On my trip to Finland and Russia, the tour director's objective was to fit as many sightseeing opportunities as possible into each day. On the morning of my third day outside of the US, I took a brief bus tour of Helsinki's major sites before heading to the Finnish/Russian border. I was told that crossing into Russia can be an exercise in frustration. It can take as little as an hour, or it can last for half a day. Border patrol workers get paid next to nothing, so they get satisfaction providing tourists with a sample of their misery.
Fortunately, my experience with the border patrol could almost be described as pleasant. My entire tour group, nearly 40 people, made it through in a snappy hour and a half. After entering the country, a time-consuming bus ride into St. Petersburg remained. I'm 6 feet, 3 inches, so cramped seating on planes and buses always prevents any thought of a blissful rest. Needless to say, I was exhausted upon arrival to the hotel, and I was scheduled to take a 2-hour evening cruise along the Fontanka and Neva Rivers.
My group was set to depart the hotel for the boat at 8:30pm. At this point, I was having some serious second thoughts about the cruise because my physical and mental stamina was so thoroughly drained. I managed to conjure up some extra energy and felt peppy once aboard the boat. Inside, we were seated at small tables that included vodka, champagne, and caviar hors d'oeuvres while a small folklore group performed at the front of the vessel.
While sailing along the Fontanka River, we noticed a teenage boy running alongside our tour. As the cruise went on, the boy stayed comfortably in stride with our watercraft. He would occasionally run ahead so that he could stop and wave. For the entire 2 hours, he accompanied us on foot as we enjoyed St. Petersburg's sights from the water.
We had many theories about his reason for following along. The most popular one being that he was a "special" child attracted to boats in the same way that a dog chases cars that pass it by. The cruise finally concluded, and the boy sat down at the pier and waited for everyone to disembark. Almost everyone in the group gave him some kind of donation. He probably collected somewhere between $50 to $75.
I've lived in NYC for 9 years, and I've seen plenty of unique street performances. However, this kid's schtick was pure genius in its simplicity, and best of all, it was paid healthy living. Two days later, during the afternoon, my nephew and I were walking along the Fontanka on our way to pay homage to Chizik Pyzhik. We noticed another cruise making its return to the pier, and sure enough, here came St. Petersburg's Forrest Gump doing his thing. This kid must be one of the most athletic and profitable entrepreneurs in the city, especially if he does this routine multiple times each day. If you find yourself on a cruise in St. Petersburg, be on the lookout for this kid and try not to yell out, "Run, Forrest, Run!"
Please note that if you are confined to a wheelchair, it is nearly impossible to board the enclosed boats. You cross a very narrow wooden plank that is much thinner than the width of a wheelchair's tires. Additionally, there are three small boards crossing the top of the plank that must be overcome. For disabled tourists, I would suggest finding an alternative tour. My mother, who has MS, can still walk short distances, and it was even difficult for her to get onboard.