I cannot even begin to let you know how excited I am to write those words. Actually, I have been here for three days but there were times over the past month that I didn’t think I would ever see Russia. In fact, it seemed to do everything it could to keep me out. This trip had been planned for 8 months and everything was paid for ready to go until I had to apply for my visa.
The problems started with the fact that I had to get a new Canadian passport because it was going to expire in July 2009, 14 days before my new work visa for 2008-2009 would expire. Twenty one days later I received my Canadian passport with 48 pages and then the school took my passport for 2 weeks to get my work permit renewed for next school year. By the time I received everything back there was not time to get a Russian visa. It now takes 15 working days for a Canadian to get a Russian visa. (has something to do with oil up in the north). I still went to the Russian Embassy and was told no by a very nice man. I almost cried.
After that devastating news I emailed my friend and told her our summer plans were off. At that point Cathy got into panic mode and contracted everyone she could and I eventually received an invitation from the UK Embassy to come to Russia. My invitation didn’t arrive until Wednesday night (I am leaving Sunday). Thankfully after a 2 hour wait outside the Russia Embassy on Thursday morning (also the last day of school) I was issued my entry visa in 50 minutes for a large fee. It didnt’ matter – I was going to Russia.
I won’t even describe the next two days as I said goodbye to my incredible students and a lot of friends who have finished their contracts and I shopped and shopped. It was frantic but I was going to Russia. I was starting to believe.
Sunday morning my ayi arrived and got a taxi arranged to take me to the airport. Just as we were dashing out the door by suitcase broke and everything was all over everywhere. We grabbed another, larger suitcase, threw everything into the new suitcase and it about 8 minutes were out the door to the airport.
The taxi ride and check in were uneventful. The new Terminal 3 in Beijing is beautiful and extremely efficient. I wandered along and spent too much money in the duty free shops especially the Olympic shops and finally got to my gate which was downstairs and looked more like a bus station than a beautiful gate for this modern airport. It was jammed and i had to push to find a seat because of the weight I was carrying. I had decided that with my sore back I would not take a backpack but would bring my computer case on wheels so I wouldn’t have to lift anything but just wheel right on board. Was I ever wrong.
Because I wanted to save money on this trip I had decided to fly Air China instead of a European carrier and there were consequences for going cheap. 🙂 Instead of walking onto the plane we were all loaded on board buses and taken out to the far reaches of the airport to our plane where we had to climb the stairs from the tarmack to the plane. (OK -so much for not having to life anything). I also had on a long skirt and there I was struggling up the steps like a toddler, clutching my skirt, my duty free junk, my purse and my heavy computer roll on luggage. No one to help.
Got on board and found my seat with no problem and settled down. It took 1 1/2 hours to load the plane becasue of the buses. Finally we took off and had an uneventful trip. I was on my way. I would be there in eight hours. Short of the plane falling out of the sky I figured I had the hardest part behind me. I was wrong.
When we deplaned in Moscow we had to walk quite a long way to passport control, not a problem, and then we had to go down into the next level to go through passport control. No escalators just steps. So I gathered everything up and still feeling positive I descended into what was about to become hell. Yes, at the Moscow airport hell is known as passport control.
Four hundred people jammed into a space for half of that with no queing, to direction and no enough people to process all of us. I will not go on to describe what transpired but it was 2 1/2 hours of standing jammed together doing shuffle before I got through. No one in MOscow smiled or welcomed us. Announcements were continually made in Russia but as there were mostly mainland Chinese in the room with the occasional English speaker and a handful of Russians the announcements were wasted. No one got angry we all just stood there.
Finally, I was through and then I had to find my luggage. Don’t picture a big lovely automated luggage track with people to help you and care about you. No!!!!! No one spoke English nor was interested in charades which work so well in China and other countries. The luggage had long since been abandoned and after wandering around for about 15minutes I finally found it on the London England carousel and loaded it on my cart. I was only three hours late and I knew Cathy was just around the corner. I was wrong. I had to go through another luggage check. I had to unload all my luggage again by myself, I was yelled at by the russian guard because I didn’t know what to do…..he was so busy leaning against the machine and smoking he wouldn’t be able to help, then wait for it to come through the other side, reload my cart, again being yelled at because I was so slow, and then I was able to be released from my little version of hell.
Of course, wonderful friend that she is,Cathy was waiting for me and it was so great to see her. She had been waiting for 3 1/2 hours with no idea what was going on until a french lady emerged from passport control and told her what was happening inside. Thank goodness Cathy knows a number of languages.
I am now here and we are having a wonderful slow and quiet time. I am seeing Moscow and it is wonderful.
This has gone on far too long so I will post again tomorrow just before we leave for St Petersburg.