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Old Jul 16, 09, 7:56 am   #1
 
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St. Petersburg Logistics?

We are heading to St. Petersburg in a few weeks. I wanted to pose a few logistical questions to the brain-trust on a couple topics where various searches have turned up somewhat conflicting or sketchy information:

Airport Transfers:
Is there any LED airport transfer company that folks here have actually used? There are a bunch mentioned on trip advisor but many appear to be second hand references. As any good F.T. would do, we are staying at the Marriott Courtyard burning points, so that’s where we are heading.

Rubles:
We’re a little hesitant to use cash machines – trying to keep from getting CC/debit card #’s lifted. Do many of you purchase rubles before you get there? We usually travel with USD travelers checks. Any issues in doing exchange at hotel or some of the exchange companies?

Police:
The guide books talk about police randomly stopping people for identity checks. Half of the books say carry copies of your documents, the other half of the guide books say carry the originals. Has anyone been stopped? Which did you have? What happened? Recommendations?

Tour Guides:
Finally, despite my pathological abhorrence of submitting to tours – my wife really wants to go on one. We usually walk everywhere and go through places ourselves. That said – does anyone here have good experiences and or recommendations for guides? Trip Advisor seems really focused on the cruise ship tour guides, and we’re looking to avoid that whole mass big-bus scene.

Many thanks!

Joel

Last edited by JoelA; Jul 16, 09 at 8:06 am.
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Old Jul 16, 09, 8:34 am   #2
 
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RE Rubles: you can buy them in advance now, but probably not at a good rate. I've never had any problems or incidences using ATMs in Russia - just use the same common sense you would anywhere - if it looks like a dodgy stand alone ATM you don't trust, stick to one built into the wall of a bank. And of course you can just take dollars as hard cash, there are exchange booths everywhere. You'd probably get a worse rate at the hotel though.

RE Police: sad truth is, random ID checks tend to be for anybody who looks like they could be from the Caucasus or Far East. Nevertheless I have been was checked once, so it can happen to anyone. Plus on some occasions you may be asked to show ID if you are paying with a credit card (Ikea in Moscow used to do this). Russia is a country where officially a xerox of passport pages is not acceptable. Of course I guess you can always say it is being held by the hotel for registration purposes, which is why you don't have it on you. I always carried mine with me in all the time I spent living in Russia (which is why all the faux gold leaf has worn off the front!).

Can't comment on transfers or tours I'm afraid.
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Last edited by bcmatt; Jul 16, 09 at 8:46 am.
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Old Jul 16, 09, 9:05 am   #3
 
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Quote:
Rubles:
We’re a little hesitant to use cash machines – trying to keep from getting CC/debit card #’s lifted. Do many of you purchase rubles before you get there? We usually travel with USD travelers checks. Any issues in doing exchange at hotel or some of the exchange companies?
You shouldn't have a problem using ATMs (bank-o-mat) in Russia. The transaction can also be completed in English. If the ATM offers the option to give you money in small bills, take it. It can be very difficult to pay with large ruble bills.
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Old Jul 16, 09, 9:10 am   #4
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Rubles -- The ATMs are fine. I've never had a problem. Before you leave, make sure to tell your banks you're going to use your cards in Russia! If you use travelers checks you'll find them hard to exchange except at the hotel, and there you'll get a horrible exchange rate. Purchasing Rubles in advance is probably not necessary as there are ATMs at the Moscow & St.Petersburg airports.

Police -- If you're just in St.Petersburg the chances of being stopped are rather low. I'd carry a copy of my passport with me and leave the original in my hotel. Technically, the police can no longer stop and check you. In practice, they sometimes do. I've never been stopped myself, but I've occasionally seen others get stopped.

Tours -- There are tours available from kiosks in front of Gostiny Dvor -- right on Nevsky. While I'd trust them to sell you a tour in English if they say that's what you're going to get, don't believe them if they assure you that the bus will be air conditioned. The city is quite walkable and a tour is not necessary. It would be a good idea, however, to arrange a tour of some of the palaces. For Peterhof, I'd suggest getting there via hydrofoil and not bus. That may mean you'll miss the inside, as the lines can be long in the summer and going without a tour means standing in the regular line. The gardens and fountains at Peterhof, however, are WELL worth the trip.
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Old Jul 16, 09, 10:13 pm   #5
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Tours - would an acceptable compromise be one of the "walking tours" from a guide book? They really work pretty well if you are meticulous about following the directions. Take turns doing the mapping and reading out loud, to share the work.

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Old Jul 17, 09, 3:08 am   #6
 
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Originally Posted by bcmatt View Post
And of course you can just take dollars as hard cash, there are exchange booths everywhere.
Beware of their tricks! It's always better to exchange money in bank branches, but if you choose to use the mentioned booths:

  • double check their exchange rate, ask exactly how many rubles you will get (they have calculators to show)
  • immediately count money, they disperse bills in the hope people miss some of them
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Old Aug 17, 09, 1:51 pm   #7
 
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Transportation:
We prebooked transfers with www.oksanas.net. Since we had a group of 4, they gave us a minivan for 45 Euro each way.

Rubles:
We used ATM's at the LED airport, our hotel (the Renaissance) and at banks on Nevsky Prospekt with no problems. Also, most street vendors will accept US $ at a fair exchange rate.

Police:
We were never stopped by anyone, and our hotel advised us NOT to take our passports with us, and to lock them in the safes in our rooms.

Tour Guides:
If you want to see the suburban palaces like Peterhof or the Catherine Palace, a tour guide is a must. I would also highly recommend one for the Hermitage as well. We used www.ninatour.com and had our own private tour for the 4 of us, again with a small minivan. The advantage of using this type of tour guide is you get to cut in front of all the large groups at the palaces and of course get great individual attention. Nina is very knowledgeable about the palaces, St. Petersburg, and Russian history in general. The palace tours should take approximately 5 hours from pickup to dropoff, and I'd book her for opening time at the Hermitage and then just stick around and look at art after her official tour.

If you need any other practical advice for St. Petersburg, PM me. We absolutely loved it!
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Old Aug 18, 09, 8:58 am   #8
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The advantage of using this type of tour guide is you get to cut in front of all the large groups at the palaces...
At the Hermitage (and many other places), you can also easily find a guide on the street, pay about as much as regular admission, and get a tour that takes you just past the huge line and the entrance gates
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Old Aug 18, 09, 9:37 am   #9
 
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Originally Posted by xyzzy View Post
At the Hermitage (and many other places), you can also easily find a guide on the street, pay about as much as regular admission, and get a tour that takes you just past the huge line and the entrance gates
They actually charge a little more than that, but your point about bypassing the huge line, etc. is 100% true and made the difference WELL worth it!
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Old Aug 23, 09, 10:40 pm   #10
 
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Ditto on the private tour comments. I did this and not only was I able to get past the massive tour bus lines, but had a uniwue insight into the Russian viewpoint of the history. We even went out to some of his favorite local restaurants - it was fab!

I've forgotten what company I used as it was three years ago but they also arranged all private car transfers in nice safe cars (as taxis are any "road worthy" vehicle).
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Old Aug 25, 09, 10:17 am   #11
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Hermitage - Line Skipping

We don't like tours, but there is another way to skip the lines. Just use the internet ticket which is offered on the official site. It costs more and it includes the photo permit. But, with that paper in our hand, we were allowed in the exit (no line) and then walked to the information counter (no line) where they fetched our tickets from the back door of the ticket booth. Less than 5 minutes from arrival to entry, on a very busy day.
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Old Aug 25, 09, 12:26 pm   #12
 
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Re: Airport transfers

We stayed in St Petersburg for two nights two weeks ago.

I pre-booked a car transfer from the airport (domestic terminal) to the hotel (HI on Moskovskye Vorota), and back.

It cost 45 USD each way, the driver (same both times) was very nice and could speak excellent english, and was on time. It took 20-25 minutes to drive in both directions. Car was an Open Zafira mini-van IIRC.

I booked it online on www.saint-petersburg.com, which then books you with Leon Transfer transport company. If I'm returning sometime and I've got luggage again I'll certainly use them again, otherwise without luggage I'll just use the local bus and the metro to reach the city.
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Old Aug 28, 09, 10:47 pm   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbrower View Post
We don't like tours, but there is another way to skip the lines. Just use the internet ticket which is offered on the official site. It costs more and it includes the photo permit. But, with that paper in our hand, we were allowed in the exit (no line) and then walked to the information counter (no line) where they fetched our tickets from the back door of the ticket booth. Less than 5 minutes from arrival to entry, on a very busy day.
I haven't been to St. Petersburg yet, but here is some info I've gleaned during research on the Hermitage. The Hermitage website is (not too surprisingly):

www.hermitagemuseum.org (then click on your preferred language)

Or, more specifically for booking tickets, go to this page:

http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/00/hm0_5_8.html

There are two types of tickets available online:

One-day ticket to "the main displays located in five interconnected buildings of the museum on Palace Embankment" for US $17.95

Two-consecutive-day ticket covering "the main displays of the Hermitage located in five interconnected buildings of the museum on Palace Embankment, the displays in the General Staff building, the Menshikov Palace, the Winter Palace of Peter the Great, and the displays of the Porcelain Museum" for US $25.95

And another possibly useful tip: Lonely Planet offers free downloads of portions of their online guidebooks, including an 11-page guide to the Hermitage which (even if you end up using a human guide) could still be helpful in planning. The downloads are in pdf format. Go here, and click on The Hermitage (PDF 1.8 MB):

http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/Primary...City+Guide.jsp
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Old Aug 30, 09, 6:24 pm   #14
 
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We were in St. Petersburg just last week. We arrived and departed by train so don't know about the airport.

We used an ATM with no problems.

Never saw any police. I heard from another guy on our (Rick Steves) tour that they used to stop all foreigners but were really looking for money. That was 10 years ago. Things seem to have improved.

http://www.peterswalk.com/ is first rate local tour guide company.

Excellent restaurant: The Idiot. Accommodates vegetarians and carnivores and has an English speaking staff. http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/gui...nt-detail.html

We were strongly advised not to drink the local tap water.
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Old Sep 2, 09, 11:09 am   #15
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Just got back from 12 days in Russia. Flew into Moscow (4 nights), flew to St. Petersburg (4 nights), overnight train back to Moscow (3 more nights).

I was never stopped for ID, although I wandered all over both places. For the record though - caucasian little-old-lady that mostly doesn't talk in public and tries to dress as native as possible. I did see uniforms all over, but they ignored me.

I used a bus to get from the airport downtown. It seemed fairly logical, and worked well. To get around downtown, it was either walking or the Metro. The Metro sells you tokens which you then use in the machines to enter.

I used ATM machines three times with no problems - once at the airport and twice in Moscow. Took me a while though to figure out that some of the machine were for changing cash, and some were true ATMs.

In St. Petersburg, a very easy excursion is to just catch the boat outside the Hermitage, and go to Peterhof. The boats run every 1/2 hour, the signs are in both Russian and English, the ride is very nice, and Peterhof spectacular.

Do take a little while and see if you can learn a bit of that Russian alphabet, if you don't know it already. 33 letters. Quite a few of them the same as ours (Roman), but about 1/2 of those actually take on a different character. A handful of Greek letters. And the rest are a real challenge. However, with just the Roman and Greek ones sorted out, you will be able to crack quite a few cognates, and it feels so good when you do.

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