Posts Tagged ‘visa’

Big Brother and the banking system

19th October 2010 by Helen

Having seen Landy settled into his container ready for his journey to Seattle, we finished off the shipping paperwork with the agent on Tuesday (19th), before ending that day, with a crisis with a debit card! 

With just £35 in cash it’s time to top up the liquid funds.  Cash machine says no, non, nyet, nien.  Okaaaay.  Now what?  We have enough cash to stay one more night at the hostel.  We have no idea what the problem is.  From where we are we can’t phone and we don’t have a laptop with us so we can’t check on-line.  We look at each other.  Paul says, “one day we will look back and laugh about this”.

We catch the bus back to the hostel where we are staying, wondering if we should have conserved the 22 Roubles (50p) by walking.

Getting back to the hostel and checking on-line confirms my account had not been compromised and the balance is about the level I expected.  Good news.  Next: need to phone the bank and find out why my card is not working.  No problem there – we are staying in a hostel with wi-fi so we can use Skype on the laptop.  Finding the international number on the website I dial the number (strange word that, when phones haven’t had dials for years!!).  Anyway, no, non, nyet, nien, said the banking answerphone system.  You know, the system that says, ‘after the tone please enter your account number’.  Can’t do that using Skype.  So the system says, ‘sorry, I didn’t recognise the number, please try again’.  I can’t try again so I wait.  After the third ‘sorry ….’ the line cuts dead. 

Ah, problem has just got bigger.  We don’t have access to a landline, we are staying in a backpackers’ hostel after all.  Despite being in credit, Paul’s mobile has been refusing to work for about a week now.  We have no way of phoning and getting through on one of those wretched answerphone systems. 

By now it was waking up time in England so we sent several messages, using all the means we had via the laptop, to Paul’s daughter Natalie. 

Not quite sure how she got through the wretched answerphone system but Natalie managed to get us a number that would go straight through to a real human being.  It might have been the pleas that if I couldn’t get hold of any cash I would have to force my elderly husband to sit in the warm lobby of a hotel all day, eating nothing but crisps, before sleeping  in a bus shelter every night, for the next week!

So, sitting on the bed with the tiny microphone plugged into the side of the laptop, I held the laptop to my face like a giant flip phone – it’s the only way I can get the microphone to pick up the sound of my voice – and rang said human being (not a terribly friendly one but a human being nonetheless) – she almost put me back on to the wretched answerphone system but I just about managed to plead my case to bypass that and got another real human being.  Bit friendlier this one but only after I’d answered about 10 security questions.

The gist of it is the bank have now given me ‘permission’ to access my account via my card from abroad for another three months, when I have to phone to get permission to continue to access my account from outside the UK.  It’s only the ‘holiday’ department that can deal with this and it seems that anything more than two weeks in the Costa del Sol is unheard of.

Be warned budding travellers.  Be warned.  Big brother has his tentacles and has the final control!

In the footsteps of the famous

4th October 2010 by Helen
our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

Well, after our departure from Khilok we headed off to Chita, as you know.  We’ve spent about a week here, camping alongside various lorries outside a cafe just outside of town.  It shows up well on the route map if you zoom in.  We’ve been told by one of the young women working in the cafe that a few years ago Rosie Swale-Pope ( camped outside their cafe when she passed this way during her five year run around the world.  In the footsteps of the famous, eh!!  And we’ve introduced the cafe to the idea of lemon and sugar pancakes.  It took a bit of miming and they had to watch us eat them as they’d never heard of this combination before!!  Pancakes are usually filled with either savoury (meat – see also below) or a thick stodgy jam or served with mayonaise.


our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

Sadly, we’ve had to call of our Road of Bones section.  After the delays in Kazakhstan, then Mongolia and now Siberia, our visa times have got tighter and tighter.  We have to be out of Russia by 27th October and it’s just not possible to get to Magadan and then down to Vladivostok in the time we have left available. 

Paul in particular is gutted, it was his primary reason for travelling in this part of the world.  However the incident with the horse was the final straw.  Hopefully he will have the chance to try again in a couple of years time.  Only trouble is, with the new road having been built the old road is getting more and more impassable with time and we don’t know for how long this will be achievable.

We’ve divided our time between our ‘campsite’ and the city centre, catching up on writing sponsors reports, working on our next round of sponsorship negotiations, refining our schools project to take into account what we have learned so far (and expanding to include additional schools who want to take part), taking a look at some of the sights, such as Lenin Square, and doing a bit of shopping for a second pair of warm trousers each as we head off into still colder climes.  Doesn’t solve my general misery at finding myself clumping through a fashionable city in my hefty walking boots though!!  Young Russian women have got keeping warm and stylish down to an art.  The older ones look more stereotypical though, so maybe I should just accept my age and go with the flow!!

We have been delighted to find a Coffee-Mall with free WiFi.  The food’s not particularly cheap but it is good quality and for once it is possible to order a meat dish and get something that hasn’t been chopped up and processed into something else.  Paul is also delighted to have found decent coffee as well.  Unfortunately the service is largely desultory, but, hey, you can’t have everything!!

We have had many conversations along the way about our different approaches to food: Paul enjoys good food well cooked and lovingly presented.  He is surely the darling of the true chef, fully appreciative of their art.  I enjoy this too but as Paul will point out I have a much higher tolerance to the whole Central Aisian ‘food is fuel’ approach: meat (don’t ask what sort, the answer is usually ‘meat’, they don’t know), processed into some kind of burger, possibly wrapped in pasta, often served in some kind of stew (goulash), often with assorted arteries still visible in between the gristle and fat – served with either pasta or mashed potato, and a couple of slices of cucumber and tomato.  Virtually everything comes served with mayonaise.

one of the preserved old wooden houses in Chita

one of the preserved old wooden houses in Chita

Cathedral, Chita

Cathedral, Chita

Anyway, even if the food isn’t exactly cheap the free WiFi makes up for the cost as we’d have to pay even more for the amount we’ve been using in the local Post Office provision.  At least we can use our own laptops, which is usually quicker than the ancient computers otherwise available, which makes updating blogs, sending emails, etc, etc, so much easier.

We did have a bit of excitement on Friday.  We were approached by a young man called Simon on Thursday asking us if we would be interviewed for a Russian TV programme about extreme travel.  Simon is involved in and – we could probably have done with knowing them when we were stuck

view through Lenin Square, Chita

view through Lenin Square, Chita

in the forest!!  One of the staff, Julia, at the station speaks good English and acted as an interpretor for us.

The weather varies between very cold and almost balmy.  In the city it can reach mid 20’s.  Outside the city: overnight it can drop below freezing and

feeding the pigeons in Lenin Square, Chita

feeding the pigeons in Lenin Square, Chita

sometimes we have woken up having to scrape the ice off the inside of the tent.  Reminds me of the days before central heating when my mother used to coax me out of bed to look at what ‘Jack Frost’ had painted on the inside of the window!!

We’ve been told (by Julia) that although English is the official second language, here in Siberia Chinese is much more useful for business and trade.

Through numerous emails and phone calls Paul is currently negotiating to ship Landy out of Vladivostok, probably to either Vancouver or Seattle, possibly via Japan or not.  Our plans to ship straight to Anchorage have been foiled by no-one shipping to there at present (it varies year by year).  Either way Landy’s journey will take about six weeks and so he will arrive sometime around the beginning/middle of December.  In the meantime we will be flying (we are not allowed to travel on the boat with Landy) to Anchorage, from where we will make some kind of combination journey using public transport and the ferry down to Billingham (just north of Seattle), from where we can get to the port so we can be reunited with Landy again.

I’ve missed my proverbs so had to slip one in, just in case some of you haven’t got anything better to do than ruminate on the meaning of these things!!  Rational animals of the genus Homo who have ceased to exist also ceases to recount connected narratives.

Who’d believe it?

19th September 2010 by Helen

Sunday 19th September

Although Landy was fit and ready to go we’d decided to sit tight another day to catch up on writing blogs, editing videos, etc, before hitting the next big city, Ulan-Ude.  Kinda had enough of cities for now after our elongated stay in Ulaanbaatar and we’ve really liked our stay in Gusinoozersk.  Our decision led to one of those bizarre coincidences that can only happen in real life.  A knock on the door at about 9.30 pm told us to go down to reception for a phone call.  Who could be phoning us? And on the hotel phone rather than on the mobile?  We thought it must’ve taken quite a bit of detective work to find us at the hotel.  However, with hindsight, the home team knew the name of the town we were in and there is only one hotel there and it seems that everyone in the town knows they had European visitors. 

Down in reception I was handed the phone.  A clear cut English accent greeted me.  The speaker initially just as confused as I was.  It transpired that Ben had arrived in the town just three hours previously, having hitch-hiked from Ulan-Ude.  He was heading for the border with Mongolia first thing in the morning as his Russian visa ran out the next day.  He was standing in a bar on the other side of town as we spoke.  As word had obviously got around that we were already in town, and Ben was clearly English, they were keen and excited that we should be aware of each other’s presence and meet up.  As Ben quipped, it’s what they would want and expect if they were in a foreign country and realised someone else from their own nationality was also there.

However, he came over to our hotel and we had a long chat about where we’d both been.  And Ben did us a favour by letting us have copies of photos from his recent visit to Lake Baikal.  This meant that our commitment to our contact in Western Russian can be fulfilled, although we are sad we haven’t really got time to go to Lake Baikal ourselves after the many delays we have experienced so far.