The Russian Embassy (Consulate) in London. How to get there, find it and what to expect whilst there.
We have had cause to go to the Russian Consulate in London several times lately, the last of which being today. I thought I might share a few snippets of info about the joint.
Getting there: I previously sought the advice of a few guys I know from the South.
I was advised not to drive in central London as parking is £40+ if you can find anywhere to park at all. Not to mention the congestion charge.
We have gone there by train/tube before: You go to Notting Hill Gate tube station and its about 50 meters up the road from there.
We have parked outside the congestion charge zone and gone in by bus – never again.
Today we drove. Here is how to do it painlessly: Pay the congestion charge in advance. It will cost you two quid less in advance, so £8. You do that here. Set your navigation to Palace Court W2. That is the street directly opposite the embassy. You can park there through the day in the resident bays, it costs you £2.20 per hour (the signs are out of date and claim £2). Its a bit of a rigmarole to pay the first time, but its all explained on the signs.
My recommendation: Drive there. Its no busier than any other city centre.
Congestion charge and two hours parking will cost you £14.40, cheaper than a car park and not much more than the bus from out of the zone. I found ample parking around all the streets today – and today was no special day – just another Thursday.
How to find it: If you park where I suggested above, its at the top of the street directly over the road. If you go another way you have to find it yourself. First off, they tell you their address is 5 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QS. That may be their technical address, but when you have walked up and down Kensington Palace Gardens a few times and gotten no reply at the buzzer there, you will learn otherwise. The entrance you want is actually on Bayswater Road, and it looks like this:
Doesn’t look much like an Embassy does it? You will know you are in the right place when you see this plaque screwed to the wall:
Oh, they don’t like you taking photos.
You enter through the turnstile on the left. Or at least you try to. The guard is invariably off in a corner chatting with a guy I have nicknamed “smoke-a-lot”. Every time I have been there, there has been this same guy outside every 20 minutes pumping on a cigarette like his life depended on it. He has glasses and is a bit portly and stressed looking with greying hair. You will know him when you see him. Anyhow, the guard – I am not sure what he is but he sure ain’t Russian – is a very happy little guy with a high visibility jacket on. He makes you turn your phone off and gives you a half hearted frisk before letting you in.
When inside, one must obtain the obligatory ticket from a machine, and then queue up, despite having made “an appointment” already.
After that you will be treated to some genuine Russian hospitality, or I should say Russian customer service at its finest.
The embassy must have carefully selected and hand picked the sternest looking, rudest, most unhelpful babushkas they could find from Soviet times and imported them. These women are the typical “Russian bureaucrats behind glass” – they go out of their way to be unhelpful even. It is a true piece of Russia in England. It is hard to find such spectacularly bad customer service in England – but these guys have nailed it!
You expect to have to have translations and copies of everything. Oh, and notarised documents, apostilles on everything, legalization on some stuff and of course the obligatory plethora of rubber stamps everywhere. But they always want another copy of something else. There is a photocopier behind them, but they smirk and tell you that they dont do copies – its not allowed – and send you over the road to cousin Sergei’sshop to get a copy for 20p.
As an example of customer service from our last visit: My wife handed over a pile of rubber stamped stuff for “checking”. The woman asked us to wait a short while. The woman promptly vanished. 30 minutes later when my wife asked where she was, she was told she had gone on her lunch. Saying, “I am about to go on my lunch – come back in an hour” was clearly not the policy. You are expected to sit around until the very important woman is good and ready to apply her rubber stamp – just like in Russia. When she finally came back, she was asked why she had just cleared off without a word. She didn’t even reply. Her eyes just glazed over, she stamped the stuff, passed it back and walked off without a word.
It gets better………
Today we were in the passport office downstairs waiting for another babushka behind glass to do her stuff. My wife got chatty with a woman in front of her in the queue. A girl from Ufa married to a French guy and living in London, they had a kid. She was there to get her kid citizenship. The kid was called Pierre. When she passed her paperwork through, the babushka looked it over and said, “Why did you call your kid Pierre? That’s a terrible name”. To which the woman replied, “Whats your name? Maybe I should name him after you instead?”
As you would expect, everything moves at about the speed of the continental drift. The place is full of angry people queuing and waiting for rubber stamps on this and that, and accompanied by the sound of bored wailing children. Outside the doors are always a group of guys in pointy shoes surreptitiously puffing on cigarettes, accompanied by “smoke-a-lot” guy who works there, and happy security guy in his high viz jacket.
I needed a visa for Russia for next month too, but I decided to still use Real Russia rather than deal with these people. For an extra few quid I prefer letting an agent deal with it and get it back in the mail.
Ye gods – but it was all such hard work and took forever – but we got there in the end!