I’ve been slowly creating itineraries and plans for my upcoming cross-asia adventure and the planning is proving to be quite the adventure itself. I’m not much of a planned traveller. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a plan and that I just ‘go’ to places randomly with little thought, but rather than I don’t prefer to have fixed dates, tickets and reservations etc. I just find that it binds me into somewhat of a contract (especially regarding pre-paid tickets and other non-refundables) and I’m left with little wiggle room in relations to the journey. One has no idea what they might encounter and having few fixed dates adds considerable extra padding and eases the pressure of on-the-fly decision making.
Russia (as it did before) is turning my travelling style upside down. A considerable increase in the amount of planning was expected but what is giving me headaches is the disappointing large number of question marks being discovered. Question marks are on thing when travelling with developing world prices. Question marks are one thing when dealing with easily obtained visas, question marks are one thing when you can speak their language.
The first big ? is the visa. I was denied one back in 2006 and I’m absolutely terrified it is going to happen again. Terrified because getting a Russkie visa isn’t like like getting a Nepalese visa…you can’t just show up at the border…hell, even the slight inconvenience of walking up to the visa section of the Mongolian embassy pales in comparison to the Russian visa roulette game. Russian visas require special supporting documents bought from Russian agencies – these, in themselves, are very easy to obtain. The problem arises with each individual Russian consulate and embassy. Each operates as their own fiefdoms. The Shanghai consulate is the only place I can get mine and ‘officially’ they require the 75USD original supporting documents. However evidence abounds online that they happily accept quality pdf copies (which are bought for 30USD). It is a BIG price difference, considering there is another 60USD fee added onto that just for the visa itself. The Russians have got me so paranoid I’m even worried about my passport – it is REALLY beat up, with the Canadian coat-of-arms completely washed away – but it is chock full of stamps and visas and I’ve never had problems with it anywhere. But the countries I’ve visited have all situated tourism as a main component of their economies…Russia obviously hasn’t and the consulate officer could be in a pissy mood and just flat out refuse me because of my dilapidated passport.
I’m also terrified that if I shell out the seventy five dollery-doos, they might not even accept that (also factor in a trip to Shanghai as well).
Second problems arises with scheduling the bi-weekly Japanese ferry to correspond with a train leaving Vladivostok. Do I purchase Trans-Siberian tickets online? Or do I wing it from station to station at half the price? Online might have a peace of mind, but apparently such vendors can be un-reliable as well. July is high season, so tickets might be unavailable, however many people have reported having zero problems.
My current line of thinking is; just get the damn visa. Work on the rest later and I’m partial to just winging the train tickets. The boat isn’t a huge deal as I hope to book it immediately upon arriving in Japan (I’m planning a week stay there – not a huge amount of time…lots I want to see, but I’ll settle for Fuji, Tokyo and Kyoto).
I haven’t even considered what I’m going to do after I reach Moscow – I’ll be happy if I even get there!