Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Comedy of errors, minus the comedy. Part I

The holiday began uneventfully enough. Left the house "early morning" Petersburg time (right about 9am), decided to trust Garmin and although the route was pretty slow, it was all within the time it had calculated for the trip so we weren't delayed. Not too many problems on the road, Zoltan fell asleep and Alex was surprisingly entertained for us not giving her TV to watch.

We got to the border around 11am. Given that the line was a mere 3 cars, we decided not to try to flaunt the red plates and snake ahead. Our turn arrives, we go to the window and present our passports. The lady says something about a "green card" and we understood that was what the Estonian car insurance document was called, so we handed that to her as well as our Russian car insurance documents. After some bad English (them) and very bad Russian (us) we figured they were asking for our Russian car registration document, which is a laminated green card.

Well, the very day before we had been told by someone at the Consulate not to leave that card in the car but instead to leave it in the apartment, in a safe if we have one. So, Terry had brought the card into the house after work. Fewer than 24 hours before this moment, the card sat securely in our glove box. The Russians first try to figure out why we didn't have it. They tell us to go back to our car and wait there. We hand the kids snacks and discuss our options (go home and try again tomorrow. Go home and try again later today. Go home, period) They eventually call us back to tell us to move the car out of the way and they would call to the Estonians and see if they were willing to let us into the country without the Registration. At this point the kids were getting pretty grumpy, so we hauled out the Archos for Alex and got her watching Mickey Mouse, and I nursed Zoltan. Not too much later, they asked for Terry again so he went back to see what the answer would be. The woman gave him our passports and told him to go ahead. By this we assumed she meant the Estonians had OK'd the situation. Ha.

We drive across to the Estonian side of the border and the rigamarole starts again. The official asks for our documents. We hand him our passports. He asks for the insurance documents. We realize they were still sitting in the booth on the Russian side. So, the Estonians let us do a U-turn out and cross the border again. At this point we're pretty happy to have red plates, as we get to jump the line. The line wasn't so long in either direction, but go around a few times and every delay adds up. At this point we're debating just going home but we have to get our insurance documents anyway, as the Russian docs were sitting with the Estonian ones. When we get to the Russian side, on the other side of the fence from where we had been, the woman who greeted us was very confused as to what we wanted. Terry's Russian was up to the task, but just barely. She told us to stay in the car and we saw her going over to the other side. Not too long afterwards, she returned with a folder we recognized in her hands. Our documents!

One more U-turn and one more short drive across the border. We hand the Estonians the passports and insurance docs again. They ask for registration. Sigh.

More waiting as officials decide what to do with us. One official comes up and copies down our VIN number. Eventually they seem to decide the car really, most likely, is ours and they say it's OK to go into their country. Yay!!! It wasn't the several hours at the border that others have encountered, but it was close to 2 when all was said and done.

Here I take a quick digression. The importance of the Registration card is to prove the car is indeed ours, meaning it wasn't stolen. Many stolen cars make their way in or out of Russian and it's a lucrative black market. BUT …. here's the thing … our car is a 1994 medium blue Corolla. Seriously, WTF?? Who would bother to steal the damn thing and who would buy it anyway? We're expecting to drive it til it dies then be required to pay someone to take it away from us. Seriously.

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