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'Wait, you can leave Russia?!'
'I thought everyone got drafted or something'
'It took you HOW many flights to get here?!'
Step 0: Live in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Start playing Netrunner again in 2022, pretty much during the last Worlds season. Get really excited about the game in general and Organized Play in particular. Later see the Worlds 2023 announcement and dream about going to the most prestigious event for your favorite hobby. Have 0 EU travel experience, 0 documents needed for traveling and a rusty spoken English. Have an average Russian monthly wage (a pretty low number by European standards), some side jobs and savings. Have no real world connections to the Netrunner crowd abroad. Start thinking that, wild as it might be, it might just be possible to make it to Barcelona in October. Maybe. Somehow.
Step 1: Start looking up information on traveling abroad during these trying times.
Step 2: Find a travel forum which has a lot of relevant but unsorted and unfiltered info. That would come in handy many times later.
Step 3: Spend time learning more about the kind of documents needed for a visa, and also about other people's experiences, both successful and unsuccessful, in applying for one.
Step 4: Still uncertain about the trip, start making baby steps by applying for an external Russian passport, aka international travel passport or "foreign" passport. This one is a separate document to the internal passport everyone has, and has to be applied for and issued separately.
Step 5: Learn that because you moved to a different region and never registered there, which is rather commonplace, the procedure would take up to 3 months instead of 1. This, combined with the visa wait that would follow, even if everything goes smoothly, means that the chances of making it in time for the trip aren't great to begin with, but manageable.
Step 6: A full month later, get called to the closest MVD office you were automatically assigned to, in order to provide your photo and sign the application.
Step 7: Come according to the schedule on Gosuslugi, wait in a 30-people queue only to learn that you applied for a different type of passport and should only come on Wednesdays.
Step 8: Read up on a bunch of 1★ reviews of this exact office, with a proud average of 1.6★ across 350 reviews, getting called all kinds of names on a public map service. Not the greatest of starts.
Step 9: Come on a Wednesday before the MVD office working hours, only to see a whopping 130+ people queue already formed in front of you.
Step 10: Sign up on a piece of paper because the electronic queue system is out of order (has been for years according to the reviews).
Step 11: Wait for hours on end, but finally file the application with your picture attached. Get warned by the officer that the process might take "months".
Step 12: Notice that the status of your application didn't change online after you brought in the photos, still showing "waiting for you to drop by".
Step 13: Start getting progressively more worried after the status doesn't change for weeks. Start thinking that your photos and application might've got lost or something.
Step 14: Get news about Worlds tickets going up for sale. See them going really fast and grab one for yourself.
Step 15: At some point, file an official complaint online about the status freeze. Do this as a last ditch effort after figuring out it is the only way to get any meaningful feedback on any matter regarding your passport: the online chat with the agency is ignored, their phone doesn't work, and even if you go back and wait the 150 people line again only to ask a question, the officers who work there pretend to not know anything about anything and only tell you to wait.
Step 16: Learn that it takes them up to 20 days to respond to your complaint.
Step 17: Start counting days and doubting your trip even more.
Step 18: On the 20th day, get an email with a response to the complaint. Long story short, they are saying to come and collect the passport, and they have sent me the notice to do so before. Figure out that there might be some sort of issue with the online status system.
Step 19: Drop by the MVD office the following day, wait in line with the other 300+ poor souls. Get your number called after 3.5 hours.
Step 20: Get told straight up that your passport isn't ready and you need to go home and wait more, ETA unknown.
Step 21: Without any other options, mention the complaint response you got yesterday. Notice a slight change in the clerk's demeanor. Get told to wait here for a bit.
Step 22: See a different clerk come out and call your name some 20 minutes later. Get instantly reprimanded for complaining since the passport issue deadline isn't technically over yet (it doesn't matter that you had a different problem altogether).
Step 23: Notice the clerk holding a passport and it all stops mattering that much. Receive the passport. It's hot to the touch.
Step 24: With what you can only think of as "the hard part" out of the way, get your hopes up and start preparing your visa document package.
Step 25: Before you do any of this, decide to sign up for a Spanish visa application appointment.
Step 26: Find out that there are 0 spots available for the next 2 weeks.
Step 27: Start looking up information and find out that visa application time slots are open on the visa center website at some random time once a week, for a following week. People say that those slots vanish in under 5 minutes due to existence of paid bots who book these slots for folks.
Step 28: As a last ditch effort, find one such bot and try paying your way in. Turns out they don't accept new users due to the registration bot queue being already overbooked.
Step 29: Accept the fact that this might be the end of it: the forum accounts suggest that it takes the consulate 40-45 days to process a visa application, by which point it would be too late for the trip.
Step 30: Since there isn't anything else left to do, try and look for other options. Since all you need is a Schengen visa, it doesn't have to be specifically Spanish.
Step 31: Find out that there are pretty much no queues for a Greek visa, although the rejection rate is much higher. The other issue here is having to enter and leave the EU through Greece only. Greece also has to be your main country of stay during your trip (more than 50% of the trip spent in the country), but as far as you know breaking that rule would not amount to a legal offence, just a major setback in trying to get a Greek visa next time.
Step 32: Read up much more different info on the forum. Greeks are aware of this situation: they know people are trying to pull off just what I'd be trying to do here.
Step 33: Start preparing your visa application documents, this time with a plan.
Step 34: Choose the approximate dates of your trip. Plan to arrive the day before CoS, and stay for a few days after the event to do some sightseeing in Barcelona.
Step 35: Get proof of sufficient financial means from the bank, including a detailed 18-page list of every expense and refill of your account in the last 3 months.
Step 36: Get a paper from work confirming your position and wage.
Step 37: Book a bunch of hotels across Greece, which would make sense for an average solo October trip. Make sure most of those have a late cancelation option.
Step 38: Buy plane tickets to Greece. You already knew there were no direct flights from Russia to Greece. Decide to make an additional self-transfer on Cyprus to lose time, but save up on some cash due to tickets being cheaper (spoiler: pretty bad decision). Overpay for some of these anyway just to have an option to cancel the flight in case you get rejected for a visa. Some tickets end up being non-refundable anyway, and some transfers make little sense timewise (more on that later). Your route ends up looking like this so far: Russia -> Armenia -> Cyprus -> Greece -> Armenia -> Russia, with plans to add 2 more flights from Greece to Barcelona and back at a later time.
Step 39: Buy an insurance for all Schengen states.
Step 40: Reserve a time slot for visa application, easy enough.
Step 41: Come in on the designated day. Your papers seem fine with the visa center employee. Pay for the visa, get your picture taken, go home.
Step 42: Hear back from the visa center in about a week: your passport is ready. Go and pick it up. Did they find out somehow and reject me?..
Step 43: Open the envelope: your passport is there. With a visa. A single-entry Schengen visa.
Step 44: The euphoric moment is instantly soured when you recollect the plans you had for that Cyprus transfer. It's trivial to make with a Schengen visa: you can stay in the country for some short period of time, certainly enough for just 7 hours it'll take you to make the transfer. The catch? The visa has to be multi-entry.
Step 45: Consider returning your tickets (or, rather, forfeiting them: those exact ones to and from Cyprus are non-refundable).
Step 46: Instead remember some important info from the travel forum: the Greek consulate might check up on you at a later date, before your trip. If they find out you canceled your tickets, purchased any different tickets or canceled your hotel reservation, they can and will cancel the visa they gave you, and your trip is off. This is the same reason you have for not purchasing any tickets to Barcelona yet or booking any lodging there until you're in EU: you've heard enough second-hand accounts of visas being canceled before the trip for those exact reasons.
Step 47: Decide to make do with whatever you got. That would include applying for a second visa, this time for Cyprus. So much for saving money.
Step 48: You know the drill already: get the papers from work, from the bank, so on and so forth.
Step 49: Return the insurance you had and purchase a new one, this time including Cyprus.
Step 50: Apply for the 2nd visa in the consulate of Cyprus. The queues are short, the looks - not that strict. You're just making an unfortunate transfer, after all.
Step 51: Pick up your passport again in a few days. A strikingly similar looking visa is there. You aren't that surprised anymore and don't hold your breath that much.
Step 52: It's time to figure out your credit card situation. The Visa you've been using since 2021 no longer works abroad. The Mir cards you have - never did.
Step 53: The most obvious thing (well, obvious to you at least) would be to open an account in a foreign bank, and issue a card there. Russian citizens no longer pass KYC checks in most banks around the world, but there are still some options available, although those are not cheap at all, and opening such an account would significantly cut into your trip budget. Still, the perspective of hauling and relying on cash as the only option in a foreign country seems scary, so start looking through offers and checking which of those would be able to deliver the card in time.
Step 54: Mention your predicament to a friend who moved to Armenia a year ago, and who you were planning to meet up with while you're in Yerevan. You were getting some advice on your adventure from them beforehand as they're a much more experienced traveler. In a quite unexpected turn of events, get a different offer from them. They would issue an extra euro card to their personal Armenian bank account, and you can pick it up during the Armenian leg of your transit. All you would need to do is to bring enough cash to Armenia, deposit it there and not extend over that sum during the trip.
Step 55: It's hard to understate a value of such a proposition, combined with the level of trust required to basically give someone access to your bank account. You feel blessed having friends like these. This isn't over just yet though. On top of that, they offer you to stay at their place overnight, the only inconvenience being the lack of a real bed or even a pillow. You are happy if it means you spend more time with them as you haven't seen each other for such a long time, so you gladly accept both offers.
Step 56: See some jarring news on the 12th of September. European Commission releases new clarifications on sanctions against Russian-registered cars. For some reason there's more to that: the clarifications amount to not only to a ban on all Russian-registered cars crossing the EU border (this doesn't concern you), but also describes many personal items which are subject to seizure when crossing the border, including laptops, cellphones, suitcases, jewelry, shampoo, toothpaste, yachts and toilet paper. They are nice enough to exclude the clothes on your back because they probably don't wanna see a bunch of angry empty-handed naked Russians crossing the border, carrying nothing but their passports.
Step 57: Spend days pondering what would it be like to travel a foreign country without a smartphone. One less thing to tie to your wrist, right? Eventually decide that people working at the customs aren't insane enough to do any of this, except maybe turn around the cars. Spoiler: the initial reports from the EU borders confirm this, and this wild piece of news never comes up in your travels, but you've still got a few more gray hairs than you might have had otherwise.
Step 58: Also in September, see a message on the Worlds Discord. There's an all-Netrunner Airbnb with one or two extra beds available. This is perfect for two major reasons: you'd really like to hang out with like-minded people, and you can't really get your name into any booking systems for Spain just yet.
Step 59: Respond ASAP as the place looks really nice and this opportunity seems very lucky to stumble upon.
Step 60: Once you have both visas, confirm that you'd be joining the Airbnb crowd. Now you have lodging for the first half of your stay in Barcelona. You'd still have to find another apartment and move there for the last couple of days once everyone else goes back home.
Step 61: Play in the New Zealand online nationals and end up winning the whole thing all of a sudden. Get your Worlds ticket refunded and open up a spot for someone else.
Step 62: Look for a CoS team during September. Hear on stream that Andrej from the Metropole Grid is looking for a Standard player for his team. After much deliberation (you don't know each other) decide to write him and ask if the spot is still available. End up accepted to the team which feels wild at the moment (still does a bit).
Step 63: This pretty much concludes your preparations, so spend the rest of the time before the trip wondering and worrying if you actually make it there alright.
Step 64: It's time to pack your bag. Start by checking out all the cabin baggage requirements to find out the smallest one and go from there.
Step 65: Ryanair has got your back with a measly 40x20x25 cm free bag (that's 16x8x10 inches), which you would have to stuff under the front seat for some additional travel comfort. The prospect of paying twice the price of the same Ryanair ticket to add a few centimetres to your bag dimensions doesn't seem all that attractive, so you decide to pack light.
Step 66: Take the smallest bag you can find in your apartment, it turns out to be just the right (Barbie-)size.
Step 67: Manage to fit (or, rather, cram) 6 Netrunner decks, 1 playmat, a box of spare sleeves, a rolled-up small backpack to use in Barcelona, 3 T-shirts, 4 boxers and 4 pairs of socks, some toiletries, a book and a phone charger.
Step 68: Grab a fanny pack as well because you still need space to carry your wallet, passport and powerbank, and just hope noone gives a damn it's also a 'bag'.
Step 69: Go to bed early. It's the last good bit of sleep you get in a while, although you don't know it yet.
Step 70: Wake up at 5 AM and head out to the airport. It's 2°C outside (that's 36°F). You would do well with a hoodie but would've had no space to take it off and put it in your bag later. End up wearing just a rain jacket over your T-shirt.
Step 71: Get to the airport feeling 'refreshed'. Easily pass the customs, no specific questions asked. Refrain from saying the purpose of your trip is 'a card game world championship', being a simple tourist is just enough to board the plane to Armenia.
Step 72: Land in the sunny Yerevan 4 hours later. Your friend is there to meet you at the airport. Spend the rest of the day enjoying local cuisine, checking out some of the sights and having hours upon hours of conversations, which are still not enough to make up for the time you haven't seen each other.
Step 73: Spend the night at your friend's place. Sleep on the floor, no mattress and no pillow as promised.
Step 74: Your body doesn't appreciate any of this, combined with a sudden change of climate: going 2500 km south of where you live and experiencing an elevation change from Petersburg's 11 m to Yerevan's 1400 m has you feeling dizzy and uncomfortable at times. Your lips feel very dry, and you get a nosebleed during dinner. The last time this happened was probably some 20 years ago.
Step 75: Wake up early and spend some more precious hours with your friend. They give you the bank card you discussed and see you off to the airport in the evening after helping you sort out all the currency exchange and cash deposits.
Step 76: Pass the checks for the Larnaca flight. Ryanair doesn't care about your fanny pack and doesn't make you measure your bag. You think the customs officer is a bit amused to see your double visa situation.
Step 77: A couple more hours of wait and you're off to Cyprus.
Step 78: Land in Larnaca. It's midnight, and the next flight you have is at 7 AM.
Step 79: Use the public Wi-Fi to purchase an e-SIM. Now you've got data at least, unlike the previous 2 days.
Step 80: There's no hotel or something like sleeping pods at the airport. The bag storage service is closed for the night, same as the most restaurants and shops. You think about sleeping on the floor as you see many people doing just that. After imagining what would it feel like: someone stealing your bag while you were sleeping in the airport. That being the reason for not getting to your destination after all you've been through would've been heartbreaking. You've got a long night ahead of you.
Step 81: Suffer through hours of wandering through the mostly empty airport, listening to music and podcasts, almost dozing off in the upright position on the bench but having to wake yourself up multiple times.
Step 82: The registration starts late. You're second in line because there wasn't much else to do. The airline employee at the check-in desk sees your passport and seems immediately confused about something, starts consulting with a colleague. You're pretty sure you hear the word 'Russo'.
Step 83: They ask you if you have a return ticket, fortunately you had those printed out just in case. They clear you to board, and eventually you're through to the departure zone. In hindsight it could turn out to be a nerve-racking situation, but you were too tired to show concern at that moment.
Step 84: Grab a bite and wait for the gate to open.
Step 85: Board the plane to Athens half-asleep. Get no actual sleep during the flight because you're that type of person.
Step 86: Stand in a looong customs line after you land. Be just slightly worried, but remind yourself you're still technically a regular tourist visiting Greece. Just in case, be prepared to answer questions in regards to your general route during your 'Greek vacation', places of stay and so on.
Step 87: It takes at most 15 seconds for you to get stamped into Greece, no unusual questions asked. It's a pretty big moment for you: you made it to EU, you're in, almost there!
Step 88: Make your way to the first hotel: you have booked one night in Athens and the rest in different places. Check in, take a shower and go out for lunch.
Step 89: After stumbling upon some delicious grub just a few blocks down, it's time to book your flight from Athens to Barcelona. A reminder: you couldn't do it any earlier in fear of your visa being revoked by the Greek consulate (there have been such incidents). The biggest thing that could go wrong at this point would be all the flights for tomorrow being completely sold.
Step 90: Get a different bit of bad news: there are tickets, but since there's less than 24 hours left until the flight, the prices for those are exorbitant.
Step 91: After scrambling for different options with transits and seeing tickets vanish before your eyes, say 'fuck it' and book a direct flight for a whopping 438€ (that's economy class, baby). This ends up being the single biggest expense of your trip. Just to put it into perspective: the same direct flight back to Athens costs 60€ just because you purchase it a week in advance.
Step 92: As soon as you're done, cancel all the rest of your booked hotels in Greece. This is the moment you've been dreading for the past 2 months: what if the hotel managers communicate this change to the consulate somehow, or the consulate back home finds this out from elsewhere, and revokes your visa? You're pretty sure there's a way for them to see your new tickets as well, so it all comes down to them checking this for some bizarre reason.
Step 93: You're slated to leave early next morning, and it's a good idea to get some rest after having no decent sleep for like 40+ hours. However, you realise, it's probably your last chance to experience Athens.
Step 94: Pick a single destination: the Acropolis. Try and clear your head of visas, borders, customs, consulates and all the rest of this stuff.
Step 95: It's a steep climb, and by the time you're done and back at the hotel, you just drop dead and sleep for a few hours. Wake up late at night, go to the corner store to grab some snacks for tomorrow and end up wandering the streets for a couple more hours, even though your legs are buzzing by that point. Athens seems alluring for reasons that are hard to put into words; you feel sad your stay was so short, and your proper return during a different trip is far from guaranteed.
Step 96: Have a cocktail at a rooftop bar. See the Acropolis one last time. Head back to the hotel, sleep through whatever time's left.
Step 97: Another early alarm goes off. Check out and miss the free hotel breakfast because it's that early. A long metro ride to the airport does nothing to properly wake you up.
Step 98: You've done it before: check in to your flight (this time online, no one really cares about your papers while traveling inside EU).
Step 99: Get pulled aside at the hand luggage check, that's a first. Thankfully, you read about that in the Worlds Discord before: card game decks look really weird in an airport scanner. The officer pulls a Dragon Shield box out of your bag, looks at it for a moment, says 'have a nice day'. You're through.
Step 100: Sit in front of the gate. This is the last threshold between you and Barcelona. You're still concerned about your visa situation, but there's not much you can do about it at that point.
Step 101: The gate personnel never checks your visa, they barely even look at your passport.
Step 102: Board the plane. There's a whole bunch of great Netrunner waiting for you on the other side, as well as delicious food and amazing sights, but also, and, to be honest, most importantly, new friendships, unexpected recognitions, touching conversations, fist bumps, handshakes, winks and hugs.
I have to draw the line somewhere, so this story ends here. Writing about Worlds itself would probably take twice as long, and I'd rather you cherish the memories you have from the event than focus on mine.
I won't embarass myself by trying to list everyone I met over the weekend because I'm sure I'll forget someone, but please come and say hi in the comments. Miss you all a lot. ❤️
Total money spent: north of 2000€, probably around 2500€ all things considered. That's… 4 months worth of wages, not counting the side jobs? Let's not think about that.
Total distance traveled: 12400 km (7750 miles). Compare that to the former pre-2022 distance of 5600 km (3500 miles) when there were direct flights from Saint Petersburg to Barcelona several times a week.
Total time spent in transit: 56 hours, give or take. That's just going to the airports, from the airports, waiting at the airports and taking actual flights. 100/10 would go again.
If you'd like to do the same trip but in reverse, there's a local CO coming up in a few weeks. Jk, it's much easier to travel to Russia: check out the travel section in the event description on ABR.
Oh, and the deck did fine.
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