Back in the USSR

Trip Start Jul 16, 2010
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Trip End Dec 25, 2010


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Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday: 6:00 AM I get off my train in St. Petersburg. I am now an illegal - lucky I don't live in Arizona I guess. Long story sort: after arranging my Russian visa, the Siberian train schedule was changed by the railway to arrive one day later in Moscow. This was not accounted for in subsequent itineraries, resulting in my staying in Russia one day longer than originally planned. In addition, the travel agency did not include the extra day on my visa that they should have. The provodnitsa told me I could get off in St Petersburg and figure things out myself, or be escorted off at the border. I thought St P sounded like the better option, although, if it were a video game, I'd like to replay this section and see if a bribe at the border would have worked or been a game over. It probably would have been cheaper, that's for sure.

So I head downtown to the US consulate after putting my luggage in a locker at St P train station. I am told by Russian guard I can't see anyone today because I don't have an appointment. As your average 7th grader from the 80's would say, Well, DUH! Of course I don't.
I got punted off the train 90 minutes ago. OK, says Vladimir, call inside on this phone in the garage (!). I get an answering machine with multiple options which is EXACTLY what you would expect if you were calling say, an insurance company in the US, but not your friendly tax-payer supported consulate. Anyway, I keep getting the answering machine of someone who is obviously not there, so I go and complain to the Russian guards, and somehow I manage to eventually speak with a Russian assistant to the consul named Svetlana, who explained that I needed a diplomatic letter asking the Russian Foreign Minister or some such nabob's permission for a temporary transit visa that MIGHT NOT actually be issued depending on whether he had a fight with his mistress last night, and that said visa is only issued at Pulkovo-2 international airport, an hour away, and the only thing to do is go to the airport and wait there and someone might tell me I can get the visa, or they might not. I go halfway to the airport, and remember my bags are at the train station, so I return to the train station, realizing that I won't be getting out of Russia today and I'll be bored as hell waiting all day without so much as a book to read. I then haul all my shit out to the airport, where I wait until 5:00 PM when the magic word comes that they will issue a visa. I should point out that at no time did I ever see any AMERICANS at the consulate. I think it might be a front for the KGB. Anyway, Svetlana was the best and got that damned visa like it was her trying to get out of the country. Bless her heart. If all bureaucrats were so pleasant and efficient the world would be all sweet and honey and there would be no wars or cancer.

In contrast, the visa officer at Pulkovo Airport was trying to win the Nazi Dickhead of the Year award (It's yours dude! You win!) by giving me 48 hours to get out of Dodge when Svetlana specifically got permission for a 3 day transit visa. Totally worn out by the whole affair (remember, this is the ABRIDGED version), and realizing that getting to Denmark in time for my Norwegian cruise will require 2 straight days of trains, buses and ferries, I decide to fork out for a one-way ticket to Kopehhagen out of Pulkovo the next day.
I then go back into ST P where I tramp to a hostel only to be told they are full. (The next time I go on a megatrip, I'm taking a computer and a phone.) I plod off to another one that thankfully has a bed, and which turns out to be the best place I've stayed in 2 weeks (including free all you can eat breakfast).  I eat the rest of a loaf of actually quite good rasin bread I picked up near the consulate, and a beer for dinner. Definitely the worst day of trip so far. Good bed though, SBR +2.

Tuesday: After 3 bowls of cornflakes, 6 pieces of toast, 3 cups of coffee an egg and cheese, I head out to Pulkovo. A wave of relief sweeps over me as the immigration officer stamps my passport and I head to my gate. 2:45 PM I am out of this benighted country, operas and space stations be damned. Arrive Kopenhagen, CIVILIZATION. Clean, tidy; English spoken here. Signs that actually tell you where to go. Within 30 minutes I am on an express train up to Aalborg where my friend Win lives with his Danish wife during his summer vacations. Speak a bit with a couple of young (23) fellows about Denmark. Intelligent, charming guys. What a change from the surly, vacuous types China and Russia seemed to throw up. Arrive at Win and Camilla's a bit before midnight. Camilla gives me chocolate ice cream. Couldn't be better... SBR +2
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