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St. Petersburg/Russia travel info

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Denis Pinto

I recently saw a post on St. Petersburg and Russia, and I just wanted to update
a little of the information. I have traveled to St. Petersburg and Moscow a
number of times over the last 2 years. My most recent trip though, was last
summer. I lived for the summer in St. Petersburg, while running student
tours to Russia from the US.

St. Petersburg is great in the summer. The best time to visit is in June and
July, when the weather is really nice, and when the "White Nights" are
occuring. The "White Nights" are generally the last two weeks of June, when
it really never gets totally dark. During that time, the city has a music
festival, which last year attracted a few well known musicians. They also have
lots of other events, including fireworks, and a Navy Day, where the Russian
Navy parks in the river. For me though, the best thing that happened during
the festival was that I got a free helicoptor flight in a big 35 passenger
Aeroflot helicoptor over the city of St. Petersburg at 1 in the morning--yes it
was still light as day!

Anyway, the weather in St. Pete was farily nice all summer. Most days it is 75
degrees F, although it is partly cloudy most of the time. I wore shorts and a
T-shirt most of the summer, although Russian men won't do the same and wear
shorts. You will find that Moscow is a little warmer than St. Pete, because it
is not next to the Baltic Sea. I would equate Moscow's summer with Chicago's
summer, on average.

If you do go to St. Petersburg, don't bring cigarettes. While they used to be
a good thing to bring, now they are really cheap in Russia. A pack of
western cigarettes only costs 50 cents now, so don't bring them.

You certainly can still take care of your expenses by bringing things to trade.
Jeans are still good to trade, even though millions of people bring them.
certainly won't bring $150 though--maybe $35, with the tags. Usually though, I
think the best things to trade are things in your closet that you don't wear
anymore, and aren't worth anything to you. If you bring those, you can trade
them for souvenirs. Usually the things that are wanted are Sweatshirts, nice
T-shirts, and clothes like Land's End Jackets. The Russians only want name
brands. Land's End Squall Jackets will sell for $90 new right now (as of Jan).
The Russians will also try to get you to trade your walkman, and probably
your watch too.

The food in Russia is vastly improved. Now, you can eat good food for very
cheap. I usually tell my students to bring no more than $50 for two weeks of
meals. This is not to say that you can't spend more, because you can. If you
go out to eat at hard-currency restaurants, and pay dollars(or now...the
equilivant in Roubles), you will be ripped off. On the other hand, if you are
willing to be a little adventurous, I know many Russian cafes where you can
get a good meal for $1 to $2. At the ruble restaurants, the quality isn't
quite as high as the hard currency restaurants...but it is certainly still
food. The key is to only eat in places which accept Rubles. Many new joint
venture restaurants have a ruble room, and a dollar room. In the dollar
you will pay 10 times more for the same food, but then again, you won't ever
have to wait 10 minutes or so. Bread is still really cheap...last summer it
was 15 cents a loaf. There is even a Scottish/Russian donut shop in St.
Pete, where western style donuts are only a penny each.
Denis Pinto

Getting around in St. Petersburg will be very inexpensive. A monthly
metro/bus/tram pass cost only $1 last summer. That was for unlimited travel
on all public transportation for the month. Taxis can also be had for very
little money. The key is to bargain with the drivers. Most drivers will try
charge more once they realize that you are a foreigner, but if you learn your
basic Russian numbers, you can usually get a taxi for $1 - $2 for a 1/2 hour
ride. The key is to bargain hard, and not try to pick up a taxi outside the
most expensive hotel in town. Also, this logic does not apply for the St.
Pete international airport, because the mafia has a taxi cartel there which
a minimum of $20 for the ride into town. There, you can avoid this by taking
any public bus outside the airport grounds, and then flaging down a car for
only $1 or $2.

The museums in St. Petersburg are all very cheap, except for the Hermitage.
The Hermitage now costs like $8 or so to get in. They upped it to this price
last June....from about 25 cents. Other than the Hermitage though, the
are still cheap. Usually, it costs 15 to 20 cents for a museum. Certainly
less than $1.

If you go to St. Petersburg, you should definitely go to the Kirov Theater,
and see the Ballet. Don't buy your tickets in front of the theater, rather
buy the
tickets from the ticket office inside. Many times there are tickets still
unsold inside, while scalpers are selling the same 25 cent tickets outside
$5-$10 or more to unsuspecting tourists. You can also buy the tickets from
street kisoks, but it is difficult to know what you are buying unless you
some Russian. Also, don't buy the tickets from Intourist....I recall one
last summer when I bought a opera ticket for 50 cents, and the American
behind me(We were both sitting in the Emperor's box--best seats in the house)
had paid $40 for his seat from Intourist that afternoon. I had bought my
tickets right before the show....with about 8 or so of us Americans. As you
can imagine...he wasn't happy. Not that Intourist could care anyway
though....I am sure that they didn't give him his money back.

If you are planning on going to St. Petersburg via Finland, the the cheapest
way is not to take the train directly. This train costs about $80 to $100
one-way. Rather, take the 2 hour Hydrofoil from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia
for $20. Then buy a overnight sleeping car train from Tallinn to St.
Petersburg(or Moscow if you like). This sleeping car train last summer only
cost $1 each way. It likely has gone up, but traveling within the ex-Soviet
republics(including the Baltics) is always cheaper than buying an
train ticket from Finland to Russia. The train is also cheap from Warsaw to
St. Petersburg. Last summer...it was only $40 for the 30 hour sleeping car
journey from St. Petersburg to Warsaw. Again, it is best to avoid buying the
ticket from Intourist.

This is just a few tips about St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is a great city.
In my opinion, it is a much more interesting city than Moscow, and should be
seen soon, before it is totally westernized.

If you have any questions about St. Petersburg, I may be able to help. If you
are wondering what my angle is, I am a recently graduated student who loves to
travel cheap. I myself traveled to Russia two years ago, and I got to know
some Russian students. Since then, we together have been helping other
backpackers see St. Petersburg fairly inexpensively. We get you to Russia,
get you cheap accommodations, and get you started in St. Petersburg
with a bus tour
and an orientation. Then...you are free as a bird to do and go whereever you
like...including Siberia if you get the urge. We just help you do what you
want cheaply, and help you avoid paying the $40 for the 50 cent opera
tickets, etc
Oksana Ivanova

Hello Denis,
My husband and I are considering going to St.Petersburg this summer. Can you recommend inexpensive places to stay? Would you stay in city center or outside the city? Are tickets to museums and events easy to obtain without using a tourist agency? Your answers would be appreciated.
Marion Ockendon

Hi Denis,

Found your info very interesting - you obviously know what you're talking about ! I'm about to come to St P with a group of school pupils to a language school next week, and we'll be based just opposite the Moscow Station. Do you know any cheap, but not tacky, eateries nearby where we could have lunch, in a "Russian" atmosphere, where the kids would have to use their Russian (very basic !) ?

Also, I'm about to order tickets for the Prodigy concert over the net - would I be better getting them once we're there, or is it likely they'll be sold out ? Where is the Ice Palace ?

Will there be any ice hockey games on between 30th march and 6th April ?

Thanks in advance for your help/ rose