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St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

Munich, Germany
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St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

Hi everyone,

We've been reading the forum for a while now because We're planning a trip to St. Petersburg in July.

We're not very fond of tour guides and thought we'd buy the flights, book the hotel all separate and walk around on our own.

My questions are:

a) How easy is it to get to the main attractions using public transportation?

b) Can we get around with English or is it not welcome?

c) Is it probable that we'll pay more than locals in restaurants just because we don't speak the language? Any bad experiences?

d) Is it safe to walk around at night to photograph?

e) How anal are the Consulates concerning visas?

I'd be really grateful if you could answer at least some of the questions.

Thanks a lot

Al

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St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg
Northwestern District, Russia
Moscow, Russia
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1. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

> a) How easy is it to get to the main attractions using public transportation?

Fairly easy.

> b) Can we get around with English or is it not welcome?

Very welcome, but little understood :)

> c) Is it probable that we'll pay more than locals in restaurants just because we don't speak the language? Any bad experiences?

Highly unlikely.

> d) Is it safe to walk around at night to photograph?

Yes, if you use common sense (like not trying to shoot a group of drunk football fans with an expensive SLR from close quarters :)

> e) How anal are the Consulates concerning visas?

Well, if 'insisting on all required papers being in order' is 'anal' then very anal they are :)

Munich, Germany
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2. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

Hi!

thanks for your answer! I'm a lot more enthusiastic now.

Do you live there? How come do you know so much?

Anyways, that definitely helped.

Cheers

Al

Moscow, Russia
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3. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

> Do you live there?

I live about 700 km to the south, as you can easily see to the left of my message right under my picture :)

St. Petersburg...
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4. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

Hello!

I live here and I confirm the answers of Marassa. :)

Have a nice trip!

russia
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5. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

As far as overpaying, you will overpay in a taxi if you do not speak Russian. It might be hard to negotiate a fare price in a taxi in English but just be sure to find out how much you intended rides should cost before getting in.

Also without a guide you will have to stand in long lines to get to major museum s.a. Hermitage. Guided can preoder tickets and have a separate entrance so may want to consider guides for hard to get in places.

Mykonos, Greece
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6. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

Hi, we did St Pete a couple years ago in June, here are some thoughts:

You for sure have to dot your i's and cross your t's on the Consulate paperwork. I was lucky in that Russia has a Consulate in my city, but it took several visits to get everything ready. Your hotel can provide you with the necessary paperwork to accompany the application.

All the major sites are easily reachable on foot in the city center. I thoroughly recommend a good guide book to plan your itinerary, it will help you determine what you want to see. Walking around the streets and canals between sights is a big part of enjoying the city. You could easily spend 2 or 3 complete days just doing the city center and not see it all. St Pete is absolutely stunning visually.

I didn't find huge lines for anything, and didn't pre-book the Hermitage or anything like that. We did Peterhof on our own, via boat from the dock adjacent to the Winter Palace. For the other Imperial palaces, we did a car and driver thru our hotel concierge (the Astoria) which was a great way to save time even if it cost more. We also booked tickets thru the concierge to see a ballet at the Mariinsky, it added a wonderful cultural taste of Russia.

For food, generally we didn't find much that we liked. Our best luck was eating in the restaurants of the various nicer hotels, since they cater to more Western tastes. Aside from the hotels, we tried an Irish Pub and a Greek place, and while they staved off hunger they really weren't tasty.

St Pete is not set up well for English, but don't that let deter you. Almost none of the signs are in English, and few people outside the tourist trade speak it. You can get by pretty well, and if you go into it thinking it's an adventure then you'll do great. I remember being in a wine shop and pointing at various things, and using lots of nods and shakes of the head to communicate. The locals weren't friendly or unfriendly, they were mostly neutral.

All the books say you can only spend rubles, but certain shops, once they saw the dollars and euros in my wallet, were happy to take those. Credit cards were widely accepted also.

For me, it added to the trip by having done some reading ahead of time, both about the city and its history, as well as the Romanov dynasty, so you might get some good books and read up ahead of time, it will help you anticipate your trip!

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Astoria Hotel
Astoria Hotel
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St. Petersburg, Russia
Munich, Germany
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7. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

Hey,

But you can also pre-order a ticket as a normal tourist, right?

Great to hear that you all had a positive experience in Russia. I guess I'll start the application for our visas soon so that we don't run out of time.

Thanks ya'll for the thorough answers.

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8. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

I did not see which country you are applying for the visa from but in most, other than the US requires a simple 1 page form application to which you attach your invitation from the hotel or tour operator, a passport style photo and money order or direct deposit receipt for the consular fee. It is pretty simple and seldom is rejected. US residents have a longer form to fill out because the US requires Russians to fill out a long intrusive form when applying for visas to the US. Even after that most US visa are denied to Russian citizens.

English is spoken more in St Petersburg than anywhere else in Russia because so many residents came to St Petersburg for university and stayed after graduation. English is commonly taught in primary school starting in the 2nd grade. It is even possible to attend university here and take all classes in English in a few selected degree programs. St Petersburg probably has the highest percentage of college/university grads in the world for a large city.

I would guess that 1/2 the people under 30 would be able to communicate in English and somewhat less for those older. French and German are also studied by a lot of people but to a lesser degree than English.

In recent years a lot of signs in the city center have been added in English plus the great metro system(subways) have new English signs that are helpful.

A visitor would be helped a lot by memorizing the Cyrillic alphabet because many signs have words that sound like their equivalent word in English if sounded out. It can be memorized in an hour and will save a lot of time and confusion.

Is it safe? Street crime is very low for large cities and what crime there is, the only problem for visitors is pickpockets. They operate, usually in groups around a very few specific locations in the summer. The area around the Church on Spilled Blood, and in the metro at Gostinny Dvor shopping center and along a short section of Nevsky prospect. Keeping wallets in front pockets or purse straps over the head and closed is enough to prevent pickpockets from bothering with you however. They operate mostly around busy tourism stops during the daytime. There are no concentrations of people at night so they are not reported as a problem after 5-6 pm.

Some westerner's habits are very predictable so pickpockets go for the easiest prey, men who put wallets in hip pockets absentmindedly and women who are very casual with their purses hanging open, dangling from the same side shoulder. Sincere there is almost nothing in a wallet of any use to a visitor outside their country, and its contents might be hard to replace it seems really silly to carry one when a credit card and a few bills of local currency are all that is needed for a day's outing. A driver's license, extra cards etc have no use to the visitor, the only useful and required document outside of your home country is an international passport.

Foreign prices have been outlawed some years ago for most purchases with exceptions of theaters/concert halls and museums. The local price for a ballet at the Mariinsky is 1/3 to 1/5th the price a visitor pays. The visitor price is similar to what the going international rate would be. Students should bring their photo-school id or student body card because there are deep discounts for students in many places.

Almost all other purchases are marked as the only selling price, not negotiable for both locals and visitors. It is illegal to transact business in any other currency than Rubles and Rubles are very easy to get from ATMs or money exchange offices so there is no excuse for breaking the law. Every country has similar rules of currency because tax collection records would be a nightmare if there were many currencies to consider. A few, only a few, street vendors and tourist shops will accept dollars and euros but since it is illegal you can be certain you will not be getting as good a deal as from a shop that must compete with others for business. Some street vendors also encourage negotiation and have no set prices. Tourist always end up paying for than the value of the item that way, the vendor is an expert in extracting the most from people who have no idea of the real value of the items offered. Finding legitimate shops is not a problem, the city center is dominated by commercial activity and the suburbs have large modern malls and shopping complexes where prices are competitive. Be wary of guides insisting on visiting one or more specific shops for gifts, they get commissions for any purchases you make. Some shops pay just for bringing someone without a purchase needed. Those shops have prices well above the average of course.

Hailing a taxi from the street can be expensive since most do not have meters running so a price is negotiated beforehand. A quote from a taxi near a major hotel will be much higher than walking down the street a block. There is a lot more competition now so prices can be reasonable. Often the newest cars with the best condition are paradoxically the best deals. You will see dozens of old Volga sedans parked along Nevsky prospect with bored looking drivers reading or sleeping. Normally they are looking for one big killing so they will not even consider a fare less than outrageous so they sit, and sit for many hours for that one big killing. On the other hand newer cars with younger drivers and signs for their company displayed are often quite reasonable, and eager to get your business.

Many of them work for companies that have dispatch services. Calling one of them gets a taxi at a reasonable fixed price quoted while on the phone, within a few minutes. Many of the newer taxis have large lettering for the phone number of their dispatcher. I use one of a few simply because their numbers are so easy to remember at 4a.m. when I am coming out of a pub or dance club..."6-000-000" and "7-000-000" are two I use for that reason. From city center to the airport I usually pay about 500 rubles that way.

If I tried one of the old beat up Volga's parked on Nevsky prospect they would not bother for less than 2000 Rubles.

The only museums hard to get into due to lines are early morning Hermitage and Catherine Palace. The lines at the Hermitage in the summer are short after the morning rush. Catherine Palace is becoming a real problem with limited ticket office hours and entrance times unless you are part of a group tour or tour arranged for by one of the larger tour operators who have contracts with Catherine Palace. That is one destination that joining a group would be helpful. Many of the most interesting museums, less famous than the Hermitage are surprisingly crowdless. I visited the really interesting Communications Museum on a Saturday last summer and for the first hour I was the only person in the large museum. The largest Maritime museum in the world only gets a few visitors a day. Those who explore and get off the main path described by guide books will be pleasantly surprised how easy the city is to enjoy without crowding. Coming in the fall or winter has advantages, no crowds, a lot lower hotel prices and milder than expected weather. The pace is slower and more relaxing in the off season, the social and cultural pace of the city increases however and most theaters are busy every night with full programs. I love the winter time here as a result. Real museum hounds and cultural event fans come in the winter when they have real advantages besides the lower prices and limited crowds.

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9. Re: St. Petersburg - Tourist friendly?

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