Saturday, February 27, 2010

More progress - air and visa

When last I blogged, I was debating purchasing the airfare myself because I was going to save about $200 from what Olga the travel consultant found for me. I ended up not going with the cheaper option, and this is where a little research went a long way toward averting potential disaster. Ordinarily when you travel within Europe, you get to skip passport control when crossing borders from one Schengen nation to another (Schengen being an agreement between European countries that allows for this free-form of travel). The flight I was eyeing went from Moscow to Zurich to Boston, leaving about 50 minutes to switch planes in Zurich. But in this 50 minutes, I'd have to switch planes, go through immigration (because Russia is not a Schengen nation) and through security. No beans, no way, no how. Even if by some miracle my flight is on time and I sprint through the airport, chances are slim that my luggage would make it too. So I went with the more expensive airfare that gives me an hour and a half to make the connection in Munich instead of Zurich.

Olga also sent me the documentation I'll need to complete to get a visa to get into Russia. Americans can't just travel on their passport like they do through Europe. They must have a visa and to get a visa you must get an "invitation" from someone in Russia to come visit. So Olga will get me the invitation once I give them the $199 for the visa. I'll have to do this closer to the time I travel (I think within 3 months of the travel dates).

As if I needed more encouragement, Olga also sent a list of "required reading" to prepare for the trip and she emailed me and strongly suggested I read (or re-read! Ha!) War and Peace by Tolstoy because "It's the best book about Russia and Russian people and Russian character and spirit - it will help you to understand more when you will be in Russia." War and Peace weighs in at a lofty 1296 pages, so perhaps I should get started on this soon!

So with every activity crossed off the checklist, I'm getting a little bit closer. I feel bad wishing away my spring and summer, but I really, really want to go now!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Airfare, podcasts and wishlist

I confess. I have a somewhat bizarre interest in tracking airfares. I have set airfare trackers on multiple sites, I receive alerts in my emails for places I'm planning to go to, even if I've already purchased the airfare, as well as places I have no intention of traveling to in the near future. I'm curious. I like to know my options. You know, just in case. I also like to help other people find airfare, use my tricks of the trade and pull a great fare out of thin air. These skills matter!

So now comes the dilemma. I've found the airfare my Russian travel consultant has quoted me, only my quote is lower. Saving $200 in the grand scheme of this trip is small potatoes, but small potatoes in my pocket rather than the airline's pocket. I've asked if I can purchase this on my own. What the heck, it's worth a shot.

In the meantime, I've been keeping up on the Russian language podcasts, learning what I can. This morning's lesson covered "can you show me that?" which I guess will be handy in the event I get around to shopping. But damned if I can remember now how to say it.

My Amazon wishlist continues to grow. I was reading the New York Times over someone's shoulder on the train this morning, and saw there is a new book out on Lenin in exile. As if I have eons of time to get to everything on my list. I'll have to prioritize at some point. I want to start with the Revolution though, it's interesting and bizarre all at once.

Congratulations to Evgeny Plushneko on his silver. I thought gold too, Plushy. Your talents won't be seen again for a while, I suppose. Wouldn't mind seeing you again in Sochi!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Deed is Done

Yesterday the requisite paperwork arrived that I had to read before I could sign all the paperwork and fax it to the travel agent. It was pretty standard, nothing to get worked up over. So this morning I faxed back the 6 pages needed to kick this trip off.

And as I stood at the fax machine, and even more so as I walked back to my desk, I realized, "Holy crap, I'm going to Russia."

What a reality check! I mean it's one thing to think about it for a few years and keep it in the back of your mind as someday going to happen. It's another to get the itinerary on paper and start reading the guidebooks and looking at pictures and starting the language lessons.

It's a whole 'nother thing to put money down and say "I'm going."

I'm going!

Good thing I learned how to ask where the bathroom is yesterday!

Monday, February 8, 2010

While Waiting....

As I sit here whiling away another New England winter, I'm also waiting the arrival of some legal paperwork that I need to sign before I can put a deposit on my trip. So while it's not signed, sealed and delivered just yet, I'm close. But man, I just want to get that deposit down so I know I have it officially in the works.

Meanwhile, I downloaded some "Learn Russian" podcasts from iTunes. I've been listening pretty regularly and I think I'm picking things up. Of course I can say what's in the podcasts, but if someone replies to me, I'm screwed. But there's still time to remedy that. And anyway, a certain Irishman I know said he survived in Russia knowing only "yes", "no" and "goodbye". Sweet. I have those nailed.

So far I know (with pronounciations):

Hello - Zdrastvooyte
Goodbye - Da sveedaneeya
Please - Spaseeba
My name is - Meenya zavoot
Sorry - eezveeneete
Please / you're welcome - pazhalooysta
I don't understand - Ya nee paneemayoo
I speak a little Russian - Ya nemnogo govorju po-russki
Good luck! - Udachi!
Good morning - Dobroe utro
Good day - Dobryy den
Good evening - Dobryy vecher

Yeah, so you can see it's a little slow going. My problem, aside from not being able to see/read this since I haven't yet learned the Cyrillic alphabet, is that these words are a mouthful. I mean, really, I speak Spanish, Italian and French, and even a little German without a problem. But with Russian I feel myself stumbling all over the words. Hopefully I just need more practice. We'll see...