We were sitting in a Sports bar in Prague at dinner time on Friday last month waiting for the Europa draw as we had just conquered the mighty Sigma from Olomouc.
We were still in shock, no not from beating the Czech side but from the welcome and local ladies we met there. I honestly believe in Olomouc that all ugly girls are sent to a different country, the locals were stunners.
The beer was as cheap as chips there but not in this Irish bar in Prague waiting for the draw for the Europa league.
Anyway the discussion went who did we want to play? I wanted Benfica, Hamburg and someone in Spain. Well out of the draw I got one of my wishes plus Athens will be great and then there’s this game in Belarus.
First thoughts were another cheap trip once you get there... oh, and those lovely Eastern block women!
Bate Borisov, hmm did they not keep the mighty Juventus at bay last season in the champion’s league so they can’t be any pushovers I just wish getting into their country was easy. I got it confirmed from my Celtic mate that we would need visas or in this case a letter from God.
There was talk the game may get switched as their ground made Derby’s Pride Park look like the San Siro and only held the same as Marine FC. Not knowing exactly where the venue would be we guessed it would be in Minsk like the Juventus game last season.
Flights got booked from Stansted to Kaunas in Lithuania then get hotel in Vilnius and then train to Minsk to the neighboring country of Belarus.
Phylius Fogg returns as an Evertonian in Europe. And why not go this route. I would never in my lifetime visit such countries with so many mates if it was not for Moyes magic dust ‘punching above our weight’. God I hate this phrase but oh so true with our expenditure in the transfer market but Wenger does a similar job and never is that phrase used. But I diverse.
Right got the names together who was going then did a bit of research into how we acquire these visa, I log onto the Blue kipper forum where there is a wealth of knowledge for travel. I often say Thomas Cook would do well employing some Evertonians for the best routes to far flung countries in the most cost effective way, back packers who have no interest in football log onto this forum for hints.
From this fountain of knowledge I deduct you have to book with a hotel/travel agency in Belarus to get an invitation to come to their country then this invitation has to be sent to the Belarus Embassy in London.
Hmm seems easy enough.
So I picked the recommended agency Vokrug Sveta, try saying that after a few beers! Logged on and eventually found the English version, went through the procedure and found out you need a lot of personal information
Obvious ones was date of birth, place you reside, passport details in full and when did you last run a marathon in a fancy dress. So I complied with my friend Marty all the information they asked for. Now getting all this info from 15 people is not easy plus the fact two of our mates are out of the country on family holidays.
Anyway armed with more details than our social security benefit claims we logged on again to the agency website.
Filled in for multiple of six persons or more all the info, kept getting thrown off. We deducted after a while that it would be easier to do the booking in no more than multiples of four. Booked the rooms required in a nice hotel where fellow Blues had booked and then clicked the visa invitation application section where more or less the same information for each traveler had to be repeated at a cost of ten Euros each on top of the hotel fee.
We booked everything taking about an hour and a half paid with our credit cards sat back and applauded each other for our endeavors. We received confirmation of the hotels booked the names dates and fees. Next day a email arrived saying our application had been rejected. Hmm what did we miss ?
Our monies had been taken out though for our bookings, paranoia sets in don’t forget this is a country where you imagine is being run by dark forces after the break up from Russia, we had previously experienced bribes and corruption in the Ukraine (http://www.toffeeweb.com/season/07-08/comment/fan/article.asp?submissionID=3751link to we must be on the mental list) and Rumania.
I got in touch with my bank and they said as I had given my details in there is nothing they could do and the monies are pending which is normal for hotel bookings. It make matters worse I was get weird emails from Belarus containing and I kid you not!
So I rang the agency in Minsk twice to try and get to the bottom of where my monies had gone and to book the hotel. I was told in broken English it would be fine but they did not know where the money was at this moment in time and they were experiencing problems with their website
Next night we tried again making sure that every detail was applied plus our marathon fancy dress date. We knew we had to get this sorted as soon as possible as getting a visa process done in the embassy could take three weeks but usually about seven working days from receipt of all the forms. Another factor to get a move on this was that Marty was going to London before the Fulham game to see ‘Cats’ and ‘Mama Mia’ so he could take the passports and visa invitations and deliver them by hand into the Embassey.I started moving away from his seat at the computer when he divulged his other side of seeing entertainment other than Everton.
Again we booked our party taking a considerable time and got rejected again.
So back on the phone to Minsk where they gave us a direct email to send our parties booking details a nice lady Helena delt with our concerns and we felt confident now the crystal maze would be finished but no. Read on...
It would appear the agency had all our information from previous bookings we had done and monies taken but we got an email back from Helena to say they could not take the money for the new booking as the hotel we previously tried to book was full and could we send a fax with the details of our credit cards along with copies of the front and back of our credit cards. Weird never been asked for this ever before and I‘ve traveled all around the world. This was to make a SOF payment, never heard of this. Oh and the only rooms left are junior suites at a dearer price.
So we photo copied our cards filled in the credit card forms and faxed them to Minsk. Thought that must be it now. Then received another email from Helena to say that they could not read the numbers on the photo copies of our cards they where too dark. So I had an idea I’ll print them off on photo graphic paper with a higher resolution.
We went back to the Blue Peter days cutting out pictures to stick on another piece of paper. Sent our faxes’ again, same result.
We are now losing the will to live and thoughts of sacking this, it’s easier and quicker to get into the vaults of the bank of England.
Back on the phone to Helena, she suggests we scan the cards.
Now I’ve never scanned anything in my life and did a crash course in half an hour learning how to do it. ’Simples’ as the Meer Kat ad would say when I found out how to do it after a few calls to my IT friends.
Scanned and sent it’s over and done, but, no, a reply came back asking if we could we make the scan bigger!!
At this point Marty said could he bang his head on my computer screen, well I thought you boot it up so why not, oh and there’s a few bumps in the lawn you could head butt down as well Marty.
I then received another email saying ‘ At last we got the SOF OK, the card is readable. But I tried to withdraw money from the card and the girl in our bank said there is no connection with the bank that issued your card or there may be problems with magnetic strip of your card. You need to call your bank that issued the card. Aaaarrrrggghhhh!
Took several deep breathes consider again do I rally need to go through all this again. Rang the bank again they are as confused as me as monies had already been taken out pending for the original hotel and I supplied the same details again. They told me to give the hotel agency their number to confirm payments can be made and to also return the outstanding monies pending.
End of business came we wait for the next days developments. During that night I wrote an email to Helena in the simplest form bulleted pointing each issue stage by stage.
Next morning at 7.30am came the reply we had been waiting for was it a boy or a girl moment such was the magnitude now of our quest.
Dear Mr. Macdonald,
I have just succeeded to get money from your card by SOF payment.
Your Visa support documents will be made today.
In the attachment there is a visa application form with our company information filled in. Print as many as necessary for you and your friends to fill in the rest and take it to the embassy together with other documents you will be e-mailed today.
Find attached also the bank receipt about money withdrawal.
Happy days, a dark cloud had passed by we were going to the Bate game only thing was Marty was going to London at twelve with no printed invitation doc’s. I rang Helena again to see if the last process could be quickened up, she got half of them ready but the other half would be in the afternoon. So thinking outside the box I told Marty to bring his lap top to London and I would forward them on. Next morning Marty printed off all the forms of invitation (four copies for each applicant),at the hotel reception and went to the Belarus Embassy which was closed ! Nah only messing but you would think it would be par for the course.
The princely sum to get into this Eastern block county ? Sixty three pounds plus the ten Euro visa invitation form cost. Well this country must be paved in gold have the best hotels and nightclubs in the world plus better looking women than those in Olumic. We’ll see hopefully.
Last month in Spain I watched the Celtic game in Russia the commentator pointed out there was only two hundred Celtic fans at the European Champions league qualifier a meager number with the massive fan base they have but another co-commentator said that the Celtic fans had problems getting visas. I know exactly how this happens now.
Analysing it and if I had to do it again, God forbid, I would ring the Hotel agency direct ask if the hotel I wanted was free to book and give them direct all the information they needed. You can’t book a hotel direct you have to go through an agency.
When you book on the website they take your booking for the hotel but this hotel could be already full and you only find out the next day.
You need travel insurance and reference number.
You need your wife’s details although she may not be going
All in all there are 46 questions to fill in for your visa application and the main document the invitation from your hotel
I think I had faults along the way with this quest but the language barrier does not help and their website having problems, maybe we choose the wrong agency .I sent nearly fifty emails and eleven phone calls plus four faxes it’s not a cheapo exercise.
I would also recommend only booking two people at a time.
Talking of time, I’ve heard one or two independent planes have been cancelled due to the complications of getting individual visa’s I hope the fans booked on those trips act quickly on getting their visas as time is running out. The danger is booking flights and not getting your passport and visa back in time for the journey ahead at the end of this month. More applications now will slow the process at the embassy unless you want to pay a higher fee of a hundred pounds plus. I’ve omitted an awful lot of other mails going back and forward and still at this moment in time not received my money back from the cancelled original bookings.
All in all I think this will be a great trip I got sent an England fans website for Belarus and Minsk http://fsf.org.uk/freelions/minsk/Eatinganddrinkingminsk.php
But due to the visa hurdle and more mouth watering ties to come I think we will have less than 500 at the game.
I’d like to thank the lads on the Kipper travel forum for their help especially Neil. All we have to do now is get to Stansted book our hotel in Vilnius and train journey to Minsk and get tickets for the game which we have had no information for to date. Simples!
Were Everton aren’t we!
PS Marty said Mamma Mia was brill!
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1 Posted 14/09/2009 at 06:26:52
ps: Michael, I know there is a current thread started by yourself about this but, keep up the work. If it wasn’t for the wonderful site that is ToffeeWeb, I would go mad. The open forum is is a very hard entity to moderate. I understand that there is a fine line between personal opinion and crass remarks and if any of my previous posts offended, particularly last week's, I apologize.
2 Posted 14/09/2009 at 07:41:33
The trials and tribulations eh?
Went to Belarus (and Ukraine, and Russia) a few years ago - I never was the 2 weeks in the same resort in Marbella every year type.
An interesting country. The last hardline communist state in Europe, and the architecture where the masses live is a joy to behold - if you’re an afficionado of featureless grey high rises.
Being a nation steeped in alcohol, there are plenty of cheap bars around where you might be paying about 30p for a pint of Baltica, and public transport is pretty good.
Most of the younger locals do speak a bit of English. But if you’re wondering where all the ugly Czech girls end up? Someone’s gotta live in those high rises...
Enjoy. Wish I could be there.
3 Posted 14/09/2009 at 21:42:02
Watching Everton away in Europe is an absolute must for any Everton fan. By far the best games to watch.
I would recommend doing it this season if you have not done it already.
4 Posted 15/09/2009 at 15:18:50
5 Posted 16/09/2009 at 22:52:27
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