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Northern Lights Hotel: definitely a smart budget choice.

Sydney
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Northern Lights Hotel: definitely a smart budget choice.

For those (like ourselves) not familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, Russia is not the easiest country in the world to find your way around in, and dual-alphabet signage is now only just starting to appear, and only in the main tourist areas. It is doubly-important, then, that the independent traveller find accommodation which is as close to all the main attractions as possible, and which is, itself, easy to find, in a street everybody knows. It also helps if the hotel is small and friendly, with staff who speak English sufficiently-well to get you over the first-half-day hurdles.

The Northern Lights Hotel, in St Petersburg, in my opinion, ticks all the boxes. We consider ourselves very lucky indeed to have found this establishment -- I think we might have heard of it first on Tripadvisor, but maybe it was on waytorussia.net -- and our experience there was so rewarding that we consider it a payback and a pleasure to give them a few kind words on this forum.

Location: unless you have a week to spend on your sightseeing (it's a big city!) you need to be near the river, as close as possible to the Hermitage (the tourist office is just outside), and, hopefully, close to Nevsky Prospekt, which is the main boulevard cutting right through the city. It also helps if you are near a landmark which everybody knows and is on every street map.

Well, Northern Lights is an eight-minute stroll from the river, a further three minutes along the riverside to the Hermitage, and its street actually runs off Nevsky Prospekt (there's a McDonald's sign pointing into the street from Nevsky.... past McDonalds and about two more blocks, and there you are). What's more, Northern Lights is only half a block from St Isaac's Square, one of the main landmarks in the city -- you can see the dome of the church from afar. Just for a clincher, Northern Lights is directly opposite the house where Vladimir Nabokov used to live and work, and which is now a museum (currently giving free admission).

The building itself is nothing to write home about, and there is little on the outside to advertise the fact that a cozy hotel is inside.... just a buzzer (number 6) with the name of the hotel beside it. Once you are buzzed in through the security outside door, you walk up a dank and dingy staircase -- it looks like something out of a black-and-white foreign movie; the kind where Anna Magnani stands at the top and yells down abuse to people at the front door, while kids run up and down, their footsteps echoing on the concrete walls -- to the third floor, where suddenly you see a very new-looking door.... the only thing in the building that doesn't look like it's been there since the Stalin era.

That's Northern Lights, and when you walk in, the atmosphere changes instantly and dramatically... cozy, warm, bright, clean, no echoes.

The staff is at least three young girls -- that's all we encountered, anyway -- and each one speaks English quite beautifully. They are very welcoming and eager to please... nothing is too much trouble. They bring the (included) breakfast right to your room, which is equipped with table and chairs. If you bring food from outside, you can store it in their refrigerator (there is a supermarket just across the canal a block away, and we found this a good way to save a bit of money, as St Petersburg (and, in fact, Russia generally) is NOT cheap).

If you want the internet, you are welcome to use theirs, free of charge. I had one main question to ask (at the insistence of my teenage daughter): where is the ballet school where Nijinsky, Pavlova and Nureyev trained? That didn't throw them for a second, and we found it easily (a ten-minute walk... it seems that just about everything we wanted to see was a ten-minute walk). When we were leaving, and needed an edge-of-town address, they checked it on the net and told us which bus to catch and where. They wrote directions down in Russian so we could show the bus conductor. In short, their care of their guests is impeccable.

Northern Lights is a budget boutique hotel... just five rooms and a bathroom/toilet (we kept returning to use that, hours after we had actually checked out... public toilets are not too common and invariably cost you money in Russia). Everything was spotlessly clean, and they weren't put out by our post-check-out drop-ins. They willingly stored our backpacks until our ferry left in the late afternoon.

When we returned to Australia, there was an email from Northern Lights thanking us for staying with them. The pleasure, girls, was all ours. Highly recommended.

Auckland Region...
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1. Re: Northern Lights Hotel: definitely a smart budget choice.

Hi

Terrific that you had a positive experience. Appreciate the report.

For clarification, , your visa experience.....

Did Northern Lights do the invitation/visa support?

How did you register ?

Thanks

DCtheKiwi

Edited: 01 June 2010, 11:12
St Petersburg Russia
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for St. Petersburg
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2. Re: Northern Lights Hotel: definitely a smart budget choice.

That was a great description.....but one thing that was unclear, the "5 rooms and bath/toilet". Does that mean a common bath like in the old Communal apartments? Or does each room have its own?

The first time I visited Europe from the US I was surprised to learn that there was a shared facility but quickly found that low cost travel in many regions of the world are arranged that way.

For reference, since I have never visited it, but pass it often, what the prices were?

You are right about public restrooms, or toilets as they are called here. There are pay toilets around most major tourist destinations however. These are the French made self cleaning type that are used around the world because they keep clean during the day. More and more cafes and restaurants are allowing visitors off the street but one class of shop that has built special provisions for rest stops are the larger souvenir shops which use expanded facilities to accommodate visitors as a way of encouraging large tour groups to come browse. They do not charge so a visitor can find a rest room a lot easier now than a few years ago.

Sydney
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3. Re: Northern Lights Hotel: definitely a smart budget choice.

Hi, Stanj and Acedog!

Just to clarify:

The Northern Lights Hotel didn't do the letter of invitation and voucher... this was sent (over the net) by Parallel60 Tours, a St Petersburg travel agency who booked both it and our Moscow Hotel.

We were only at Northern Lights for two days and one night, which happened to be a Sunday, so there wouldn't have been time for them to do the registering.... on the Monday night we proceeded to one of the Moscow-bound river cruise boats (also booked for us by Slava at Parallel60 Tours) where, with all the time in the world, the Cruise people registered our visa. Interestingly enough, when we got to Moscow (where Slava had booked us three nights at the Ismailov Gamma-Delta), this hotel also registered our visas for us, a second time.... don't ask me why, maybe that's the law. Also interestingly, neither the cruise ferry nor the hotel charged us anything for registering, and Parallel60 didn't charge for the letter of invitation and voucher, which was a welcome surprise for us after reading a lot of the posts on the Russian travel sites (mainly waytorussia) where a charge is always levied.

The Northern Lights has one common bathroom, no ensuites.... in other words, European style, not American-motel style. The cost for the room (double) was 2940 roubles, including breakfast (a bit more expensive than the Ismailov Gamma-Delta in Moscow, which came in at 2600 roubles... but it was out in the suburbs, and, anyway, if you wanted breakfast it was another 400 roubles each).

Interesting, Stanj, that you pass by often. You're lucky, that's a nice part of the city. It was also interesting to read what you had to say about free public rest rooms; I confess the only free ones we found were in museums (and, in the case of the Hermitage, that's a hefty price to pay to use the toilet!). But, then, we never go into souvenir shops, anyway, so we wouldn't have been likely to discover those; in some cities (it wasn't necessary in this case) we use McDonalds rather shamelessly for this purpose: one of us "examines" the menu while the other "examines" the rest rooms, and then we swap places. We have done this dozens of times, but I can't recall whether we've ever done the honourable thing afterwards and actually purchased anything, cads that we are.

Edited: 02 June 2010, 10:48
4. Re: Northern Lights Hotel: definitely a smart budget choice.

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