(note: this was written while I was in Russia, I am back to Singapore now, but I had no internet access in Russia to post this)
I was supposed to be in Russia on Monday, March 26th. I left Haifa, Israel on Sunday the 25th at 10:30 in the morning. After a few hours on the road and the customary long and in-depth security check that is Ben Gorion airport I boarded a 6 hour flight to Moscow aboard Transaero (thinking as I did, “I hope this is not the newest incarnation of some crash prone communist airline”, my feeling not made better by the fact that the 737 didn’t have a single TV… not even in Business class—when was the last time you flew on a Boeing plane without a TV?)
I made it to Moscow fine… it was making it through immigration that things took a not so nice turn. It reminded me of the Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf tells the Balrog: “You cannot pass!” Only this sounded more like “Neit!” Seems my visa was not valid… Now considering that this visa was issued by the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv last week it would be reasonable to wonder what could possibly be wrong with the shinny new Russian Visa. Well… The visa was issues for April 3rd to April 26th, and of course Sunday was March 25th!
After spending a few hours getting the details settled and trying to find a way to fix this problem I paid my 2000 Rubble fine for trying to enter the country with an invalid visa and was escorted up to a sort of no-mans-land that is between the domestic arrivals and the transit lounge. Being about 20 feet on a side and having 10 or 15 communist era refugee chairs this kingdom of mine was a far cry from the lush lands Tom Hanks roamed in The Terminal—and there was a disturbing lack of Catherine Zeta Jones like companions.
After waiting 14 hours overnight in my over sized sanitarium cell I was escorted through the transit lounge and onto a return flight to Tel Aviv.
I spent the next night and day recovering (read eating and sleeping) from my almost-but-not-quite trip to Moscow while my visa was fixed and a new flight and hotel were booked. So late on Tuesday night I headed back to the airport and back aboard a Transaero plane for my second try at entering Russia.
And I’m in. No sweat this time.
My hotel is on the outskirts of Moscow far from the familiar sights of Red Square and the Kremlin, parts that might look familiar if you remember the end of the Bourne Identity or if you watched the Russian film Night Watch. The parts of Moscow I rode through looks every bit like the post-communism drunken capitalist war zone I heard horror stories of when I was a teen.
Miles and miles of low rise communist housing, steam pipes running along the sidewalks and over the roads. Everything has the same brown mud coating. That’s the communist backdrop against witch is set rampant capitalism; more billboards per mile than I’ve ever seen, expensive European cars clogging the roads (along side Soviet era duct tape and paper ‘cars’) Ads for high ends consumer electronics abound, the latest high end mobile phones and laptops are particularly common.
Of particular fun is the fact that after having passed through immigration and having a filled out and stamped exit card to return to them when I leave I still have to ‘register’ within three days of arrival. This is so when some cop or military type stops me and says ‘papers?’ I can show them that I am actually here legally and that I am registered. Why? I guess it’s a hold over from soviet days. Paranoid KGB types want to know what hotel all the foreigners are in but don’t have all the hotels wired to a central database yet.
And for those who are keeping score I have seen no cow weddings since I arrived