Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From Russia with Love

In addition to all the warnings you get when you visit Russia they also have very strict rules about tourist visas which usually the crew of a ship can get around by having a Seaman's Book, which I did not have in time for my visit here. I managed to get into the country anyway though, here is a little excerpt from an email I sent recounting a simple lunch date with a friend.

As for St. Petersburg apparently it is okay to enter the country provided you are part of a tour group. My crew shuttle pass sufficed as a tour ticket so I did manage to get off the ship once although I was scared to death doing it. They worry the crap out of you in Russia with the immigration restrictions and warnings about street crime. They really scrutinized my passport at immigration along with my crew pass and my shuttle pass. Finally, I was issued a stern warning by the Russian immigration lady. "Crew shuttle only!" So I yessed her emphatically and walked on shore. I had no intention of getting on the crew shuttle however because I was going to go over to one of the other berths where the Seven Seas Navigator was docked. I had arranged via email to meet my friend Sybil who was one of the singers on the Mississippi Queen in the other quartet and now works on the Navigator.

So, panicked that Madam Sousatzka* was going to send an immigration official after me and scared I might be mugged at any moment, I kept my hands firmly in my pockets on my wallet, watch and passport and hightailed it over to the Navigator. I met Sybil and we embarked on an escapade to change money. That was interesting, too. It was some back-alley place with people waiting outside--it looked like some sort of communist bread line. The currency here is rubles which I didn't know they still used and sounds so delightfully Chekovian to me. ("But Uncle Vanya, the passage to Moscow is 300 rubles, how will we ever afford it?") We stopped and ate bad Russian pizza and talked and talked about life on the MQ versus the Voyager and Navigator. It was nice to see a familiar face. On the way back we stopped and asked an old Russian woman to take a picture of us in front of St. Isaac's church. She first attempted to take the picture with the lens pointing at her eye, but her granddaughter soon straightened her out.

I'm still waiting for a copy of that picture, by the way. Sybil, if you read this, email me that photo!

* Madame Sousatzka refers to a 1988 Shirley MacLaine movie in which she plays an over the top, domineering Russian piano instructor by the same name complete with outlandish gypsy style head scarves.

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