Russia is right there… just there, over the line and yet we can’t go, all because of timing. I’m more than a little annoyed, but what can you do? St Petersburg is 4.5 hours away from Tallin, Estonia (368.8 km) but because of the way we chose to travel it means we can’t get there.
To get a Russian visa we need to apply for it no more than 3 months before we leave our home country – for us that could either be New Zealand or the US. But we haven’t allowed ourselves enough time in either country to jump through the hoops. If we postponed our trip by two weeks and left NZ at the end of May we’d be alright (just), but, well, we’ve already paid a great deal of money to get to the US, and the US to Norway, and I’m not keen to forfeit that. We were under the impression we could apply for the visa in Latvia when we’re there, but our visa contact said the chances of that happening are slim to zero since you have to be a permanent resident (at least) in the country to apply. Russia of course, likes you to jump through multiple hoops to begin with – i.e. before you can apply for a visa you have to book all your accommodation and transport inside Russia. The hotel/accommodation company will then issue you a Russian ‘Voucher’ which you need before you can apply for the visa. You have to have everything tied up tight before you start the process. If everything isn’t nailed down before you start the process you can lose out on the visa and any deposits you made in Russia.
So if we were to head to Russia (well St. Petersburg) after Estonia then we have to apply in May. We leave the country May 18th, too close for comfort and our ‘visa guy’ wouldn’t recommend it. I asked him “so what can we do, is there anything?” His response was ‘stay longer in Blenheim.’ Not going to happen.
So, I’m bummed, but I think I’ll be more frustrated when I’m in Estonia since there’s so much happening at the moment. I learned some Russian history in high school – you know Rasputin with the crazy eyes, Tsar Nicholas the II and The Russian Revolution. I don’t remember much about the actual history (thanks Wikipedia for the refresher) but I do remember thinking I really wanted to go to Russia, but alas this trip won’t make it happen.
However, here’s my rationale. I started thinking about Russia before the Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 (I think I did Russian history 1989??). Both Latvia and Estonia were part of the Soviet Union at this time, so in my mind, we are visiting Russia. We’ll see the Soviet influence without a doubt anyway. Now, if that’s not enough, if you look at the map you’ll see there’s a big fat lake between Estonia and Russia. My thinking is, if we can go for a swim on the Estonia side of the lake, then we’re sharing Russian water, so yeah we’ve been to Russia. POW! Mission complete, just no stamp in the passport.
If all else fails, Nat will be on the look out for a ‘Russian Fixer’… hmm, I’m not too keen to try and bribe a Russian immigration officer.
EDIT: 30 March 2016 Martina our amazing travel agent suggests we visit a travel agent in Latvia as soon as we arrive and ask about going on a holiday to St. Petersburg. A local travel agent will know the likelihood of us being able to get a visa, they can do all the bookings for us and we can give them a commission. It might not work, but it’s worth a shot. You never know who might be in a good mood at the Russian embassy on that day.