A few weeks ago my beloved handed me a plastic folder assuring me that it contained everything he needed for his Russian visa application for a forthcoming trip. Now, it’s not that I didn’t believe him, I’m sure it contained everything he thought he needed. But it’s been awhile since we had to apply for a Russian visa, plus the process is made more complicated with our French residence and my husband’s inability to be separated from his passport for more than a day.

In years past we’ve been able to obtain the visa the same day from either the Russian embassy in Marseille or the one in London. The plan was to pop into the embassy in Marseille on our way down to the Basque country. I felt however that it was incumbent on me to check exactly what was required. I discovered that while the embassy still handles applications, it can no longer turn them around in a day and, such has been the demand for visas, that they’ve outsourced the process to a Russian-manned visa handling service in Marseille which has the advantage of longer opening hours than the Embassy. I booked my beloved an appointment for the Friday and started to complete the new on-line 15-page application form which seemed to require an amazing amount of information.

I had to give details of my beloved’s degree a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry and Management and then, later on in the form, had to assert that he had  no competence with chemical processes! My problems began when the form asked me to list all his earlier Russian visas. I have details for the last seven years, but no further back. I was also required to list every country he’d ever visited in the last ten years giving the date of visit day/month/year! Now if he hadn’t lost his passport back in 2010, I would have been able to at least list all those countries who’d stamped his passport.

Just to be on the safe side I contacted the visa service who didn’t seem to fussed and told me to list what I could remember. I had to complete the form, all 15 pages of it, 4 times before everything was correctly recorded as it kept logging me out after 20 minutes. I thought I could retrieve saved data but that turned out not to be the case. I could only save it once fully and correctly completed. I carefully checked through the documentary requirements, I had everything they appeared to be asking for, so I checked what I’d done last time. I’d had to get an “attestation” in French and Russian confirming that my beloved had the appropriate level travel insurance. So this was requested from our insurer and it arrived in time for our departure to Marseille.

We arrived early in Marseille and decided to head straight to the office of the visa-handling service ahead of our appointed time. Just as well we did. Although my husband had booked his hotel and flight, the hotel was required to send him yet another form to complete which he had to return to the hotel who would then issue him with a duly stamped tourist voucher. We struck lucky, the lady processing our application assisted us with obtaining the missing paperwork which took three calls on my beloved’s mobile to expedite. Noting that we lived in France she demanded proof of our residence such as an electricity bill. This would have been no use whatsoever as it’s in my name. Luckily the insurance “attestation” stated my husband’s address! Almost home and dry.

While all this was being dealt with at least four people came to request a visa and were sent away as they did not possess the correct paperwork. Finally we paid and left in the belief that it’ll be waiting for us on our return on 8 April. If not…………….My beloved will have to spend a day at the Russian embassy in London trying to speed up matters otherwise he won’t be going to Russia. So far we have expended 10 man hours – excluding travel time – Euros 80,00 on petrol and tolls plus Euros 134, 00 for the visa itself.

The agency has set up a special desk for the handling of visas for those going to the winter Olympics in Sochi next year. I have a few words of advice, start the process now!

Postscript: On the way back from Spain we popped in to the Visa Agency to collect my beloved’s Russian visa which had been processed and was happily waiting for us – success.

He’s on his way

A number of you have asked how did my friend’s son fare in his race two weeks ago. Well, despite agonising cramp, he went on to finish third. But he wasn’t happy – only the top step will do. So last week-end in a 6km time-trial up the Col du Tanneron he finished first in his category. However, his greatest pleasure was beating his two-minute man to the line. This was an eighteen year old – four years older – who set off two minutes ahead.

He was racing again this morning in Marseille so the week-end followed a similar pattern to that two weeks’ ago. I picked him up on Saturday afternoon after checking carefully that he had everything he needed. He was pleased as punch that his Dad had lent him some lighter racing wheels and had given him an early birthday present of new red and white cycling shoes and sunglasses. When we arrived back at the flat I left him to amuse himself while I whipped up one of his favourite meals: home-made lasagna followed by creamy rice pudding. Surely enough carbohydrates to fuel the team let alone my little cup-cake. He went to bed early. Racers can never get enough rest!

I woke in the early hours and assumed that it was my beloved’s snoring which had disturbed me. I rolled over and went back to sleep, rising a 04:30am to make him muesli and banana muffins for breakfast. I packed his musette with plenty of muffins to share with the other kids. I woke him at 05:15am and he appeared almost immediately, fully-dressed in his racing gear, in the kitchen. He admitted hat he’d woken up at 02:30, washed and dressed and found his way to the kitchen. It was all in darkness, so he’d retraced his steps, noticing that his bedside alarm clock  showed 02:45, he climbed back beneath the covers for some more shut-eye.

We had our usual chat about tactics on the way to the drop off point. It was tipping it down with rain and I hoped that the weather would be kinder in Marseille. It was. I’ve just spoken to his mother and she told me he’d won the race. No doubt I’ll hear all about it over dinner this evening. So, a quick recap, he’s been riding eight months, he’s done six races and has three wins, a third and two top tens. Not a bad haul!

My weekly call

My friends’ son tends to call me at least once a week. Having set him on the road – we hope – to a career as a professional rider, he likes to keep me abreast of his progress. He recently won his first race against stiff and older opposition. To say he was as pleased as punch would be a veritable understatement. Me, I regarded it as the first in the long line of many victories.

This week, the call came early, Tuesday evening. He needed to ask me for a favour. He’s racing in Marseilles this week-end and the rendezvous point is in Antibes at 6:00am on Sunday morning. Even before he asked, I confirmed he could a) stay overnight and b) I would drop him off in Antibes on Sunday morning.  In truth, I haven’t changed the bed linen since he last spent a few days with us, indeed he refers to our guest bedroom and bathroom as “his bedroom and bathroom” and, you know what? No one’s arguing.

I got another call Wednesday evening which gave me an opportunity to check what he should eat Saturday evening – pasta. Plus, I need to prepare a cold pasta salad for him to take to the race. No problem, I can always rustle up a pasta dish. He needed to ask me for another favour. Would I pick him up in Antibes after the race? I’d already factored that into the equation, so again no problem. Like me he works on the basis that if you “don’t ask, you don’t get”.

You might wonder why I’m so willing to lend a hand. Frankly, I admire his determination. He organises everything himself and, if I said “no”, I’m quite sure he’d be setting off from home in the dark to get to Antibes on time. He’s deadly serious and is even working much harder at his studies at school because I’ve told him that he needs a Plan B. He also needs to work on his language skills to broaden his choice of professional team. An incentive to work even harder at his English, not that he needs much of an excuse. He’s one of my English pupils and has made really good progress.

You might be asking what do I get out of this. Nothing, I just enjoy watching his progression. While he’s young enough to be my grandson, I don’t regard him in that ilk and he, thankfully, doesn’t see me as a substitute grandmother; more an aunt. Moreover, an aunt who’s on his side, in whom he can confide and with whom he can do fun things.

Saturday evening after dinner, we’ll get everything ready for a speedy departure on Sunday morning, including having a chat about this weeks’ Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. In addition, I want to hear all about his win. I’ve read about it, but it’s not the same as hearing it first-hand. We’ll also have a brief chat about his forthcoming race, his role and tactics. I’ve already told him that his Mother should get all of his bouquets and he can dedicate his first professional win to me. Until then I’m more than happy to help out whenever and however.