Rethinking Russia

For the first time I can remember, I have decided to pass on a potential travel adventure.

As I detailed in a previous post, I was recently invited to take a trip to Moscow in the Russian Federation. At the end of a weekend filled with Internet research, I concluded my research had been, well, inconclusive.

Determined to get some answers straight from the babushka's mouth, I decided to head to the Russian Consulate. But bad weather in Seattle delayed my plans to consult the consulate in person by a couple of days and, by the time the weather broke, I concluded time was simply getting too short to be assured of getting the necessary documentation in time. Surprising both those who know me and myself, I decided not to take the trip.

Failure to get a visa in time would have meant more than mere disappointment; there would be a financial cost as well.

To get a Russian visa, one must have firm travel dates established - which means buying airline tickets - and firm plans for accommodations. Even buying travel/trip cancellation insurance doesn't usually cover the full cost. Hotel reservations can usually be canceled without paying a penalty but the hotel I was considering would have required a payment of about US$120 for its part in the visa approval process if the hotel stay wasn't completed. Quite understandable, but an expense nonetheless.

Further, because plans have to be locked down before a visa is issued, visits to Russia do not provide the traveler with much flexibility. Unlike Austria, where a visitor in Vienna might decide to hop a train and travel to Salzburg on short notice, you can't just get up one morning and decide you want to see St. Petersburg; you have to make specific plans including dates and lodging location(s) and obtain the necessary visas before you leave the U.S.

Throughout the process, I keep thinking of Clint Eastwood's 1982 movie Firefox, and the following scene where Eastwood's character Mitchell Gant is confronted by a Soviet authority who looks at Gant's passport, then declares, "Your paypahs ah NOT IN ORDAH!"

While I am more of a "do-it-yourself" type of traveler, one of my travel companions opted to turn the matter over to a travel agency that specializes in visits to Russia. She engaged an agency about the time I decided time was too short so, as events unfold, we'll see whether I opted out of a trip prematurely.

I have asked my once and future travel companions to stay in touch during their journey and perhaps to write some guest posts, which I will include as we're able.

Until then, Do svidaniya!

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