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mlloyd Sep 14th, 2005 07:13 AM

Moscow and St. Petersburg independently. How safe is it?
My husband and I are thinking of going to St. Petersburg and Moscow by ourselves. How safe is it? How hard is it to get around? What about the language barrier?

Marc_David_Miller Sep 14th, 2005 07:25 AM

Being in the travel business (and specializing in Russian travel) I read every State and Commerce Department safety bulletin, Kroll and other private security companies, Warden report, etc. concerning Russia (specific incidents and issues are not always listed on the general web sites; there are more detailed and frequent bulletins and security briefings available). In addition, I regularly converse with American and Russian diplomats, security experts, members of think tanks/NGOs, the press, investors, and other people who are very well informed. The consensus is that there is no absolutely safe place in the world, and that Russia faces some serious challenges, but as far as safety for a Westerner in Moscow/St Petersburg, there is no more risk there than other world cities. Western Europe--France, Britain, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain--had many terrorist incidents/assassinations in the 1970s and 1980s, but people still visited its major cities, mostly without incident. Even New York City in the 1970s-1980s was far more dangerous a place than the tourist areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg today. As for ‘micro-level’ security issues, pickpockets are frequently a problem in both cities, especially in St. Petersburg during the summer (there were some high profile incidents this year.

As for getting around on your own, you need to at least learn the Cyrillic alphabet (otherwise you can’t read street signs as few outside of the tourist area of St. Petersburg are in English). Most people find it useful to have a trained, bi-lingual guide with them at least during part of their trips (especially for finding out of the way museums and other sights). Many people do speak English (but to a far lesser extent than in Prague or Paris or Barcelona), but you easily could walk an hour in either city and not encounter such bi-lingual person (even in many museums). Also, if you have difficulties walking, understand that to cross many of the major streets you might have to walk a quarter of a mile to reach an underpass.

Also, depending on when you are going you should plan in advance; St. Petersburg is very busy from May to early October, while Moscow is busy almost all year (we had to scamble to accomodate some travellers to Moscow in early October as almost every hotel in booked).

Underhill Sep 14th, 2005 08:27 AM

You can find the response to your other thread on this subject by clicking on your name.

nytraveler Sep 14th, 2005 12:11 PM

Have done both independently with no problems. But - the tourist infrastructure is not nearly as sohpisticated as in central europe.

This means several things:

You need to stay in good (probably expensive) hotels - modest places are often not acceptable

You will need to learn at least the basics of the alphabet and a few words if you are going to use public transport - other wise take taxis - which are plentiful (and inexpensive by western standards although expensive on the economy)

Pick restaurants carefully - many are good -many more are awful

Be sure you are comfortable dealing with big cities and potential minor criminal situations (If you are assured, used to taking care of yourself and are aware of everything around you - you will be fine. If you are unsure of yourself and look confused or like a potential mark you can have lots of problems.)

Note - we didn;t encounter any problems - but we're native New Yorkers and I expect do things automatically that people from a small town may not think of.

If you're used to big cities you should be fine. (And we loved the trip - much more than a tour we had taken some years before - when that was the only option.)

Marc_David_Miller Sep 14th, 2005 12:20 PM

As another New Yorker, I agree with NYTraveler's comments regarding caution (most of the verified problems I know about are due to either niavatee or drunkenness), except that

I find the restaurant situation to have improved immensely in the last three years in both Moscow and St. Petersburg--there are now more and more mid-level restaurants (in both price and quality), although many don't have menus in English, and

Legitimate (legal) taxis are few in both cities; most people hail a cab and a private car stops. Would you get into an unlicensed cab after hitching a ride in your home city? If so, then you would feel comfortable in a Russian un-official cab; otherwise we recommend that people plan in advance to have a driver pick them up (or use the hotel's cabs which can be very expensive).

nytraveler Sep 14th, 2005 04:31 PM

We found that there were always official taxis at our hotel - and at all the major tourist attractions (museums, churches, opera, ballet after performances etc). If you wander more off the beaten track I'm sure they're harder to come by.

All the taxi drivers spoke perfectly good english (many had driven a cab in NYC and came back to Russia when it became more profitable - and always wanted to discuss Brighton Beach and NYC politics).

mlloyd Sep 14th, 2005 06:31 PM

Thank you to everyone for their advise on this topic.

mimipam Sep 14th, 2005 06:37 PM

Do you travel independently in other countries a lot or is this a first time? Some people do well in this situation. Personally, we have done independent travel in France, Italy, Switzerland, etc. but I would not do it in Moscow at all. Maybe St. Petersburg but then you would want to take side trips (Catherine palace, etc.) so you need transportation. The language is difficult (alphabet as Marc mentioned). Even our guide in Moscow did not want us to use the subway. Since we all wanted to ride the subway she took us and insisted we all keep together.
I have been twice to St Petersburg and once to Moscow. One trip was on a cruise and it was great but not inexpensive. If you do decide to go on your own, consider securing a guide there. Although it has been several years since I was in Moscow, there were guides in Red Square looking for work. So I imagine your hotel could secure a reputable one for you.
Happy travels.

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