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Question on possible future trip to St. Petersburg and visa process

Question on possible future trip to St. Petersburg and visa process

Sep 14th, 2007, 06:44 AM
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Question on possible future trip to St. Petersburg and visa process

DH and I are thinking about taking a trip to Finland, Estonia and St. Petersburg sometime in the next few years (depending on our family situation!) and have started to do a little research. I understand that Americans need a Visa to visit Russia. What I am confused about it the sponsor that is needed to obtain the Visa. If we wanted to visit St. Petersburg for 3-4 days, arriving from Finland or Estonia, how would we go about getting a sponsor if we aren't taking a tour? It sounds like hotels can be sponsors, but do I just ask the hotel to sponsor us, what is the normal process for this, and is it a huge hassle?

I'm also wondering if it wouldn't be better to take a tour. I read a few posts on tours of this area and I'm a little intrigued. Typically we are independent travelers. My husband is 30 and I am 28 and we have been to Europe about 10 times. We have had no problems visiting western and central Europe so I *think* we would be fine visiting St. Petersburg on our own. I'm more worried about the language/alphabet and the visa process. Any thoughts?

tcreath is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 08:38 AM
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We are very independent travlers, but we did not feel comfortable in St. Petersburg the few times we left the tour group and went by ourselves (2-3 ladies). I know a lot of people don't feel that way, but we did. We secured our visa from the travel agency that we booked the tour with, thus you do have an address for the visa's.
Nlingenfel is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 08:57 AM
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Good question.

I am glad that on our recent St. Petersburg visit we had a private guide and transportation which made getting to places such as the Peterhof, the Catherine Palace, etc., a lot easier. We also didn't have to worry so much about being in a large group.

But what was off-putting was the NOISE inside some of the main sites...literally hundreds and hundreds of people visiting places such as the Hermitage at the same time.

Any kind of audioguide would be helpful; being with a guide who uses a microphone/headphone set-up makes AZ big difference in enjoyment levels.
Dukey is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 09:09 AM
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Thank you for your replies.

I don't usually book trips with travel agents, and won't book the airfare with one because we will more than likely use ff miles, but if I went with a travel agent to help us book a room or take a few tours will they also help us with the visa process?

tcreath is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 09:33 AM
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Go here - thorntree.lonelyplanet.com/categories.cfm?catid=15 and read the Russia sticky. You will get lots of good info on visas and other things to consider when traveling to Russia. One problem with doing St. P. independently is that the blocks are very long and the metro doesn't go very far, so a car and driver or some kind of tour could save you a lot of walking.
thursdaysd is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 09:34 AM
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We were glad we hired a private guide for our visit to St. Petersburg. We found Olga from recommendations on this forum. She can also help with Visa support.

djkbooks is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 09:37 AM
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I feel like a bad-ass after reading the previous posts because not only did me and DH did St. Pete on our own, including the whole visa process, but hubby used a wheelchair. We had an amazing time and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. I do recommend a guided visit to The Hermitage. This impressive museum IS overwhelming.
Viajero2 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 09:41 AM
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I went to St. Petersburg alone some years ago, and had a wonderful time - but it was definitely harder to travel there on my own than elsewhere in Europe. (At least it was for me!) If you go, I would urge you to learn to transliterate Cyrilic - that made a tremendous difference. Enjoy!
kja is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 09:47 AM
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gruezi is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 10:06 AM
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Yes, definitely learn how to transliterate Cyrillic - useful for the metro, and for finding restaurants, supermarkets and internet cafes, but unfortunately useless for reading menus. You need to also take a phrase book or pages from a guidebook with lots of food words.

I that's very much a YMVV issue. I actually enjoyed Novgorod and the Golden Ring towns more than the big cities, and would suggest trying to see more than St. P. if you're going to all the trouble of getting a Russian visa in the first place.
thursdaysd is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 10:41 AM
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Tripgirl here.

We just returned form Moscow and St Petersburg.

We booked with Exeter International, and we are also usually independent travelers. I'm glad we did this though. We had a marvelous time and could see that ( IMHO) that Russia was very different than alot of our travels and we summarized that we are glad we went this route.

In any event, at minimum I would hire guides for the palaces and other historical spots as you want them to explain it to you. DH and I are history buffs and I 'm half Russian and we needed the guide despite our knowledge.

I haven't the time right now to do a Trip Report, but let me know if you need further info.

tripgirl is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 12:16 PM
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Thank you all for your replies!

Viajero2, can you shed some light on how you obtained your Visa and who you got as a sponsor? That is what I am most confused about. Did you have your hotel sponsor you and if so, how did you go about doing that?

tripgirl, I would love to read your trip report when you get it up! I have read many of your past trip reports (including your trip to Asia, since we are leaving for Japan in a little over a month!) and will anxiously await this one as well.

Honestly at this point we are considering a tour, perhaps not for our whole trip (I doubt we would need one in Finland or Estonia) but for the St. Petersburg portion of our trip because of comments made above regarding the cyrillic alphabet, long city blocks, benefiting from a guide, etc.

tcreath is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 12:23 PM
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Oh, and thursdaysd, thank you for the link! I'm going to check it out right now!

tcreath is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 12:42 PM
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I see part of my last post got eaten. It should have said that I prefer Moscow to St. P. but YMMV. Exeter International would be great if you could afford it - way out of my price range! If you're into trip reports, mine is at www.wilhelmswords.com/rtw2004 - Rainy Russia (and Sunny Siberia).
thursdaysd is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 12:43 PM
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I would agree that you can get along without an organized tour or a guide in both Estonia and Finland, paticularly in the cities of Tallin and Helsinki. Those two places are easy to navigate and Helsinki has an excellent public transport system which can take you to most of the major sites.
Dukey is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 12:48 PM
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thursdaysd, thank you for your link to your trip report! I will definitely need it. We chose St. Petersburg mostly becaust of its proximity to the other two areas we wanted to concentrate on (Helsinki and Tallinn), as the train appears to be a relatively short 5 hour or so journey. We are certainly open though, as this is just a planning stage. And that link helped tremendously! I found out that we can get an invitation through one of the websites listed through lonelyplanet (waytorussia.com) which sounds much easier than having a hotel sponsor us.

Dukey, thank you for your comments. We were planning on concentrating our time on Helsinki and Tallinn, with daytrips to see more of the countryside. I would like to visit Latvia as well, although that would depend on the timing. Russia seems like a pain to get into and plan, but I'm sure it will be more than worth it.

I'm going to look at all of the links that everyone provided, so thank you again!

tcreath is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 12:59 PM
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My father and brothers just returned from St. Petersburg, Tallin, Vilnius, and Latvia. Getting a visa was actually very simple. I did alot of the reservations for them. My father and one brother used a travel agency, my other brother reserved directly through a hotel. Most of the hotels had on the web inquiry forms a check box that said somethign like "Visa support necessary". Once he chose one, we simply asked the hotel to send us a sponsor form - they are pretty standard, and we got them electronically from them. I noticed some hotels charged a nominal fee - his didn't. The form looked just lke the one the travel agency sent us.

We then followed the instructions on the Russian embassy website:
and the visas were received back at their house within a week. Don't bother with an expediter as the process is straightforward.

You will need to know the dates of arrival and departure to get a visa. they used a guide for St. P who tailored her touring to exactly what they wanted. They walked tons, but felt that she really enriched their experience. She was able to get tickets to the museums, arrange city tours, and she bought them the bus tickets they needed to get to Estonia. Very reasonable prices too. My father is an independent traveler, but was glad he took the advice of using a tour guide - they had freedom and structure at the same time.

They had no guides or tours for anywhere else on their trip, and had no problems at all. I will write a trip report for my dad, as we received good information from this site. They loved Vilnius and some sand dunes I can't recall the name of right now.
amcc is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 01:13 PM
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We loved St Petersburg by the way much better than Moscow, but of course in Moscow you have sights that you just stare at and can't believe you are seeing: i.e. The Diamond Fund, Red Square, St Basils, Lenin, etc. But overall St Petersburg is IMHO a prettier city and has a more European feel. We felt more comfortable there.

You won't regret hiring a guide for at least some attractions, they can navigate and tell you marvelous stories.

We were in Helsinki on this trip too and no need for a guide, easy city to do on your own . We also were in Stockholm and Copenhagen on this trip and same for both those cities, but we are SO glad we had assistance in Russia ( and you know we travel ALOT)

Exeter is pricy but you know we are luxury travelers. All the little special things we got to do that were privately arranged for us made our visit.
In any event, I know you are up for anything and you'll have a great time!
tripgirl is offline  
Sep 14th, 2007, 03:32 PM
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I can't speak to luxury travel, but I will be back in Russia in 2 weeks with a group of 22 teens. We have been working with Dora from East-West-Tours, and she has been just wonderful. EWT has done all of our visa work, flights,hotels, trains, and our tour of Moscow. It seems to be just great- of course, I'm not back home yet!! But she is always quick with a response via e-mail or phone.

As far as "easier" travel- I guess my perspective is different as a Russian speaker, but to me, being in Russia is rather easy. My only real point of comparison is traveling to Korea, where my language knowledge is verbal and I don't really know the alphabet.

Definitely spend some time to learn some basic Russian, and you'll have a blast!

katya_NY is offline  

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