Monday, June 08, 2009

A Yulinka Cooks travelogue: From Estonia to Russia. Part 2 of 6.

[This week I'm blogging my July 2008 trip to Estonia and Russia. The first entry, on Estonia, is here.]

The iron curtain has fallen, but it doesn’t really feel like it when you’re traveling to Russia. It takes months to get a visa, and don’t expect anyone from Russia’s American embassies to help you.

But let’s say you finally get your visa. Now you have to cross the border into Russia. If you’re coming by overnight train, from, say, Estonia, this is how it happens. You board the train and hand your passport over to the conductor. Sometime during the night, you will be awakened twice. (Actually, it’s better if you don’t sleep. You should be on guard.)

The first time, Estonian border guards will check your passport and visa. That's the easy part. The second time, your documents will be examined by the Russian border control. You will asked, no, ordered, to stay in your compartment. Your bags will be searched. If you’ve already had the misfortune to deal with Russian authorities, you will be tense. You will be anxious. You will know that they can tell you, in a bland, stone-faced way, that your visa doesn’t conform to some obscure, absurd and incomprehensible regulation, and that you cannot enter Russia.

You half-expect this to happen, while paperwork is filled out --there’s a little piece of paper that you cannot ever lose or God knows what misfortunes will befall you--and passports are stamped and returned.

Finally, the guards nod and move on to interrogate passengers in the neighboring compartment--Italians who speak little English and less Russian. The conductor studies their passports and reads their names aloud in a sing-songy way. You feel bad for them, but it’s not your concern. You, you are now free to enter Russia. Dobro pozhalovat'!*

*Welcome.

Next: St. Petersburg, grand and beautiful.

5 comments:

Diana said...

I have always got my tourist visa's in less than a week and it was about 6 weeks from start to finish for my home stay visa. We have never had a problem going in or out of Russia.

Kristen said...

Oh Russia! In a perverse way I relish these little bureaucratic moments. OK, not during them, but after they are long over.

Julia (alias Yulinka Cooks) said...

Diana-It took us a couple of months to get a homestay visa. I never once reached a person when called the Russian embassies here. I guess we didn't have trouble going in and out of Russia, but it was still a nerve-wracking experience. Maybe I would have been less concerned if I were on my own, but my parents seemed to expect a disaster.

Throughout my stay in Russia I felt a kind of tension that didn't ease until I was back in the EU (we flew back to the U.S. by way of Estonia).

Stay tuned for my experience registering the homestay visa in St. Petersburg.

Kristen--Yes, it's all kind of funny now!

adele said...

Oh, heavens. From what I hear, entering China used to be a similarly convoluted process. They've gotten a bit better about it in the last decade or so.

Lo said...

Oh, yes. My travels to Tunisia years ago were similarly obstructionist... that feeling of tension. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't experienced it for myself.

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