Short Trips Into Russia

Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes.

Budget travelers interested in including a short trip into the Soviet Union during a visit to Europe can make economical arrangements through Travela, the Finnish youth travel service. But make advance arrangements if you hope to join one of this year's tours.

Travela, which has been operating weekly budget tours from Helsinki into the Soviet Union for several years, warns that it may not be able to take as many passengers this year as in the past.

Tourist rooms in key cities, such as Moscow and Leningrad, are limited, and tour operators have been offering to pay rates higher then those Travela usually pays.

Just how many rooms will remain available for student-style travelers is undetermined.

Four-Days in Leningrad

Although the price has not yet been confirmed, Travela expects that the rate for its four-day bus tours from Helsinki to Leningrad will be 900 marks (about $245 U.S.).

The trips will begin in June, with a slight reduction on twice-monthly autumn departures.

The fee covers accommodations in tourist-class hotels (rooms shared by up to three persons), all meals in Leningrad, sightseeing with an English-speaking guide, museum entrance fees and entertainment (opera, folklore, a visit to the circus or an evening meeting with local youth).

Tour participants average 25 to 30 years, and the average group comprises 20 to 40.

Travela said that many meals are included, but they are not up to the standards expected by visitors. In short, if you don't want to go hungry, pack some snacks.

Your tour fee also covers a visa, but Travela needs a minimum of seven working days to work it out.

You could travel around Finland while the visa arrangements are being made, or you could send Travela a photocopy of your passport so it can begin the visa arrangements before you arrive.

Write to Travela Ltd., U.S.S.R. Tour Department, Kaivokatu 10 B, 8th Floor 00100, Helsinki, Finland, or visit its office at Mannerheimintie 5, in Helsinki. It's located in the first block on the right as you exit Helsinki's central rail station.

If you plan to travel within Finland while waiting, you can arrange for youth and student transportation fares and budget accommodations at Travela or at the Finnish Youth Hostel Assn.

Travela operates as a travel agency concentrating on youth and student budget fares. Travela can get you a 50% youth discount from Finnair if you're under 24, and travelers under 26 can save up to 66% off regular fares on flights within Europe that are booked one working day before departure.

There are also special discounts on bus and rail travel.

The Finnish Youth Hostel Assn., Yrjonkatu 38 B, Helsinki, can help with information on its 170 youth hostels (22 are above the Arctic Circle) and on special "do-it-yourself" tour packages that include bicycles or transportation passes plus youth hostel accommodations.

In the same office as the youth hostel association is a special youth information service that can help with information on travel within the country; the information service will publish a new booklet, "The Young Visitor's Guide To Finland," this spring.

Prices High in Helsinki

Most prices in Helsinki are higher than at home. A popular fast-food hamburger costs 16.40 marks (about $4.50 U.S.), and city bus tickets, valid for one hour, cost 5.8 marks. Much of the city can be seen on foot, and you can buy food at open-air markets.

A good way to start is at the city tourist information office at Pohjoisesplanadi 19, next to Market Square, where you can pick up free maps of five city walking tours.

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