PEr FYI

November 7, 2010

Russian visa…have someone who reads Russian check your visa. Will save you money, stress and time.

I now have something in common with William Browder (CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market and the adviser to the award-winning Hermitage Fund), Michel Jean Legrand (French Oscar-winning composer, arranger, conductor, and pianist, famous for conducting the music for Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and the Dalai Lama (Tibet’s spiritual leader). We have all been refused entry into Russia.

If you’re traveling to Russia, you will most likely need a Russian visa. Many people think that it’s super complicated but it’s not true. However, when you get your visa it is necessary to check all information….even though everything is in Russian. You can’t imagine how much money, stress and time you can save by doing just that.

I got my Russian visa in the Russian consulate in Singapore. The error they made was they indicated my nationality as “Singaporean” on my Malaysian passport though I had completed the application form correctly.

I was denied entry when I arrived at passport control in Domodedovo airport in Moscow. They brought me to the consular office where the officer cancelled my visa and re-issued me a new one for US$10. The error he made was that he issued me a single-entry visa instead of a double-entry one which I had originally paid for and obtained in Singapore. Double-whammy. Once again, everything was written in  Russian and I couldn’t understand even if I checked.

A week later, when I boarded a  train in Helsinki at 6.30pm heading to Moscow. Four hours into the journey, when we’d passed the Russian border, customs and immigration officials came on board the train and found that my visa was not valid. Being a single-entry visa, meant that my visa had been used up when I left Moscow the week before. I was asked to disembark from the train at Vyborg, a Russian town, 38 kilometers south from the Russian border with Finland at 11.45pm near midnight. There I was instructed to wait for a taxi on the roadside and leave Russia.

I got into a taxi after almost an hour’s wait and was driven to the checkpoint on the Russian-Finnish frontier. I’ve got to be honest…the movie “Hostel” did flashed through my mind at this point as we shuttled down gravely silent, dark and deserted countryside road for over 40 minutes. The Russian officials at the checkpoint stopped a passing car and instructed the lone driver to fetch me to wherever he was going. I climbed into his car and went with him to Lappeenranta – a Finnish city some 25km from the checkpoint. The driver, Vesa is a big blond Finn who drives a Mercedes Benz ASF959, has a heart of gold. He dropped me at a hotel called Cumulus at 3.00am  and offered to pick me up the next day to Helsinki if I needed a ride.

However, I managed to get a flight on Air Baltic flight BT1384 from Lappenranta to Riga, Latvia at 0745hours and then onwards to Frankfurt on Air Baltic flight BT241 at 1305hours.

Those couple of errors on my visa, resulted in denial of my entry and totally screwed up my  plans. Therefore it is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check your visa prior to your departure from your home country.

Oh by the way, there apart from the visa lesson, a few other things I learned from this adventure:

1. Never again shall I train in this Orient Express (not. More like Ordeal Express)  from Helsinki to Moscow. The food is pathetic and the sleeping cabins are fully remote control….that is I can do everything from my bed (see photo)

2. I now know that Lappeenranta’s airport is the oldest airport in Finland.

This is the true truth and I say it as it is…

May 20, 2010

Saudi Arabian Airlines….never again. Ever!

My strong recommendation: avoid this airline like the plague. Saudi Arabian Airlines is to be avoided at all costs. Do not fly on this airline. Otherwise, this may happen to you…

BeRt and I transited in Riyadh from Jeddah on our way to Doha. Our luggages have been checked through to Doha but we had to obtain our RUH-DOH boarding pass while in transit. The staff refused to check us onto the SV542 because we did not have an electronic visa, even though we vehemently pointed out to him that the Qatar Embassy website states that Malaysian and American passport holders will have VOA (Visa on Arrival) in Doha. He then proceeded to offload one luggage while the other luggage was flown to Doha….without the passenger! We had to purchase two extremely expensive tickets to fly out of Riyadh to Dubai (on SV554) on the spot. Surprise, surprise…it was cash only sale…no credit cards accepted.We had to sprint like an Olympic gold medallist to the ATM downstairs to withdraw the SAR2,300 to pay for the tickets. It took a lot of phone calls, persuasion, cajoling, begging to get those airport staff with a major indifferent attitude to get the luggage out of Doha and re-routed to Dubai. The luggage finally arrived in Dubai 30 hours later…and in a trashed up condition as well. (Why are we not surprised anymore at this stage?)

Oh yes, that same airport staff who denied us to board the plane subsequently told us to try to fly on Qatar Airways to Doha. If he was sure that we couldn’t gain entry into the country because we did not have an electronic visa, how could we get in if we’d flown a different airline? The bloke obviously realised by then that he’d made a mistake. A few other colleagues of mine got into Doha on VOA the next day without any problems. We are of the same nationalities.

Cabin crew are rated poor for appearance, atrocious for service, poor for comprehension, equally poor for assistance during flight. The service isn’t the best in the business, but it might qualify as the worst.

Had the worst travelling experience by Saudi Arabian Airline. My review may be harsh and somewhat silly to some, but here are the ratings I will give you:

On a scale of 1-10

Value for Money : 3
Service: 2 (if you don’t mind getting burned from a flight attendant pouring tea on you then go ahead and risk it)
Seats: 4 (the plane SV1026 from Jeddah to Riyadh must be at least 30 years old)
Ground: 0 (The staff basically do not care)
Ticketing: 1 (You can’t even purchase a ticket and make payment online)

Do not consider Saudi Arabian Airlines for any travels unless you are prepared to tolerate the service, the airport and more so – if you must transit via the Kingdom. This is the absolute true truth and I am saying it as it is.

May 8, 2010

Robinsons Singapore…membership “dis-privileges”?

“OCBC Robinsons VISA Platinum Card is the only one card that gives you more privileges” Huh? How is this possible??

One of the benefits is invitation to Cardmember Events…like private closed door sales events. A piece of mechandize which was not on sale during the closed door event had a 20% discount the next day…during the general public sale day.

Free parking is one of the benefits. But recently a cashier double-charged us for an item, and when we went back to Centrepoint to get refunded,we were charged parking fees of over $3. Any chance for waiver? We’d asked. Certainly not. At Robinsons, they give you the “privilege” to pay for mistakes their staff makes.

“The card that gives you more…?”

Definitely.

The card that gives you more feelings that you’ve been discriminated against and not appreciated. That’s the true truth and I am saying it as it is.

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