Saturday, October 06, 2007

Where they don't speak Bulgarian

I had no idea what stop we needed to get off at. Those are the kind of adventures I participate in as of late- deciding that I have a pretty good idea where a bus might take me, though harboring the thought that in actuality, I'm not so sure... But to be more correct, its not that we didn't know where to get off, its that we weren't even really sure what we were heading into. Finally we spotted the Red, White and Blue and jumped out of our seats, pushing by the locals to get to the door before the driver speed away. The Russian Embassy. Part I.

On September 17th, it was freezing. Only a month before we had been running for the shade and substituting practically every meal for cold liquids and ice cream, but today was decidedly gray. And cold. Did I mention cold? Christin and I had a small list or errands to run before braving the consular's office of the Russian Embassy in pursuit of visas. After reading practically every webpage dealing with Russia and Russian visas, we were skeptical that Russia would be ebullient to grant the likes of us- young "good-willed" volunteers, fluent in a cousin language, educated in a former strong-hold of the USSR - tourist visas to the Motherland. None the less, we decided to brave the bureaucracy. We'd contacted travel agencies, hotels, hostels, private companies in search of the two coveted documents in the process; an official invitation (required for all foreigners) and a hotel voucher to confirm our stay. Now it was go-day. After finishing up our errands, we took a break for lunch. At 12:45 sharp, we made our way to the consular's department.

It was with shock and desperation that I began piecing together the sign infront of the embassy's consulate entrance. Working hours- 9am-12pm, M-F except for every 3rd to last wednesday of the month...WHAT??!?! We both immediately began grumbling about the lost time and money involved in getting to this step, and I personally began replaying moments from earlier in the day- if I hadn't helped that poor, lost Canadian dude, we would have caught an earlier bus, if we had simply run by the consulate to see what the hours of operation were, we surely would have been accepted...etc etc. We commiserated and agreed to meet up the next, just this time, a bit earlier.

One would think that Bulgarian is spoken in the Russian embassy in Sofia. But as with every endeavor into bureaucracy, thinking seems to get you nowhere. We stuggled at the first window, baffled by the fact that neither our American passports nor our pleas for the conversation to occur in Bulgarian were considered. Luckily the guy behind us was more than willing to translate the Russian into Bulgarian, and in a short while, we realized that I had no proof of health insurance. Christin advanced to line #2 as I made a detour to the German Embassy where a friendly lady issued me aan ffordable travel/medical insurance policy for up to 10,000 EURO. Back at the Russian embassy, I was greeted with more Russian. Then a quick interview and a large sum of money ($150 for I week in Russia!) were exchanged and we were dismissed.

Guess what language they spoke when I returned to pick up my American passport?

Russian lessons, anyone?


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