Sunday, 17 June 2018

Camping & Caravanning Club Escorted Tour. The Baltic States. Getting Ready.

Back in the dreary depths of November 2017 and fresh back from our African trip, we were soon up at Birmingham for a Caravan & Camping Club Presentation Day on Escorted Tours. To be honest we really went because we fancied a trip to Scandinavia and thought an escorted tour may be a good lead in. Before long we found ourselves seriously considering a trip to Russia and then Greece. In the cold light of day on our return home we had soon booked The Baltic States and Greece. Two escorted tours to start up our first full year of retirement!

The journey to The Baltics has proved a long and sometimes fraught experience. However, we kept going with the planning and finally made it!

Step 1. Insurance. Our insurance was cheap and very adequate with Comfort. Little did we know the hoops we would have to jump through to get insurance to travel to Russia. The Camping & Caravanning Club did mention insurance when I booked the trip, but not how difficult it would be to get except through them! We phoned all the major players and had real problems getting insurance  mainly due to the fact our van was new and expensive. Eventually we insured through the club at double our existing costs, with an Russian extension for five days. The final hoop we had to get through for insurance was a tracking system which we also had to have installed. Luckily a fairly cheap and cheerful  system passed muster and step one was completed. The last and least favourable alternative was to give up on the Russian leg and stay in Estonia instead, or leave the van in Estonia and do a hotel stop in Russia.Again, the insurance would not allow us to leave the van unless it was in a secure compound. It was pay up to the insurance company or cancel. we paid!

Step 2. The Visa. Another Magical Mystery Tour! A weekend away would be called for either in London, Manchester or Edinburgh. To get a Russian Visa you have to fill out a massive form online and then present yourself at a Russian Office to be scrutinised and finger printed! Before you can do this you need a letter of introduction from the campsite/hotel you are staying at. Great fun. We received our letter from the Camping & Caravanning Club once...... our names were spelt wrongly. The second one arrived only for one of us. Eventually at the third attempt it was right. Off we went to Manchester, forms duly filled in, we waited and eventually £298, later we got a visa! This trip was racking the costs up. The visas in our passports look very impressive! Oh, make sure your photos are less than 6 months old, courtesy of the chemist shop round the corner from the Visa office we managed some new pics. Hot tip... the Manchester office we used was probably less stressful to use than London and easier parking.

This whole visa operation would have been far less fraught if we had received the information we needed to complete Visa applications with more time to spare. As it was we had to pay in full before our visas were granted, although The Camping & Caravanning Club did say they would refund us if we were turned down.

Step 3. International Driving Licenses and Log Book translations. Courtesy of The Post Office and the AA, both managed and fairly cheap.

Step 4. Medication list, signed and stamped by our GP. Fortunately they didn't charge us! Another last minute request.

We were done and actually off to St Petersburg among other Baltic States.

How could the process be improved? Well a direct line to the girls at the club who did the booking would have been so much easier. The answer to a simple query took so long . By the time you had gone through the automated system loop and then been waiting to be called back, was so frustrating. Visa invitations took too long to get to us! We had already left home for our trip when the final co-ordinates for the camp sites had been sent to us. Thank goodness for our friendly wi -fi!

Well, We are finally ready. 
Roubles. zloties and euros at the ready. Van packed and Buzz is excited!