Your paperwork, comrade

August 27 2004

As I mentioned the other day, my next business trip takes me to Russia and the UK, about a month out from now.  Good thing, too, because it looks like it will take that long to get a Russian visa.
This will be my second trip to Moscow.  There seems to be a lot more paperwork involved than there was even two years ago.
At the moment, I'm working on the application for the "letter of invitation".  This is not the visa application itself, but rather the forms required for the Russian immigration department to issue a letter inviting me to Russia.  I will end up sending the scanned form, a copy of my credit card, a "signature on file", and a copy of my passport to the travel agency in Russia.  Based on how much I pay, I will then get the invitation letter in 3, 4, 10, or 19 business days.
Once I receive this letter, then and only then can I go apply for a visa.  That is a whole other slew of paperwork and fun, including a document that asks you to list every city you've been in during the last ten years, your professional and personal affiliations, and of course the requisite questions about whether you are a terrorist or activist or whatever.  That paperwork, some photos, a copy of the travel itinerary and tickets, and lots more money go off to the Russian embassy via an expeditor, and finally, voila! A visa returns.
Now, I don't want to perpetuate stereotypes, but that might not necessarily be the end of the equation.  I have heard travellers' stories about additional mysterious "fees" that appear when you hand your passport and visa to the immigration officer upon arrival or departure.  Nothing like that happened to me on my last visit to Moscow in 2002, in fact I never had any problems at all during a great trip.
After a few days of research, I've decided on where to spend the weekend between Moscow and the London Admin/Developer conference.  vowe was a major help in trying to figure out what really was workable and what wasn't.  In the end, the answer was a bit obvious.  Given all of the process described above, I should really take advantage of already being in Russia.  Thus, from Moscow, I'll head to St. Petersburg before going on to London.  Even if the visit is only a tour of the Hermitage and the Summer Palace, and I'd be pretty happy.
At the moment, I've booked a domestic flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  I know, I know, I've been watching all the news this week.  And I'll be watching it incredibly carefully over the next 30 days.  I can always take a train instead; apparently this is reasonably common way to go as well (though it would typically be an overnight journey).  Or just bail on it altogether, we'll see.
As for London, based on current plan, I'd be arriving in the early evening on Sunday the 3rd.  Thus, I think it's too tight a schedule to think about a formal gathering or geekdinner on Sunday night... so we're going to want to shoot for Monday the 4th.  Location and specific times to be determined.

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