I don’t usually travel much for work, but lately I have been. Lots of trips relating to a project I’m working on to California. But this one was a bit longer. I’m now going to Russia for a week. So, onwards with the day-to-day reporting.
Day 0-1.5 = Travel
So,I’m flying to Nizhny Novgorod – about 100 miles east of Moscow – which is almost exactly 12 hours ahead of Oregon. In other words, my midnight will now be noon – giving me some apprehension about the jet lag. The travel time is looking like about 15 hours of flying all said and done and shaping up to be one of the longest trips I’ve ever taken.
Anyway, Visas are applied for, hoops are jumped through, and things get approved. I’m fortunately not traveling alone – I’ll be with my boss and a project lead – whom both have traveled to this site numerous times. Our first leg is Portland to Chicago, then Chicago to Frankfurt Germany. We take a (planned) 8 hour layover in Frankfurt to rent a hotel room right across the breezeway from the airport to shower, change, and relax from the first 12 hours of flying. This turns out to be a huge refresher and a very wise move. After a short recovery, we get a cab to downtown Frankfurt to walk around. Quite unexpectedly, there is a huge street fair of Christmas booths out. Everything from Christmas ornaments to candy to food are to be had. I grab a bratwurst dog, fries, and a coke. For dessert, we get a humongous chocolate dipped pretzel. Fantastic. We tour around as time allows and then head back to the hotel for a power-nap and then to the airport for our last leg to Nizhny Novgorod.
The flight is nice, but by now I’m very done with flying. 3 more hours and then we land in foggy, wet weather in the dark at 11pm local time. We hop off the bus that takes you across the tarmac and strategically place ourselves by the doors to get through customs first. I takes at least 2-5 minutes per person to get through immigration, so if you don’t get right up front, you’ll easily be standing there for an hour. All 3 of us get in line within the first 5 people – lucky us. You go up, drop your passport, and get a classic Russian staredown. They continue to look at you, the passport, the visa paperwork, back down to terminals, things get stamped again and again, hand written into notes, things typed into computers and asked a few questions. I pass the test – whatever those things might have been while the countless checks were made – then, over to pick up bags. I feel very good about this because folks in the past that have run into trouble at this point have had to (in two cases) stay in this tiny airport for 4 days until another international out-of-Russia flight comes in. One must make absolutely certain before they go that everything from passport to visa has EXACTLY the same and right spelling and dates – or you’re doomed to hours of sitting and being questioned. Especially these smaller entry points not so used to outside travelers.
Anyway, the airport is smaller than most greyhound bus stations – one entrance gate, and one baggage carousel. The airport itself is classic 50’s era architecture – big slabs of concrete and minimalist art. Bags fall off the tiny conveyor or block it up. Every 5 minutes, and young guy comes out of the back and fixes the bags on the conveyor. But the bags come and I get through customs without issue. One interesting point is that one must declare all their electronics – laptops, cel phones, cameras, etc – or you’ll be forced to pay taxes on the items when you attempt to leave.
Another thing is that when you register for your visa, you must indicate where you are staying – and in the case of our visas – have a written invitation from a citizen of Russia. The first night at your hotel you give them your passport in order for them to register you with the government police. The hotel must vouch that you stayed there the whole time, or you’ll be getting a very nasty interrogation when you try to leave and can’t vouch for your whereabouts. Just some of the interesting gotcha’s that if you didn’t read up on first, will bite you later.
Unfortunately the town is dead quite by the midnight arrival at our hotel and dark. The lack of light and the drizzle make it nearly impossible to see much the first night’s drive via hotel cab. It’s foggy, drizzly and a cool 35 degrees. No snow yet. We take a cab from the airport across the Vulga river to the main part of the city.
We hop into the hotel bar for a drink where we meet an English traveler who does investment banking. Nice enough guy who actually studied at Columbia school of business in the states and now specializes in Russian finance. We have a ‘Welcome to Russia’ shot (or two or three) of vodka and head to bed.