We stayed two nights in Old Town Riga, Latvia in the “freaky apartment building” with no hot water (see last blog!) and, oh yeah… sea gulls that were perched on the roof lines of the neighboring buildings calling out to us lovingly ALL. NIGHT. LONG. It made for some beautiful pictures, but not a lot of sleep!
Our taxi was at the door at 3:30 AM for a quick shuttle to the airport, where BalticAir was just opening. We really had no idea what it would take to get through for our flight. We soon found out. The visa/passport check to go to our gate was so long we were still in line to get checked as people boarded our plane. With 10 minutes before take off, we were finally all through and I fell asleep the instant we took off until we touched down at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.
Some General Info… When planning a trip to Russia, as an American Citizen, first you need to get an invitation. There are many different ways to do that from paying a company (if you’re traveling all over on your own), to asking your hotels, or your tour guide. There are plenty of people who will take your money to do this. But you must have the invitation, with your names and dates and whether it will be a single entry to Russia or multiple entry, to fill out your visa paperwork. Many websites have the paperwork available… but whoever gave you the invitation should also help you fill it out a bit. Next, you take or mail the info with your passports and money (call the Russian embassy to find out how much) and wait for about 2 weeks. You should be able to pick them up or have them mailed back… but again, check with your Russian Embassy for cost and time. You must be less than 6 months before your trip.
When you arrive, you must fill out an “entrance/exit” form which they take the first half as you enter and you CAN NOT lose the 2nd half or you will be fined when you try to leave. (Warnings of loss included confiscating your passport) So, as you stand in another line, nightmares of someone yelling “YOU didn’t fill out your paperwork correctly” go swimming through your head as well as visions of your family being hauled out in handcuffs. It’s easy to be thankful for little things at times like this. We made it into RUSSIA!
“Time to get Rubles… Then our train tix… This was going remarkably well; Everything is in Russian AND English. The train was quite nice with a direct transit from SVO Airport connected to Terminal 2. We were able to get a family pass for 2 adults and 1 child (under 12) and then had to buy an extra adult ticket for our 18 yo.
The scenery was … interesting.
The train took us right to one of the main Metro stops. And then, we got off the train and reality hit! People. Loads of people… Masses. Yes, we’ve been to a couple of the top 20 most populous cities. But, Moscow is intense. No more Russian/English. And, where the heck are the street names? We looked all over to get our bearings.
We were now on a quest to get our Viva’s registered. Yes, You must REGISTER when you get there. According to the map, it’s just a couple short blocks from the Metro… Russia does NOT have short blocks. And as we’re starting to get nervous not finding street names or anything on the map, an older Russian lady comes up and says “Tickets?” We showed her our map and she nods and motions for us to follow her… so we did. Hesitantly. She took us into an unmarked, grey, communist style building with a guard at the front door. When I showed him the map and name in Russian he nodded, “Da!” (Yes!) Our spontaneous lady guide is hightailing it up 3 flights of stairs, while we are on little sleep and carrying luggage and she disappears into the last room on the left. So, I followed and she took us EXACTLY where we needed to be. WHEN does that happen? They had cold bottled water and seats for us to rest while they took copies of our stuff and we learned to say “Spe-SEE-bah” (Thank You!) in Russian.
Whew. We have friends who always joke about our trips as SOMETHING always goes wrong. But, we feel like we’ve learned how to figure out how to make things right when that something goes wrong. We really needed that easy start though, as we had NO idea of what was yet to come.
Now, it’s time to find our hotel and it looks like just a couple blocks from the Metro stop. So we try this again. Got off at what we thought was our Metro and then… trouble. No one can point us in the direction of our hotel. It’s almost like we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and while we were trying to get directions, our girls almost got robbed! Yeah, we weren’t in Germany anymore!!!
After trying for almost 30 minutes to get some bearing or some direction, someone had mercy and found us an 18 year old girl from Kazakhstan who took 3 months of English lessons and was able to “hire us a taxi” which in Russia was… hiring someone with a car who was willing to take us. This young girl, who spoke 20 words of English, showed our hotel address to the driver of a 1970 Lada reeking of leaded gas and with a broken speedometer needle and no seat belts. Just so you have an idea… This is a Lada we found in St. Pete. It’s in INCREDIBLY GREAT shape compared to the one we had the adventure of riding in! Yes, there were 5 of us in there. Most of whom are close to 6 feet tall!
We shoved our suitcase into his trunk and climbed through the one working door with our backpacks. A 15-minute hellride later which included the obligatory life-flashing-before-the-eyes attempt to pass a truck when the brakes screeched louder than I’ve ever heard; we arrived at the hotel, the adrenaline kicked in and we all jumped out of the car, paid him his $25.00 equivalent and slept the rest of the day away. Weren’t we just in Riga at 3:30 this morning?
The rest of Moscow needed to wait until tomorrow. We had enough for one day!