Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dreaming about Russia

This morning I had my first dream about going to Russia. As dreams can be, it was a bit odd. I was leaving my parents' home for the airport, and they and my grandparents were saying good bye to me. It wasn't sad or happy, but I was anxious to get going. I guess that is my subconcious getting ready! At least I didn't dream about walking into the mens' room in Moscow because I can't read the sign on the restroom door!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Waiting...

Well the Visa Conundrum is resolved. The agent at the visa processing company said "Just disclose the last two" for both colleges and countries visited. The fact that I have quite a few more than two, as evidenced by a nearly full passport, appears not to be my problem. So I'll let the red tape folks reconcile all that. So now I'm just waiting for the next pay day to write the check and send that off. Visa - check.

And at my new job, I've befriended a really friendly Russian guy, who, now that he's found out I'm going to Russia, peppers me with questions. At first he called me "brave woman" for going alone, then I explained to him that I've traveled in Europe quite a bit on my own, so he admits that traveling in Russia is no big deal.

But what he said that did give me pause was about the visa. I told him that I was asked and was answering questions I didn't even have to answer when I applied for my US Passport. He just gave me a look and said "that's because we want to know if you are a spy." Well seriously, if I was a spy, do you think I'd answer any of those questions affirmatively if I thought it would trigger a big red flag in the Russian embassy? But just that he thinks that that's the purpose of the questions...you know, makes me wonder.

In other news, I've momentarily put my reading for Russia on hold since I've had Nelson Demille's latest burning up my bookshelf, screaming to be read. I figure I can breeze through this and be back at my required reading by the 4th of July.

Lastly, for those of you who want to see what I'm up against actually learning Russian, check this out. Sure, it seems all pretty basic, but on the fly, when it counts, it's turning out to be not so cut and dry. And honestly, a bit frustrating for this Type A personality. But I'm still at it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Visa Conundrum

Something told me to set aside a chunk of time to fill out the visa application. With a bonus day off yesterday, I made a point to save an hour to get down to business. Little did I know that was not enough time. Just reading the instructions took nearly 20 minutes. Blue or black ink, no staples, no paper clips, put this in question 13, put this in question 47. Geesh.

Color me paranoid, but I really want to complete this correctly and accurately, so as to avoid any screw up in the process and having to pay another $199 to do this again. Plus both (yes there are two) sets of instructions tell the applicant to be complete and truthful. So of course the OCD in me is reading far too much into questions and wondering if I'm interpreting too much into what I am sure are very straight-forward queries.

However, a bit unsettling are a few of the questions, such as:
Do you have any specialized skills, training or experience related to fire-arms and explosives or to nuclear matters, biological or chemical substance?

Have you ever been afflicted with a communicable disease of public health significance or a dangerous physical or mental disorder? Have you ever been a drug abuser or a addict?

Ahem. Ok, so, moving on...

I am a bit stuck though, on two questions. The first asks that the applicant list every country visited in the last 10 years and the dates of those visits. First of all, for those who know me, this list is long. It also won't fit in the 50 little boxes they expect you to write one letter per box in. But the instructions don't say anything about attachments for information you can't cram into 50 boxes (indeed, attachments seem to be discouraged, what with no staples or paper clips allowed!). How can I be that truthful in 50 boxes? I have probably about a dozen countries to list. And do they want to know if I just stopped over and changed planes (which is what my passport would show) or if I stayed for a visit? Should the list match my passport, which won't always show the country of my final destination because you get stamped at the first place you enter Europe, not the place you necessarily end up. See, OCD is not always good.

The other question that may require an addendum is "List all educational institutions you ever attended, except high schools". Oh good lord. I collect higher education experiences like I collect passport stamps. The form has room for two. I have a need to list four. What do I do?

Part of me is concerned that if I get caught not fully disclosing, that will just cause me problems. Another part of me (the saner, but smaller part) says just fill in what you can and call it a day.

Instead, I'll be calling the Visa agency to ask these pressing questions and more, I'm sure. They'll earn their money with me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Next Stop: Russia

Now that I have my trip to Miami behind me, I can only look forward and see that the next (planned) trip, as in on a plane, away from home, including overnights, is Russia. Gulp.

As I turned the page on the calendar from May to June, I saw the note I'd made to myself for June 15th: "Visa application and fee, final trip payment due ONE MONTH!" Gulp again.

It's coming. It's under 100 days and 13 weeks away. I absolutely cannot believe that a trip that was once 8 months away is now just three months away. And still, while I've been preparing as best I can, I just don't feel ready yet.

I've taken solace in the fact that I have a better grasp on the Russian alphabet now than I did. I can sound out words like a hooked on phonics pre-schooler. I can speak the niceties of life, but if challenged with an actual conversation, will probably either ask "Habla ingles?" or run in the other direction. I also have a much better idea about Russian history (thank you "Russia: A Concise History"!) so that I'll most likely not make an utter fool out of myself due to ignorance.

I also feel better that I've found out that announcements on the train between St. Petersburg and Moscow are made in both English and Russian. That will reduce the likelihood that I'll get off in some farm town in between the two and wander the rest of my days through wintry Russian landscapes. That almost cushions the blow rendered by my Russian colleague who told me that that same, new high speed line "is the one that gets blown up all the time." Good lord.

Don't get me wrong, I am excited. It is just that this is the first trip in a long time for which I've had to prepare and have absolutely no idea what to expect when I hit the ground. I can spend whole chunks of days though, daydreaming about that day-long visit to the Hermitage, standing in the center of Red Square and seeing St. Basil's Cathedral for the first time. I actually get goosebumps thinking about it. And that hasn't happened for me in ages.

Re: my previous post on reading. I've read almost 3 of the books on my reading list (two are nearly done, I'm multitasking).

Next up, I need to crack down and complete the visa application, and cough up the rest of the money for the trip (another gulp).

It's coming. Faster than I ever expected. I look at the few events and celebrations planned for the next two months and realize that "at that concert, it'll be a month away" or "when we go to that museum out in western Mass, it'll be two weeks away". Gulp. Faster than I ever expected.