The road from Slavyanka to Vladivostok was good for the most part. This picture above is very typical of all Russian roads west of Ulan Ude. There is obviously going to be a very swank highway one day, as most of these sites were active with workers and heavy machinery but it's at least ten years off.
Passing traffic was easy for motorcycles but as you can see, cars were also using this sizeable dirty hard shoulder.
A couple of hours riding saw us to the Hotel Vladivostok
For about $55.00 a night for both myself and Nikolai, we had a room on the 7th floor overlooking the bay!
No really! this is the view from our hotel.
Well, with such a nice hotel room it was time to tackle a problem that had been gnawing at me ever since clearing customs and it had to do with the f@!!ing russian visa.
The problem was that at Zarubina, where I got off the ferry, they stamped my passport with my visa starting from the ISSUE date, not the DATE OF ENTRY as specified by my Lonely Planet guidebook.
It was due to run out on the 17th of Sept. and what with all the delays and repairs (and good times) had in Slavyanka, it was time to see if we could do the impossible....extend my tourist visa.
Here Nikolai was invaluable. Not only did he speak the lingo, but he also had a very wiley streetwise way about him that allowed him to penetrate Russian red tape.
Of course, red tape wasn't the only thing he was good at penetrating!
After our breakfast of bread, kielbasa and instant coffee (Nikolai knew the best to buy of everything)...
we set off to tackle russian visa extensions.
We met Hawaiian Sean in a local eatery who told us to go to his russian fixer Julia.
Julia ran a 'help the tourist' type business. That was the difference between her and Nikolai. She was doing it to make money, whereas Nikolai was doing it to help me out just because he was enjoying helping me and was my host in his country....he was also better with his people skills.
So, we managed to find the OVIR or the PVU in Vladivostok. Nikolai hit it off with the guy there - Sacha - who told us it was no problem to extend the visa because of our accident. All we needed was a letter from my foreign embassy verifing what we were claiming was true.
Off we go to find the British Embassy.
No-one knows where it is. EVERYONE knows where the American Embassy is because they just built a huge five story building to house all the important goings on.
I make a bad decision at this point. I figure as a Green Card holder, they could help me out with this letter thingamajig.
As soon as we pull up, a heavily armed guard waves us on and tells us - in Russian - not to loiter. When it became clear that we were here on official business the whole "strip down to your shorts and prepare for the cavity search" routine came out. Then, naked and trembling we were brought before a woman who sat superciliously behind bulletproof glass and sniggered at our manhoods.
Ok, I exaggerate a tad...
Upshot of it was, not only could she not help me with the letter, being a lowly Green Card holder, but we suspect she put a call in to the OVIR because the next day Sacha - we were told - was in the hospital and could not be reached.
We left the American Embassy and continued our search for the British Embassy.
Finally above a kindergarten, with no street sign we reach our goal
where we discovered the delightful Lena all too ready to help us.
Lena wrote us exactly what we needed, bless her. Unfortunately, she had a boyfriend, but we still got her champagne and chocolates as a thankyou!
So armed with our letter, we went back to the OVIR where we met a Russian souka!! That's the russian term for 'unhelpful bitch' who told us that Sacha was in the hospital and basically to f@!" off.
Undeterred we tracked down another branch of OVIR across town, sat and waited for an hour and were told by a very nice boss lady, that because of my accident and subsequent time delay in Slavyanka, together with Lena's letter and my pictures of the accident, we were - under russian law - granted an automatic ten day extension.
This is Nikolai and myself outside the second OVIR office.
This whole process took about three days of running around Vladivostok and was a royal pain in the arse. The upshot of it was that if you're planning on coming to Russia, get a visa that's more than double the time you expect to stay. My whole trip was marred by the official bullshit redtape that still is Russia. The ONLY way to stay clear of Russian authorities is to make sure you do all of their ridiculous paperwork, stamps, visas, forms etc...to a Tee.
Another thing that struck me was the difference between the American Embassy and the British Consul.
The American Embassy could not have been more unhelpful. I can't prove that they tried to undermine my attempt at visa extension, but Nikolai was sure that the woman at the embassy called the OVIR which is why Sacha was in the hospital indefinitely.
The British Consul was understated, understaffed (just Lena at the time) and couldn't have been nicer.
Anyway, Vladivostok is the former forbidden city of the Russian Naval fleet
But is now a busy port servicing trading between Japan and Korea.
The streets are full of Japanese and Korean imported cars
And, of course, russian hotties
For our last night in Vladivostok, we arranged to meet Sean and Julia in a club.
We went and were charged 300 roubles a piece at the door (about $12.00) and sat down to very boring strippers doing the usual choreographed stuff.
Sean was propositioned by a hooker....$300.00 of which she claimed that she had to give half to the bar.
The whole thing was sordid, seedy and I couldn't wait to get out of the place feeling as though I was the tourist lamb brought to the slaughter.
We escorted Sean through the streets of Vladivostok hoping Nikolai could introduce him to a more organic type of russian girl. Being so late, the pickings were slim
"she wants to kiss me?"
"Er, yes, by George, I think he's got it!!"
This girl was somewhat intoxicated as was Sean, so we hailed him a cab and called it a night.
We had been in touch with Igor from Slavyanka, who had travelled back to his home in Kharbarovsk with Lena and Ksenya. Igor invited us to stay, and that was to be our next destination....about 800 kms north.
Next morning all packed up and ready to hit the road to Kharbarovsk!!!
Posted by Richard Lindley at October 10, 2006 05:17 PM GMT
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