The Story Of The Russian Visa

Apr 9, 2013 by


St. Petersburg, Russia

It was the moment of no return, no looking back, no changing my mind. I handed her the envelope, and as she grasped it and nonchalantly tossed it in her bag, I wondered if I’d ever see the contents of that package again.

“Please, Julia,” I repeated. “When you send it back, make sure you send it with registered post.”

“Of course,” she said, her Scottish accent lightly shrugging off my worry.

“It’s really important,” I said. “If it’s not registered, I can’t track it. And I need my passport for the rest of my trip.”

You are probably wondering why I’m handing Julia an envelope with my passport in it. If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ve concluded it has something to do with a Russian visa. Here’s what happened.

In 2004, I moved to England. I worked and volunteered there for 7 months. Before I left, I booked a trip to Scandinavia and Russia through an organised tour group. At 18/19, it was the one compromise I had with my parents: if I was going to be in Europe by myself, I was at least going to travel with other people. I also planned to visit some of Eastern Europe for 2 weeks and travel with a couple of friends for a month before I was to go to Scandinavia and Russia.

Having booked the trip to Russia, I saw that I required a visa. No sweat, I thought. I prepared my documents as they had instructed me to do, and I sent my papers off nice and early to get that out of the way before I left England. I was going to Marbella, Spain to study Spanish for 5 weeks.

My passport was returned to me quite promptly, I recall, and when I opened the envelope, I was dismayed to see that there was no Russian visa in my passport, just a piece of paper that someone had highlighted. The writing under the yellow ink stated that I could not apply for a Russian visa earlier than 90 days before I was intending to travel there. That timeframe had me applying for the Russian visa while I would be in Spain.

No sweat, I thought. I would just apply there.

Off I went to Spain. I remember my friend and mentor, Tina, a teacher at the school where I had been volunteering that year, dropping me off at the train station. She waited with me until the train came, and as I boarded, she kept her eye on me until I found a seat. As the train slowly began to chug away from the platform, she gleefully ran alongside the train, waving and laughing. It was one of my last memories of Tina, one of my last memories of England.

It wasn’t the only goodbye like that I’d had that year. I’d said a similar goodbye to my parents only a couple of months earlier at King’s Cross station. Only, they didn’t run and wave in glee. They stood calmly together, side by side and just looked at me. They seemed small, even before the train started moving, and I felt sad. A couple of tears rolled down my cheeks as I realised how much I had missed them before they came to visit and how much I was going to be missing them again. It was one of those movie moments that make you think this isn’t a movie moment… this is a real life moment that the movies stole.

When I arrived in Spain, Julia was one of the first people I met there. She was kind and spritely and chatty. She very quickly became the first friend I made in Marbella.

The details begin to get hazy at this point in the story. When I looked into applying for my Russian visa from Spain, for some reason or other, I found out I was confined to applying in England. I don’t remember why, but I’ll just chalk it up to bureaucratic bull red tape. It was then that my friendship with Julia seemed to be serendipitous. As she was only there for 2 weeks (next to my 5), I realised that I had the opportunity to apply for my Russian visa through her. We discussed it, and it seemed to make perfect sense. So I got all my documentation in order, and I handed over my identity to the Scottish girl I barely knew but I who I trusted enormously. She assured me it would be alright.

As the days went on after Julia had gone home, she sent off my application and got the visa back in no time. It was then time for her to send my passport back to me in Spain. By then, I had been without a passport for probably a week. She informed me that she took my passport down to the post office and the wee man had taken care of it for her.

I remember emailing her back and asking her for a confirmation number, a tracking number, someway of monitoring my passport’s progress in its European jaunt. She told me she didn’t have one and reiterated that the nice wee man at the post office had sent it off for her and had told her it would be okay.

What about me? The nice wee man hasn’t told me how okay this will all be! This is my passport. If I don’t have a passport, I can’t leave Spain, and I had so many plans ahead of me. I was going to Eastern Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland), and then I was flying to meet my friends and we were going to see England, Italy, Slovenia and Germany together. After that, I was flying to Copenhagen to begin my trip in Scandinavia and Russia. It all seemed out of reach suddenly.

As Julia made it more than obvious that there was no tracking mechanism on my passport, I resigned myself to not knowing my fate. Each day that went by, I would check with the school (where my mail was being sent) to see if anything had arrived for me. Each day, the receptionist looked sad and shook his head. Every day they expected me, and every day there was no good news.

Eventually my 5 weeks was up in Spain, and the day that I was to fly out of Málaga came and went. I missed my flight and plunged into a sort of depression. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Eventually, if my passport didn’t come, I would have to make some decisions. I would have to consider the possibility of obtaining a new passport entirely.

During my stay in Marbella, I was living with a Spanish family. This Spanish family was in the form of a kind lady named Maria who made me grilled fish with big chunks of salt and simple salads with oil for dressing and introduced me to one of my favourite Spanish treats, a fruit called nispero. 

I left Maria’s home and went to stay with a girl from my class, even though Maria had offered to keep me on for free at her place. I felt too horrible, too depressed, too in-the-way. I was imposing, and I had made a horrible mistake. So I went to my classmate’s home, where she was an au pair for a Spanish family. I slept on her bedroom floor for a week, and still every day, I would head to school, hopeful that my passport would be there waiting for me. Every day: nothing.

I spent my days on the phone with the tour company, trying to see what we could arrange if my passport came back before the trip was over. I called home to talk to my parents to give them the empty daily updates. I would hop on the city bus and cruise around Marbella with no agenda. Usually I’d end up at a grocery store where I’d buy a box of cereal, make my way to a park and sit on a bench with my hand in the box of cereal.

A week had gone by.

Finally one morning, I was on the phone with my dad, and he was curt. “Okay, Colleen. This is what you have to do. You have to accept that your passport isn’t coming. Today, you’re going to pack up your stuff, get on the next bus to Madrid and go to the Canadian embassy. You’ll get a new passport, and while you’re there, you are going to see what you can do about getting a Russian visa.”

Okay, I thought. At least there’s a plan of action now.

I headed to the school to tell them what I would be doing and to check my emails before I left.

When I walked into the school, the receptionist greeted me, this time with a smile.

“Buenos días, Pablo,” I said to him.

“Buenos días,” he returned, with a beaming smile. “I have something for you.”

That’s when he turned around and collected something from a pigeon hole. He swung back around on his chair and placed an envelope on the counter. My heart soared. I grabbed the envelope and tore it open. There, inside, was my passport, and in that passport was the bloody Russian visa. All I remember was involuntarily spinning on the spot, round and round and round. I was so happy, so elated, that I didn’t even know what to do with my body.

From there, I was able to meet up with my group in Hungary. I travelled with my two friends as planned. Then, at the end of it all, I made it to Scandinavia and Russia just as I’d intended all along.


So young, so naive, but very much in Russia.

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  1. Yay! See, sometimes Colleen you just need someone else to touch it. As soon as someone else touches the challenge and points us in a direction… we find what we needed. Crazy but it really works. Test this with something small, like the next time you “lose” your keys. You’ll be convinced!

    • Colleen

      Can you tell me how this would work with keys..? I’m always interested to hear your input on what I write. So this was an interesting comment to get. Please elaborate! I like where this is going.

      • Sure. Well that was a bit of a metaphor but anytime you feel something is missing tell your dad, or anyone important to you. They’ll “touch” it (shed light on it, give you clear direction) and you’ll find it.

        You could apply it to a lost set of keys. They’ll listen to talk about where you were and what you were doing, why you need to find them and… poof! They’ll make a suggestion that helps you find them.

  2. I was holding my breath the entire time! Something similar happened to me and I lost thousands of dollars, because of a missed trip. 🙁

    • Colleen

      🙁 I missed half of my trip too… I missed the Czech Republic and Austria and the starting part where everyone met up in Germany. I was lucky to visit the Czech Republic and Austria a few years later, but it was really sad at the time, and yes, I lost money too (and also had to buy a very expensive last minute flight to Budapest).
      Looks like this sort of thing happens to the best of us…

  3. Good Lord! What a story. Glad you’ve made it to Russia.

    • Colleen

      Yes, good lord is right! There is a sort of part B to this story though… 😉

  4. mom and dad

    It is arugable who was more traumatized here – the 18 yearold weeping on into a payphone on a Marbella street corner or the parent who picks up the phone at 5 am in a cold sweat…

    • Colleen

      So this is what it takes to get you to comment…
      Sorry I’ve traumatized you hahahaha!

  5. Oh no! That was a really tense time. I’m glad everything worked out in the end and you made it to Russia!

    • Colleen

      Tense is one way of describing it. Yes, I’m glad I made it to Russia too. It was an unforgettable trip!

  6. Great story! Your Pop seems like a very level headed fella. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

    • Colleen

      Thanks! Looking forward to hearing more from you. Dad definitely is super level headed. I’m lucky to have him as a dad, that’s for sure!

      • You bet. They sure are important. If you have time, check out my post called Twin Houses | About Me and About Today.

      • I hope this isn’t a duplicate. I tried replying a different way earlier. Cherish your folks as they’re very important. If you have time, check out my post Twin Houses | About Me and About Today. I think you’ll like it.

  7. Emy

    Great post! 🙂
    And you look so cute on the pictures!

  8. Talk about timing! I would be a mess too if my passport was just out there and I had no idea where. I’m glad it eventually showed up though!

    • Colleen

      I was a total mess!
      I’m glad I’ve been able to turn this story into something people have enjoyed. Thanks for choosing it for your stumbling feature. 🙂

  9. Had a similar thing happen in Ukraine on the way to Belarus. Got to the Belarusian embassy after waiting 2 days and 2 hours each in the summer heat on the concrete sidewalk outside, only to have the guy tell me that it was only for Ukrainians to get their visa, and I had to go back to the US to do mine. I had such a sad look on my face that they said “But we’ll do it anyway.” Always a good idea to make plans for plans to change.

    • Colleen

      Wow, how lucky! Yeah, sometimes the bureaucracy is just crazy. I’m glad you were able to get your visa okay even after standing in line and nearly being turned away.

  10. Jees louis! I never sent my passport through the mail, I would be biting my nails if it didn’t arrive to the minute. I hope your trip in Russia was worth the headache. 🙂

    • Colleen

      It was definitely worth all the worry… And actually, when you need a visa, it is common to have to apply via mail. The problem was that my friend hadn’t sent it by registered mail. I’ve since applied for numerous visas sans problem. Maybe I’ve learned my lesson! 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by – hope you visit again!

  11. Great story! Glad it all worked out in the end!!!

    • Colleen

      Oh god, me too! Thanks for stopping by! Come again!!!

  12. That sounds so frustrating, Glad your passport wasn’t lost forever!

    • Colleen

      So true… I have so many cherished stamps and visas in that passport.. well, in all my passports really!

  13. Wow, that’s a crazy story. I have stories about visas to but I never entrusted a stranger with my passport. You are BRAVE. So happy it had a great ending.

  14. Omg, I would be such a ball of emotional stress! I can also imagine making the same choices you did. When I was younger a visa was just an easy thing you paid for, no big deal. Now after the Indian visa and a Myanmar visa, and a mistake on my Spanish visa I DESPISE them and realize how much of a pain they can really be.

    • Colleen

      Yeah, live and learn right? I see visas totally differently now too. I’m so so careful when I apply for them now, and even then, you never know what might be the outcome.

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