Posted by: Tommy | October 8, 2010

Ruslan Kim is the man!

It’s 7:10 in the evening here in Moscow.  We have arrived safely, and possibly soundly.  But let me tell you about the harrowing start to our trip.

We got to the airport at just before 4, hoping to switch seats for our 9 hour flight to London.  Supposedly, the flight opens for check-in 4 hours prior to departure and our flight was scheduled for 7:50.  We had been assured by several American Airlines employees that arriving at 4 would get us exit row seats in the aisle-window row.  Yeah, not so much.  We ended up sitting in our assigned seats, but getting to wait at the airport for 4 hours.  And then another hour, because of some sort of mechanical issue that delayed our flight 90 minutes.  Which caused us to miss our Moscow connection in London.

We were rerouted on a flight from London to Frankfort with a tight connection for a Lufthansa flight to Moscow.  I bet you guessed that our flight to Frankfort was delayed!  We ended up just barely making it on our Moscow flight, walking up just as the plane was finishing the boarding process.  We arrived in Moscow at 10 pm.  And our bag was missing.  We thought that might happen, so we’d only packed our toiletries, our pocket knives and our new winter clothes that we got specifically for Russia in our check bag.  Still, those are important items, especially in Russia.    We waited for our bag, then waited in line to report it missing, then had to fill out the appropriate 6 forms and get them stamped by customs.  We were eventually assured that our bag would be delivered to our hostel sometime this evening.  Cross your fingers!

The delay caused by the bag-recovery processed lasted until 11:55pm.  Unfortunately, the last train into Moscow from the airport departs at midnight, from a platform all the way across the airport from the baggage claim.  After a midnight sprint through the airport, we got to watch the train depart just as it came into view.  We could either wait for the next train at 7am the next morning or pay $80 for a cab….only the 2nd most expensive cap ride I’ve ever taken.

We got to the hostel a little after 1 in the morning and were asked to pay for our entire stay.  I went to the hostel ATM (I had unsuccessfully tried to use the ATM at the airport, which may have also caused us to miss the train) to get cash out.  Then something I’d never seen before happened.  The ATM machine ate my card.  I pushed every button that I could find, to no avail.  I walked back to the desk and let them know – to which they replied, “So you’re paying cash, then?”

Uh, no.  I spent most of the cash we had with us on the cab ride.  I didn’t bring much cash because the ATM is always a better exchange rate than the changing booths.  Reluctantly, the hostel employee agreed to take our passports as collateral until she could get a bank employee to come out and retrieve my card.  We finally got to bed at 2:30.

At 11:am, not nearly late enough, I was awoken by a hostel employee because the guy from the bank was here.  He retrieved my card, and inexplicably found 4 more cards inside the machine.  Oops!  Again, the hostel people asked about getting paid so Anna and I made “cash retrieval” the morning’s priority.  We weren’t about to put a card back in the hostel ATM after the experience last night, so we walked a few blocks to the metro station that had one.  And the card got denied.  We tried Anna’s.  Denied.  Hmmm.  Next door was a Credit Europe bank, so we tried there.  Denied.  We found a guy who spoke English at the bank, who told us that they sometimes had problems with other banks.  We tried another bank across the street.  This time a woman tried running our card through the banks system – she said it came back as not a part of their system.  We were starting to panic – 4 banks, 4 people saying no way.  Anna and I each have Citibank credit cards and we figured that we could get a cash advance on those if nothing else worked.

After the cab ride, we were down to $45 in cash, we were afraid to eat and we didn’t know how we’d be able to stay in Russia if all of the banks refused to do any business with us.  At various points, we discussed:

going to the airport and trying to book a flight to somewhere else. This was ruled out due to the fact that we didn’t actually have enough money to get a cab back to the airport.

having our parents Western Union us cash, even with their ridiculous 10% fee.

Opening a Russian bank account that we could wire money to.

going to some Americans, finding out where they bank, then having our parents put cash in their account and having them withdrawal that same amount for us here in exchange for a few beers or something.

None of these were ideal.  So we went to the Citibank to see about a cash advance.  They can’t do that, since Citi America and Citi Russia are different.  But they did allow us to call the international Citi hotline from their office, where we were told that our cards do have the ability to cash advance from an ATM, as long as we know our PIN.

Which we don’t.  Nor can they give them to us.  Or let us reset them by phone.  We can come into a Citi branch in the US and reset them.  GREAT!  Or they can mail the PIN to our permanent address.  Again, not very helpful.  They were very friendly, but ultimately couldn’t help us.  I considered calling our old branch manager, Shellie, in Frisco and seeing if she could reactivate my account – but it was 4am in Texas.  One thing the Citi people suggested was going to an American Express office.  Anna’s card is a Citi AmEx.  She said that they could cash advance us there.

So we walked to Red Square, where the nearest AMEX office is.  There, we were told that we could cash advance at the Citi branch or at the American Express regional office – you should go there.  “Can we walk there”  “Oh no, absolutely not.  It’s 25 km.  You should take a taxi”.  Great, are you paying for that, because I don’t have any money.

At 4 in the afternoon, we decided to walk back to the hostel and get online to email our parents about some of the options mentioned above.  We hadn’t eaten anything, so we stopped in at a Starbucks to try and get some food and see if a card would work for purchases, just not ATM stuff.  We tried my Capital One card – declined.  Then we tried the Citi AmEx.  Yes! Sandwich – a delicious tuna salad.

As we walked back to the hostel, we paused for Anna to eat the last of the sandwich and then she remembered something that will probably come into play multiple times on this trip – an expensive hotel is a wonderful thing.  We stopped outside of a very ritzy Marriott and I went inside to inquire about getting a credit card advance from them.  I was greeted by Rushlan Kim, the front desk supervisor.  He advised me to try the ATM, and then did something no one else we’d talked to today did – he walked with me to the ATM, was confused by the problems we were having and decided to do something about it.

Like I said in the title – he was the man today!  He took out his own personal calling card and used it to dial Capital One bank internationally.  After being on hold for a while, we got through to customer service.  And found out that a fraud alert had been placed on our cards the very first time we tried to use them overseas.  All day, we’d been told that Capital One doesn’t work in Russia, when in fact they were just too vigilant about card security.  After about 10 minutes on the phone, the fraud alert was gone, we had 9000 Russia rubles in hand and our whole outlook Russia had changed.

As of now, we’ve paid for our stay, we’re registered with the Russian government and we’ve had dinner.  We’re going to bed now, with the hope that jetlag is gone tomorrow and our ATM cards keep working so we can start the vacation part of this trip tomorrow.

Goodnight.

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Responses

  1. That is amazing, but it happened to me recently. I made a trip to NYC, used my credit card, and when I returned home, it was declined. They had determined that was out of my norm, and someone else had my card. I am glad you sorted it out- you might want to call the credit card company when you leave Russia to alert them to where you are going next so it won’t happen again. Can’t wait to hear about the “vacation” part of the trip!

  2. Are you having fun yet ?
    Love Grandpa

    • It’s all part of the adventure….all’s well that ends well.

  3. We hope the next 363 days will be more fun for you two. Enjoyed reading about this experience (as heartening as it was). Thank you so much for sharing! Love you both. And IF you need me to wire money, I’ll gladly eat the 10%!!!

    MOM

    • Thanks Mom! I know. 🙂 Hopefully we are headed uphill and we will have fewer ranting grumpy posts and more interesting posts about how cool Moscow is. I slept well last night.

  4. Anna – I know that you guys hit a few speed bumps on your first few days, but learn from your lesson (T carry more cash damn it!!). Remember, everything happens for a reason. I am certain it will be mainly smooth sailing for you guys, but life is full of speed bumps — take them in stride, enjoy them (even if they are irritating at the time), learn, live, love . . .Grumpy posts are okay with me, it let’s us live (or re-live) your experience through your words. You both are so articulate, I look forward to your posts. I love you both —

    MOM (PS this is Mickey) ❤

  5. I do love a Marriott. (You should be sure to write to Marriott about Russian Kim.) While they are not always the most interesting hotel choice, they do seem to train their people to be very helpful. And I also agree about nice, even ritzy hotels. They can be a great source of information and respite in a strange city. Fancy hotel bars — expensive but a treat when you might need one.

    Sorry your first day was so stressful. But I know it is going to get so much better. Love you guys!!

  6. Just catching up on the “fun” start to your adventure as I’ve been OOT. So sorry to hear about all the runaround. I’m sure you slept well after that ordeal. Now I’ll move on to your happier writings!

  7. I hope that you have an amazing trip! I’m enjoying reading all about it 🙂 Anna we’re all reading the Happiness Project right now….we’ll be thinking of you at book club.

    • Thanks! I hope you are all enjoying it – I really enjoyed the Happiness Project. Wish I could be there for the discussion.

  8. […] Moscow money – After being 12 hours late and losing a bag in transit, we managed to just miss the Moscow train into the city.  The airport ATMs weren’t working, so we handed all of our US dollars over to a cab driver for a $100 ride to our hostel.  Then the ATM there ate our card.  We spent the next day wandering around for 7 hours, trying to find an ATM that would give us rubles.  Ruslan Kim! was our Ashton Kutcher that day, getting us on the phone with Capital One so they could unfreeze our accounts after an unscheduled sandwich purchase in London got our access blocked. This one's for the ladies! […]


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