With more than 20 countries under our conjoined belt, we often get asked about how we decide our destinations and plan our trips. Frankly almost the entire world is on our bucket list and how we shortlist our next destination is mostly left to chance and serendipity. But one reason which influences the decision to a great extent is visa process of the intended destination. We did an impromptu Cambodia, Indonesia trip just because Indians have visa on arrival there! All the visa stories are not as straight-forward though.
Let’s go to Russia he said. It will be fun he said!! ☺️
And that’s how we began our planning for a trip to Russia – the land of the Czars and the Proletariat. TH (The Husband) has immense love and fascination for everything Soviet. So an otherwise impatient fellow was ever so cool and patient with idiotic processes for procuring visa for our visit. I have always wondered about the necessity of truckload of data that is collected as part of visa granting process. What do the embassies evaluate to ascertain our worthiness to get a SHORT DURATION TOURIST VISA? And if the papers we submit prove our intentions and reasons of coming back home then why are there still illegal immigrants in the World? Anyway, that’s a bigger mystery to be solved by the “Authorities”. For ordinary mortals like us the question is which country to visit next. And that question is mostly answered by simplicity and pace of getting a visa for that destination.
TH’s love for Russia and our dear friend living in Saint Petersburg were the guiding forces in our trip to Russia. Getting the Russian Visa proved to be an experience in itself since we were told that no agent is allowed to process it and one has to personally take the pains to EARN the visa. (Apparently the process is simplified now) The Russian Consulate in Mumbai worked exactly like a government office – frustratingly slow and cumbersome. We concluded that India seems to have inherited a lot from its Russian counterparts in addition to being a Socialist Republic. TH being over-enthusiastic about Russia; we had applied for Urgent Visa; as a result we had to sweat it out in Mumbai heat to get the visa stamped the same day as that of our application. The other option was to return to Mumbai to collect the visa after five days.
Finally around 4pm, we collected our PP with stamped visas and our bubble of joy was immediately burst because the entire visa was in Russian!! We did not understand a single word written on it. As soon as it handed out our visas, the embassy had put its shutters down and was closed for the day. We hastily clicked pictures of our visa and sent it to our friend in Russia so he could validate the details. Thankfully everything was in place but for a minor difficulty – the visa validity dates were mapped EXACTLY to our travel dates – from Midnight to Midnight – without any room for flexibility. These kinds of visas are scary since my travel stars are wicked. The body-hugging dates felt like we are challenging Murphy and inviting screw-ups!
As if this wasn’t enough, we were transiting through Germany for our Russia trip and apparently we needed a transit visa for those 12+ hours. We procured that through a friend turned travel agent. It was confirmed to us that we could venture out in Munich on that transit visa. This made us happy as we would see one more city on the way to Russia. But after landing in Munich, we were in for a surprise! When we asked if we could go out for a city tour the Airline as well as Airport people made such non-committal noises; that we had to make a tough call of abandoning our plan. Who wills sacrifice a whole Russia trip for a few hours in foreign land on uncertain transit visa? It is indeed wonderful to see how ambiguous visa rules can be! As a regular traveler, it is a humble expectation that visa rules and processes are made clear for the benefit of bona fide tourists!
After the trying times of earning our visas, we landed in Moscow at 0100 hours, just an hour after our visa was effective and managed to leave before-midnight as it expired and felt like Cinderella ☺️