Dodging the obstacles in Finland, Sweden and Russia

Travel in Finland, Sweden and Russia can be exhilarating. A smidgen of caution, however, can fend off a slew of physical and mental perils:

*Don't lounge for an hour and a half the first time you visit a sauna. Your newly acquired fire-engine-red skin could shrivel four or five sizes.

*Don't wander Helsinki's streets at night after Finland's hockey team has whupped Sweden's. You'll stumble into a drunken Finn – one of tens of thousands of them crammed into a few downtown blocks — and bruise one of your body parts.

*Don't let your toenails grow too long. You're sure to trip over a threshold — Finland's are exceptionally high — and turn at least one of those nails black and blue.

*Don't ride the Friday-night Helsinki-to-Sweden ferry. It's then that 2,000 weekending schoolkids pour cheap alcohol into their hormone-gorged bodies and kill all vestiges of reason as well as your chances of sleep.

*Don't meander aimlessly in Stockholm unless you like being repeatedly bumped. The king has apparently banished the English phrase "excuse me" from Swedish usage.

*Don't let your toddlers channel-surf in Swedish hotels. Hard-core porno gets more airtime than "Beavis and Butthead," heh heh.

*Don't tape your hotel safety deposit key inside a kippah which you then stow in a concealed flap in a checked suitcase. Your hair could turn as white as the skullcap trying to remember where the key went.

*Don't stay at the Prin, a three-star hotel in St. Petersburg, lest you tempt Murphy's Law. The hotel overlooks an industrial park that resembles a toxic waste dump. Its faucets spew sludge. And it features a squealing elevator straight from a 1931 Boris Karloff horror flick.

*Don't stroll moonlit avenues of St. Petersburg alone. You might run into a menacing Russian-Mafia guy flaunting a new Mercedes, cellular phone and assorted "Natashas of the night."

*Don't pay attention to ragtag Russian musicians, tip boxes at the ready, as you step off a tourist bus. They will play "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" until you cry Uncle Sam.