We spent two weeks in Russia from April 24 to May 8, 2013, arriving in and departing from St Petersburg airport - with a week side trip to Moscow. We ordered our visas through VisaHQ by completing a simple questionnaire - they obtained our visa support documents, submitted the application package and returned our passports with a copy of support documents and approved visa - all with one charge to a credit card. We applied 90 days before departure and received our visas within ten days. We ordered tickets online for the Hermitage and Mariinsky Ballet and our e-tickets worked flawlessly. Sapsan train tickets to and from Moscow were ordered through trainsrussia.com. We printed e-tickets, but needed only our passport to board.
We stayed at the Nevsky Contour Hotel [see separate review under Hotels] and were very pleased with the convenient location and helpful staff, all of whom spoke English. Our five favorite sites were the Hermitage, Mariinsky Ballet, Catherine Palace, Russian Museum and Peter Palace. My wife reluctantly agreed to visit the Catherine and Peter Palaces - thinking they were only grandiose opulence, but she found the Catherine Palace magical. We visited Peterhof on our last day and strolled the grounds enjoying the fountains and people - skipping the palace/museums. We used metro and bus for both Catherine and Peter Palaces. Our hotel gave us instructions and assistance from friendly bystanders kept us proceeding in the right direction. Our favorite place to eat was Stolle where we sampled as many different pyrogi - sweet and savoury - as possible. We also liked their soups and pelmeni.
Many thanks to everyone who asked a question or answered a question on this Forum. We reviewed everything for several months while planning our trip and learned from numerous entries. We used 'Rough Guide to St Petersburg' and had no trouble operating on our own. We found St Petersburg to be a lovely, safe city with extraordinary art, fabulous ballet, great food, easy-to-use public transportation and friendly people!