26.09.2012 12 °C
When the Estonian-Air website refused our booking from Amsterdam to St.Petersburg in English, James got crafty and booked it in Estonian. We wondered if this had backfired when we had a quick change in Tallin and found the stewardess of the 34 seat pond-hopper in a tizzy. She already had 30 Chinese tourists and a couple of drunken Russians aboard. But only sober English speakers could be trusted to sit in the Business Class seats next to the emergency exit. Her face lit in relief as we climbed the gangway and she relegated the Ruskies to the rear and gave us the front seats. "This is the way to fly," we agreed as she served us the full meal and perks paid for by the two bulky Russians, now squashed behind us in seats engineered for anorexic elves.
The Chinese tourists felt quite at home in their cramped quarters, however, while most Chinese weigh less than a scrawny chicken, their bags do not. So, to get the plane airborne without the wings snapping off, the safety-conscious Estonians decided that the 2 Russians, 16 of the Chinese and us could manage without our luggage for a day or so.
We were blissfully unaware as we arrived at immigration with all documents in hand - passports, visas, hotel bookings, train reservations etc. The immigration officer, a middle-aged single woman whose face suggested that someone had stolen the battery charger for her vibrator, wanted none of it. She just fiercely stamped our passports with her mind fixated on the loss of her best friend.
Our relief at getting in so easily faded when the smiley woman in "Lost Luggage" said, "Welcome to Russia" and handed us a sheaf of papers the size of a KGB's dissident's file together with an example sheet. "This ought to be easy," said James, scanning the list of personal items and clothes given in the example, and thinking he only had to fill the top form. Wrong! He had to fill all the forms. All 12 forms.
Bored? So were we. But not as bored as the numerous docents like this one guarding exhibits in the Hermitage museum....
Much more about the Hermitage later. Now back to the airport and James approaches the custom’s officer with numerous forms precisely listing our bag’s contents. “No good. I no understand,” snarls the Rosa Klebb look-alike with barely a glance, “Come back tomorrow.”
“Is there a problem Madam,” says James in his finest English, but it might as well be Dutch as she shouts, “You copy example exactly or must come back.”
Back to the “Lost Luggage” desk for another dozen forms while our hotel’s chauffeur wanders the arrival hall counting up his triple overtime. James copies the example precisely this time … 2 Armani suits, 12 shirts, 3 prs. Gucci shoes and a posing pouch, etc. etc. An hour later he triumphantly heads back to customs with the contents list of a well dressed male stripper. Rosa almost smiles. “Zhat is good – now I understand exactly what you have – you go now.”
Twenty four hours later we are relieved when our luggage arrives at our hotel, (minus Armani suits, Gucci shoes, and posing pouch) and we wonder if the 16 Chinese are still at the airport trying to fill out the forms. The drunken Russians were luckier. A policeman summonsed by the smiley “Lost Luggage” girl filled out the forms for them.