Posted by: englishdubai | May 12, 2010

Back in the USSR


Last week I made my first trip to Moscow nearly three years to the date since my last visit. I admit the last few visits I found Moscow to be an intimidating place and hard to get by without any spoken Russian – still this time I was meeting a new team and it was warmer weather so I was really looking to this trip.

Before I could get on the plane I had to get the infamous Russian visa. I was advised for speed I should get a tourist one, so I got the itinerary produced by a travel agent in Moscow and called up my local travel agent to get the visa sorted. Turns out Kanoo were about as useful as a chocolate teapot and my the PRO guy in my office made the trek up to the consulate in Abu Dhabi only to return empty handed. Apparently “original” itinerary was required and that needed to be couriered from Moscow so I gave up on that idea.

My second crack at getting the Russian Visa was to go for the 12 month business visa – a longer process but worth it I thought. So I duly completed a big stack of forms (including a blank credit card authorisation form to a Russian travel agent) and sent everything off to the office. About four weeks later I received a very neat and very small “official letter” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With this in hand I was set.

After filling out some forms – and gathering numerous documents (passport copies, visa copies, NOC letter, HIV report, Medical Insurance) I was ready to go to the Russian Consulate. Now I had heard rumour that the was one in Dubai – a quick google could not reveal an “official” site so I followed some advice on one of the expat forum “It can be found on the 3rd floor of the Union Bank building in Deira, it opens between 10-1” with instructions like that how could I fail?

I took a cab there and while trying to locate the exact building it was clear that there was a “Rusky” consulate close by. On my exit out of the lift on the 3rd floor I was greeted by a huge snaking queue. Bingo – this has to be the place. It was really non-de-script, no fancy signs, in need of decoration and a couple of police guys guarding a door. When the door finally opened there was a long narrow room with a single window at the end and a door to the left.

This led to a bit of a nightmare. Dubai is famous for people’s inability to queue quite as well as the Brit’s do – chaos soon ensued. There were expats like myself with patience and disapproving looks, PROs pushing in all over the place and Russians venting their anger at said PROs. Quite exciting really.

45 minutes went by before I got to the front of the queue (after elbowing a PRO out of the way) and presented my huge pile of documents. The chap behind the window did what he had been clearly enjoying all morning:

“This document is incorrect – you must fill in this one” he said handing me another form

“Do I have to queue up again?” I uttered in vain hope

“Niet”

I quickly scribbled on the form and after some rather “assertive” queue jostling I re-presented the forms:

“You must pay money to Commercial Bank of Dubai” he said as he handed me another little form

“Where is that?”

“Behind Etisalat across the road”

As I was leaving another British expat pointed at my original letter from the ministry in Russia

“Will they accept a photocopy of that form?”

“Not a chance mate. You are wasting your time” the man looked at me with sad eyes and joined me in the elevator.

I hiked across the road and down a street and was soon at the bank and by the time I got back upstairs to the consulate I was far hotter and sweatier than when I left. I certainly did not look like someone to mess with.

I queued some more and this time the local Russians were really giving the PROs some stick for pushing in. I sweated gently as the AC failed to really do anything other than make a noise.

Just in front of me was a young Australian chap:

“G’day mate, I would like to apply for a Russian tourist visa please?”

“Hmm, where is country of residence?’

“Australia mate”

“You must apply there. Next”

The young Australian stammered before getting pushed out the way. “I did it before in Qatar” he shouted. It was yo little avail the guy in the window had made the decision.

After a little while I saw the window guy. He saw me. We exchanged documents – he had my life details and all I got was the receipt for the visa fee. I signed a little black book and asked:

“When can I pick up my passport?”

“Tuesday”

“Can I have a receipt for my passport please?”

“Niet”

It turns out he actually meant the following Tuesday – good job I sent my PRO to go and stand in line for three hours for collection. The good news is I will need to go through this again next year.

Anyway – the trip I had to Russia was fab. There was a lovely spring feeling in the air and I had no hiccups at immigration or traffic. I think the improving weather there has a definite effect on peoples mood. A couple of things I noticed this time:

1. While Moscow is expensive the devalued Rouble means that it is not that bad when comparing it against Dubai

2. Last time there were huge American 4x4s everywhere – these seem to be replaced by high end Audi’s, Mercedes and BMW’s – I imagine the conversation revolved around “Imperialist Yankee gas guzzler is unable to corner efficiently”

3. There is more high end designer brands and choice of western goods than this in Dubai – a vast of choice that wasn’t there on my last visit

With the long spring evenings Phillip from the local VMware office offered to walk me around central Moscow and I jumped at his kind offer. First stop after riding the wonderful metro was Red Square:

Sadly it was closed as they were practicing for the Victory day parades that happen on the 9th May. I wasn’t complaining as it allowed me to get a good view of the hundreds or possibly thousands of troops drilling for the parade:

All around central Moscow the flags were flying:

And I loved seeing the Lamborghini and Bentley show rooms next to each other – it really is like New York for high end shopping:

Also there was no way I could leave without a souvenir of a Russia Doll and a small shop in a Metro station near Red Square had a vast selection. I was a little bemused by the American Football ones – I guess there must be a demand for them. I ended up with a nice 10 piece Russian Doll set of the former Russian leaders. It is in the photo below if you look hard enough:

I was pleased Phillip was with me – he had an amazing knowledge of the city and it was better than a guided tour. With a quick word or two in Russian the price of my Russian doll went down by nearly 40% off the sticker price. Local knowledge and language is worth its weight in gold.

I really look forward to more adventures in Russia and the CIS. I believe I will have a trip to St Petersburg, Kiev and maybe even Almaty in Kazakhstan this year. A whole new world likes ahead of me. Can’t wait.


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