Monday, June 30, 2008

how hard can it be to travel to Russia?

This post is about events in May, leading up to our trip to St. Petersburg . . .

Once we received the package about our first trip, we started planning. We spent lots of time searching the internet checking for hotels, etc. while waiting for our exact travel dates, according to the Adoption Committee in St. Petersburg (we knew it would be near the end of May). Finally we were told to travel May 26-May 28, and to get our visas from May 26th onward for one month. We went to see a travel agent in Jakobstad to arrange the trip - we gave her the names of a few hotels to check, we gave her our passports to send to the consulate, and we filled out our visa applications - actually, I filled out mine 3 times (I kept making mistakes - it needed to be in Finnish because we were applying for visas from Finland). We were told it would take awhile, the next day was a holiday in Russia, and she would get in touch the following week.

The next week, she let us know our hotel was confirmed (by the way, hotels are really expensive in St. Petersburg). We just had to wait for our visas.

On Thursday of that week (the 15th actually), I was in Jakobstad with Mattias and Joel for violin and piano lessons. I had my cell phone on silent so their lessons wouldn't be interrupted and didn't check it until we were already inside the doors at LiDL about to start grocery shopping. In fact, I didn't check it on- Stefan called me - but at the same time I saw that he had tried to call me 5 times. Turns out there was a problem with our trip . . . Stefan had received a call from our coordinator in Helsinki. Back in December we had sent in copies of our passports for Stage 1. At that time, it was Stefan's old passport. (Shortly afterwards he applied for a new one because the expiration date in his old one was not acceptable for the cruise we were going on in January.) Well, the expiration date in the old passport was a problem for the Adoption Committee and they would not accept it. So, Stefan was calling me to find out where I had put our passports - he had searched all over. Aha! We left them with the travel agent . . . who sent them to the consulate in Helsinki. OK. So it seems that I should go over to the travel agent and see if she has a copy of it . . . But we have another, albeit minor, problem - if you've ever shopped at LiDL you know that I've just entered a psuedo-prison; there's no way out with a shopping buggy except throught the cashiers' lines . . . but there's only one open and she's got a REALLY long line. So Stefan decides to call the travel agent first to see if she's even at work while I try and figure a way out of the store. Oh, and another problem surfaces - it's 15.45 and everything here, other than grocery stores, closes at 16.15. A few minutes later, Stefan calls me back. Yes, she's there and yes, she has a copy of his passport. I managed to get out of the store (another cashier's gate opened up - maybe someone heard me complaining on the phone) and drove to the travel agent's. She made another copy of Stefan's passport for herself and then I drove over to the Magistrate's office with one of the copies. I tried to explain my case to the receptionist (always starting with "Do you speak English?") and she said I could just go in and talk with her (the Magistrate). This time I started with, "Do you remember me?" because it hadn't been so long ago we were there getting several documents apostillized. Once I started explaining my case she remembered me. She understood that we would not be able to travel on May 26th if she wouldn't apostillize this photocopy of Stefan's new passport. (Here I should point out that we goofed on our visa applications and didn't apply for the 30 days from May 26th, but only for the dates May 26-28, so if the Adoption Committee didn't receive an apostillized copy of Stefan's new passport in time, we would have to replan our first trip!) The Magistrate was very compassionate. She phoned the travel agent to verify that she, in fact, had seen the original new passport and that she herself had photocopied it. Once done, she apostillized the paper and sent me running to the post office where I Express posted it to our coordinator in Helsinki. All done by 16.15!

The following week we started to get a little nervous when we hadn't heard anything about our visas. Finally, on the 22nd the travel agent called and said they were in. We zipped into town and picked them up. Good thing - I was leaving at 8am the next day with Mattias for a track meet in Helsinki.

So, everything worked out and we were all set to travel on the 23:50 train on Sunday night!

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The Holms

Denmark Road Trip

The outskirts of St. Pete

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, Saint Petersburg was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The reverse of the coin features a view of Saint Petersburg, with the Peter and Paul Fortress and its three turrets. In the coin the words "St. Petersburg 1703-2003" can be seen.