Vexed by visas on long march to Moscow
IÃ¢ÂÂve spent a lot of time sorting out my trip to Moscow for the European Cup final on May 21.
By booking early, I found ÃÂ£395 direct flights with Aeroflot from Barcelona, leaving two days before the game and returning a day later. IÃ¢ÂÂm told that Aeroflot have improved since I last flew with them to Volgograd in 1995 on what seemed like a giant drainpipe with seats in it. And given that the cost of a day trip from Manchester is around ÃÂ£700, I was happy with the price.
The next problem was a match ticket. As IÃ¢ÂÂve been fortunate to see every United away game in Europe this season, UEFA issued my accreditation without any problems. IÃ¢ÂÂd rather be in the United end, but not with the video camera and laptop essential for my work.
A giant drainpipe with seats in it... the Aeroflot airbus A310
I had two more problems to fix Ã¢ÂÂ hotels and a visa. The cheapest hotel I could find was ÃÂ£273 a night. That was the morning after the United Ã¢ÂÂ Barca second leg, so who has booked all 35,000 hotel rooms in Moscow, if they have been booked at all and not held back by greedy hoteliers waiting for a bonanza?
All 38 hostels I looked at had been supposedly snapped up too, yet I know of no more than a handful of United fans who have rooms reserved. A journalist friend kindly said that I can stay in his room, so that was my accommodation sorted and when I heard that the Russian authorities had waived the normal visa requirements for 72 hours around the game I was delighted.
My relief was short-lived. Fans just need to show a match ticket, but as I have accreditation I pick mine up in Moscow Ã¢ÂÂ after entering the country.
So I need to get a visa. UEFA and Alla G. Goncharova, Deputy Chief, Foreign Dept in the Russian government have been very efficient, securing me an invitation stating grandly: Ã¢ÂÂThe Moscow Department for Physical Education & Sport avails itself of this opportunity to renew you the assurance of its highest consideration and has the honour of extending an invitation toÃ¢ÂÂ¦Ã¢ÂÂ one Andrew Mitten, hopefully.
But I still need a visa. Having secured an invite, IÃ¢ÂÂve had to book an appointment Ã¢ÂÂ at a cost of ÃÂ£1.80 made payable to the Russian government Ã¢ÂÂ with the Russian consulate in Barcelona at 10.08am tomorrow morning. I have to present my invitation and a filled in form Ã¢ÂÂ sample question: Ã¢ÂÂHow did your first pet die?Ã¢ÂÂ and will then be quizzed about my proposed trip to Moscow and, depending upon the success of the interview, be invited to spend Ã¢ÂÂ¬33 applying for a visa.
If all goes well, IÃ¢ÂÂll then make a return trip to the consulate to pick up a visa.
'You shall not pass without a valid visa'
Kevin Miles, all round good egg and the man in charge of the football fansÃ¢ÂÂ embassy in Moscow, called the other day. They are producing a fanzine for travelling fans and he wanted some help with the content. Kevin ran a similar fansÃ¢ÂÂ embassy for England fans in Moscow and what he said unnerved me slightly.
Ã¢ÂÂBe very careful,Ã¢ÂÂ he advised. Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂd say one in three England fans that we saw were assaulted or robbed in Moscow. I may sound like a paranoid Geordie but it was the worst place weÃ¢ÂÂve run an embassy in by far.Ã¢ÂÂ
IÃ¢ÂÂm not one for scare stories and always prepare well when travelling. I travelled through Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador last summer around the Copa America without serious problems, despite Venezuela being very dangerous. Granted, I was with two ex-boxers, but what goodÃ¢ÂÂs a decent southpaw against a bullet? We did see a gun pulled and pointed outside a nightclub, but thankfully it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt at us.
With mates going on day trips from Manchester and many more home and away United fans not going at all because of the high cost, I was preparing to spend 72 hours in Moscow writing and making my video diary for Channel M. HereÃ¢ÂÂs the last one from Barcelona from episode 37.
I was going to travel around on the splendid metro, speaking to everyone from Russian Reds to tramps and super models to get plenty of colour, but I fear IÃ¢ÂÂll have to modify my usual approach. Unless the injured John Terry wants to be my bodyguard and miss the game. He was a childhood Manchester United fan after allÃ¢ÂÂ¦