August 1, the morning
Our German friend Tobias had written about having to go back and forth between “little houses”. Kim and Peter Dasko told us the road was so bad in places they were down to 20kmh.
But nothing had prepared us for our day spent negotiating the 140km between Narva (Estonia) and St Petersburg (Russia).
Truth be told we were quite ill-prepared: no insurance, no roubles, no map and nothing on the gps except a pink line that indicated only the general direction of our route and destination … an apartment on an island in the heart of Europe’s fourth largest city. And it was raining. What could possibly go wrong.
We had intended to shop for insurance, money and a map in border town Narva. That wasn’t as simple as it sounded and once we started on the border crossing treadmill we couldn’t get off.
The border control point was just around the corner from our hotel but we were advised at the tourist info office to preregister ie book a time (and day) for our crossing. Will we be able to go today? I asked. We have accommodation booked in St Petersburg for tonight.
So off we go to the “little house” number 1, at the transit office a few kms out of town, as dodgy a set-up as you can imagine. A couple of dongers in a vast carpark. A couple of small signs, no information. I was expecting something like an airport terminal. No, no, no.
Show passports to Russian man behind little window. Yes, yes, he gestures. 1 euro 10 cents.
Take passports to “little house” number 2, about 150m across dodgy car park. Show passports to Russian man behind little window. 1 euro. He makes a phone call, hands us a number, and waves us away to the control point, the one near our hotel. Go. Go.
Show number to Russian man behind little window in “little house” number 3 at border control point. Jump one car in queue. Stop at boom gate. It starts to rain. Show passports to man behind another little window. Get Estonia exit stamp.
Drive across no man’s land, a bridge across the river separating these two countries. We could have swum. People are walking across the border, some with umbrellas, most lugging their cases with no protection from the rain. Boom gate. Queue.
A pedestrian urges us to push in up the front. Because we can. And it’s raining.
I arrive at the next little window behind a truckie who hands over two bottles of Coca-Cola with his paperwork.
Show passports to woman who quickly puts away bottles of Coca-Cola. She gives us 3 forms to fill out, one each for Graham and me, one for the bike.
Drive 100m, show passports to another woman who waves us through to another queue. Fill in those forms, both sides I remember Kim saying.
But I haven’t done the bike one properly and the Russian man who speaks no English waves his finger. No. No. No. He brings another form. Exasperated. Pointing. No. No. No. Yes. Sign there. Then he brings another form. Fill it out the same. He is happy. He can stamp them both now.
We take our forms to a queue at another window, to a Russian woman who speaks no English. She wants the bike’s rego papers. She reads them. Over and over she reads them. She calls a colleague who points to the words “registration certificate”. She types something into her computer, hands one of the forms back to us. We must keep it during our visit. We go to another window, another queue.
This time the Russian woman speaks a little English. She looks at our passports and at us. She looks at our bike form and the registration certificate. She looks at the English rego certificate and at Graham’s Australian passport. Bike English. We Australian, we confirm.
She needs an address. An Australian address. I hand over Graham’s international driving permit. Cessnock? Road? Yes, that’s our street. City? Gillieston Heights will be pleased to know it has achieved such status. She stamps our passports and hands us what looks like a receipt.
Surely we are through the last boom gate. Well, almost. Another few hundred metres down the road there is another stop. We hand over our “receipt”. Now we’re on our way to St Petersburg … but how do we get there??