Having read up on Moscow’s and Russia’s culture and history through Simon Montefiore’s comprehensive biography on Stalin “The court of the red czar” and even more impressive; Orlando Fiennes: The Whisperers, we came to Moscow with plenty of prejudices.
Another thought that prevailed in our minds was the words of former german chancellor Helmut Kohl;”A wall can be torn down in just one night, tearing down the wall in peoples mind will take a generation. Bearing all this in mind we were in for a surprise: We found a beautiful city, flowers everywhere; friendly, smiling and hospitable people. This was far from the prejudices we had in our minds.
We had arranged all the technical aspects of the trip with: Cityrealtyrussia.com. The dwellings was not up to what one would call of high standard, but travelling on a budget, it fitted our needs perfectly. Two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and a livingroom at 100 Euro (140 USD), is ok value for money as the location was close to the Old Arbat, the main tourist-trail. Another main contribution to the success of our trip was our personal guide Elena. She deserves an article of her own!
The greatest challenge of the whole trip was actually what happened before we left home: Going to Russia you need visa. To obtain that, you need an invitation that including the adress and purpose of your stay. (Cityrealtyrussia.com will supply that!) Having arrranged all that we set out for the Russian embassy, consullar section. They’re open from 9 to 12 on workdays. We arrived around 10 and found 20 -25 people queing in two rows. One minute to twelve we slid our documents across (Passports, visa applications, invitations and photos). Just one minute later a voice with a heavy russian accent came over a loadspeaker: “We are now closing, please come back on monday” This caused a lot of commotion. The lady behind us cried out: “You can’t do this! I’ve travelled for three hours to get here! You can’t close now, with all these people waiting!”, “Some of us have been waiting for hours! “The loudspeakervoice came back: “Come back on monday! We only do like the Norwegian embassy in Moscow do!” One man came up to the counter and said: “I came here by plane to get this fixed! I was told on the phone that I could get all this fixed today! You can’t do this!” “Come back on monday!” More commotion. “Come back on monday!”
Norwegians are champions at accepting the inevitableand and the protests soon subsided. We were lucky to have reached the counter in time but the incident had made us a little anxious about what this trip would be like. It had showed us an attitude that we thought had disappeared with communism. The following friday we returned to pick up our passports and visas. The “Come back on monday” still ringing in our ears we entered the consullar section just a few minutes past nine. The queues were about the same as last time but fortunately there was a counter with a sign saying Passport/Visa pick-up and nobody was queuing there. Two minutes later we were back out on the street with our passports and visas. We felt sorry for the queuers inside and hoping this incident wasn’t setting precedent for our trip. Fortunately, our fears didn’t come true.