Thursday, 7 June 2012

Booking Trains with the Germans and Chinese Visa Issues

The 90 day deadline before we depart London has been reached and we have therefore been able to book the trains for our journey to Russia.

After much research on an increasingly overheating laptop, we booked our tickets through the Deutsche Bahn website - incredibly easy, much cheaper and, as you would expect with Germans, very efficient! 

We leave London St Pancras on the Eurostar departing at 10:57.  This means arriving at the station just before 9.00am to check in and is much more preferable to hanging around all day like excited puppies, eager to be on our way!

All train tickets are booked as far as Warsaw and accommodation booked in Cologne, Warsaw and Vilnius.  We can't book the train from Warsaw to Vilnius online but this is easy to do at the station on the day (allegedly).  This journey is about 11 hours and will be our first taste of many long train journeys through Russia (and also China).  Let's hope we don't get bored otherwise it will not bode too well for the rest of the trip!

The only train left to book before we go is the overnight train from Vilnius to St Petersburg but this can't be done until 45 days before travel.  Once this is booked everything will be organised as far as Beijing.

Waiting for the 25th August to arrive is now becoming tedious.

The 90 day deadline also means we are able to start applying for visas once the letters of invitation are received.  Russia and Mongolia are straightforward as we are visiting for a fixed period, and know our entry and exit dates (and will be able to provide the relevant documentary evidence).

China, however, is proving more tricky.  We are hoping for a 60 day visa (not guaranteed as anything beyond 30 days is issued at the discretion of the Embassy), but we do not have an onward ticket (no flight booked nor are we able to book the train from Nanning to Hanoi) and this is a specific requirement, particularly for visas for longer than 30 days. 

Visa agencies were of no use/help/inspiration whatsoever.  For supposed experts, they are clueless.  We have read of countless travellers who have journeyed through China overland who must have encountered (and overcome) similar problems but the visa agencies I contacted were unable to do anything more than spout the identical requirements found on the China Embassy Visa website.  This obviously requires skill and expertise with copy and paste but it doesn't necessarily demonstrate a particularly in-depth knowledge of obtaining a visa, which begs the question, what on earth are the professional services you are paying for with this organisations?  Money for old rope springs to mind!

However, I did speak to the Chinese Embassy direcct and they were very helpful.  It seems that so long as entry tickets are provided, a hotel booking for our final days in China (done), and an explanation of the nature of our overland journey, there is every likelihood this will be granted (famous last words - watch this space!).

Changbai Shan
Much time has also been spent poring over our enormous map of China, trying to break the country into little bite sized chunks and plan a vague itinerary.  We have agreed that there are certain places that we definitely want to visit but that the route should be flexible and some time left over to allow for impromptu wanderings off the beaten track on a whim and a prayer.  60 days is a relatively long time and we could see so much more than we are planning to, but by rushing around like idiots taking in all the usual sights we both feel we will miss too much of what is real China.

Speaking of China, Mandarin is really bloody difficult and at this stage I doubt any Chinese person will be able to understand one word of what we have learned so far.  We are soldiering on and concentrating more on Mandarin at the moment to try and become more familiar with this completely alien language.  Russian has taken a bit of a back seat but it is very much embedded in our minds and we shall continue to keep up to date and study more furiously before we get to China (and hope we don't forget every Chinese word we've learned so far along the way).

Li River, Guilin - Fishing with Cormorants

And news from the Australian Department for Immigration is that  my vsa should be finalised by October/November (all being well - I'm not counting my chickens!).  Once I've provided an updated police certificate (and provided the visa is granted) the date by which I will have to enter Australia to activate the visa will be 24th May 2013.

So much still to do and less than 12 weeks before we leave.  And I don't even want to think about packing up our stuff to put into storage....



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