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Old 12-12-2009, 10:16 AM
 
Location: 20 years from now
5,570 posts, read 5,747,378 times
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Other than having some indepth knowledge of the political history there, I really have no idea what to expect.

Does anyone have any advice interms of where to stay, where to stay out-of, and must sees?
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Old 12-12-2009, 10:40 AM
 
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Itshim, my wife and I went on a guided tour of St. Petersburg in February, 2000. It STILL ranks as one of our favorite trips! We booked our tour from a German travel agency (because we lived there at the time) and it may be cheaper to book your tour through a European travel agency... (I got my visa here with confirmeation that I booked the tour in Germany)

Anyway, we LOVED St. Petersburg! Even in Winter! Our thinking is that, in Winter, the lines to the palaces and museums were MUCH shorter than the Summertime. I'm sure St. petersburg would be even more scenic without the Winter grime, but we still were very impressed.

I suppose it may be possible to make your own travel arrangements; after all, there is a decent-sized expatriot community there. We just found it easier to let our guide take care of all the ins-and-outs. But that's us.

My wife speaks a little Russian and we ventured out from our hotel one evening. We were aable to ride the city bus and enjoyed a meal of "blinis" (a crepe-like stuffed pastry). Dirt cheap!

There really are two Russias; the "Capitalist" Russia, where all the young entrepreneurs run around in their BMWs wearing the latest fashions. Then there's the traditional Russians who got left behind when Peristroika changed the rules of the game. You'll find that there are two price structures; one for Russians and the more expensive "Tourist" rates. Don't get upset; the reason is that many Russians could not afford to see their own national treasures in the hermitage if they were cahrged the same rate as tourists...

Itshim, we flew to and from St. Petersburg from Frankfurt via Lufthansa. We decide against a second leg of the tour that would've been to Moscow because we did NOT want to fly on Aeroflot!!! In all fairness, things at Aeroflot might be safer today. But back then, we just didn't want to take the risk. If we'd had the time, we'd have taken the train (despite the recent news of terrorism...GULP!)

Hope this helps!
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Old 12-12-2009, 11:06 AM
 
Location: 20 years from now
5,570 posts, read 5,747,378 times
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Crew thanks ALOT for that insite.

I'm a history guy myself, so St. Petersburg is a MUST even though Moscow is probably the most popular tourist destination.

You brought up an important point though. How bilingual are Russians? Is it easy to navigate only as an English speaker? Would you advise going with a tour group or is it possible to hack it through maps, tourst books etc?
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Old 12-12-2009, 02:29 PM
 
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Itshim, we went to St. Petersburg on a German language tour. I speak enough German to get in trouble but have a wife that is fluent in both German and English. Our tour guide, a very nice woman, spoke some English but I'm not sure English is that widely spoken in Russia. At least among older Russians. When we were in places like the Hermitage, I talked with Russian guides that spoke perfect English, however.

I'm really not sure what it would be like to tour St. Petersburg on your own. My wife and I are pretty adventurous, but we personally felt a group tour was the way to go for our limited time available and "bang for the buck" factors like explaining what we were seeing in the museums. And steering us clear of any problems. Not that we felt there would be any. (Heavily-armed police officers on many corners definitely got our attention, though...)

We came away from St. Petersburg feeling MORE than satisfied that we had experienced a good slice of what Russia is. Yes, it would've been nice to see the Kremlin and other Moscow attractions. But, for us, St. Petersburg was definitely a good compromise.
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Old 12-12-2009, 02:47 PM
 
Location: rain city
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Quote:
Originally Posted by itshim View Post
Crew thanks ALOT for that insite.

I'm a history guy myself, so St. Petersburg is a MUST even though Moscow is probably the most popular tourist destination.

You brought up an important point though. How bilingual are Russians? Is it easy to navigate only as an English speaker? Would you advise going with a tour group or is it possible to hack it through maps, tourst books etc?
There is more English in St. Petersburg than anywhere else in Russia. However this is not to say that there are many English speakers in St. Petersburg, just more than anywhere else in the country. There is quite a bit of signage in English in the center of St. Petersburg, it's the most touristed place in Russia. However your average run-of-the mill Russian on the street likely will not speak English.

In general, Russians are not very bilingual. Remember Russian and Cyrillic are/were the language of the land all the way from central Asia to the countries of eastern Europe. A very huge swath of the planet. For a lot of those former soviet bloc counties, Russian was their second language--not English.

In Russia now, your best bet for English speakers is the young people 25 and below. Most older Russians if they do speak a second language, it is most likely to be German, followed by French.

Outside of the touristed centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is NO English in Russia.
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Old 12-15-2009, 12:57 PM
 
Location: Durham, NC
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Visas for Americans are a challenge so a tour group will make that process as easy as possible. Also, it has gotten quite expensive there. My wife went on a business trip to St. Petersburg 2 years ago and her room at a 4-star hotel was almost $600 per night and a Coke from room service was over $10. Again, the tour group approach may be able to negotiate far better rates and thus shield you significantly from the sticker shock on the rack rates.
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Old 12-15-2009, 02:03 PM
 
Location: IL
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It has been a while (~10 years) since I was in St Pete's, the last time I was there was in May, which was a great time to go, for me. It was light for a really good part of the day. I spoke some Russian at the time, which was necessary in some cases, but when I couldn't communicate I figured things out in hand signals.

Tourist places (hotels, restaurant) are MUCH more expensive, but the prob with not being in a tourist place is commincation.

I also used the public transit system, which I tried to figure out before hand. I also walked a lot. There were also some American food chains, which I fell back on a couple of times after I couldn't eat anymore beet salads, sausage, eggs, or cabbage (I am exagerating here).
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Old 12-15-2009, 02:05 PM
 
Location: IL
2,992 posts, read 4,436,194 times
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One more thing, just be careful, like you should in any foreign country. Some helpful people may really not be "helpful" if you put too much trust in them.

St Pete's is a wonderful city, and since you are a history person, it will be great.
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