Archive for August, 2011

Visa Success and Travel Info

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, I ventured back to the Russian Consulate in NYC to pick up my visa. I woke up at hours that don’t exist while I’m on summer time (e.g. anytime before 9:00AM) so I could catch an 8AM express train to the city. I got off at 125th Street, took an express subway to 86th Street and walked the few blocks to the Consulate. I got there at 9:05AM, hoping to be towards the front of the line for 9:30AM, when the website says they open for visa related manners. It seems that I woke up early for no reason at all. At 9:05, the line was even longer than it was when I got there around noon last week. The line went from the door, along the fence, back around the other side of the fence, and ended at the front gate. While in my depressing spot at the front gate, I noticed a small sign that stated visa pick ups do no begin until 11AM (it would be great if they told you that when you hand in your paperwork or had this information listed on the website). Thus, I got to stand in the sun outside of the Consulate for two hours. Adding to my luck, I saw the high strung tourist woman from the last time I was at the Consulate. She was once again having a yelling fit at the guard and the people standing around. It seems she had incorrectly filled out a part of the visa application for the third time and was asked to leave and come back again. After more waiting, I was finally let inside, where I had to wait an additional 15 minutes to get past security. Finally, I handed in my slip and was given my passport with the visa pasted into it. Mission accomplished!

Visa in hand, I don’t have to worry about not being allowed into Russia. In addition to requiring the visa to enter Russia, the visa also has to have been processed a certain number of days before entering the country. The date that the visa is processed is written out on the visa. One cannot enter Russia until five days after the issue date of the visa. I’m safe now, with roughly a month before I depart and attempt to enter the Russian Federation.

My travel arrangements are quite nice. I leave on September 5th at 8:00AM from JFK (sorry Mom, after going to Lafayette for four years I forgot that Labor Day existed. You’ll love driving through Queens instead of being on Cape Cod). Thanks to somewhat recent changes to the Fly America Act, which stated that I needed to fly on an American flag carrier or code share partner because I would be using US Government grant money to fly, I was able to book passage on an EU flag carrier, British Airways.

Ohai Terminal 5. Guess we're going to be best friends again.

The flight on British was actually the second cheapest flight I could find. I’m flying British because a three-hour layover in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 seemed much more enjoyable than 14 hours in Stockholm if I flew with SAS. Although, one of my traveling companions from last summer’s study in Germany told me that something will happen and that I’ll be forced to hang around Terminal 5 for a week, which our nine-hour layover felt like last summer. I should be fine provided that the WH Smith store is still open around 10:00PM so I can buy a bottle of Ribena and the latest issue of “Top Gear” the magazine (it will be fun to compare the British edition to the Russian edition, provided I can find a copy in Ulyanovsk).


Does the Stig have a Russian counsin?

After another short British Airways flight, I should arrive at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport at 5:00AM. From there, I will catch a reserved cab to the Fulbright Office in downtown Moscow, where I get to put my bags and relax for a few hours. Hopefully, I’ll be able to drop off my bags and pop off for a few hours to wander around Moscow. The Fulbright Office is one metro stop and a handful of blocks away from Red Square, which would be nice to see in temperatures that don’t cause cameras to freeze. Later in the evening, I’ll find some way of getting myself and my luggage to Kazan Station to take a 15-hour train ride to Ulyanovsk, where I should hopefully arrive around 9:30AM on September 7th.

It won't be the awesome missile train from "Goldeneye," but it should do.


Flying Saucers and Taekwondo

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

The more research I do about my university, the more I get both excited and worried. After perusing the website for the Linguistics Department, I have found out some interesting things. Apparently, at Ulyanovsk State Technical University, students learn two foreign languages – English and German. If my Russian fails me, and for some reason I can’t communicate in English, I have the hope of reverting to German. Currently, my German is stronger than my Russian, so that offers me some solace. It also means that I can hopefully find someone willing to work with me on my German in addition to Russian. I guess that I am fated to always have the two languages competing with each other. The scary thing is that as this is a technological university, a lot of the linguistics information that I find on the website is about scientific writing, specifically computer focused. Paging my ECE and CS friends (you know who you are), I may need your help with understanding some of the topics that potential students may be writing about.

Other exciting things about the university are the prospects for me to continue to practice martial arts. The sports part of the university website praises two students, among others, for their world and national rankings in Karate and Taekwondo, respectively. Although I am slightly worried about what would happen to the American at Taekwondo practice (I really don’t need to be knocked out, have anything broken, or get another really bad bone bruise on my foot), if there is indeed a club there, I wish to continue training.

The sports complex. It's not really the Kirby Sports Center, but it should do.

Note to self: Don't kick someone in the elbow again.

A fun fact about my university is that there is a building on campus that is known as the “flying saucer.” It’s the university’s equivalent of a student center and is literally shaped like a flying saucer. I’m sure that future posts will contain many “Futurama” and “MST3K” related jokes and comments. Speaking of “Futurama,” I can’t wait to watch it on Russian tv again. There’s nothing like watching one of your favorite shows poorly dubbed, which means something else in terms of Russian television. While Americans may make fun of bad dub jobs where the sounds don’t match the movement of lips, in Russia this would be considered a medium grade dub. The cheapest of dubbing in Russia means leaving the original soundtrack untouched, English voices and all, while one man shouts over it and voices all of the characters. Usually, the result is that I can follow neither the English track nor the Russian. Click here for a sample.

Flying Saucer

Visa Fun

Posted: August 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today, I went to the Russian Consulate in New York City to apply for my visa. After a fun-filled, hour long, standing room only train ride to Grand Central (yay for Metro North and its incompetence at running enough trains) I arrived at the Consulate with my father a little after noon. According to the Consulate website, the Consulate processes visas from 9:30 to 1:00 and then from 2:00 to 5:00 Monday through Thursday. When we got to the Consulate, we stood in line outside the building for a good thirty minutes without moving. And there we stood, in the direct path of the noon day sun.

The line streched past the metal fence when we got on it.

Eventually, as it neared 1:00, a bunch of people left to come back after 2:00. Some people were also leaving because the security guard at the door told them to come back the next day. I really didn’t want to deal with getting up and riding into the city with all of the commuters to be first in line the next day, so I stood around for a while and gradually moved closer and closer to the door as more people were turned away. I just wanted to speak with the guard, and plead my case in Russian if necessary. Unfortunately for me, one tourist was rather high strung and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She kept berating the guard and yelling at him, which really didn’t get her anywhere. I was afraid that she would ruin my chances of getting in. Eventually, the man between myself and the woman calmed the guard down, although I did not hear what he said. The guard ventured into the building and came back a minute later with pieces of paper that would let us back in after the lunch break. Supposedly, after lunch, the Consulate only processes visas for agencies and not individuals – a nice bit of information that the Consulate website failed to mention.

My father and I took advantage of the lunch break to somewhat cash in on what was supposed to be a daddy and daughter day in the city after dealing with the paperwork. We walked from the Consulate to the nearby Guggenheim Museum and enjoyed a lunch of the finest kebabs from the Sabrett’s truck. Then, to my joy, I spotted a Mister Softee truck and indulged in a chocolate milkshake. While I didn’t venture into the Guggenheim, I did get to see a wonderful piece of art parked right next to it. Whilst enjoying the richly chocolate and refreshingly cooling milkshake, I spotted a 1979 Mercedes 300SD Turbodiesel in pristine condition parked down the block.

The one I saw today was brown with a matching brown leather interior. Oh the 1970s.

Upon our return to the consulate, the four of us who were given return tickets queued up at the door. We were also joined by a man waiting to pick up his visa. Eventually the guard came by and let us back in. I thanked him profusely in Russian and he smiled back at me. He led us through security to a few chairs, where we once again waited. After at least 10 minutes, the man behind the counter called the first ticket holder up to process his visa. Then it was the turn of the high strung tourist. She had apparently filled out a few sections of her visa incorrectly, and I noticed that I had done the same for one of the mentioned fields (which I’m pretty sure was a glitch with the online system). She also had failed to take into account that the Consulate did not accept cash for visas, only money orders. Finally she left.

The man in front of me had 19 visa applications. While this worried me greatly at first, he was quickly turned away. Again, a few of the fields were incorrectly filled out. At this point I was beginning to worry. I knew that there was one definite glitch with the computer application, and I was pretty sure there was another. I knew that I probably couldn’t “go home and redo” the errors, and I certainly didn’t want to wait around for hours and hours again. I was lucky, though, when it was time for me to do my visa. I handed over my documents and quickly explained the glitches with the online visa (one of which resulted in the visa application saying that I had previously been refused a Russian visa, even though I have not and clicked “no” for this question). The man behind the counter told me that he knew about the glitches and not to worry. I thanked him in Russian, he smiled back, and there were no more questions. He took my paperwork and the money and told me to come back on Friday.

It seems that the Consulate members are somewhat aggravated with processing the tourist visas, especially for people who don’t speak any Russian. I suppose it also helped that I was willing to pay almost double the normal visa fee to have my application expedited. I guess this was a good practice run for when I will have to do bureaucratic tasks in Russia. Armed with confidence, perseverance, and politeness, one can get through the rigors of the Russian government.