I am beginning to realise that the important thing to remember when planning an extended holiday such as this (see below) is not to relax, even for a minute. On Monday evening I foolishly took my foot off the trip-planning pedal for a moment and now all hell has broken loose.
Monday evening marked an important step forward in the process as I managed to wrest my Russian visa from the tight grip of the application agency. Getting a Russian visa is not a task to be undertaken lightly. First you need an invite from a person or organisation within the country – usually the hotel or travel agents with which you have booked. If you are travelling independently, as we are, then this presents something of a problem, as you are also expected to submit the names and addresses of the hotels you’ve booked, even if you haven’t yet booked any. I cobbled together something plausible using the visa support service I found at Way to Russia – they were very quick and reasonably priced, I’d recommend them.
Then you move on to the process of filling out the visa form itself. For this I’d advise plenty of time, a steady nerve and perfect recall of your entire past life. You need to know the dates and addresses of your educational institutions, and – this is the best bit – to list every country you’ve visited in the last ten years, with the year you visited it. I frequently struggle to remember where I was last week, so delving back that far into my travelling history was a bit of a challenge. But it did serve to make me realise how many places I’ve been over the years, and how lucky I am that this stage was a challenge. You fill out the visa form online, print it out then take it not to the Russian Embassy, as you might expect, but to the Russian Visa Application Centre in Old Street. From here on things are relatively straightforward.
So I went back and picked up my newly enhanced passport on Monday, heaving a sigh of relief that they hadn’t turned me down for some reason – the internet being full of rumours about people being refused visas for slight and arbitrary reasons. Then I had a bit of a celebration, and bought some nail varnish for my toes.
Then on Tuesday I decided to check more thoroughly than I had before about the current Tibet permit situation. I knew that the Tibet Tourism Board had changed the visa requirements yet again, but hadn’t really thought through the implications of this change: you’ve always had to get a group visa, but multi-national group visas are now a thing of the past. To go to Tibet now you need to gather together a gang of five of your own countrymen.
My trip to Tibet, therefore, now relies on four or more other Brits descending on Kathmandu in the middle of the monsoon season and deciding to travel to Tibet on the same date. Some frantic searching around on the internet shows me that there do seem to be a few other Brits out there with similar plans, but finding the exact match that I need is proving elusive. The travel agency in Kathmandu is being a bit vague about it all. My flight to Kathmandu is non-refundable, and my plans from Beijing onwards are fixed and unchangeable as well, but now I don’t know what will happen in between – should I cut my losses and plan something else, or just keep my fingers crossed that all will be well once I get to Kathmandu?
The general outline of the Big Trip has also changed because Katia is no longer joining us, having offered a very flimsy excuse about having to finish her ph.d. So it’s just Chris and I: half of a compartment on the Trans-Siberian train. I’m meeting Chris in Beijing on the 6th July – that much is certain. God only knows, at the moment, how I’ll have got there.