10. How to plan your Russian tour: the pitfalls of logistics
I used a travel agent that had knowledge of Russia to do all the bookings for my Russian trip. I decided to use the opportunity to see more of Russia, and also included Finland and Estonia in my trip. My trip was planned that I fly to Moscow, then to Ekaterinburg and back to Moscow. From Moscow I would fly to Helsinki in Finland, then travel by ferry to Tallinn in Estonia, then by train to St Petersburg, Russia, and from there back to Moscow also by train, from where I would leave the country. It was to be a long trip!
It was to be my first trip overseas. I was very excited and looked forward to it. Again, I made the right decision – to use a travel agent. If you don’t know the country, it is always better to use an experienced knowledgeable travel agent, and it’s particularly true in the case of Russia. My travel agent had given me very good advice. I think if your trip is planned properly, and it works out nicely, it makes the trip so much more memorable.
Tips from my travel agent were that when you arrive at Sheremetevo international airport in Moscow and continue your journey to another Russian city, you will depart from another airport. You can use one of the following services that are available: a transfer organized by you or your travel agent, a taxi or the bus service that operates between the two airports. The bus transport is cheap but you must watch not to miss your stop, and if you don’t know the language and do not understand the Russian alphabet, it is not easy. The taxi will be expensive if you cannot speak Russian fluently without an accent – prices for foreigners differ from the prices the taxi driver would ask for a Russian, and not in your favour! So the less complicated and safest way is to organize your transfer in advance.
If there is enough time available between the flights, I would advise you to take an excursion around Moscow. This is what my travel agent did for me. I had to wait twelve hours for my connecting flight to Ekaterinburg, and the excursion was supposed to fill the gap. I know some people enjoy sightseeing on their own but with a personal guide it is so much better. It was not cheap but it was definitely worthwhile (I believe most good things are not cheap). If you were flying to one of the regional cities in Russia (or Ukraine, or Belarus) it would be a shame to miss out seeing the capital. If you anyway happen to be in this part of the world, get as much as you can out of it.
Well, coming back to my story. I had finally booked my trip and informed Elena about the day of my arrival. She had sent me her home phone number and I sent her my mobile phone number that would be unbarred while I was travelling. We were still corresponding via snail mail. As far as I was concerned, everything was planned well for the trip. The only thing that was worrying me was the language: I was wondering how I would communicate with people in Russia if I did not speak any Russian! The only word that I knew was “na zdoroviae” (a common Russian toast, like our “Cheers”) and according to Elena I pronounced it wrong anyway. I knew that Elena’s English was good but we had never communicated in person. She told me that they study English at school, and a lot of books that she used for research in her degree were English. I could see from her writing that she an had excellent knowledge of English but as far as I knew she did not have many opportunities to speak the language.
I had a double visa for entering Russia, because my trip was planned that I would leave Russia for Finland and then enter it again from Estonia. My Russian visas were loose documents with my photos on it. My Finish visa was placed in my passport and the Estonian visa could not be applied for beforehand, and had to be applied for on my arrival in Estonia at the Tallinn harbour
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