Moscow and St Petersburg

Old Feb 19th, 2016, 01:02 AM
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Moscow and St Petersburg

Folks,
I have planned a summer holiday with my family to Moscow and St Petersburg. The itinerary is as follows:
Thursday 30-Jun-15 Departure to Moscow
Friday 01-Jul-15 Moscow
Saturday 02-Jul-15 Moscow
Sunday 03-Jul-15 Moscow
Monday 04-Jul-15 Moscow
Tuesday 05-Jul-15 Departure to St Petersburg by Red Arrow Express
Wednesday 06-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Thursday 07-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Friday 08-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Saturday 09-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Sunday 10-Jul-15 St Petersburg
Monday 11-Jul-15 Departure to Moscow by Red Arrow Express
Tuesday 12-Jul-15 Departure to Mumbai

I get 5 full days in Moscow (the first day we will be a bit tired so will take it easy). Then the overnight sleeper train to St Petersburg - 6 days at St Petersburg, overnight train back to Moscow, go directly to the airport, and fly back home. Please critique the itinerary mentioned above. The intention is clearly to sight-see at a leisurely pace, eat local food, have a good time in general.

Will I need the services of a local tour guides or can one get by by using Lonely Planet Travel guides? This is the first time I am visiting a country where not only is language a problem, but even the alphabets used are different, which means one cannot simply match names mentioned in a guide book with those on name plates and get by. As I understand, not many signboards are in English.

Any recommendations on budget tour guides? The larger ones are expensive, one quote I received was for USD 1200 for a 3 day tour of St Petersburg, for 3 adults, all tickets included (no meals) with about 7 - 8 hour of sightseeing each day.

Look forward to hearing from you all.

Thanks,
Mohan
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 01:39 AM
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I think your itinerary is fine as it is. 5 days/4 nights in Moscow and 6 days/5 nights in St Petersburg is about right. Taking the overnight train between the two cities is a fun thing to do.

You don't have to have a tour guide, I found the Moscow walking tours in Fodors pretty good to use, however I would recommend trying to learn cyrillics otherwise it will be difficult to use the metro in Moscow for instance, or find restaurants etc. People are very helpful but do not always speak English. I speak basic Russian and can read it so not an issue for me, but I do know alot of people who have been who don't speak or read a word of Russian and they have been absolutely fine on their own.

At the main tourist sites, you will find official tourist guides and you can hire them on the spot. Or use the hop-on-hop-off bus or google free walking tours.

St Petersburg has more English signage than Moscow and is an easy city to walk around and explore on your own. Maybe only take a tour to those sites that are further away, eg Peterhof etc.

Have you booked your accommodation? Early July is White Nights Festival in St Petersburg and things get booked up early. An organised tour can also be useful to bypass long lines to popular sites, if the tour includes entrance fees.
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 02:11 AM
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I agree with odin that having an understanding of basic Cyrillic and common Russian phrases will be immensely useful; the only English in the Metro that we found was the phrase, "Way Out." Touring Moscow by oneself is easy; with a tour guide perhaps you could glean a little more history. Within Moscow we found little English spoken, even at tourist sights. Some restaurants had English menus, but we still had to point at our selection so the waitstaff could read the Russian description. The most English we encountered was at G.U.M., the department store.
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 02:37 AM
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Thanks folks. Yes the hotels are booked!
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 03:59 AM
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Although signs in english are becoming more common you rally should learn the cyrillic alphabet before you go - it will make the trip much easier. (Pectopah means restaurant - and actually sounds like restaurant when pronounced in russian.) At a minimum learn the basic polite phrases.

Also you should either sign up for tours or purchase advance tickets to the most crowded places.
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 05:34 AM
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It is easy to purchase tickets on line, I have done it for:

The Hermitage ( avoid the line)
train between the two cities
theratre in both cities
train to the airport in Moscow

Definitely learn the alphabet before the trip ( you'll need it in Moscow).
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 06:20 AM
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Make Google Maps your friend: their maps show the names of sights, streets and metro stations in both the Cyrillic original and the Latin transcription or translation.
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 07:18 AM
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We were in Moscow and St. Petersburg in June, 2014, and used Global Greeters for two days in each city. They picked us up at our hotels, went with us on the subways, and took us around the city. We just told them where we wanted to go. It's a wonderful organization. They are not professional guides and their services are free. But the big plus was that we met two wonderful Russian ladies on our trip. One of the fun things was that we asked the St. Petersburg lady to take us to a dumpling restaurant and she explained all about the various kinds. They were delicious! Have a wonderful trip in Russia!
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 04:06 PM
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Regarding pre-purchasing tickets etc. Perhaps the situation has changed since last year, but the tickets for overnight trains (such as Moscow-St. Peter) could not be purchased online with a foreign credit card AND without actually purchasing them on Russian territory (physical location the computer actually played role).

I am Russian living in Tokyo. I was trying to hep my Japanese friend to buy her tickets online last summer. Language was not a problem, but no matter how many times we tried, at the payment option it would say something to the effect "tickets can only be purchased on Russian territory". So in the end, I had to ask friends in Russia to purchase the tickets online there, and send us printed boarding passes.

Summer is a busy season for train travel between these two cities and tickets go on sale (I believe 45days in advance). I think you might want to check with your potential guides to see what they can advise. (you could ask Elena Ulko, I mentioned before

Russian authorities do not make it easy for you for sure
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Old Feb 19th, 2016, 05:07 PM
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I think your timing quite good and agree with the advice you’ve already been given.

Whether to rely on guides or not depends on your preferences. Much of what you are likely to want to see can be seen without a guide – as long as you do your homework and have written information that you can read.

Whether you use a guide or not, try to at least learn to transliterate from Cyrilic to Roman (i.e., Western) characters. That won’t mean you can understand what you read, but at least match it to what you know. Doing so can be incredibly helpful in all sorts of ways (including negotiating subway stations and maps).

One little think you might consider: Since you are already planning the overnight train to St. Petersburg, you might be able to save one change of hotel and a tiny bit of time by going straight from Moscow, upon your arrival, to St. Petersburg. Just a thought.

The White Nights are glorious in St. Petersburg, and both cities are fascinating – enjoy!
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Old Apr 29th, 2016, 03:44 AM
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Thanks everyone! kja, my itinerary is frozen. Ideally I would have liked to go to SPB first, return to Moscow and fly back - this scheduling would have been more convenient to catch the return flight. However, the connecting flight options weren't convenient. I was landing at Domodedovo and would have had to transit to Sheremetyevo and then flight to SPB. Alternatively, I would have to go to Leningradskaya (either by Taxi or Aeroexpress + Metro) and then Saspan to SPB. Both these options looked onerous - especially after a fairly long connecting overnight flight, being tired, not knowing the language and the alphabets etc. Since I am staying at Katerina City hotel near Paveletskaya St, I decided its better I do Moscow first - take the Aeroexpress to Paveletskaya and then walk to the hotel.
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Old Apr 29th, 2016, 05:14 PM
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That happens! It was just a suggestion in case it worked. I'm quite sure you will have a wonderful experience even without that tweak.
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Old Apr 29th, 2016, 06:13 PM
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I went to St. Petersburg last year. I wasn't able to go inside any of those wonderful buildings because of the extremely long lines to buy tickets.

I suggest that you buy tickets ahead of time, online if that is possible, or from a travel agency like Red star Travel in Seattle that can arrange for them.
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Old Apr 29th, 2016, 06:58 PM
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We really enjoyed our time in SP. We didn't speak the language and did just fine. We traveled everywhere on our own, even Peterhof. Just take the hydrofoil there and wander around on your own. Very easy.
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Old May 5th, 2016, 01:28 AM
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Hi, Mohan! We went to Moscow last May. Try to plan your strolls in advance, as the city is huge and it may be exhausting to walk all day long. This was our itinerary: First of all we took a city tour to get the basics the history and highlights. The second morning – Red Square and the Kremlin. Better to take a guided tour — too much information for the short time of about 3 hours. The Kremlin territory tour includes the Kremlin cathedrals. But make sure the Kremlin is open on that day: it's closed for tourists twice per week. If you can handle it on the same day — visit the Armory Chambers. You’ll see the real artifacts used by the Russian monarchs (the tour is also guided). The 3rd day for the Russian Tsars' suburban residence like Kolomenskoye, it’s now within the city limits. The 4-th and the 5th day we visited museums and art galleries, and just walked around Moscow. We spent about $75 per person a day. Hope it will help you! Enjoy your trip!
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