Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Flashtrip to Finland and Russia

Got back the week before last on Saturday night (or rather Sunday morning - June 13th at 2 am!!) from St. Petersburg [here is an alternative St. Petersburg website] in Russia, where we spent three very interesting days (with beautiful weather too!) while on our way back to Italy from three pleasant and stimulating days in Imatra, where we took part in an international semiotics seminar entitled "What Is Communication - Epistemological and Empirical Foundations of Transmission Signs". Here are some video-clips from my and other presentations in Imatra.

This was only one of an impressive list of seminars constituting an annual event in Imatra known as The Semiotic Web: International Summer Schools For Semiotic And Structural Studies organised by the well-known International Semiotics Institute, coordinated by Eero Tarasti, who must surely qualify for the title of "Mr Semiotics Himself" in Finland.

As the Imatra website points out, Imatra is a border town which shares a frontier with Russia. The former industrial settlement of Enso (now the Russian town of Svetogorsk) lies just on the other side of the border, which means that Imatra and Svetogorsk are in the unique position of being the only twin towns which gaze at one another over the border between the European Union and Russia, so it was quite obvious that if we were in Imatra, we could not avoid making the trip over the order to St. Petersburg, which is in fact only about five hours by train from Imatra (via and Vyborg)

It was well worth the trip!

However, to end off this note, a few well-chosen words to Russian President Vladimir Putin:

Please, please do something to make your tourist visa application process more simple!!

At the present time it is necessary first to book a hotel for the entire period you intend to visit Russia for (not always easy either). Then you have to ask the hotel or agency you book with to fax you back a letter confirming your booking. You then have to send this letter with your visa application to the Russian embassy in your homeland. When you get the visa back it is only valid for the exact period covered by your hotel bookings.

This all makes the whole travel planning and visa application process for Russia much more rigid and complicated than necessary.

I am quite sure that with a bit of goodwill and some fresh thinking on the part of the Russian immigration and tourism authorities the whole process could be quite easily made more simple and user-friendly.

If you really do want more people to visit beautiful, dynamic and culturally significant cities like St. Petersburg and to develop and maintain a positive impression of Russia as a tourist-friendly place, then paying close attention to these kinds of details will be absolutely vital!