market. There were all sorts of fresh green vegetables on the shelves. In Russia, they only had really bad vegetables. Some were shrunken and the colors had changed completely. I didn’t know why they could sell such things. They were also mighty expensive. Estonia was only a few hour drives from Russia but the difference was great. At the bakery I found freshly baked croissants for only 30 euro cents. Estonia was much more affordable than my image of Europe. Even the cashier greeted me so friendly that I started to love Estonia despite only visiting the super market.
Tallinn was a small town. With less than 3 hrs you could see the major spots of the city. The houses had steeply pitched roofs made from red roofing tiles. Bells rang melodically from the church towers. It looked like a town from the folk tale. Even though it was the capitol of a country, I didn’t find anyone rushing or being stressed. Everyone who I asked for directions gave me kind explanations with a friendly smile. I felt so good walking in this town. I also made a new pair of glasses. 100euros was big money for me, but I knew that it was best to make it here as I was heading to much expensive countries in Europe.
In the late afternoon, I went to sit at an observation point where I munched on some pastry and watched the sunset. The next day I went to the park and sat under the sun for many hours. I hadn’t seen good sunlight since I left Lake Baikal. When I enjoyed every bit of the last sun of this summer, I packed my suitcase and went to the airport. I wish I had more time in Tallinn, but I had to go. I needed to see someone.