Russia 2002

Russia 2002

Russia 2002

After getting far too little sleep on the long flight from Sydney, I landed in London at around dawn and went through Heathrow’s arduous transfer protocols to connect to a British Airways flight to Moscow.  The transfer time was somewhat tight, and I arrived at the gate as the flight had already started boarding.

As I reached the check-in agent, who manually checked my passport and visa, plans started to derail.  British Airways would not let me board the plane in London because the dates on the visa I collected while passing through Sydney Airport yesterday afternoon were incorrect, so I am still in London.  It’s about 4:30pm on Thursday afternoon as I write this, and I have only arrived at my hotel about half an hour ago.  It has not been an easy day.

At the gate, the airline staff suggested I go to the Russian Embassy here in London and have the visa altered.  They seemed to think this would be a straightforward matter, and they booked me on the afternoon (1:30pm) flight and retained my check-in luggage in expectation.

Day 2


Thursday 3 October 2002


This meant I had to clear immigration, which I did, and I then proceeded to Paddington on the Heathrow Express (to avoid traffic jams) and then took a taxi the short distance to the Consulate (after a very frustrating 30 minute wait in the l-o-n-g line of people to get a taxi).  When I arrived at the consulate, there was a queue of about 25 people ahead of me, lined up along the street outside the front gate.

I hoped the queue would move quickly, but it didn’t.  I had arrived there at 10:30am.  At 10:45am they took in a batch of about 12 people.  Then there was no more movement until 11:30 when they took in another 6.   A sign at the gate gave the ominous warning that the visa section was open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9:00am to 12:30pm, and that the last application would be received at 11:45am each day.  A few people ahead of me gave up at that point, which was not a bad thing, because at 11:55am they took in 3 more people - I was the third - and they announced that would be all for today.

Once inside, however, there wasn’t much joy for me.  I was served fairly quickly, but the fellow was adamant that he could not make any changes without the authorising letter or fax from my host organisation Moscow (AusTrade), pointing out as well that it was not his job to chase up anyone in Moscow.

So I returned to Paddington Station where there were telephones I could use to phone AusTrade in Moscow, who were just about to send a driver and interpreter to Moscow airport to talk me through immigration if possible.  The phone call was well-timed (12:30pm, which was 3:30pm in Moscow, i.e. about an hour and a half before closing time there).  They agreed to arrange with Continent Express (the company that issued the invitation letter in conjunction on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to fax the Embassy in London first thing tomorrow morning (Friday) so that the authority IS there to change the date on the visa.  I will go there first thing tomorrow morning to lodge the application (at opening time, 9am), and hopefully they will re-issue the visa (or annotate it) by 4:00pm that afternoon.  That leaves me free to fly into Moscow on Saturday and arrive in Vladivostok on Sunday, only one day after the original schedule and still the day prior to the official start of the expo there - IF everything goes smoothly!

I even had the presence of mind to phone the hotel in Moscow and cancel the reservation made for tonight, saving the school $US195 (our Travel Agent couldn’t get the cheap rate because we had the booking so late, but the expensive rate was refundable whereas the cheap rate was not).  Having done that, I returned to Heathrow Airport, changed the flight bookings to Moscow and to Vladivostok, retrieved my luggage (which had gone back ‘into the system’ again), booked a hotel (the cheapest I could get at Heathrow), and here I am.

I wouldn’t say this has been a particularly enjoyable day, but hopefully it has made some progress towards fixing the visa situation.  Most of tomorrow will probably be spent the same way.

Interestingly, when I spoke to Rosemarie Lorenz at AusTrade in Moscow, she commented that a major part of the problem I am having involves ‘payback’ from the Russians.  Commenting that she couldn’t put this in an e-mail, she mentioned that a couple of weeks ago a senior Russian trade official turned up in Australia with a visa that had expired.  It led to a quite significant incident, and since then the Consulate in Sydney has been especially difficult to get on with.  Most of the other visas for this group were issued before the incident so they escaped the wrath, but I seem to be getting the full brunt of the retaliation.  It’s nice to know I shouldn’t take it personally!