Monday, 25 August 2014

London VISA run part one

Well, Monday morning has once again come to Anapa and finds me back in the Russian Federation with a new one-year multiple entry/exit visa. Don’t ask how I was able to secure such a rare visa as I will just have to use the Russian saying; “I know a guy.” Life here is like this to some degree. Friends help friends around the hoops and pitfalls that exist within the system. It is difficult for foreigners to grasp and harder still to participate. Russians warm slowly to new friends and I understand why. The expectation associated with the word friend has an entirely different meaning here. I am lucky enough to understand that from my home perspective as I have those expectations from my Canadian friends, and them from me, but I understand this is the exception rather than the rule at home. Here it is the rule.

So last week found me explaining to my Mom how things were and that I would be staying a little longer than my initial three months. Securing this type of visa could only be done in Europe. This type of visa allows me to fly home and back without the added headache of renewing and canceling existing visas as you can only have one visa active at any time. It also allows for free movement that is not allowed if I were to start a temporary resident process. So with the situation explained and the course decided on plans were set into action.

Flights out of Anapa during the height of the tourist season are as would be expected expensive. So Inga’s sister suggested flying out of Krasnodar. Krasnodar is the third largest Russian city and about three hours by bus away from the resort city of Anapa.  Promised easy connections had me feeling a little uncertain and having lived in Russia for three months I decided on leaving a day early and taking the opportunity to visit this Cossack city.

            We arrived at the Anapa city bus station, tickets in hand, an hour before our bus was scheduled to depart and it was obvious to me from the throngs of people that something was slightly amiss. Inga tried to figure out what was going on and despite speaking Russian had very little initial success. We were told that our bus was delayed till 1130, an hour and a half delay. About forty minutes later an announcement was made that the bus had broken down and passengers holding tickets had to get new tickets for a later bus. Inga went off with the mass of other passengers and got in line for new tickets. She returned with two tickets, costing slightly more, for a three pm departure. Welcome to Russia I thought. They cancel a trip, then an hour later tell people to get new tickets and after lining up for forty minutes charge you more money. If Russia is ever to attract international travelers they really have to get better at these types of things. Moreover, if the city of Anapa wants to keep the internal visitors that come to the Black Sea resort they have to address this as well. Many people we had been waiting with were now going to miss flights, trains, and bus connections. This also makes the "taxis" offering trips more tempting and these money focused drivers tend to push it, knowing they can make two trips loaded with non discounted fares.   Pushing it on the road from Anapa to Krasnodar is a very dangerous proposition. But people forced with cheap tickets that could not be changed took the risk. We waited, and Inga gave her place in line to a couple so they could arrive in time for the train. We could wait as I had secured us reservations at a nice hotel in Krasnodar for the evening.

sitting with missed flights and trains and other connections with the three to five-hour delay. This situation also added to the aggressive “taxi” trade with offers to get you there increasing in price and danger. A mini bus driver could now make two trips at high fares if he pushed it!

We arrived in Krasnodar and I forced us to take an expensive taxi to the hotel, having had my fill of a more frugal Russian style of transportation. The Hilton was like any other Hilton in the world, something I didn’t like or appreciate until this trip. I walked up to the front desk and spoke English and expected to be understood. I was and the desk staff was as organized and customer focused as any other Hilton in the world. It was refreshing and after a day of slow taxis, missed buses and hours of waiting. We checked in, handing our passports in to be registered, a custom still followed in places and retired to our room. It was clean and like any other Hilton in the world. While before this banal cookie cutter styling, and American focused d├ęcor would have irked me. This time it was a caress and I found myself feeling oddly guilty at needing this type of pampering. I took a long shower in the rainfall style separated glass shower and relaxed.

            Changed and freshly scrubbed we did what we usually liked to do and went for a walk. It was the weekend and the local main street turns into a “walking street” after the evening rush. Bikers, skaters, and walkers share the wide old streets in a very festive atmosphere. We walked north and directly across the street from the Hilton is a statue of two oddly dressed dogs made famous in
Mayakovsky's charming, playful poem about Krasnodar. We continued toward one of the old orthodox churches and noticed vendor after vendor selling honey. I had no idea that there were this many types of honey. The shops, if placed together, would have stretched half a kilometer. Along with these vendors were other vendors selling the usual and some unusual trinkets. One shop had two tables of weird art deco style lamps, ashtrays, and objects of art. One shop was serving coffee and as I had yet to discover the Starbucks that was rumored to be near I ordered a large coffee. It was a buck Canadian and rich, dark, and superb.

            We discovered a park, just before the gold topped church and a large monument and fountain. The wedding had taken place and the party was getting photographs done near the trees and fountain. There were also large groups of fresh young military types in pressed green camouflage uniforms and polished boots. I imagine that the training academy is close by but with the hostilities and Canada’s cooperation with the USA I did feel comfortable enough to ask. 
The fountain was pretty as fountains go and to the west was a massive monument. When we got close, I asked Inga to tell me what it was commemorating. She tired but it was written in Old Russian and she found it difficult. It had soldiers and Mongolian looking men with swords and musical instruments. On the fountain side, I noticed a British uniform and from the style and medals could ascertain it was from the Second World War.  Together we were able to decipher that it was the British and Cossack forces commemorating the lives lost in the war.

We walked back up the street past our hotel to the south and enjoyed two outside concerts. One was a traditional Cossack singing and the other a twenty piece brass band playing swing favorites of the twenties. There were lots of advertising for upcoming concerts and they were doing all the usual suspects from Macbeth to Kiss of the Spider Woman. Culturally Krasnodar seems to have a lot on offer and I did spot the Starbucks while we were walking south.

We returned to the hotel and Inga and I enjoyed a nice dinner in the hotel. It had pricing usual to non-Russian countries in that the food had a set price and was not sold by grams. I had a hamburger famous in the Hilton chain and was surprised to learn I could have it with beef, lamb, or chicken.  Inga had some duck spring rolls and we shared some nice wine. It was a perfect end after a stressful and trying start that made me glad I had learned how to travel inside Russia
            The next morning found us heading to the airport, which is about a thirty-five minute cab ride worth about 900 rubles. You can take minibuses, public transport, and trolley buses for a fraction of that but my frugality was about to be shattered in London so we went for a taxi. The car was clean, new, and the driver polite and professional. We arrived three hours ahead of time, as I was still stuck in North American practices and airports. We could have slept another two hours. Inga and I spent an hour together relishing the time as two people in love do when they both know they have to be apart for a while. The call came that the gate was open and I walked over to the first-class line and boarded being slightly chided by Inga, who was until then unaware I had booked the departure as first class.  I smiled that petulant and mischievous smile and kissed her saying I loved her and would see her soon. I walked down that first-class corridor, with its own security and screening and into the lounge without looking back. I knew if I did I would burst into tears and this was not culturally acceptable.

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