St Petersburg NOT via a cruise

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Jun 7th, 2012, 09:13 AM
  #1
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St Petersburg NOT via a cruise

I know no Russian and have no Russian contacts. But the airfares look half decent to St Petersburg, a place I always wanted to go. It seems like most people go there via a cruise but I wanted to go on my own. Is this "done"? Other than getting a visa, are there concerns/issues/pitfalls I should be aware of going sans cruise? It will be myself and DH (both in mid 40s).
Thanks.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 10:23 AM
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Have been to St Pet independently twice and it's easily doble - but not inexpensive.

There are a couple of points:

We found that only upscale hotels are acceptable (granted 3 years ago)

Feet are fine but public transit is run in the Cyrllic alphabet and often very crowded - so we did cabs if too far to walk.

There is quite a bit of good food but also some very bad food - choose carefully.

You can get local tours to outlying sights - palace complexes etc if yuo want.

Be sure to see the Kirov if it's on while you're there. Tickets at the box office are about a quarter of those throgh your hotel.

Be sure to start you visa process far in advance since thee can sometimes be myserious delays.

A little more complex than visiting western or central europe but well worth it.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 10:57 AM
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Thank you NYtraveler. I assume visa are gotten through a government agency? I've read some (perhaps most) ppl get their visas from their hotel. This is a new concept to me, as visa always are issued from a government (of course, I assume the government portion is speaking to the other end of the hotel but still, is this trustworthy?)
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Jun 7th, 2012, 11:36 AM
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I have received my business travel visas through their consulate here in the US, I would probably think thats also a place to consider for tourists ones as well. I have no problem staying in 2 star accomodations & just using their metro system to get around. St Petersberg is really a beautiful city, and can be seen quite inexpensively. Foodwise, dont get your hopes up at nice restaurants. I prefer just to get by on simple Russian fare. If you are there in the summer, get whatever has fresh vegatables(veggies like they are supposed to taste) in it. Other seasons, I stick with the basic tomato and cucumber salads(if available), bliny, stroganoff, good smoked chicken, meat & cabbage pie, and Borch( a must try any season)

rather than nice restaurants, after a simple dinner visit one of the upscale tea houses for tea & cake(all Russian sweets are outstanding as a basic rule of thumb) served on elegant china.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 12:07 PM
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For information on visas see http://www.waytorussia.net/ and the embassy web site. You do not get your visa "from" your hotel, but you do need a letter of invitation which may be from a hotel.

I have no idea what nytraveler means by an "acceptable" hotel. Acceptable to whom? I used a homestay, and as far as I know that is still possible, although I would probably use a hotel for a return visit.

The Cyrillic alphabet is not hard to learn and knowing it will make your visit easier. You do not need a tour for the nearby sights like Pushkin and Peterhof, you can use public transport, including the hydrofoil to Peterhof.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 12:22 PM
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I'd suggest at least investigating a flight/hotel package.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 12:43 PM
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St. P is certainly doable independently - I did it for 5 glorious days in 2009 (before heading elsewhere also independently).

While the cyrillic alphabet may cause some confusion, I found that there are many people in the core who speak good English (and obviously many who don't speak a word). I circumvented this problem by engaging a private guide with his own car, spoke perfect English, and drove me to all the main attractions while waiting for me at each one. He picked me up from the airport, drove me to my hotel and then we had a coffee in the lounge while we plotted where we would go, at what time he would come get me and for what days. It was an hourly rate that we agreed on and I don't believe I ever paid more than 100 euros a day. I also engaged him for one full day and the rest a half day, as you will see once you get there that you will want to explore the city on your own and it is very easy and safe to do so.
He was an excellent ambassador for his beautiful city, took me to many places that he thought might interest me based on the things we talked about, had a great sense of humour and was very obliging and professional.

I too wonder what is meant by an "acceptable" hotel, since if anything, foreign travel teaches us to expect different standards of still very satisfactory essential services, safety and security. I certainly had no problem with my hotel located on the 4th floor of a large building (also called palaces) with other businesses and industries occupying the other floors, but I found out that's quite common in St. P.
Yes, it was akin to a fine B&B in style as opposed to a corporate chain, but I found this added more to it's charm (antique furniture to sit on), the rate was extremely fair for a spotlessly clean and safe environment for all the time I spent in there, all the staff spoke fluent English and were very helpful and the best part was the excellent location in the city. I'd definitely recommend choosing accommodation close to, or on, Nevsky Prospect so as to put you close to attractions that you can cover on foot (such as the Church of The Spilled Blood, St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Yusupov Palace and the Hermitage Museum - all of which were within a 10 minute radius of my hotel), thus not necessitating the need for your guide on certain days.

Speaking of the Hermitage, if you plan to visit, I'd recommend buying your tickets online before you leave. I did this and it was great to be able to bypass the lines and fast-forward directly to the inner desk where you redeem your online coupon for a ticket and enter this sprawling Pandora's Box of a museum (really a series of 6 interconnected palaces). I took the two day pass and was so very glad that I did.

Have a great trip !
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Jun 7th, 2012, 04:33 PM
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I've been in the process of getting our trip to Russia booked, etc. I've been told by friends who have been there that the best way to get the Visa is through VisaHQ.com It appears they are a very legitimate company as it was the director of a large church that gave us the info and he took a large church group there using this service.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 05:38 PM
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Ever heard of that company. I've used Travisa and CIBT, but there are a number of options.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 06:21 PM
  #10
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I don't speak Russian and traveled to St. Petersburg independently as a solo female in 1994. I encountered a few disconcerting moments, but no difficulties. I had a wonderful time - about 5 days (wish I'd had more!) - in that magnificent city.

As thursdaysd said, learning to transliterate Cyrillic in advance of your trip will make the city much more accessible to you (and it isn't that hard to do). For example, I was able to use the metro quite easily, so except for taxis to and from the train station, I either walked or used the metro when I was there.

Hope that helps!
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Jun 7th, 2012, 06:35 PM
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We got our invitation from our hotel and sent that with the passport and visa application to the consulate and get them back in about three weeks. At that point you had to have an "invitation" since they want to know where tourists are. Not sure if this has changed.

Once we stayed in the Astoria - an 1890s vintage hotel that filled a square block and had been fully renovated. The rooms were somewhat eccentric due to the way rooms were designed them. We had a very large living area - with sofas, comfy chairs,, giant TV etc - but the bed was in a separate area off the room that was barely larger than the (granted very large) bed. You had to crawl in from the one side op[en to the room. Cosy but odd. Part of the ground floor was a casino frequented by the local mafiosi and you could see their vehicles (either Merc or big US SUV - all black with tinted windows) and bodyguards (yes you could see they were carrying guns) waiting for them outside.

The second trip we stayed at the Grand Hotel Europe which has a more central location on Nevsky Prospekt - with a couple of good but expensive restaurants.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 07:04 PM
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I just used visahq and got my Russian visas back in 12 business days (exactly as the company stated). I had an invitation from my hotel, but visahq will also issue you an invitation for $20 if you need one. It's not cheap, but I was very pleased with the service.
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Jun 7th, 2012, 09:26 PM
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My husband and I are thinking about going to St. Petersburg in late September. We are investigating apartments and found one that is in between St. Isaac's Cathedral and Nevsky Prospect--am I correct in thinking this is pretty central and within walking distance to many sights? Thanks to all above for the many insights and advice, especially about the food and restaurants.
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Jun 8th, 2012, 04:33 AM
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@Bellarosa : Yes, you shouldn't be too far away from several interesting sites that are easily covered on foot and are within the main city core.
If you google the distance from your proposed address to any of the sites I mentioned in my post above, you should get a clearer idea.
You will need transportation (public or private) to get to others that are further away such as Catherine's palace, Peterhof, etc.

Don't forget to see the lit bridges (in the city) at night which should not be too far (walkable) from your proposed address.
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Jun 8th, 2012, 05:04 AM
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btw: A convenient way to add Moscow to your trip is to fly down one morning, meet your guide at the airport and spend two days one night in Moscow. Afterwards have your guide drop you at the train station for a sleeper car back to SP. In the summer open your blinds as soon as it gets light, the countryside and villages back are a magnificent sight
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Jun 8th, 2012, 05:27 AM
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We went by ourselves in September, spent a week in an apt and loved this very walkable city. To refrain from repeating my posts, check out by searching "Russia" or "St. Petersburg" here and very definitely on TripAdvisor.

Depending on when you go, Sept was 50-60, wet, damp, cloudy, rainy, drizzly but glorious. My strong recommendation would be to know exactly when sites are open and closed so you can mke adjustments based on the weather. Wet, damp, cloudy and drizzly we went out, rain headed for inside sites.
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Jun 8th, 2012, 03:25 PM
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You absolutely can go on your own. My husband and I did that in Sept 1983. I suspect it was a more complicated process then now...but I can't remember the details at my advanced age -
We went again on a cruise in 2000 with everything taken care of for us. Both trips were unforgettable memories in my traveling history.
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Jun 8th, 2012, 06:29 PM
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Yes, but you need to be aware that late Sept can be very cold. We did early Sept one year - coming from Stockholm. In Stockholm the day temps were low 70 and cooler at night. the first couple of days in Ste Pet were kind of gray and a little coler. Then one overnight the weather changed completely. I think it was Sept 12 - and the temp was about 45 (high for the day) and very windy. Locals pulled out their winter clothes and the temps were like that - about freezing at night - for the last few days. I was wearing multiple layers every day (since it NYC it was still about 80 during the day I had early fall clothes.)
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Jun 8th, 2012, 09:55 PM
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I love it when people visit St. Petersburg independently!

I lived there this past winter. Yes, it still has a less than ideal tourist infrastructure, but things are changing from when I first visited independently in 2008. The metro signs are now in both the Russian and English languages (but not the announcements), and there were definitely more English speakers now than when I first visited.

That said, learning the Cyrillic alphabet will help you tremendously. It's easy and there are tons of English words used in Russian.

You will want to stay in the city center - ideally the area between the Fontanka Embankment and the Winter Palace, and not too far off the Nevsky Prospect. There are many different accommodation options here. From various threads and other forums, mini hotels seem to be a popular option. Either way, most hotels will be able to provide you with an invitation. It is also in this area that you can see most of the main city sights on foot.

If you arrive and find you're lost for a guide or want to choose a last minute excursion to a palace outside the city, Gostiny Dvor on Nevsky Prospect has plenty of kiosks that sell English language tours.

thursdaysd provided the link to Way to Russia, which is a valuable source of information for going about obtaining your visas. You can also get an invitation on your own through this site, at a fee, but I'd check with the hotel first as they can usually do this for you.
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Jun 12th, 2012, 09:48 AM
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We did St. Petes independently last month. We spent five days in the city. I found it a bit daunting at times as no one claimed to speak English but I figured out that quite a few younger ones did, however they were insecure to try to speak as they dont get much opportunity to do so. With some encouragement they would try to help you.

We also had a very small english/russian/english dictionary which came in very handy.

we started our five days with a walking tour with Peters Walking tours and it gave us the lay of the land.

We did not have trouble taking the local busses. We found the people very helpful.

We bought a lot of things on line before hand.
Tickets to the Hermitage
Ballet Tickets and opera tickets.

It did not cost as much as I thought it would in the end.

If I were to do it again, I would bring a GPS with me.
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