Saturday 1 September 2012

How Not to Cross A Russian Border

A note to anyone out there who cannot read Russian and who has just obtained, or is in the process of obtaining, a Russian tourist visa in their passport - Do not be tempted to stick a passport-sized photo on the rectangle that looks suspiciously like the ideal spot to stick a passport-sized mugshot of yourself.

Typical Russian Visa
I realise this might not be relevant to most travellers; there have been enough incidents indicating that perhaps we are closer to the bottom rung of the smart-traveller ladder then we might think. But anyway, here is our long story short. We got our passports back from the Russian agents with one passport-sized photo printed and paper-clipped to the fresh, clean Russian visa, upon which we dutifully bought a gluestick to complete what we believed the agents failed to complete.

Fast-forward sixteen days to the Estonian-Russian border crossing at Narva, where a very stern-faced Russian border official frowns, purses her lips, points at the visa demanding something I cannot understand nor respond to, corresponding with a compatriot (gesturing condemnation in my general direction) who disappears behind closed doors with my precious passport. Then Ben's passport is similarly confiscated. All manner of fears are sweeping through my mind (oh no, we've pissed off the Soviets!) as our bus driver pacing up and down impatiently does not help in calming my nerves by suggesting to leave us behind at the border, saying "You can get on another bus ... maybe it will come in two hours." Maybe ... the panic must be obvious on my face since Ben immediately puts on his I-have-to-be-calm-to-keep-Tia-calm face.

So we just stood there waiting, chewing our lips in no-man's land, at the mercy of our bus driver's dwindling patience and border officials trying to decide whether they were bureaucratic enough to disallow what we later discovered was the minor transgression of sticking a photo on a visa that Действительна без фотографии (is valid without photograph).

We breathed a humongous sigh of relief when our passports were finally returned to us half an hour later after a brief finger wag and scolding ("Next time, don't do this!") at which we nodded solemnly before running to the bus in the hopes that our fellow passengers would accept, if not entirely understand, our profuse English language apologies.

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