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Russia - independent or tour?

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Sep 19th, 2015, 12:22 AM
  #1
lyb
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Russia - independent or tour?

I'm considering going to Russia next year and looked at a tour company but I'm wondering if it's easily doable as an independent traveler. I'm a single female in my late 50's and for the past 11 years I've traveled to Europe on my own as an independent traveler, but Russia intimates me a bit but the restrictions of a set tours doesn't appeal to me either. First time I went to Europe I was with a tour & it has its good points but not my preference.

So I'm wondering how easy or difficult is being an independent traveler on a first trip to Russia?

Thanks
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Sep 19th, 2015, 03:44 AM
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Where in Russia are you thinking of travelling to? Moscow and St Petersburg are easy to visit independently. You can get a guide or join specific tours for some sights so you are not restricted to a rigid tour schedule. You can also decide once there as there are usually official tour guides waiting outside major sights. Many people visit Russia without knowing the language and do just fine but you will enjoy it better if you can learn some cyrillics as not all signs are in English and Russian.
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Sep 19th, 2015, 05:26 AM
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Agree that it depends on your itinerary. If you want to travel beyond St Pet and Moscow it can be tricky without a guide. For those cities independent is not much different than central europe.
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Sep 19th, 2015, 07:39 AM
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I was in SP and Moscow on my own in July . I
Not a problem at all..(..I would also suggest learning the alphabet
especialy if you are taking metro in Moscow)
Number of Russian tour operators offer various trips and tours.
I purchased Hermitage ticket on line, tickets to balet, train ticket to the airoport
in Moscow etc....
SP is very touristy and more tourist friendly.
I was sorry I did not have more than 3 nights in Moscow...
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Sep 19th, 2015, 08:14 AM
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I went to St. Petersburg solo in June. I wish I had arranged for tours for the Hermitage and other palaces, as the lines were so long that I would have had to wait for hours to actually enter them.

I am a solo female traveler, 79 years old. St. Petersburg was very visitor-friendly.

I agree that learning the cyrillic alphabet is a good idea. It's not totally different from the Roman alphabet, so it's not difficult to learn.

When I went on a tour of Russia in the late 60's, I kept seeing signs that said "Pectopah." Turned out they were restaurants. The P is an R and what looks like a h is an n sound.
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Sep 19th, 2015, 08:46 AM
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. "I wish I had arranged for tours for the Hermitage and other palaces, as the lines were so long that I would have had to wait for hours to actually enter them. "

It took five minutes to pick up my 2 day ticket booked on line ...and I was in .
I was glad to wonder around on my own instead following one of the zillion
tours. It was July and Hermitage was really crowded. Spreading the visit over 2 days ( 1-2 hours each time) ) was right for me.
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Sep 19th, 2015, 12:17 PM
  #7
kja
 
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I visited St. Petersburg and Moscow as a solo female in 1994. Perfectly do-able. A free that it will be helpful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet.
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Sep 19th, 2015, 02:22 PM
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We were in St. Petersburg this summer and the crowds were unbelievable at all the major sites. Going with a tour significantly made visiting these sites easier.
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Sep 19th, 2015, 03:07 PM
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PhillyFan, piggybacking here. Was your trip part of a cruise? If so, how many nights did you have for St. Petersburg? I think it was your trip that got me interested in going there.
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Sep 20th, 2015, 01:10 AM
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You have such a great experience traveling independently in Europe taht you will be doing good in Mosow and St Petersburg as they are modern cities with understandable infrastructure. You will use some help from hotel emplyees, concierge and tourist information centers and will decide on you own where and when to go. Just make a bit of research as many museums have off days during the week. For example from my experience after a couple of days here in St Pete people can oriente in the city pretty well! It will be inte
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Sep 20th, 2015, 03:59 PM
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Hi Tuscan. Yes, we were on a cruise, and the reason I chose the one I did was because we spent 3 days in St Petersburg. It was on Royal Caribbean - not all their itineraries are 3 days there.
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Sep 20th, 2015, 06:57 PM
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kja
 
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So just for perspective ... I thought St. Petersburg easily merited at least 5 full days, not counting transport, so at least 6 nights.... JMO
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Sep 21st, 2015, 06:19 PM
  #13
lyb
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Thank you so much everyone, I'd be going to Moscow & St Petersburg.

I was thinking of starting with Moscow first & then on to St Petersburg so I could perhaps hop on over to Sweden.

I'm going to buy some books & any hints on hotels you can provide is appreciated.

I don't need fancy, clean, safe & centrally located. What should I expect the price range to be? Is $150 per night possible?
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Sep 21st, 2015, 06:40 PM
  #14
kja
 
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To get a sense of the price range for accommodations that suit your needs, check booking.com

Do visas for travel to Russia currently allow the flexibility to leave early? I went too long ago to know....

Have you considered options within Russia? Maybe I missed it, but I'm not sure you said how long you have. For "just" Moscow and St. Petersburg, I would think you might want at least 10 full days on the ground, not counting transport, and perhaps more if jet lag is likely. Add in a day trip to magnificent Sergiev Posad outside of Moscow, maybe a couple of days in Novgorod (which I missed, but would love to see).... Of course, it really depends on your interests and preferred travel pace.

If you do decide to leave early, is Sweden your best option? IMO, Stockholm alone easily merits about 5 full days. Helsinki might make more sense if you can leave early, as you can see the highlights there in much less time, perhaps 2 days ... but again, that depends on your interests.
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 01:58 AM
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<> Yes they do, they always have had that flexibility. Very often, the visa is valid beyond the exit date you put on the visa application, this way if your flight is cancelled/delayed, you are not standing in Russia with an expired visa and an expensive problem to sort out.

We don't know the time of year so hard to say if $150 a night is possible in Moscow. The centrally located hotels are more expensive so choose a hotel near a metro station. The metro is so efficient, personally I don't think it matters too much where the hotel is. There are Ibis hotels, but none are right in the centre, Marriott Courtyard is in a good location, Marriott Tverskaya is in a great location, right on Tverskaya Ulitsa, it is still a metro ride to Red Square. It is one of less expensive Marriotts.
If you want an old style historical hotel, I would suggest the Sovietsky Hotel, it is slightly out of the city centre but close to Dynamo metro station, so convenient if you are arriving at SVO. I can't find the page in English but you can google translate it.

http://www.sovietsky.ru/

Radisson Slavyanskaya is in a good central location, right by Kievskaya Station and close to Arbat Street and the old Ministry of Foreign affairs.
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 07:57 AM
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I stayed in a terrific 4 star hotel Helvecia in SP ,( booking .com) for about that amount.
The rate is linked to the value of ruble versus dollar.

In Moscow I stayed at more expensive Intercontinental on Trevskaya..

Using public transit in both cities was essential...taxi industry is not regulated - they charge more or less what they wish,

The train between two cities is great... 4 hours for about $100.
I had four full days in SS and could have used 1-2 more.
In Moscow, I had only two and a half days, could have used 2-3 more.

I would love to return some time soon.
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 08:48 AM
  #17
 
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<>

Didn't know you were so close. Perhaps it intimidates you?

I agree with whomever said learn the cyrillic alphabet (to the point you can) so at least you can try to match words and sounds. You're going to be incomprehensible to Russians if you pronounce H as in "Heck" or B as in "Back" or the backwards N as in "Neck" or C as in "Crate" or P as in "Point." (Respectively, Cyrillic H = English N, B = v, C = s, P = R, that reverse N = short i).

Go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrill...habets#Russian

And to test if you're recognizing the unfamiliar chicken scratch, try going to sporcle.com and seeking a couple of quizzes like US presidents in Russian or US states in Russian. Seriously, it helps.
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 10:31 PM
  #18
lyb
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Thanks everyone, I'd most likely go during the first 2 weeks in September ... I downloaded a few "learn Russian" books, I don't have any illusion of learning it to understand or be understood but as many of you have suggested, at least recognize the letters.

The reason for possibly Sweden afterwards is that a good friend's daughter lives in Stockholm, so we mentioned perhaps meeting there, it's all in the planning stages.

I also looked at the hotels on booking.com where I booked my hotels for Poland where I just came back from 1 1/2 weeks ago. Of course the prices didn't reflect early Sept prices.

Btw, mainly what I like to do when traveling is walking around & be amazed by the architecture, photography is my love & I take pictures a lot! I like to visit cities with history, and obviously I'd get more than my fill with Moscow & St Petersburg.

My next book that I'm reading is Russka by Edward Rutherford, I'll be learning even more about Russia than I did in my Russian history college class. If this trip comes to fruition, it'll be a lot lifelong dream, let's blame Dr Zhivago for starting it all. ��
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Sep 22nd, 2015, 10:49 PM
  #19
kja
 
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At least IME, the main reasons for learning the Cyrillic alphabet were (a) to be able to sound out the names of places and (b) to be able to transliterate for times when I had information that didn't use Cyrillic, but only an anglicized version of the Russian name. You can probably just use flash cards for the alphabet.

IMO, a lot of Soviet architecture is uninteresting, but both cities have some stunning buildings, and they are VERY different -- St. Petersburg is decidedly European; Moscow quintessentially Russian. If you are anything like me, you should find lots of occasions to go "snap happy." I went in the days of actual film, and having to ration my shots was positively painful.

If you do decide to visit Stockholm -- a breathtakingly beautiful city, IMO -- it would be really nice if you could add a few days to your trip.
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Sep 23rd, 2015, 01:10 AM
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<> The most interesting buildings in Moscow are mostly Soviet IMO.

Seven Sisters skyscrapers (some are now hotels eg Hilton Leningradskaya and and Radisson Royal which was previously the Ukrainia)
Pavilions of Economic Achievements, now called VDNKh
The metro station interiors and some exteriors with columns
Moscow University
Moscow Hotel which is now renovated and is the Four Seasons hotel and they have kept the original impressive Soviet exterior
Soviet Army Theatre
Entrance arch to Park Kultury
Etc
Etc

Maybe you are thinking of architecture during the time of Krushchev which was pretty bleak, lots of depressing apartment tower blocks.
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