Notices

Traveling to St Petersburg

Reply

Apr 18th, 2017, 04:31 PM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2017
Posts: 1
Traveling to St Petersburg

Hi, we are two middle aged women wanting to travel to St Petersburg from Germany. My friend is a bit apprehensive about going there on our own without a tour or guide. We are both seasoned travelers but mostly through Europe and Mexico. I am an American and she is German. Does anyone have any advice? I know I need an entry visa from the Russian federation.
DenaAslanian is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2017, 05:19 PM
  #2
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 17,199
I'm a woman who traveled there solo in 1994 and used a guide only when required (for example a guide was, at the time, required for the Hermitage; I don't believe that's true any more). With research and patience, it is certainly doable on your own without joining a tour or hiring a guide. If you want to do those things, that's a different matter.

I would strongly encourage you to learn to transliterate from Cyrillic. And I very strongly encourage you to get a good guidebook or two. The cost will be nominal in comparison to the cost of the trip, you will have a lot of key information all in one place, and you will learn things you won't even know to ask.

Do check for travel advisories from the U.S. State Department and also consult the CDC (although I doubt you'll see any current cautions of relevance).

St. Petersburg is delightful -- enjoy!
kja is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2017, 05:40 PM
  #3
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,435
I visited St. Petersburg on my own last year for 2.5 days, via a 72 hour "visa free" trip via ferry. (The ferry schedule changed this year so you could still do that but different this year.) Otherwise, obviously you can stay longer and get a visa. The ferry was still a fun way to get to St. Petersburg, though (from Helsinki in my case), whether you have a visa or not.

Anyway, I had no trouble at all getting around on my own, and I walked many kilometers around the city, sometimes even after midnight (taking pictures). I felt safe everywhere. (St. Petersburg was more touristy than I had expected.) I did rely on my Android phone to get around - Google Maps gave me walking directions on the fly and also pubic transit routing on the fly ("Walk 250 meters, get on bus #8, get off at this stop, walk 200 meters to your destination."). I never got lost, and it saved me an enormous amount of time - no need to try to decipher bus schedules or maps in Cyrillic, etc. And the buses were easy to use (pay for a ticket when you board to the conductor or the driver).

Not much English is spoken in St. Petersburg - usually at museums you find a few English speakers, but unlike most European cities I've visited, most people don't speak it. This didn't bother me - I'm using to figuring out what people are saying basically; if I'm checking into a hotel, I know they'll want my passport, a credit card...here's the key, here's the WiFi password, etc. You can kind of guess.

Even so, my phone also translated between Russian and English, both spoken and written language. Using the Google Translate app, I could scan say a bottle of water and see whether it was carbonated or not...or read a sign and translate it. I wouldn't want to try having a long conversation translating with the phone, but it could speak Russian to translate my English words. One morning the breakfast server at my hotel didn't speak much English (beyond "coffee" and "tea"). I wanted orange juice but she didn't know what I was saying - so I had my phone speak it, and she brought me orange juice.
Andrew is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 18th, 2017, 07:00 PM
  #4
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 12,938
I second the previous posts...
Visited two years ago alone ...the city was filled with Europen tourists.
Seemed very safe at any time .
I did learn some Russian before the trip, it came in handy but was not apsolutely necessary.
danon is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2017, 09:45 PM
  #5
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,963
Not being a female I hesitate to chime in. I went alone at age 65 or so, and I was glad I had gone to the trouble of learning a bit of Russian. It allowed me to have actual conversations, in shops, on sidewalk benches, on a boat, with "regular" locals from all walks of life, something that always deepens an experience in foreign lands.

But even if that is not possible, at least learn the alphabet, and learn it well enough so that different fonts don't throw you off.

Be prepared to walk a lot, and to figure out the bus and tram system - the metro stops are far apart, and descending into a metro station can take longer than the actual journey on the rails (because of the swamp land on which the city is built the tunnels have to be extra deep down - read up on the St. P. metro system, it's a fascinating story in itself).

There are lots of tourists, so signage and such help is in place.

A side note: As confirmed by several locals I spoke to, the American custom of smiling to break the ice and make nice is not a Russian custom and is often misunderstood. Smiling and laughing with people implies a certain level of intimacy, and that's just not appropriate among strangers. You may find many Russians cold or abrupt or standoffish - don't worry, they are being "correct" and professional the way they see it.

Now I know it's difficult to generalize, and you may not experience the above if you only come in contact with locals who work with tourists all the time and have adjusted to their ways. But if you go out among the "real" locals, you may find the above advice useful.

Look forward to a remarkable and memorable trip!
michelhuebeli is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2017, 09:49 PM
  #6
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,963
Another thing that might throw you: In the theaters and concert halls and ballet and opera, when I was there a few years ago, there was (and may still be) a dual-level pricing system in place, one for local residents (cheaper), one for tourists, and there is no point in trying to wiggle a cheaper ticket, just live with it. I witnessed embarrassing scenes at the ticket counters...
michelhuebeli is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2017, 10:14 PM
  #7
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 17,199
Like michelbuebeli, I learned that smiling is not a local norm in Russia. At least when I was there, I was easily identified as American simply because I smiled in public. Russian psychologists with whom I interacted confirmed that observation -- Russians, at least at that time, did not smile in public, not even to each other. So those unsmiling, seemingly stern faces had nothing to do with my reception -- in fact, I was warmly greeted, if not by smiles. And in private, OMG, the smiles were heartwarming!

Dual prices were normal when I was there, too.

Yes of course, learn a bit of Russian if you can, study the metro routes, etc. -- any efforts made in advance to prepare yourself should pay off nicely.
kja is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2017, 10:32 PM
  #8
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,435
Michael, I actually had the opposite experience with Russians in St. Petersburg: I tend to be shy when I travel, but several friendly Russians approached me while I was out taking pictures one night. In fact, that rarely happens to me anywhere, and I was surprised people in St. Petersburg were so friendly. Not dozens of people, but a few in an evening.

I didn't speak Russian, sadly, so I couldn't have many conversations. One guy excitedly pointed to the bubble level on top of my camera (on a tripod) and explained that his photographer friend had a level just like that one. I smiled and engaged with him as much as I could but without knowing the language, we couldn't talk much.
Andrew is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 19th, 2017, 11:05 PM
  #9
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 17,199
So, to be clear, Russians might smile at you, but might not. Don’t take offense if they don’t – doing so is not part of their cultural norms.

Despite their norms against smiling in public, Russians are justifiably known for the warmth of their welcomes to foreigners. I hope you experience that.
kja is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 20th, 2017, 01:25 AM
  #10
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 3,839
<> It may surprise you to know that a dual pricing system exists in several countries. But Russia always gets a special mention, as if Russia is trying to cheat you. When I lived there, the average wage was $500 a month. The resident pricing system enables locals to be able to afford to visit the places rich tourists go to.

It is not against cultural norms to smile in public either. There are "rules" about when it is appropriate to smile and when it is not. People who know each other and have conversations between themselves smile at each other, whether in public or not. Russians don't smile at people they don't know, until they start up a conversation and get to know you and treat anyone who smiles at them for no obvious reason with suspicion. Russians say “only fools smile without any reason”. (Greeks have a similar saying BTW).

In professional situations, esp if it is a Russian company, it might also be impolite to smile, as it might be interpreted as making fun or not taking something seriously.

In the early 90s, Russian cities were not as safe as they are today. Going around with a smile on your face for no reason was not a good idea. Things have changed since then, there is a younger and more travelled generation who have seen more things, including smiling Americans and who were not brought up under communism. In the early 90s, foreign tourists were not as common as today.

Older Russians learnt either German or French as a second language at school. So there shouldn't be many language issues as one in the party is German.
Apr 20th, 2017, 08:54 AM
  #11
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,963
"...But Russia always gets a special mention, as if Russia is trying to cheat you...."

It was not my intent to imply anything like that.

It should not be a controversial issue, just a fact a tourist needs to be aware of.

Ticket sellers are quite sensitized to some tourists wanting the lower "local" prices - simply speaking in Russian when asking for a ticket provoked hasty protests in my case, and I had to - equally hastily - add that I was asking for a tourist-class ticket...
michelhuebeli is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 20th, 2017, 08:31 PM
  #12
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 17,199
@ Odin: "Russians say “only fools smile without any reason”. (Greeks have a similar saying BTW)." From my perspective, the fact that I have the great good fortune to see these places IS reason to smile, and I do so -- I can't help it! As a solo female traveler to Russia in 1994, I was definitely an oddity, but I never felt unsafe. And people were very helpful: Any number tried to help me re-connect with my tour group, convinced that I MUST have become lost and refusing to believe that I was on my own. ;-) Thanks for the heads-up about Greece.
kja is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 20th, 2017, 08:54 PM
  #13
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 12,938
I asked for direction on several occasions - in town and when trying to find a cemetery
in the suburbs - the locals made a real effort to help me.
( perhaps they appreciated my limited Russiam?) .
danon is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 21st, 2017, 05:41 AM
  #14
 
Join Date: Apr 2017
Posts: 13
In fact, St.Petersburg is a nice destimation for your trip. Be ready for some unstable weather, though. As for the guides, you'll need them only for your own benefit, and I would advise to take one in Hermitage indeed, because it is huge and beautiful. Also, consider visiting Petergof and the Petropavlovskaya fortress. A number of amazing churches are there as well.
A word of advice would be to dine at the famous Petersburg canteens, if you want something nourishing and cheap. They are quite cosy and clean places with good healthy food.
Enjoy your trip!
HansHarl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 21st, 2017, 05:42 AM
  #15
 
Join Date: Apr 2017
Posts: 13
DestiNation*, i'm sorry
HansHarl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Apr 21st, 2017, 11:11 AM
  #16
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,963
I remember fondly a little trip I took on a small boat, from across the Peter-Paul fortress into the open water, where the boat pulled up and we awaited the ceremonial cannon shot at 12 Noon. The firing of the cannon (you don't see it from the water) is shown here
https://www.videoblocks.com/video/ca...sd-ngj0mmng5j/

I wish I could remember just where I boarded the boat, but it shouldn't be hard to find out once you're there. I think along the Admiralty Embankment because I have a memory of going under a bridge before heading out into the open, but...

I had read that the boat would leave at 11AM and do a tour, and that was wrong, (maybe I had gone to the wrong embarkment spot, or whatever), so I sat, on a glorious blue-sky day with unseasonally low temperature, chatting with a young apprentice sailor in his cute traditional sailor garb - he was freezing even worse than I was, but it was a nice unplanned encounter. The boat didn't leave until 11:45, just in time to hear the cannon, then it turned around. Ah well...
michelhuebeli is offline  
Reply With Quote
May 5th, 2017, 12:27 PM
  #17
 
Join Date: May 2017
Posts: 3
I am sure, your trip in Saint Petersburg will be safe. There are no any reasons to apprehensive. Russian people are helpful and friendly) also there are many tourists on the St. Petersburg's streets.
privatedriver178 is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 05:57 AM.