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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Russia - Prelude

"Why Russia?" 

This usually was the first reaction people had when they learned that it was our next trip.  A consultant at work asked if I was Russian, as if that would be the only explanation possible for me to visit Russia.  How could I blame her?  I am sure it is confusing to tell a Russian and a Taiwanese apart....

The idea of visiting Russia started with a HBO show called “Bored to Death”.  In one episode a few years back, the story brought the main characters to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, a well-established Russian immigrant community.  H & I decided to check out the neighborhood one day, and I was fascinated by all the Russian shops and restaurants in the area.  H mentioned that he would be interested in visiting St. Petersburg.  As someone who gets bored easily with familiarity and always crave for new experiences, Russia sounded foreign, exotic, and even slightly dangerous.  I embraced the idea immediately!

One sleepless night last year, I got out of the bed, surfed the web at 2 o’clock in the morning, and clicked on this travel blog about Russia that my friend forwarded to me.  An hour later, I made up my mind that Russia would make it to our 2012 travel plan.

Although H suggested St. Petersburg, once the trip became a reality, he had his reservations.  Rumor had it that you have to bribe police everywhere; that the police would target tourists and harass them about their passports, visas, etc.  H was nervous.

The planning process did not put H at ease.  The visa application process was cumbersome.  A few times when I tried to contact the consulate, airline, or other travel related Russian companies, I either got no email responses, no call back, or was put on hold for more than 30 minutes, and still did not get any answers after I got someone on the phone.  Although I kept quiet, I thought to myself, “If the trip is as challenging as the planning, we could be in trouble.”

Still having vivid memories of Soviet Union history and unpleasant experiences of visiting eastern European countries in the 80's, H said a few times, “Russia is a country that I would not mind to visit  with a tour.” 

“Over My Dead Body.” I held my ground. 

So the matter was settled.  Whether we were ready or not, Russia was ready for us.

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