Monday, August 20, 2007

Visa Run to Estonia

This time I renewed my one-year Russian visa in Tallinn, Estonia. I had already done it in Finland a few times and was ready to try a new location. I collected the same documents as I had done the previous times, not completely sure what they would ask for, but having a few copies of all possible documents, just in case. Just before I left I also received some advice from someone who had just renewed his visa there, and that was very helpful.

I’ll describe the trip below for anyone interested in renewing his/her visa there, or for anyone interested in Tallinn as a possible vacation spot.

1) Getting there

I decided to take a Eurolines bus to Tallinn from St.Petersburg. In St.Petersburg the Eurolines office is located near Baltiskii Railway Station, to the right after you exit the building. They charged me about $30, but that’s the full price, so I think there are discounts for students, senior citizens, etc. There also might be cheaper bus companies. Eurolines is pretty convenient and runs 5 times a day, in the summer at least.

They asked me for my last name to print the ticket, and after looking at my passport, ended up printing something like “Mensfeld,” which is my middle name spelled wrong. I went back to the ticket office and asked if that was okay. They said it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

The buses leave from the sort of traffic island, also to the right. They didn’t check for ID when I got on the bus, so I guess the guy was right that the name didn’t matter. I think they just use the names for compiling a passenger list.

2) The journey

The bus trip took about 7 hours total. We made several short stops at various bus stations along the way. Crossing the border was a little confusing because whether you get on or off the bus seems to depend on what kind of vehicle you’re on and which border crossing you come through. When leaving Russia, we had to retrieve all our belongings, including suitcases from the baggage hold, and take them with us through passport control. It wasn’t too difficult. Then we got back on the bus. Sometimes they check your passport again afterwards. In entering Narva, the officers got on the bus, collected our passports, and took them somewhere to be processed. I kept waiting to get off the bus, not realizing that it wasn’t necessary. Eventually I fell asleep, as I was rather tired and a bit nauseous. Suddenly someone hit me on the shoulder and it was the guard giving me my passport back. I couldn’t find the stamp and was still confused about whether we had actually entered Estonia or not. We started driving through a town and I thought it seemed to be a fairly large settlement for No Man’s Land between the borders! So finally I realized that I was in Estonia.

Stops weren’t particularly announced. I was fairly sure that Tallinn was the last, but was slightly nervous that I would miss it and the bus would go on to Turku. Then I saw a sign saying “Tallinn Bus Station” in Estonian, and knew it was time to get off.

3) Arrival

At the bus station, I spotted an R-kiosk, which had been described to me as a place where bus tickets are sold. I bought a ticket to use to get into Old Town, where our hotel was. After wandering around for a few minutes, I finally asked an Estonian youth to point out a bus stop where I should wait. I didn’t know what bus to get on, but asked a pair of tourists who seemed to be speaking Spanish if they knew where to go. As we boarded the bus, we helped each other figure out the ticket puncher. There’s no conductor, but you do have to punch your ticket yourself. The fine is $600 kroons for not doing so.

The other tourists got off, so I did too, not knowing where I was. My map was only for Old Town and I didn’t know if I was in Old Town yet. I wandered around reading street signs. Nothing was as charming and elegant as had been described, so I assumed I wasn’t in Old Town yet. I can read maps if I know the language and have a landmark. In this case my head was aching from scanning all the Estonian words and trying to find something recognizable. Finally I saw a park and used that to get oriented. After crossing a few streets, I entered the cobblestone zone…Old Town!

4) Navigating Old Town

Dragging a suitcase on cobblestones wasn’t much fun, but it was doable, and Old Town wasn’t huge. I managed to locate some of the street names on the map, but not all of the little alleys were included, which called for some trial and error to find the way. I reached the hotel just as it was getting dark. Perfect timing.

5) The Consulate

I had received detailed directions to the Consulate. Nevertheless, as I left in the morning, I turned the wrong way going out of the hotel and ended up exiting Old Town and ending up on a main street. I did find an ATM, there, however. Hansapank, I think it was called.

I went back the other way towards the consulate, and still managed to get there a few minutes before it opened. On one street is the Russian Embassy, and around the corner is the Consulate. There were two cars sitting outside for security. The Consulate opened and there was a line, but I wasn’t in a hurry. Somehow everyone immediately arranged themselves into lines at various windows, but I missed the instructions. At any rate, I had to take a few minutes to finish filling out my visa applications. I heard a lot of Russian being spoken. I didn’t see other foreigners, and I didn’t see visa applications similar to the one I had filled out.

I had been instructed to go into the second room, to the left, and the second window in that room. I sat down in a chair, as that window had someone being served. Then that person went away and I saw that a sign said “visas” in Russian. It was strange to me that so much Russian was spoken since a lot of visa applicants don't know the language, but perhaps they deal mainly with Russian-Estonians who travel back and forth.

No one else approached the visa window, so I went up and presented myself. I had to speak in Russian by phone to the attendant. Instead of shoving all my documents at her at once, I waited for her to request each one. I did indeed need two copies of the application and two photos, along with the invitation and my passport. For some reason she rejected my HIV certificate, saying I would need that later for “registration.” So maybe it wasn’t necessary at all, or maybe showing it to her was proof enough and she wanted me to keep it for my records. She didn’t ask about health insurance.

I had apparently made a few mistakes on the visa application, but she corrected them herself with white-out. I was so grateful not to have to redo them. She asked if I wanted regular or rush processing, and I requested rush. It was Friday morning and she said I could pick them up on Monday. I was confused about the amount of days, having been told that regular was 10 business days and rush was 5. However, I wasn’t eager to stay a whole week and didn’t mind having it be ready that soon.

Next I sat down to wait for her to prepare my bill, which took perhaps 10-15 minutes. I then took the bill into the next room to the cashier, where there was also no line. I paid in cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM already. That is the only method of paying. Of course if I hadn’t known that, I could have gone to withdraw the money and come back, but the Consulate is only open 9-12, so there wasn’t any guarantee that there would be time, had it been crowded.

6) Exploring Tallinn

Old Town is small and it’s fairly difficult to get lost. There are cobblestones everywhere and few cars. As it was mid-August, there were a lot of tourists. I’m not crazy about being among crowds of tourists, but it didn’t feel out of control. We visited several local museums, dropping in as we came across them. Most of them had smallish collections. Some of the ones we visited were: The Estonian History Museum, the Chocolate Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. A little further away but still at a walkable distance were the National Library and the Occupation Museum. We also peeked in a few churches and took in a free concert at the Holy Ghost Church.

Dining establishments varied in price, service, and ethnicity. We had some tasty Italian food as well as Indian and Greek. Some places were clearly tourist traps, but there were also some cheaper, more local places to eat, and lunch specials were sometimes offered. Just beyond Old Town is a big shopping mall with an Internet café and grocery store along with a variety of shops, if Old Town isn’t serving all your needs.

We took a day to get out of Old Town as well, riding the bus to the newly opened Estonian Art Museum. Here finally was a museum with a full collection including permanent and temporary exhibits, and some authentic examples of Estonian art. We learned about Estonian art movements and how they related to events in history.

After visiting the art museum, we took a little walk in Kadriorg Park and then headed to the shore, desperate to see the water. There next to the shore we happened on the Rusalka, a memorial to a Russian ship that sank on its way to Finland. As I stood taking photos, an elderly Russian lady nodded at me and said “Good girl,” apparently thinking that I was a young Russian girl embracing my roots. :)

7) Retrieving the visa

I had been given a time when I could pick up my new multi-entry visa. Documents are generally dropped off in the morning hours and picked up in the Consulate’s afternoon hours. So I went in around 4 pm, handed them my receipt showing that I had paid, and they gave me my passport with the new visa inside. Very easy.

8) Re-entering Russia

We took the bus back to St.Petersburg, and the procedure was the same. Upon leaving Estonia our passports were collected on the bus and processed while we waited. The driver however did not realize we were Americans and therefore did not give us migration cards, so when we got to the Russian border control, we had to quickly ask for them and fill them out as the others were standing in line. We were the last ones. I handed the guard my documents and she became perplexed when she reached the new pages that had been added into my passport a week before. The pages clearly differed from the old ones, and she spent several minutes looking it over and eventually taking it into a back room to check with someone else. Meanwhile, the whole bus was waiting for us. Embarrassing! But we got back on, and a few hours later we were in St.Petersburg, even ahead of schedule. Success!

1 comment:

  1. Privet!
    Traveling through blogosphere, I found your interesting space...
    Let me read you with calm:)
    I want to send you my warm greetings from the winter of Chile.
    I want the spring here very soon!!:)
    You can comment into my blogs if you want, could use my translator.


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