Traveling abroad in the fluid, flexible way that we do often makes for an exhilirating and rewarding lifestyle. We rarely have to be anywhere at a certain time, and we are free to choose our own itinerary, staying in one place if we like it, or moving on to see new things.
While this is nice, maintaining flexibility is almost required. Actively trying to get much of anything accomplished instead of letting it just "happen" (needing to find a certain shop, purchase a vital item, or locate a specific campsite, for example) often backfires and is nearly always fraught with a disproportionate amount of difficulty.
Today's Very Important Task was no exception: Mailing our passports to Washington, DC to receive our Russian visas.
Step One: To FedEx
We wanted to ship our passports through FedEx. They advertised next-day shipment, one day faster than the more ubiquitous DHL. Tyler found the FedEx location in Athens, marked it on our GPS, and judged that it was about five kilometers away. No big deal. Panniers removed, we carried our weightless bicycles down the flight of stairs to ground level, and set off.
Getting on an unloaded bike after riding with heavy panniers for months at a time is always a tricky thing for me. I hobbled and wobbled as we rode around the city, which was chock full of one-way streets, bizarre colossal intersections, and many, many speeding drivers. I was not a happy camper, bumping over potholes as giant buses blasted by only a few inches away. I did feel like Super Woman when I was able to climb a very steep hill in a high gear like it wasn't even there though!
After a thoroughly confusing four or five kilometers full of riding/walking down one-way streets the wrong direction, we arrived at the street FedEx had listed on their website. It was right where our GPS indicated it should be, too! Except there was no FedEx. It was a residential area, dotted with more dentists' offices and dental supply stores than I have ever seen in my life. Cue the usual round of humbling (and futile) direction-seeking in broken Greek. Eventually, we gave up.
Step Two: Bike Around Athens Hoping To Magically Find a DHL
I had looked up the location of DHL before we left, and sort of marked it on the map. Of course, this is tricky because most of the time we're just guessing—we can't actually read the map. While I am getting better at the Greek alphabet (I like to sound out words as we bike along), street names are often a blur to me, and look about as coherent as this:
Nevertheless, we set off, winding around Athens in the general direction of DHL. When we finally managed to orient ourselves, we couldn't find it, but I did spot a post office! We went inside, were greeted with blank stares, and tried to explain what we needed. After much confusion and one flimsy purchased envelope, we were informed that we were not allowed to mail our passports through Registered Mail (the safest kind). If we did it through Priority mail, it would take about a week to arrive.
No thanks, time is of the essence! The otherwise cold lady did tell us how to get to DHL though. Success!
Step Three: At DHL
We arrived at DHL and were very relieved to find a kind lady working the desk. However, almost immediately, the nerve-wracking round-about processes began again:
DHL Do you have the phone number of the return address?
Us Err, no, but if you'd be so kind as to look it up, we have it online…
DHL The zip code is missing on your return address, do you have that?
Us Err. Nope. (Thankfully one of the employees happened to know it). I thought we were totally prepared, why aren't we prepared!?
DHL: What is your phone number? You have a mobile don't you?
Us: Well yes, we do, but we rarely use it and it's a weird international phone and we don't actually know what our own number is… (We were very sheepish at this point, we should really just memorize that f-ing number). Thankfully, she was nice enough to pull up our website so we could find it.
DHL: The website doesn't work, why is there no website?
Us: No, no, wait, you have to wait, stop hitting ENTER please stop pressing ENTER, no, no stop hitting ENTER! May I come back there for a moment?
DHL: No! You cannot be back here! It is forbidden!
Finally, finally all the papers were signed, we received a tracking number, and it was time to pay. Thankfully the card went through without trouble (though we were fully expecting it to be denied on us just out of spite), and 98 euros later, our passports were on their way to DC.
OOF, Russia better be good! I thought it would be a relief to finally send our passports off, but I think I will feel better once we get them back safe and sound!
We rode home, four full hours after we began project "send a piece of mail", and collapsed on our pull-out bed. Luckily we had the last of this insanely good almond cake I made yesterday (a belated birthday cake for Tyler) to devour and settle our nerves.
We've been asked a numerous times why we're applying for our visas this way. Here are just some of the reasons:
For a business visa (required for the length and nature of our stay) you can only apply within 45 days of entry. When that is possible, we will likely not be near a Russian embassy to do so.
The solution to problem #1 is to get a visa valid so long that it doesn't matter. In our case: 1 year.
We'd apply for it ourselves at the embassy in Athens but there are confusing, constantly-changing regulations about applying for Russian visas outside of your home country. Getting into Russia is imperative for us. We hired a company to arrange everything, unfortunately at great cost. After our experiences trying to get into Libya, we just want this to be taken care of.