Traveller letters: The great Russian railway scam

ROUBLE AHEAD

We had a very similar experience to your readers (Traveller letters, July 27) while travelling by train from St Petersburg to Kaunas in Lithuania some years ago. Our visas from the Russian Consulate in Sydney expired at midnight on May 29 but we did not cross the border until 2am on the 30th.

We were bundled off the train by guards just after midnight, taken to an office and then to a freezing cold waiting room where we sat and slept until 9am when we were again taken to an office for interviewing.

We were fingerprinted, made to sign documents (all in Russian, I may add) that we had broken laws and then taken to a "bank" where a convenient ATM was on hand. We were then made to withdraw the equivalent of $120 per person (there were four of us) in roubles.

We were then told we would be put back on the same train 24 hours later, that is just after midnight. After reading your letter me thinks this may happen on a regular basis.

Geoff Simmons, Belrose, NSW

Sounds as though Erin Petersen and her husband had an extra mini-adventure as they left Russia, finding their visas didn't stretch to cover their 2am border crossing. A suggestion to future travellers to Russia: request a visa for an extra two days beyond your planned departure date.

The wise travel agent who organised my visa for Russia in 2013 recommended this in case my departure was delayed by illness or for any other reason. A valuable and much appreciated piece of advice especially as I was travelling on my own.

Gail Pryor, Oyster Bay, NSW

CARMEN ON IN

My rave started when I wandered into London's Royal Opera House foyer, which was full of well-dressed champagne drinkers. I asked a doorman why? And I was told it was for a midday performance of Carmen.

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I'd intended going on to the nearby free-entry Russell Gardens, so idly asked ticket prices. Those started at £35 and just rose. As I turned to go, the doorman reappeared and said, "Stop!" I did. It was too crowded to run.

The doorman gave me a free, just-handed-in ticket for that performance as the unable-to-attend ticket-holder merely wanted their ticket used.

The Gardens went on hold as I watched Carmen instead, and now I know that chance can significantly improve your pleasure when travelling.

Philip Derham, Surrey Hills, VIC

LETTER OF THE WEEK: EERO WORSHIP

As an ex-airline employee I thoroughly enjoyed Rob McFarland's article in your special "on the move" edition (Traveller, July 27) about the TWA Hotel at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK)

Eero Saarinen [architect of the original TWA Terminal in which the hotel is built and pictured about with a scale model of the building] was indeed a visionary architect. I believe he was part of the international selection panel that assessed the prospective designs for the Sydney Opera House.

He was a late arrival to the selection process and actually retrieved Jørn Utzon's initially discarded entry as he recognised its enormous potential. We owe Mr Saarinen a great debt of gratitude in Australia, too.

Richard Davies, Hawthorn East, VIC

CHARM OFFENSIVE

I agree with Steve McKenna (Traveller, July 27) regarding the charm of the Malaga region on Spain's Costa del Sol, which he visited during a Viking cruise Barcelona to Bergen.

My wife and I had the privilege of enjoying this cruise in April this year aboard Viking Sea. There is so much that could be written about this cruise, as well as the delightful (in my opinion incomparable) Viking liner and its exemplary crew.

The fortunate passengers voyage from Spain to Portugal, to southern England, Le Havre, Bruges, the canals of Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum.

Finally to the Vikings-founded Bergen to visit Troldhaugen, the home of Grieg and hear his music in the splendid recital centre built next to his home.

John Nicholson, Carlton North, VIC

ROADS LESS TRAVELLED

I would like to thank Brian Johnston for a Traveller article he wrote on Romania with its emphasis on travelling off the beaten track. It inspired our visit in July 2019 to north-eastern Romania.

The painted monasteries of Bukovina – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site – offered a good reason to explore this delightful, less-travelled region.

Beate Josephi, Forest Lodge, NSW

MAN OH MANCHESTER

Regarding your article on Sylvia Plath and the Brontes (Traveller, July 20) and getting to York by rail from London, I frequently go to York and have found bliss flying Emirates direct to Manchester, where the airport is a haven of peace compared with Heathrow.

Right outside the airport entrance is the station, with trains direct to York via Leeds in about 75 minutes. I use Enterprise Car Hire at York Station, who willingly took me on at age 89 when all other hire firms would not. Now I'm 92, I look forward to again doing business with them.

David Purvis, Camberwell, VIC

DIM VIEWS

Regarding the closing of blinds and dimming of light (Traveller, July 2), I never cease to be amazed by the stupidity of people who travel overseas on long-haul flights.

What is one going to see out of a plane window when flying at 39,000 feet? Answer: blue, blue sky and clouds. Have a thought for other passengers as the light shining through the windows at that height is extremely bright.

A personal light for each person is available for use if you don't want to sleep. As to not seeing a flight attendant during your so-called enforced sleeping time – have you ever thought of pressing the button to summon one?

Mike Weiss, Vermont South, VIC

I flew Emirates EK185 from Dubai to Barcelona with the flight departing at 8.15am local time and arriving at 1.25pm local time.

Shortly after departure the window shades were closed and the cabin lights dimmed with the temperature at 28 degrees. I submitted a formal complaint to Emirates and the response was merely that the cabin temperature should be 22 degrees.

They completely ignored my comments that a darkened cabin during a daytime flight would contribute to jet lag. The only logical reason would be that sleeping passengers require less work for the cabin crew.

Ian Gabriel, Mount Waverley, VIC

TRANSPORT YOURSELF

A notable omission from your cover story recommendations for transport museums (Traveller, July 27) is the Automobile Museum in Montevideo, Uruguay.

This little gem seems to be almost unknown. It's hidden away on the sixth floor of a nondescript building, admission is free and the 40 or 50 cars are a delight.

They date from 1899 through to the 1980s and when I've been there, I've been the only visitor. One of travel's best-kept secrets.

Mick Hamilton, Glen Huntly, VIC

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