Our border crossing is booked for 8am the following morning, and it’s a near sleepless night for me. There is lots of paperwork and preparation gone into making this happen.
Getting into Russia as a tourist is relatively easy, on a 30 day visa, but mine is more complex. I’m entering on a multi entry, 90 day visa, Russia-Mongolia-Russia and that has special requirements. I need an invitation from a business ‘sponsor’ and for this I sought the help of an agent in Auckland, =$$.
Also we have the issue of importing a motorcycle on a temporary import permit, and this looked rather problematic for me, as the bike is registered in my name in Zürich Switzerland (which was very difficult to achieve - thanks Ingo) but I have a New Zealand passport.
Russian border officials are known to be wary of anything out of the ordinary, as it's common for vehicles to be stolen in Europe and driven back into Russia for sale.
It all means lots of paperwork and lots of preparation. I’d read online lots of stories from motorcyclist travelers crossing into Russia, and of the multitude of issues that can ensue. Anyway my near sleepless night begins at 2.30 am, and being so far north it’s never truly dark so I’m now wide awake checking and rechecking my list of paperwork again.
By 7am we are on the road, it’s only 16 km down to the border crossing, but things are not so simple. First we must ride to the border crossing ‘holding area’ which is actually nowhere near the border, in fact it’s on the other side of town.
Here the bike’s registration number is photographed and we are allocated a lane to line up in rows, until a man in a pill box displays our registration number on a big screen. Then, and only then, you may approach and show him your passport and vehicle rego. We wait nearly an hour standing in the cold, beside the bike, wondering what’s going on.
Finally our numbers are showing, we do the passport check and follow the signs through town towards the border crossing. When we get closer, we realize we are now in a long line of cars and progress has halted.
We are still on the Estonian side of the Narva river, separating West from East. Slowly we inch forward, one vehicle at a time, until we finally reach the very nice buildings of the Estonian passport control.
Here they check our details, stamp our papers and we are through. It was easy! Yay, we are through!..... but then we realize, only into no man’s land...
Now the waiting really begins and we slowly move our way down to the Narva river bridge, and on the bridge, still in ‘no mans land’. We wait, and wait, and wait some more.
Finally it’s our turn and we are invited onto the Russian side of the river and into yet another queue of vehicles leading to the border security area. What a change from the swanky new EU funded border control back in Estonia! The border area in Russia is dilapidated. Surly looking officials with those silly looking big Russian military caps are walking around with seemingly nothing to do, as the drivers and vehicles are being processed, one by one.
First we must present at the passport control ‘office’ and have our passport and visa scrutinized. To speak to the border control official we must bend down and look through the tiny open window, at about navel height. What’s this about? I look around me and see cars with Russian plates. I look at the drivers, and none of them appear to be dwarfs, so why have the window so low? Are we meant to be on our knees perhaps? Poor Ingo, he is about a foot taller than me!
But apart from cramped back muscles, we encounter no problems, and our passports are stamped. Next we are called to the customs office where the papers for our motorcycles are examined. The officials speak no English, and my entire understanding of the Russian language is restricted to ‘Da’ and ‘Nyet’ (yes and no), but the stern lady in the uniform realizes I need to fill in the forms in English and also in duplicate, one copy for her, and one for me. The big rubber stamp comes out again, and we are through!
Next, I need to buy the compulsory 3rd party bike insurance. I get out my iPad and with the help of Google Translate, I’m told where in the nearby village I can buy it. 18$NZ for 2 months. Not bad.
Thank you Russia. Mission accomplished... It took us 5 1/2 hours but finally we are in. Russian efficiency! Unbelievable...
Later the same afternoon, Kathy flew into Pulkovo airport at Saint Petersburg from Amsterdam. It took her less than a minute to pass through immigration. We’d been apart 8 days... рад тебя видеть (good to see you) darling!