Been to Russia? Need your advice.

Oct 16th, 2007, 12:37 PM
  #1  
lyb
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Join Date: Mar 2003
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Been to Russia? Need your advice.

I cannot decide where to go for my next vacation...one day it's Prague, the next Paris and the Loire Valley, and the next it's Budapest. However, yesterday, Russia came into play.

My 79 year old parents just came back from their first trip to Europe. They took a tour which was exhausting and they didn't really like the fast pace. However, I did tell them that doing 7 countries in 17 days does make for a very fast pace. I'm telling you all of this so that you get an idea of what I may be looking for in Russia. Also, we all like history, architecture and my mom and I are both photography crazy.

And the reason why Russia came up, is that both my parents are interested in seeing Russia and my mom asked me if I'd go with them, but she mentioned that they wouldn't really like a tour.

The idea of going to Russia by myself, which is the way I travel most of the time, has always been intimidating to me. However, I know that they would enjoy their trip and I would enjoy my trip much more without the time constraint of a tour.

So finally, I get to my question Is Russia easily done without a tour? How much is the language a barrier? Is public transportation easy to navigate? And given my parents' age, especially, since my dad has a bad back and all the walking that they did in Europe did tire him, would there be a lot of walking involved? By a lot, I don't mean normal walking to see the sites, but almost walking all day long.

I will be buying guidebooks to look into this more, but while I'm here at work during my lunch time, I thought I'd send the word out there to people who've actually been there and find out what their experience was like. I am thinking of the two major cities, Moscow and St Petersburg.

Thanks in advance.

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Oct 16th, 2007, 01:21 PM
  #2  
kja
 
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Hi, lyb -

Can it be done on your own? Yes - but IMHO not easily if you don't speak or read Russian. My time in Russia was far more difficult than anywhere else I've been - and (I must add) it was worth every moment! St. Petersburg and Moscow are both truly wonderful cities.

Perhaps you can find a middle ground between traveling on your own and traveling with a tour group. For example, you could book your own transportation and rooms, and hire private guides for specific times or to see specific places, or join organized day or half-day tours led by English-speaking guides. I've seen a number of posts about that kind of thing on this board, so you might do a search.

How much walking you do depends on what you want to see and experience. Both cities have good public transportation, so I would think you should be able see a lot without having to walk all day. You might also check into the availability of wheelchairs at some of the places you hope to visit, like the Hermitage (which is vast).

If you go, I would strongly encourage you to learn how to transliterate from Cyrilic to "English" - that would help a lot with street signs and so forth.

Hope that helps!
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Oct 16th, 2007, 01:47 PM
  #3  
lyb
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Kja,

Yes, this does help a lot. I will do a search tonight at home...'cause I guess my employer would like me to do some work today.

My father is not anywhere near needing a wheelchair, as long as there are places to rest along the way and we are not running like crazy, then there is no problem.

From what I've heard their tour guide was rather strict, 10 minutes and come on, we have to go, quick, hurry up! I feel bad because the one time I did take a tour, the Tour Guide never made us feel rushed. Oh, well
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Oct 16th, 2007, 01:49 PM
  #4  
 
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I went to Russia a long time ago (early 90s), with a Delta tour. The plan was for two days in St Petersburg, train to Moscow, then 10 days or so on a boat on the Volga river. I did hire a private guide and driver for St Pete; it was well worth the cost. I liked the boat tour as the pace was relaxed, and we saw plenty of small villages and historic towns. The rest of the tour was fine, except for the part where Yelstin decided to shut down the country. But hey, what's a few Kalishnakov's between friends? I had friends in Moscow, and stayed with them in the final days of the seige.

A boat cruise is a good pace for older folks that don't want to be rushed, so perhaps you can look into a cruise between the two cities? The ship only stops for an hour or two at each town, so there's no walking all day.

I agree with the previous poster that Russia is very difficult on your own if you don't know Russian. I think there are a lot of tours nowadays, so you should be able to find something that works.
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Oct 16th, 2007, 04:27 PM
  #5  
 
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Most of central europe now has a very sophisticated tourist infrastructure that makes travel there essentially the same as western europe and perfectly simple for the individual - althouhg somewhat better prices.

However, although travel in Russia is much easier than it used to be (I've been when you had to do a tour and twice since independently). It's certainly doable independently - but there are some issues that make it a little more challenging

Cyrillic alphabet

English spoken quite commonly at major tourist sights in ST Pet and Moscow - not that much in a lot of other places

Food is not the best - you need to be careful if you want/expect good quality

Good hotels are quite expensive - especially centrally located ones

We either walked or did taxis since subways and buses tend to be mobbed, late, etc (and i've been riding the NYC subway my whole life)

You can easily pick up day tours to sights outside of town

So - a little more work than Central Europe - and not the bargains you might expect if you have reasonably high standards (unlike Central Europe where there are still great bargains, esp in high quality restaurants)
nytraveler is offline  
Oct 16th, 2007, 04:31 PM
  #6  
 
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Sorry - don;t mean to be discouraging. But if you spend the $ to travel comfortably, and learn the basics of the Cyrillic alphabet and Russian (like a week's worth - just politenesses and the absolute basics) you'll have no trouble.

(And every cab driver speaks English - many have worked in NYC and then returned to Russia since they make more there - in comparison to the economy.)
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Oct 16th, 2007, 04:43 PM
  #7  
 
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I highly recommend a river cruise. We went with Viking a few years ago, after reading Rudy's "My River Trip in Russia" here on this forum, and thoroughly enjoyed it in every way. Most of the guests on our cruise were senior citizens. A huge advantage of the river cruise is that you stay on the ship and meals are provided (food is imported from the Scandanavian countries) along with spring water.

For our free days in St. Petersburg, we hired a private guide (very reasonable).

If we return, we'll go on our own, but still hire private guides (for a number of good reasons). But, for a first visit, we could not have been more pleased with the river cruise.

If the search function is working, you'll find reports of others who've recently gone on river cruises in Russia with various tour companies.
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Oct 16th, 2007, 10:38 PM
  #8  
lyb
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thank you everybody, I'm going to do some research, especially on the cruise, that might be really nice.

I went to Borders tonight and was looking at the guide books..the whole alphabet thing made me think..Wow, this wouldn't be easy.

Anyone who has any other ideas, please keep them coming... Thanks.
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Oct 16th, 2007, 11:36 PM
  #9  
 
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I've been to Russia about 25 times and have stayed there for periods up to a year. Russia is perfectly possible to visit independently, and many do successfully, however for first time visitors, and as you are travelling with your parents, it might be better to take a tour. My first 2 visits were with tour groups.

The middle ground option already suggested here is a good idea, it's easy to get tour guides locally for the sights you want to see. There can be alot of walking in the metros, just getting to the platforms but alot of stations are extremely ornate and a must-see. You can buy batches of tickets to save standing in lines.

You will need a visa to enter and exit Russia.

I've never met many taxi drivers who speak English but you can book a car and driver so you can visit places at your own pace.

I've found food to be very good and affordable if you go to the right places. There is a huge choice of restaurants.
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