TALLINN - More than 14,000 Russians arrived in Estonia through the northeast border town of Narva before the end of the last year to celebrate New Year’s Eve and Orthodox Christmas, reports Postimees. The government’s press spokesperson Yelena Filippova said that because of the large number of vehicles at the border checkpoint, there were seven lanes opened including two lanes that are normally used for trucks.
Between 60 and 65 buses and about 900 passenger cars crossed the border every day.
Filippova said that normal volumes should have been restored by Jan. 8 when the Orthodox Christmas is over.
Local spas and hotels have been full of Russian tourists. The biggest number of Russian tourists were expected from Jan. 2-8.
The Narva border checkpoint was prepared for the heavy traffic flow. Narva road border checkpoint head Kert Uustalu said that extra staff had been called to the checkpoint for the holiday season.
Go Rail said that in order to satisfy the demand of Russian tourists during the holidays, it would make extra train trips and add carriages to trains. The company’s development director Jola Shevtsov told Delfi that extra trips from St. Petersburg took place on Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, and from Moscow on Jan. 4.
With the Eastern Orthodox Christmas taking place this week, three ex-Soviet Baltic States faced a new invasion from the east as Russian tourists flooded in for the holidays, reported AFP. The Baltic trio, however, were now rolling out the red carpet for Russian tourists.
In the three capitals, hotels with special packages for Russian visitors in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas Day, on Jan. 7, were nearly fully booked. According to the Gregorian calendar, Orthodox Christmas falls 13 days after the Dec. 25 Western feast celebrated in line with the Julian calendar.
Baltic State consulates in Russia have been flooded with requests for tourist visas - on Dec. 10 alone, the Latvian consulate in Moscow received more than 1,150, a record that required extra staffing.
Enterprise Estonia’s tourism guru Tarmo Mutso said he expects about 70,000 Russians to visit over the Eastern Orthodox holiday period.
“We are pleasantly surprised by how good the services are and how well we have been treated, although we were told Estonians might not like Russians,” Muscovite Marina Nikonova, whose family rented an apartment in the Estonian capital Tallinn for eight days, told AFP.
“All our shopping malls have become Christmas markets for the Russians,” Jolanta Benuliene, Vilnius’ tourism chief told AFP.
With the aroma of mulled wine and cinnamon buns wafting through the old town squares of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, Christmas markets there were to stay open for last-minute Russian shoppers until Epiphany, or Jan. 6, 2012.
Elena Dulepova, a 26-year-old tourist from Moscow, has paid several winter visits to the Latvian capital, Riga. “Everybody understands Russian and it’s only an overnight train-ride from Moscow,” she added, complaining a little about the 35 euro Schengen visa fee for entering the European Union, of which the Baltic trio all became members in 2004.
Druskininkai, a spa town in southern Lithuania which offers services in Russian, saw the number of Russian tourists soar by 44 percent in 2011-12.
While the three Baltic countries stand to reap great economic rewards, leaders remain cautious about further opening their borders to unlimited numbers of visitors from the east.