Published: June 30th 2012June 30th 2012
So, I’m actually writing this first entry aboard the high speed train that connects Moscow to Saint Petersburg, the SAPSAN. Although about 40 hours prior found me in a very different state of mind; unsure of whether this would even be possible, how to resolve next steps, and generally wondering how much my mistake would end up costing when all was said and done. But before looking forward, I’ll provide an overview of the week that was.
Jenn and I had planned a two week vacation to Europe this summer, and while preparing, it came about that I would need to be in Moscow the week before for work. As she already had the summer off from work, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce her to such an intriguing country and one that thoroughly impressed me during my first visit late last year.
The plan was for me to leave on Saturday, June 23, arrive Sunday; work Monday thru Thursday in Moscow. Jenn would leave Tuesday, arrive Wednesday, and sight-see solo until my work finished. We would then take the bullet train to the former capital in St. Petersburg for a few days and continue on with vacation.
After meticulously planning every hotel, flight, train, boat, etc., I arrived at the Houston airport last Saturday. Immediately, the clerk’s face indicated something was wrong; very wrong. While he told me that yes, I did have another valid entry on my visa, the visa itself was expired. As the implications of what this meant, both professionally and personally, began to flood through my mind, my heart sank.
Russian visas are notoriously difficult to get. As it was a Saturday, the visa office was also closed until Monday. The presentation I was supposed to give was in Moscow on Tuesday. A website indicated that same-day visas were possible, so we prepared for the off chance that was a reality; filled out copious amounts of applications forms, took passport pics, bought a refundable plane ticket for Monday night, etc. There was still hope I could make the presentation with minimum collateral damage. Even my boss reserved a ticket to travel immediately to Moscow as a back-up plan. Uh oh.
On Monday morning we arrived at the visa office just before they opened at 8:00. My agent Ekaterina (aka Kate) informed me that Friday would be the earliest that a rush ordered visa could be ready. *heart pains* Getting my visa on Friday was going to bring the complexity of any resolution to another level of pain; as arriving into Moscow on Saturday would mean that I missed my pre-paid train to St. Petersburg and flights to St. Pete were more than double the price of my already expense Moscow replacement ticket. Not to mention that I had booked non-refundable hotels. Kate asked me such pointed (and authentically Russian styled) questions like, “We you wait until now? Most people do not do this“. Valid point, but I pleaded with her to try and pull strings to get my visa released on Thursday. If that were possible, I might be able to pull off the unlikely and salvage our vacation. She agreed, but hedged by telling me no promises.
Then the further complicating issue of what to do with Jenn’s ticket? Singapore Air basically told me they had no available flights for a week. Buying another Lufthansa ticket would only accelerate the combustion of my credit card, so Jenn courageously agreed to go ahead as planned (but by herself) to a country she’d never known, where she didn’t speak the language, and had no connections. I would buy a ticket for Thursday night with no guarantee that my visa would be ready and hope for the best to rendezvous in Moscow on Friday. I introduced her to two of my wonderful Moscow-based colleagues, Sergey and Tatiana, arranged for a driver to pick her up at the airport in Moscow, and dropped her off for her flight. Talk about doubling down on a bet.
The next couple of days were pretty miserable, as at that point, I could do nothing but wait and see just how this would play out. I kept in contact with Kate, who now was indicating 98% certainty my visa would be ready in time (still an out, if required). But Jenn was successfully lodged in Moscow and already enjoying the magic of the city home to such iconic places like Red Square, the Kremlin, and St. Basil’s cathedral.
On Thursday, I woke up and waited again as the clock ticked. No news from Kate. I needed to leave at 2:00 pm for my flight. At noon, I started to get ready as though I were going, and only then, received a note from Kate that my visa was ready and in her office.
Elated, I picked up the visa, had a friend dropped me off at the airport, and breathed my first sigh of relief as I sank into my terrible middle seat on a Lufthansa plane full of newly angry Germans (post-loss to Italy in the Euro). But that’s a story for another time, and hey, beggars can’t be choosers.