Applying for visas can be daunting to any traveller whether you are experienced or a first timer and with all the current turmoil surrounding Russia following the demise of MH17, it made applying for a visa a little more nerve racking than usual.
Here I was, thinking I was all organised – I had printed off the application forms months ago and had completed the generic sections, leaving blank the missing puzzle pieces which have started to filter through now that my trip is getting closer.
I received my invitation letters from both tour operators I will be travelling with – all written in Russian, all looking like double dutch to me. I print out the check list for the required documents I am to submit to the consulate. Looks fairly normal, air tickets, itinerary, invitation letter, passport photos, form. Nothing out of the ordinary. I decide I should just double check the consulates website in case anything has changed since the heightened security.
Lucky I did. I jump onto the consulates website in Sydney and hover my mouse over the subheading “Visa Section.” I read through pages and pages of information and everything seems in order and straight forward until I read the last sub-tab “You should know before your visa application.” Surely you would think this SHOULD be the first tab you see. Luckily I saw and read what was on this tab as it seems that all applications made in Australia must now be made electronically online. There was no mention of this anywhere else throughout the website. Not even on the page that still allows you to download the manual form which apparently you can no longer use. Why is the manual form still there if you can no longer apply with it?
Anyway, no problems. I’ve read the important information and proceed. I create my account, jot down my application number and am moved to a screen which shows 6 tabs to the side – the equivalent of 6 pages of forms. Most of the required information is fairly straightforward – until you reach the “Visit Details.”
I had read previously on the website that you can stay at no more than 6 hotels in Russia and you can use no more than two tour operators for your stay, your maximum stay is 30 days. No problems for me, I fit within that criteria. Except the application only allows you to list one tour operator despite the website clearly stating you must list both if you are travelling with more than one…. Well this option wasn’t available, so I had to ignore it.
You then need to provide the full hotel details for every single hotel you are staying in. No problems here either as all this information is on the invitation letters… except there is a problem. I look at my first invitation letter and there are four hotels listed. I was only staying in Moscow and St Petersburg with this company… why do I have hotels listed for Novogrod and some other small village I’d never heard of? I just added in the two I was actually staying at.
I click the ‘add’ button to create space for my last hotel with my other tour operator. I glance at that invitation letter and the hotel name, address and phone number are all in Russian and I don’t know which part is the name, which part is the address. The only part I can decipher is the numeric phone number. I take a stab and add in what I hope will be correct.
I move on the ‘miscellaneous’ tab where I am asked to list my parents full name, the details of my previous two employers as well as every country I have visited in the past 10 years including entry dates and durations…. Hmm…
I have been to over 70 countries in the past 10 years and some of them multiple times, especially when I was living in the UK and would head abroad every other weekend. I have at least 50 entrances into the UK alone let alone anywhere else I’ve been. Are they serious? Do I really need to list every single country? I don’t even have some of my old passports to be able to check the accuracy of the information I would be submitting.
I decide to head to social media as an avenue to seek answers. A mix of answers come flooding through.
I decide to do it properly and make a list in excel so I can move things around easily if I have missed some countries.
I traipse down to the post office to organise my money order and after checking with the consulate, I have to order TWO separate money orders. One for myself and one for my husband. We can’t possibly put both our visa costs on the one money order. That’s crazy talk! I have the same situation with actually sending our passports. They need to arrive separately and each must have their own individual express post envelope to send them back to us in – just in case one of us gets our visa approved and the other rejected.
I send it off… I track my passports and see they arrive at the consulate the next morning. 10 working days is the processing time. 12 working days pass. Nothing. I call the consulate. Sorry, we cannot advise your visa application status.
14 days. Nothing. I call back. Sorry, we cannot advise your visa application status.
Hmmm… 16 working days later. Sorry, we cannot advise your visa application status.
20 working days later and they are here. My sanity returns.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.