Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In which everything goes all f@ck!d up

It's been a few days between posts (unusually, I know) because I've been having a bad old time of it. On Monday I was pleased as punch to find a full-length coat at Tesco for $70 (okay, it's probably not the world's best coat, but at $70, how can you go wrong?) and then have a halfway-decent passport photo taken, when, on arriving back at Greg and Laurie's flat I went to pull the photos out of my wallet to show Laurie and... no wallet. I'm always really careful about keeping eyes and paws on my bag plus it closes with a big velcroed flap, so I don't see how anyone could have managed to pickpocket it, but I'm at a bit of a loss to explain how it jumped out by itself. My working theories are either that I left it on a counter or something after buying something (which would make me an idiot) or that it somehow flew out when I took my scarf and gloves out on the way home. Well, it's not the end of the world, of course, but it does leave me in the tricky position of not knowing whether I can afford my Russian visa (more on that later). Plus there were lots of things in there that are irreplaceable (e.g. student ID) or a pain to replace (driver's license). However, I didn't have much money (maybe $20) in it, mostly because I don't have much money full stop. I did have a 100 euro traveller's cheque at home though, which I'm enormously grateful for now. My lovely and wonderful mum sorted me out with the bank though, after I spent 150 crowns I really couldn't afford to lose on hold with the bank in NZ before some stupid girl came on and said it would take 2-3 weeks to send a replacement credit card and I would have to be there for whenever it might turn up in that period!

On Tuesday I went down to the police station to report it, which was actually a very pain-free process, with a lovely Engilsh-speaking copper (although I realised later he didn't actually bother to take a contact phone number, which I suppose reflects the odds of it actually turning up). Don't think I'll claim on it with my insurance, I doubt they'll pay anything out - you know how they are...

After the police station, I had to go pick up my letter of invitation from Russia, which involved going all the way out to the airport and following some very vague instructions as to where I should go. Eventually I found the right neck of the woods, after asking about 3 people for directions, but genius here thought she was collecting a letter from DHL... Literally hours later, and after an emergency (and VERY pricey) email check at the airport, I found out it was UPS that had my package. I had actually found the UPS building, but since I was convinced it was DHL I needed (who were actually down the road a little bit), I did plenty more wandering first. So that was a frustrating day, but I wound up with my precious letter of invitation in the end.

Armed with the letter of invitation, the next step is actually getting the visa. Since the only website I can find for the Russian Embassy/Consulate in Prague lists email addresses and phone numbers that don't actually work and has little information of use, I managed to turn up 5 minutes after the visa office closes for the day (naturally it's only open for 2 hours, from 10 am - 12 pm...) so that was an exercise in frustration. It also exposed how fricking awful my command of the Russian language is these days. The only address on the website is actually the Embassy's address, not the Consulate's, so I went there first and had a little conversation with the gatekeeper or whoever in my execrable Russian:

Russian guy: Slushaiyu ("I'm listening" PS excuse awful transliteration if any Russian scholars happen to read this)

Me: Gavaritye po-anglitsky ("Do you speak English?)

RG: Po-russky! (Russian!)

Me: Khochu visi (I want a visa)

RG: Visu (Your grammar sucks, lady) He then proceeds to give me the address of the consulate - I understood what he was doing, but I just couldn't catch the street name (which, to be fair, is Czech of course)

Me: Ummm, ummm, adress...

RG: Repeats it about 4 times

Me: Ummm...

RG: (Periodically) Sluchaiyu

Me: Ummm, ne znaiyu russky slovo... adress, a, b, c... ("I don't know the Russian word, address, a, b, c" - a vain attempt to get him to spell the street name... Eventually I got it, but I couldn't remember even how to say 'thankyou', all I could think in was stupid Czech 'dekuji'! Of course when I left I remembered it was 'spasibo'...)

So it's probably due to my poor Russian skills that I wound up late for the visa... Once there, I think I figured out that the visa I want costs 1500 crowns, which is about $100 and is about half the money I have, so I'm fervently hoping that I read the information correctly. I was freaked out because it definitely said somewhere on the info board that Czechs needed an AIDS test, and if I need one too I'm probably sunk in terms of getting the visa in time to get to Russia on Tuesday, but I've just looked at the Embassy website again and it says you need the AIDS test when applying for a visa for more than 3 months - for some bureaucratic reason I have to apply for a 3-month single-entry business visa and then when I'm in Russia convert it into a 12-month multiple-entry visa, so if everyone could just cross all their fingers and toes that that's correct & that the visa does cost 1500 crowns, then I might just be able to make it to Moscow on time.

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