September 18 - Birobidzhan

We ran into a problem today that I fear may haunt us for the rest of our trip. In the past, when traveling in the Soviet Union you were required to have the name of every city you intended to visit written on your visa. If a specific city was not listed, you could not, among other things, buy a plane or train ticket to that destination. In theory this system no longer exists, but as I mentioned once before, out here in the Far East, old habits die hard.

Our visas were officially registered in Moscow, but do not list every city which we plan to visit. We were told that this Moscow registration would be sufficient for traveling anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, the woman behind the counter at the Khabarovsk train station did not share this same opinion. She refused to sell Lisa the "foreigners" tickets we needed -- which are considerably more expensive, but the only tickets we are officially allowed to use -- because Birobidzhan was not marked on our visas. Luckily, someone overheard our conversation and suggested that since Birobidzhan is so close -- a little more than three hours by train -- we try our luck at getting tickets for the commuter train, which does not have the same strict requirement of showing documents.

It worked. The irony is that the "commuter train" turned out to be connected to the exact same train we originally tried to buy tickets for. The ordinary Russian commuter tickets cost only 23,000 rubles compared to the 120,000 rubles we should have paid for the "foreigners" tickets.

From what we can tell, it sounds like the policy regarding visas will vary from city to city and can also depend greatly on the person who happens to be selling the tickets. In other words, it's going to be the luck of the draw.

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