Well, this probably isn’t the best time to be writing about Russia, but here goes!
From February until June of 2016, I lived in Changning, Hunan Province, China. My roommate at the time, Yulia, was from Moscow, Russia. Actually, Dolgoprudney, which is pretty much like Howland is Warren. To be perfectly honest, even with my extreme case of wanderlust, Russia has never really been a bucket list destination. Yulia and I got along fabulously. After a trip to Hong Kong, where we bought fresh beets, she made me Russian Borscht and talked passionately about her mom, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and her friends.
When we parted ways in June, after 2 weeks of traveling in China, I said goodbye and promised I would visit her in Russia.
Now, I feel I have fairly extensive travel knowledge and her being native Russian, you would think the need for a travel visa would have entered into one of our pretty little heads. Nope!!!! I was planning a trip back to the states in July 2017, Teri had lured me into a London and Paris excursion, but I had about a 2-week window where I could fly off to Moscow before my flight to the USA. I messaged Yulia, who was ecstatic that I was fulfilling my promise and insisted that I stay with her and her mom. She was also going to book an overnight train to Saint Petersburg so we could spend a few days there. Well, she messaged me that she needed my passport info to book train tickets and gave me a couple of options for travel dates and plans. Easy peasy, right?
Well, as we all know, time really does fly……maybe 3 weeks before I would need to take the train to Beijing to catch my flight to Moscow, I decided to do a little research, Now I knew Yulia was planning everything and would make sure I saw all the great sights, but, I like to know a little about where I am going before I go. I knew about the Kremlin, well, I thought I did but learned so much when I was there.
St. Basil’s looked really cool and I knew I wanted a selfie there, but other than that, I realized I knew very little about Russia or Moscow.
Time to GTS (google that shit), ummmmmm, WTF, I need a visa to visit Russia and a tourist visa is only good for 10 days, shit! I only communicate to Yulia through WeChat or Instagram Direct Message, I don’t even have a phone number for her. “YULIA, yes I was yelling in all caps, I NEED A VISA TO COME TO RUSSIA”. My reply from her, “SHIT, I was so excited you were coming I forgot about the visa”. Yes, we both felt pretty stupid. So, the research begins, her on her end and me in CHINA, which after reading many things online, told me it was difficult for a foreigner to get a Russian Visa while in China. I told Yulia, “I’m screwed” but, let’s work on this, I already have a plane ticket and there is a Russian Embassy in Beijing. A little more research and even though I am a foreigner in China, there was the possibility if I went to the Russian Embassy, they could issue an expeditated visa, for a cost, of course. At this point, it was my only option. Expedited visa takes 3 days, cool, so, I made my train ticket to Beijing 4 days before my flight for a “little” wiggle room.
Nothing I can do now, but wait until I get to Beijing and see what happens. I arrive in Beijing on a Sunday evening, my flight is Thursday. Again, not too bright, it is Thursday at 01:25 am yes am, which means I really don’t have 4 days, but 3, no wiggle room. No worries, I will arrive at the Embassy when they open Monday morning and have my visa by Wednesday afternoon. NOT!!!! I was 2nd in line when the Embassy opened. PERFECT!!!, NOT! Because I am a foreigner and not a Chinese citizen, and I didn’t have an appointment, even though, which I forgot to mention, I filled out all the Russian Visa paperwork online, they wouldn’t see me. Really, yes, really. They said I could go to the Russian Visa Application Agency. Okay, grab a taxi and off I go. The place was packed. I waited my turn and “Yes, we can process your visa, but not in 3 days, our expedited is 4 days. If all your paperwork is in order, you can pick up your passport (yes, I had to leave it with the agency) on Thursday after 3pm. Again, WTF, my flight is Thursday 01:25 am. They told me, there was no way to get it any sooner and I would have to change my flight. Did I want them to process my visa and expedite it? I had no choice but to pay the fee, ugggggg, okay. I remembered there was a café on the main floor of the building, I headed down to use their wifi and work on changing my ticket for Friday, still not knowing if my visa would be approved, but I had no choice. 90 minutes and $400 later, I was able to change my flight to Friday.
Not much to do now but wait…….may as well enjoy Beijing.
I haven’t spent much time in Beijing so I figured the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace would be on my agenda for the next couple of days, but for now back to the hotel and have them extend my stay for another night. Easy peasy…….not!
I got back to the hotel, in my best Chinese and their best English, that’s a joke, my best google translate, I explained my situation. No problem, come back to the desk on Wednesday and we will adjust your reservation. Great, back to my room have a little rest, then dinner and plan my next few days.
Fast forward to Wednesday, which by the way, I had totally enjoyed the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, but more on that later. Oh, also, I had made Yulia aware of the situation and we decided that Saint Petersburg wasn’t an option given my decreased time in Russia after the flight change. So, back to Wednesday, I went to the desk and again explained I needed to extend my stay. We don’t have any rooms available, we are booked solid (I actually got someone that spoke a fair amount of English). I relayed the whole story that I had spoken with someone on Monday, no problem, come to the desk on Wednesday, we will make the change…..We can’t make the change, there are no rooms. WTF, this seems to be a recurring theme in regards to this trip. So, I pull out my phone and check ctrip (Chinese app I use to plan my travel). It let me book a room, WTF. I booked it and waited while the receptionist waited to get confirmation and, big sigh of relief, didn’t have to try to find another hotel at the last minute.
Long story, not so short, I received my Russian Visa, flew to Moscow on Friday and had a most wonderful experience.
I am now planning a return visit so I can take in Saint Petersburg. Moscow was beyond anything I anticipated. I will do another blog just on Moscow, but the moral of the story is, no matter how well traveled, how much you think you know, do your research! Better safe than sorry. In the end, everything worked out, but I really could have saved myself a lot of aggravation and money!!!
So it wasn’t easy peasy, but in the end, all was right with the world, well, at least in my little part of the world. To quote Hannah Arendt, “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your own hands. All alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time”.