Russia requires a visa for American tourists. In order to get off of the ship in Russia, we had to be associated with a tour company or else apply for our own visa. We did look into the process of getting a visa, but visiting the Russian embassy in Madrid didn't work into our schedule at the time, so we had to find a tour to take.
We were too late to get in the ship tours, so we found another company that had decent reviews and signed up for the two day St. Petersburg comfort tour. Comfort meaning you walked less or something.
After waiting in line for a while to get off the boat thru security, we joined another line. The passport control in Russia was ungainly and stressful and is often the case we seemed to have chosen a line that it was the person's first day on the job. Each person had to show a visa or a tour company invitation/guarantee. It became more and more tension filled for us as we realized the meeting time for our tour had come and gone. The information they sent us said that someone would be waiting for us no matter what, but we felt bad.
We finally got thru about a half hour late. We are not habitually late people so we were stressed by this. We came out and similar to an airport lounge there were many people with signs but with the names of tour companies. We scoured the signs. None with our company. Uh. Oh. We asked one of the other guides, "Do you know if anyone from Alla is here?" She looked around and said no she didn't see anyone. We saw buses outside so we went to investigate. No signs so we asked a couple bus drivers if they knew of our company or if it was there. No dice.
We tried to go back inside and check the signs again, but a police officer guarding the door forbade it. He said we needed to wait outside and our tour company would find us. After 10 minutes or so, it was evident that this was futile.
We saw the hop on and hop off buses waiting in the parking lot and we were considering if we should do that. We knew we were supposed to be with the company that showed on the visa, but what do you do when you are abandoned? Stuck in St. Petersburg.
We went around to another entrance back into the port terminal. The policeman at this entrance was distracted by people talking to him so I slipped in. I looked at the area where people were holding signs. Still no one for our company. I gave up and turned toward the shops at the other end hoping I would find an ATM so we could get some money.
As I'm walking, someone on a bench starts yelling at me, "No, no, no." I was startled and I stared. It was a woman sitting on a bench not holding up the sign lying in the seat next to her. She picks it up and it says "Alla Tours." Before words come out of my mouth she starts angrily saying this is unacceptable over and over again, so I cannot speak. "There is no excuse. No excuse." Being in line for an hour and a half was not good enough for her. Actually she wouldn't listen to me and just kept yelling about unacceptable and no excuse. I was stunned because she wasn't even trying to hear me or be polite or anything. We have contracted for a very expensive service and this is our greeting. Yes we are late but we are customers. I know customer service is weak to non-existent in Europe, apparently the same in Russia. Then she said she had to call and stop them from reporting us to the police because they'd sent someone to report us! Yikes. We've been in Russia 30 minutes and already we are getting reported to the police. I'm guessing all the old Soviet ways haven't worn off completely. She got on the phone and stopped someone from reporting us and rudely handed us off to an underling to drive us across town to meet up with the tour.
It got better from there! (more next time on St. Petersburg)