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Is St. Petersburg all that different that I couldn't just do it myself?

Is St. Petersburg all that different that I couldn't just do it myself?

Mar 17th, 2006, 06:16 AM
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Is St. Petersburg all that different that I couldn't just do it myself?

We've travelled all over on our own--standard Western Europe and parts of Central such as Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania. Way out in the rural Maramures of Romania we did hire a guide, and it was an excellent experience. Other than that we've always made our own way, whether in cities using public transportation or in very rural areas with a rental car.

This summer we plan to visit St. Petersburg, probably flying in from one of the Baltic capitals. Obviously they use the Cyrilic alphabet, but other than that will the travel experience be that different from other large cities we've visited such as Krakow, Prague or Budapest? I keep reading things on this board about hiring private guides there or going on tours. What I really want to know is if, for people like us who've already travelled on our own a lot and are accustomed to fending for ourselves, we need to think about altering our usual style of travel. Thanks.
julies is offline  
Mar 17th, 2006, 07:57 AM
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We're also planning a trip to SP and Kaliningrad in August and I am planning it myself. I plan to pay for an "invitation" from "waytoRussia" which gives me the freedom to arrive and depart within a 30-day window. Then I'll get a double-entry visa (US) after I receive my invitation--only available 90 days before beginning date of invitation. There's a great poster on LP Thorn Tree named "everbrite" who gives very explicit instructions for independent travel to Russia.
JaneB is online now  
Mar 17th, 2006, 11:56 AM
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I spent a week there by myself and would do it again. (In fact, I'd love to do it again.) Of course, it depends on your comfort level and flexibility--I've got friends who've travelled independently in Laos, Mali, and Pakistan, and know other people who think getting around Italy independently is too hard. But based on your experience, which is roughly similar to mine pre-Russia, I don't see why you shouldn't be fine.

I did only 3 things differently than usual (not counting learning the Cyrillic alphabet), even though I could have managed otherwise:
1) I arranged for a car service to pick me up at the airport, instead of using public transportation;
2) I spent a bit more than usual on accomodations. I'm a budget traveller--even willing to (gasp!) share a bathroom. But this time I booked at one of the nice new mini-hotels, which wouldn't be fancy enough for the people who only want the big, Western-style hotels w/ concierge service, but was a bit classier than many of my cheap sleeps.
3) I took an organized half-day tour to the Catherine Palace. Sheer laziness on my part not to go by public transportation.

I say, go for it!
KT is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 10:44 AM
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You could certainly explore St. Petersburg on your own just like any other large European city. Leaning Cyrillics will help to find your way around, there are also lots of bilingual city plans.
On the other hand, having a licenced guide will help to avoid losing too much time in lines to the major museums. Buying tickets in some of them in the summer is a big problem (especially Catherine's palace in Tsarskoye Selo).
You will also need visa support from a Russian tour company.
A room at one of the numerous mini-hotels is indeed a very good choice of reasonable accommodation.
Alexey is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 11:48 AM
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KT and Alexey:

Where do you find a list of "mini-hotels," and what price range would you have to pay at one of them?

KenSue is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 12:08 PM
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Here is a good list of hotels in St Petersburg, it includes a number of mini-hotels:


I have traved independently in Russia a number of times. The success of your trip will be dependent upon the amount of preparation and planning that you do. Have an idea on what places that you want to visit and determine ahead of time on how you will get to the places; such as using local transport or walking. Get familiar with the city before you go, look at city maps, location of hotels and location of sights, be familiar with subway. Travel lightly.

St Petersburg is easy to visit, most of the sights in the city are within an easy walk or short subway ride. The sights outside of the city can just about all be reached by mini-buses, with information available on the web. If you have any questions just post them and I will try to answer.
Garfield is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 01:59 PM
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Hi Julies,

My husband and I have been twice. I agree totally with KT.

We had a driver from the airport to our hotel. It would have been difficult for us to find our own transportation, as we don't speak Russian and few transportation workers that we encountered spoke English.

The hotels in StP all seem to have someone on their staff that speaks English. We were fine on our own for major site seeing. Once or twice we "did the wrong thing" when in line or at a site, and we heard about it loudly. But no harm intended and we just tried to figure out the right thing. (Eg, trying to enter in the exit area for one of the churches.)

A guide to Catherine's Palace was a treat, as we were entertained with stories of the history of Peter, Catherine, etc. I would recommend it over going by yourself. This is one place I wouldn't miss - the Amber Room is worth the visit.

We also used a guide at Peterhoff, enjoyable but maybe not as necessary. We were a bit early in the season, so used the guide and driver. I wish we could have taken the river boat trip instead.

One treat we missed on our first visit was the State Museum of Russian Art. We were so impressed with the Russian artists that we returned for a second day to see all our favorites again.

Best place for shopping if you like china is the Lomonosov store on Nevsky Prospect. Great prices and lovely choices.

We've stayed at a small hotel on Moika canal, the Pushka Inn. Very nice rooms, some are apartments with kitchen facilities, high speed internet, cute restaurant (breakfast was included). English spoken fluently. Less than two blocks from Palace Square, the Hermitage, Nevsky Prospect, three or four blocks from the beautiful cathedrals: Spilled Blood, Kazan, St. Issac's.

When we were there last May, we saw a new hotel just around the corner from where we stayed. It look lovely -Hotel Moika 22 - I would try to stay there on our next visit (depending on the prices). Can't beat the location for walking everywhere.

Hope you have a wonderful trip this summer.
SusanEva is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 02:41 PM
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I knew I'd get some invaluable help on this board.

SusanEva--do you by any chance recall aboout how much your hotel cost.

JaneB--does this visa allow you some flex time so you don't have to have all your plans set in stone months ahead of time?
julies is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 03:19 PM
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We rented their apartment, as we were there on business for a week.

This website lists it's current rooms and prices, which includes an excellent breakfast at their restaurant.


Lots of other "mini-hotels" listed on this website in case you're interested. But this is the only one I can comment on, as we actually stayed there and were very satified.
SusanEva is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 03:32 PM
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jules, Yes. The visa is good for 30 days and you have freedom to enter and depart within the 30-day window dates on listed your visa. At least that is MY interpretation of the "rules and regulations" that I found on LP web site. I am waiting on my new passport--I mailed my old one in on Feb 15 and am still waiting!! I will apply for an invitation as soon as I have my new passport number to give the providers. Then, 90 days (June 9) before I plan to enter Russia, I will apply for the visa giving the dates of August 7 - September 7. I actually plan to enter Russia on Aug 15, depart Aug 20--and enter Kaliningrad near the end of August for 1 night.
JaneB is online now  
Mar 18th, 2006, 05:27 PM
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Sorry for the delay--I just saw this. My husband and I typically do all our traveling on our own--book all the tickets, etc., no guides, get a rental car, etc.

We went to St. Petersburg in November 2004. We booked the hotel and air directly. We stayed at the Astoria. Great location. What we did differently was to arrange for the hotel to send a car and driver to pick us up at the airport. This was a great help, but taxis were available. I think it was worth the extra $$ and would most likely do this again.

We had all meals out at restaurants. We either identified the restaurants overselves, or ask the hotel concierge for recommendations. The hotel concierge actually made the dinner reservations for us.

We had a great time walking around St. Petersburg and visiting most of the attractions directly without a guide. We made two exceptions to this:

1) Catherine's Palace/Pavlovsk Palace--we took a day trip out to these palaces and booked both a driver and guide through the hotel's concierge. The biggest advantage to having the guide was direct access into the palace without having to wait in lines and the knowledge of the English speaking guide (most are highly educated in Russian history, art, etc.) It also saved us a great deal of time so that we could make the most out of our short time in St. Petersburg.

2)We also hired a private guide for a tour of the Hermitage so that we could gain access to the special collections and a behind the scenes tour.

3) We also had the hotel concierge obtain tickets for us at a sold out performance at the Mariinsky (Kirov) for an opera.

4) The hotel provided us, upon booking, with all of the documents necessary to obtain the necessary VISA for our trip at no charge. No need to engage a separate Russian tour company.

We loved our time in St. Petersburg and I hope you'll have a great time. I think you'll be very comfortable on your own in the city and find it easy to see the majority of the sights on your own. I'd recommend memorizing the Cyrillic alphabet prior to your trip and you'll be surprised how many of the signs you'll be able to read. Oh, all the guidebooks indicate not to use US$$, but when we were there, everyone asked and used them. Have a wonderful time!
LoriS is offline  
Mar 18th, 2006, 06:45 PM
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JaneB unless you are flying directly into the Kalingrad Region from Russia you must be in possession of either a double or multi entry Russian visa. You have to exit Russia and pass through other countries to reach the region. If you go via Belarus you will need at least a trasit visa for that country.
Garfield is offline  
Mar 19th, 2006, 02:54 AM
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Thanks, garfield. I plan to get the double entry visa. And I also plan to get a tourist Belarus visa since we will take a train from Kaliningrad to Vilnius to Minsk (2 days) and on to Kiev and fly home from there.
JaneB is online now  
Mar 19th, 2006, 07:22 AM
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We were in St. Petersburg in 1995 on our own. We came in by train from Helsinki and left by overnight train to Tallin (I understnad that it has been cancelled) and returned to Helsinki by ferry. Had no problems, but my wife can still decypher the Cyrillic alphabet from her one semeter of Russian in high school. We did hire a guide for half a day on our last day, which was perfect. We were already familiar with the layout of St. Petersburg, had seen the major sights, and he could fill in the blanks.
Michael is online now  
Mar 19th, 2006, 07:35 AM
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I think people get overly intimidated by Cyrillic. If you give yourself a bit of time and put forth a smidge of effort, you can easily learn to read it. My seventh graders have it mastered within 4 weeks of class, in addition to a TON of phrases and vocabulary.

Saint Petersburg is a gem, and it is fairly easy to navigate. There are tons of highly educated tour guides who speak English (and French, and German, and Italian...) fluently. I think the key would be to learn the alphabet and a few key phrases. I have prviously recommended the pod cast found at: www.spoonfulofrussian.com

for the casual learner- it is totally free (you can download it to your i Pod as well) and very useful.

Have a fabulous time in Piter!

katya_NY is offline  
Mar 20th, 2006, 09:10 AM
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1) I agree about the ease, and usefulness, of learning the Cyrillic alphabet. I found it easy to learn and well worth it.

2) SusanEva said "Once or twice we "did the wrong thing" when in line or at a site, and we heard about it loudly." Me, too. Learning how to say "I'm sorry" in the local language is always a good idea. In St. Petersburg, I found that when I said it in Russian and acted like a suitably apologetic idiot, people were often quite forgiving.

3) Here's another site with lots of mini-hotels, as well as a bunch of other useful tourist info:

4) This discussion is making me really want to go back. What a great city!
KT is offline  
Mar 20th, 2006, 09:27 AM
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I appreciate the help. I always try to work on the language any time before I visit a new place. Cyrillic will be just one more challenge. I remember years ago when visiting Greece I did fine because I knew the Greek alphabet at the time.

Sounds like one of the main issues then is finding lodging that is more on the budget end of the spectrum and in a safe and convenient location. We typically prefer small family run inns and pensione b & b type places but I suspect that these aren't as available in this locale. I'll have to keep investigating all your suggestions. Thanks again.
julies is offline  
Mar 20th, 2006, 09:48 AM
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Julies, you may already know this, but Cyrillic is based on Greek. So you've already got a head start if you can dredge up Greek from your memory. You'll see the resemblance to delta, lambda, and a few others. Have fun.
KT is offline  
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