A Trip to Russia

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reggiesimpson
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A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:29 pm

My wife and I plan on a trip to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next October. Probably fly into Moscow and out of St. Pete. Any recommendations from seasoned travelers would be appreciated.

obgraham
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by obgraham » Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:05 pm

Are you taking an arranged tour? Unless you speak Russian, it's not easy to do Russia by yourselves.

riverguy
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by riverguy » Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:28 pm

obgraham wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:05 pm
Are you taking an arranged tour? Unless you speak Russian, it's not easy to do Russia by yourselves.
Not true at all. Also don’t believe anything you hear in the media about Russia. What exactly are you wanting recommendations for? Airbnb for lodging. I stayed in some amazing places (5 min walk from red square and 5 min walk to the Hermitage) for cheap during peak summer season.

Uber and subway to get around. Most places have English menus to eat.

Go see Lenin. Get there early only open a few days of the week. Church of our savior on spilled blood is the most impressive church I have seen in Europe. It has been restored but absolutely stunning. See Peterhof palace. I’m not sure I would go see Catherine palace. I was quite underwhelmed. Visit the kremlin of course. Bunker 42 in Moscow was awesome. If you have time or interest a trip to Crimea is very interesting. The submarine base tour there is great along with the Swallows nest castle and Lividia palace.

If you can move your trip to summer you can buy a World Cup ticket and use your fan id as your visa. Probably will save you some money and you get to go to a game if you are a soccer fan?

What else?

ArmchairArchitect
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by ArmchairArchitect » Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:32 pm

riverguy wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:28 pm
obgraham wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:05 pm
Are you taking an arranged tour? Unless you speak Russian, it's not easy to do Russia by yourselves.
Also don’t believe anything you hear in the media about Russia.
Haha ok. I guess we are supposed to trust Kremlin-controlled media more than independent media?

riverguy
Posts: 213
Joined: Sun May 23, 2010 10:33 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by riverguy » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:06 pm

ArmchairArchitect wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:32 pm
riverguy wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:28 pm
obgraham wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:05 pm
Are you taking an arranged tour? Unless you speak Russian, it's not easy to do Russia by yourselves.
Also don’t believe anything you hear in the media about Russia.
Haha ok. I guess we are supposed to trust Kremlin-controlled media more than independent media?
Ever been there?

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dm200
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Location: Washington DC area

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by dm200 » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:09 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:29 pm
My wife and I plan on a trip to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next October. Probably fly into Moscow and out of St. Pete. Any recommendations from seasoned travelers would be appreciated.
Went there in 1969 - then the Soviet Union ...

If you do not know any Russian, spend 15-30 minutes and learn to "transliterate" from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Many Russian words have recognizable cognates. For example - you see signs all over PECTOPAH - transliterates to RESTORAN - restaurant. I did not do that before I went. If you can -- try to learn a little Russian language - both spoken and written. Even a little is very helpful..

Go see "Lenin" (or what is alleged to be him) in Moscow. There is wonderful museum in or near Red Square. The churches in the Kremlin.

St Isaacs Cathedral in St Petersburg and St Peter & Paul

Be prepared for the cold temperatures.

Winter palace in St Petersburg. Hermitage museum...If still open, summer palace as well.

The Soviets and now Russians are proud of their educational system and healthcare.

Do NOT (repeat DO NOT) drink heavily (preferably at all) with any Russians. They tend to be "professionals" at tolerating alcohol (especially Vodka).

MikeZ
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by MikeZ » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:19 pm

Also, unless you arrive via boat you need a visa.

Arthur Digby Sellers
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by Arthur Digby Sellers » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:26 pm

I haven't been to Moscow, but St. Petersburg was a great trip. I agree that it was more difficult to get around / speak in English than in Western Europe, but it is very possible. The central city is walkable, and the train lines are very efficient.

Do not skip the Hermitage or Church on Spilled Blood. Those are major attractions, and they are incredible. If you have any interest in the Battle of Leningrad (or have read City of Thieves by David Benioff, a great novel) or the Russian perspective on World War II, the Museum of the Defence and Blockade of Leningrad would be interesting as well.

One tip--as of several years ago, the taxi situation at the St. Petersburg airport was very confusing. Do not give up on finding the "official" taxi line and allow an "unofficial" taxi to take you to your destination. They will hold you up for an extortionate amount for the cab fare, and because you are an American in Russia who presumably does not speak Russian, what are you going to do about it? Uber/Lyft may have solved this problem by now.

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dm200
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by dm200 » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:53 pm

Arthur Digby Sellers wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:26 pm
I haven't been to Moscow, but St. Petersburg was a great trip. I agree that it was more difficult to get around / speak in English than in Western Europe, but it is very possible. The central city is walkable, and the train lines are very efficient.
Do not skip the Hermitage or Church on Spilled Blood. Those are major attractions, and they are incredible. If you have any interest in the Battle of Leningrad (or have read City of Thieves by David Benioff, a great novel) or the Russian perspective on World War II, the Museum of the Defence and Blockade of Leningrad would be interesting as well.
One tip--as of several years ago, the taxi situation at the St. Petersburg airport was very confusing. Do not give up on finding the "official" taxi line and allow an "unofficial" taxi to take you to your destination. They will hold you up for an extortionate amount for the cab fare, and because you are an American in Russia who presumably does not speak Russian, what are you going to do about it? Uber/Lyft may have solved this problem by now.
Yes - Hermitage is amazing...

it goes back many decades, but https://www.amazon.com/900-Days-Siege-L ... +Leningrad was very "enlightening"

If you are into classical music and ballet - check those out as well.

In addition to St Isaacs, there is another noteworthy Orthodox church in St Petersburg (did not go there, and cannot recall the name).

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VictoriaF
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by VictoriaF » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:14 pm

I have left the USSR over thirty years ago and have not been back. Obviously, a lot has changed since then, but some authentic experiences probably remain:
1. Take an over-night train from Moscow to St Petersburg, or the other way around, and try a real Russian tea served by the train conductor.
2. Try Russian ice cream that they sell on the streets of major cities.

Be careful about:
1. Your electronics.
2. Drinking with the Russians.
3. Russian women.
4. Public toilets.

(1) Your laptop or smartphone is likely to be hacked. Bring something that does not contain sensitive information or is thoroughly hardened.
(1.a) Be careful about using ATM machines, your account may get depleted before you turn around.
(2) If you do plan to drink with the Russians, learn the rules of drinking without getting too drunk, and practice ahead of time.
(3) You will meet the most beautiful, stylish, intelligent, and good-natured women you have ever seen. Approach them at your own risk.
(4) It's an authentic experience you can live without.

Enjoy!
Victoria
WINNER of the 2015 Boglehead Contest. | Every joke has a bit of a joke. ... The rest is the truth. (Marat F)

an_asker
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by an_asker » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:25 pm

VictoriaF wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:14 pm
[...](3) You will meet the most beautiful, stylish, intelligent, and good-natured women you have ever seen. Approach them at your own risk.
(4) It's an authentic experience you can live without.

Enjoy!
Victoria
#(3): What's so bad about the women? Especially as OP is going with his wife? Did you mean to say that about meeting Russian women unaccompanied by DW?
#(4): Was that a typo or intentional?!!

fposte
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by fposte » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:27 pm

VictoriaF wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:14 pm
1. Take an over-night train from Moscow to St Petersburg, or the other way around, and try a real Russian tea served by the train conductor.
We took the high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg during the day, and being able to see some of the countryside was very cool.

In addition, some other notes:

If you like opera or ballet, go; amazing tradition. I saw a Swan Lake I will always remember.

I was also really impressed with the Andrei Rublev museum in Moscow.

Red Square at night sounds cheesy but was really vibrant.

As of five years ago we were still told not to drink the tap water in either city.

Be aware that Russian cities have a "heating season" and October isn't in it--we were there during a particularly cold October and there was eventually special municipal dispensation to turn the heat on early, but bring warm night gear and slippers.

Translation apps can help.

It's an amazing place. Enjoy.

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midareff
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by midareff » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:33 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:29 pm
My wife and I plan on a trip to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next October. Probably fly into Moscow and out of St. Pete. Any recommendations from seasoned travelers would be appreciated.
Yup..... wife and I did a Viking Riverboat from Moscow to Saint Petersburg last summer.. oops, summer of 2016. We did the Moscow and St. Petersburg extensions. The Viking reps at the pre and post extensions were great with terrific hotel locations. The cruise was more than great with some of the most organized and interesting land side excursions that could be expected. Pics here http://www.martindareff.com/Internation ... the-Tsars/ HIGHLY recommended.

BTW: This is not a way to do Russia if you have a tight budget. It is how to do Russia with services, guides, great quarters, air, entrances and pickups all provided.

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:47 pm

obgraham wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:05 pm
Are you taking an arranged tour? Unless you speak Russian, it's not easy to do Russia by yourselves.
Actually wide open to any form of travel. We have been in similar situations where English was a rarity (China in 1979 comes to mind) but we will certainly heed your advice before we set forth. We are a little less adventurous at this stage of life.
Thanks you,
reggie

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:52 pm

riverguy wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:28 pm
obgraham wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:05 pm
Are you taking an arranged tour? Unless you speak Russian, it's not easy to do Russia by yourselves.
Not true at all. Also don’t believe anything you hear in the media about Russia. What exactly are you wanting recommendations for? Airbnb for lodging. I stayed in some amazing places (5 min walk from red square and 5 min walk to the Hermitage) for cheap during peak summer season.

Uber and subway to get around. Most places have English menus to eat.

Go see Lenin. Get there early only open a few days of the week. Church of our savior on spilled blood is the most impressive church I have seen in Europe. It has been restored but absolutely stunning. See Peterhof palace. I’m not sure I would go see Catherine palace. I was quite underwhelmed. Visit the kremlin of course. Bunker 42 in Moscow was awesome. If you have time or interest a trip to Crimea is very interesting. The submarine base tour there is great along with the Swallows nest castle and Lividia palace.

If you can move your trip to summer you can buy a World Cup ticket and use your fan id as your visa. Probably will save you some money and you get to go to a game if you are a soccer fan?

What else?
We are wide open to any suggestions/experiences that folks have had. October was recommended by my neighbors Russian wife as an ideal but cooler time to go? I will take all of your suggestions to heart. It looks like we are staying longer than we had anticipated.
Thank you,
reggie

feehater
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by feehater » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:56 pm

Plenty of English spoken and seen in the touristy parts of Moscow and St. Petersburg these days, including on the excellent (and beautiful) metro systems. In order to get a visa you need an invitation from a hotel or a host. Most of them will charge you extra in order to supply such an invitation. We had an excellent Airbnb host who got us one emailed through a travel agency for something reasonable (seem to recall it was less than $20 per person).

reggiesimpson
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Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:59 pm

dm200 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:09 pm
reggiesimpson wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:29 pm
My wife and I plan on a trip to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next October. Probably fly into Moscow and out of St. Pete. Any recommendations from seasoned travelers would be appreciated.
Went there in 1969 - then the Soviet Union ...

If you do not know any Russian, spend 15-30 minutes and learn to "transliterate" from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Many Russian words have recognizable cognates. For example - you see signs all over PECTOPAH - transliterates to RESTORAN - restaurant. I did not do that before I went. If you can -- try to learn a little Russian language - both spoken and written. Even a little is very helpful..

Go see "Lenin" (or what is alleged to be him) in Moscow. There is wonderful museum in or near Red Square. The churches in the Kremlin.

St Isaacs Cathedral in St Petersburg and St Peter & Paul

Be prepared for the cold temperatures.

Winter palace in St Petersburg. Hermitage museum...If still open, summer palace as well.

The Soviets and now Russians are proud of their educational system and healthcare.

Do NOT (repeat DO NOT) drink heavily (preferably at all) with any Russians. They tend to be "professionals" at tolerating alcohol (especially Vodka).

Thank you for the language suggestion. I have also found that learning even a little of the local language can go a long way in détente. We have attended some parties at Tatianas in Brighton Beach N.Y. and have experienced first hand the prodigious "professional" vodka drinking. Not for the faint of heart.

Thank you again for your helpful suggestions,
reggie

reggiesimpson
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Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:00 pm

MikeZ wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:19 pm
Also, unless you arrive via boat you need a visa.
Had no idea! Thanks.

reggie

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:02 pm

Arthur Digby Sellers wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:26 pm
I haven't been to Moscow, but St. Petersburg was a great trip. I agree that it was more difficult to get around / speak in English than in Western Europe, but it is very possible. The central city is walkable, and the train lines are very efficient.

Do not skip the Hermitage or Church on Spilled Blood. Those are major attractions, and they are incredible. If you have any interest in the Battle of Leningrad (or have read City of Thieves by David Benioff, a great novel) or the Russian perspective on World War II, the Museum of the Defence and Blockade of Leningrad would be interesting as well.

One tip--as of several years ago, the taxi situation at the St. Petersburg airport was very confusing. Do not give up on finding the "official" taxi line and allow an "unofficial" taxi to take you to your destination. They will hold you up for an extortionate amount for the cab fare, and because you are an American in Russia who presumably does not speak Russian, what are you going to do about it? Uber/Lyft may have solved this problem by now.
Yes we have heard wonderful things about St Petersburg. I will check the cab situation before we head out. Thanks for the tip.
reggie

azurekep
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by azurekep » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:03 pm

An excursion from St. Petersburg to Tallinn, Estonia might be worthwhile. (I haven't done it, but would if I were in St. Petersburg.)

reggiesimpson
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Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:04 pm

dm200 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:53 pm
Arthur Digby Sellers wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:26 pm
I haven't been to Moscow, but St. Petersburg was a great trip. I agree that it was more difficult to get around / speak in English than in Western Europe, but it is very possible. The central city is walkable, and the train lines are very efficient.
Do not skip the Hermitage or Church on Spilled Blood. Those are major attractions, and they are incredible. If you have any interest in the Battle of Leningrad (or have read City of Thieves by David Benioff, a great novel) or the Russian perspective on World War II, the Museum of the Defence and Blockade of Leningrad would be interesting as well.
One tip--as of several years ago, the taxi situation at the St. Petersburg airport was very confusing. Do not give up on finding the "official" taxi line and allow an "unofficial" taxi to take you to your destination. They will hold you up for an extortionate amount for the cab fare, and because you are an American in Russia who presumably does not speak Russian, what are you going to do about it? Uber/Lyft may have solved this problem by now.
Yes - Hermitage is amazing...

it goes back many decades, but https://www.amazon.com/900-Days-Siege-L ... +Leningrad was very "enlightening"

If you are into classical music and ballet - check those out as well.

In addition to St Isaacs, there is another noteworthy Orthodox church in St Petersburg (did not go there, and cannot recall the name).
Hermitage is high on the list.Thanks.

reggie

reggiesimpson
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Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:13 pm

VictoriaF wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:14 pm
I have left the USSR over thirty years ago and have not been back. Obviously, a lot has changed since then, but some authentic experiences probably remain:
1. Take an over-night train from Moscow to St Petersburg, or the other way around, and try a real Russian tea served by the train conductor.
2. Try Russian ice cream that they sell on the streets of major cities.

Be careful about:
1. Your electronics.
2. Drinking with the Russians.
3. Russian women.
4. Public toilets.

(1) Your laptop or smartphone is likely to be hacked. Bring something that does not contain sensitive information or is thoroughly hardened.
(1.a) Be careful about using ATM machines, your account may get depleted before you turn around.
(2) If you do plan to drink with the Russians, learn the rules of drinking without getting too drunk, and practice ahead of time.
(3) You will meet the most beautiful, stylish, intelligent, and good-natured women you have ever seen. Approach them at your own risk.
(4) It's an authentic experience you can live without.

Enjoy!
Victoria
1. yes we have heard about the high speed train between the two cities but I didn't know about the Russian tea. Looking forward to it.
2. Love ice cream.

I mentioned Tatianas in Brighton Beach earlier and the prodigious vodka drinking. There is no way I will attempt to keep up. I already learned my lesson at too many Tatiana functions.
Thank you for the "careful" warnings. I am bringing my wife with me for personal protection.
On a personal note I have always enjoyed reading your posts.

Thanks again Victoria,
reggie

feehater
Posts: 38
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 10:14 am

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by feehater » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:16 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:04 pm
dm200 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:53 pm
Arthur Digby Sellers wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:26 pm
I haven't been to Moscow, but St. Petersburg was a great trip. I agree that it was more difficult to get around / speak in English than in Western Europe, but it is very possible. The central city is walkable, and the train lines are very efficient.
Do not skip the Hermitage or Church on Spilled Blood. Those are major attractions, and they are incredible. If you have any interest in the Battle of Leningrad (or have read City of Thieves by David Benioff, a great novel) or the Russian perspective on World War II, the Museum of the Defence and Blockade of Leningrad would be interesting as well.
One tip--as of several years ago, the taxi situation at the St. Petersburg airport was very confusing. Do not give up on finding the "official" taxi line and allow an "unofficial" taxi to take you to your destination. They will hold you up for an extortionate amount for the cab fare, and because you are an American in Russia who presumably does not speak Russian, what are you going to do about it? Uber/Lyft may have solved this problem by now.
Yes - Hermitage is amazing...

it goes back many decades, but https://www.amazon.com/900-Days-Siege-L ... +Leningrad was very "enlightening"

If you are into classical music and ballet - check those out as well.

In addition to St Isaacs, there is another noteworthy Orthodox church in St Petersburg (did not go there, and cannot recall the name).
Hermitage is high on the list.Thanks.

reggie
Some tidbits I learned about the Hermitage when we visited this spring:
The modern art (impressionists onward) that used to be on the top floor has just recently been moved across the square to the General Staff building. None of the English literature had as yet been updated to reflect that which was confusing at first.
Also, the ticketing/passes is a little confusing. We had gotten the two day pass. Unfortunately, this means you can't leave for lunch (and possibly even go between the two, now separate buildings on one ticket?).
The main building does have a cafeteria that is pretty subpar...think, shrink-wrapped gas station sandwiches. The new building has a better cafeteria but it is not behind the ticket gates...meaning you cannot stop in the middle of seeing the art to eat at the building's own cafeteria! We ate some Clif bars we had snuck in but still left at 3 pm, earlier than we wanted to, just because we were so hungry.
Hopefully they have rethunk some of the crazy ticketing and rules. Our experience in Russia was great, but it is a place with a lot of rules and procedures, that are only sometimes enforced. At the Hermitage, they were definitely enforced, even when they made no sense.

Definitely worth it at most museums to pay extra for the English audioguide!

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:16 pm

fposte wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:27 pm
VictoriaF wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:14 pm
1. Take an over-night train from Moscow to St Petersburg, or the other way around, and try a real Russian tea served by the train conductor.
We took the high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg during the day, and being able to see some of the countryside was very cool.

In addition, some other notes:

If you like opera or ballet, go; amazing tradition. I saw a Swan Lake I will always remember.

I was also really impressed with the Andrei Rublev museum in Moscow.

Red Square at night sounds cheesy but was really vibrant.

As of five years ago we were still told not to drink the tap water in either city.

Be aware that Russian cities have a "heating season" and October isn't in it--we were there during a particularly cold October and there was eventually special municipal dispensation to turn the heat on early, but bring warm night gear and slippers.

Translation apps can help.

It's an amazing place. Enjoy.
You've hit on some great sites. Thanks for the water warning I had no idea. Yes we are re thinking going in October.

Thanks,
reggie

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:19 pm

midareff wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:33 pm
reggiesimpson wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:29 pm
My wife and I plan on a trip to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next October. Probably fly into Moscow and out of St. Pete. Any recommendations from seasoned travelers would be appreciated.
Yup..... wife and I did a Viking Riverboat from Moscow to Saint Petersburg last summer.. oops, summer of 2016. We did the Moscow and St. Petersburg extensions. The Viking reps at the pre and post extensions were great with terrific hotel locations. The cruise was more than great with some of the most organized and interesting land side excursions that could be expected. Pics here http://www.martindareff.com/Internation ... the-Tsars/ HIGHLY recommended.

BTW: This is not a way to do Russia if you have a tight budget. It is how to do Russia with services, guides, great quarters, air, entrances and pickups all provided.
Never thought about taking this type of tour. At this stage of our lives (I'm 70 DW 67) it may be the way to go. Will check it out.

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:21 pm

feehater wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:56 pm
Plenty of English spoken and seen in the touristy parts of Moscow and St. Petersburg these days, including on the excellent (and beautiful) metro systems. In order to get a visa you need an invitation from a hotel or a host. Most of them will charge you extra in order to supply such an invitation. We had an excellent Airbnb host who got us one emailed through a travel agency for something reasonable (seem to recall it was less than $20 per person).
Looking forward to the Moscow Metro big time. If we don't take a tour then Airbnb will be the way to go.

Thanks,
reggie

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:23 pm

azurekep wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:03 pm
An excursion from St. Petersburg to Tallinn, Estonia might be worthwhile. (I haven't done it, but would if I were in St. Petersburg.)
Thanks, We do plan on looking outside the main cities.
reggie

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:25 pm

feehater wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:16 pm
reggiesimpson wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:04 pm
dm200 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:53 pm
Arthur Digby Sellers wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:26 pm
I haven't been to Moscow, but St. Petersburg was a great trip. I agree that it was more difficult to get around / speak in English than in Western Europe, but it is very possible. The central city is walkable, and the train lines are very efficient.
Do not skip the Hermitage or Church on Spilled Blood. Those are major attractions, and they are incredible. If you have any interest in the Battle of Leningrad (or have read City of Thieves by David Benioff, a great novel) or the Russian perspective on World War II, the Museum of the Defence and Blockade of Leningrad would be interesting as well.
One tip--as of several years ago, the taxi situation at the St. Petersburg airport was very confusing. Do not give up on finding the "official" taxi line and allow an "unofficial" taxi to take you to your destination. They will hold you up for an extortionate amount for the cab fare, and because you are an American in Russia who presumably does not speak Russian, what are you going to do about it? Uber/Lyft may have solved this problem by now.
Yes - Hermitage is amazing...

it goes back many decades, but https://www.amazon.com/900-Days-Siege-L ... +Leningrad was very "enlightening"

If you are into classical music and ballet - check those out as well.

In addition to St Isaacs, there is another noteworthy Orthodox church in St Petersburg (did not go there, and cannot recall the name).
Hermitage is high on the list.Thanks.

reggie
Some tidbits I learned about the Hermitage when we visited this spring:
The modern art (impressionists onward) that used to be on the top floor has just recently been moved across the square to the General Staff building. None of the English literature had as yet been updated to reflect that which was confusing at first.
Also, the ticketing/passes is a little confusing. We had gotten the two day pass. Unfortunately, this means you can't leave for lunch (and possibly even go between the two, now separate buildings on one ticket?).
The main building does have a cafeteria that is pretty subpar...think, shrink-wrapped gas station sandwiches. The new building has a better cafeteria but it is not behind the ticket gates...meaning you cannot stop in the middle of seeing the art to eat at the building's own cafeteria! We ate some Clif bars we had snuck in but still left at 3 pm, earlier than we wanted to, just because we were so hungry.
Hopefully they have rethunk some of the crazy ticketing and rules. Our experience in Russia was great, but it is a place with a lot of rules and procedures, that are only sometimes enforced. At the Hermitage, they were definitely enforced, even when they made no sense.

Definitely worth it at most museums to pay extra for the English audioguide!
Great advice. Thank you feehater.
reggie

Puakinekine
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by Puakinekine » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:33 pm

I've been to St Petersburg twice, once about 17 years ago, and then within the past 3 years. My husband has traveled there for work without me. Our first trip to St Petersburg, we had a guide for most of our sight seeing and it was money well spent. Previous to this, I had been the sort of person who poo pooed the guide idea, but our guide proved invaluable. She knew the ropes and we were able skip long lines and use semi-private doors. The Hermitage would have been a very different experience without her. In terms of safety, she continuously pointed out places where we should not go, and told us of things we should not do. She did not want to be paid until the end of our two days and only when she was in a safe place.

On the next trip, my husband was physically mugged and knocked down in a St Petersburg subway car. He was with two other large men. It did not matter. The attackers were fast. So...

The next time we went to St Petersburg and took the subway, we decided on the car with all the older women, figuring they knew the safest place. We were fine and had a great day seeing the sites. We also had ice cream, which tasted very different then any other ice cream that I have had--almost as if it was made with sour cream? Is that correct Victoria?

Getting through customs and immigration is always an interesting experience as well. Every time there is an issue, the last being that my husband was not born in the US, but was a US citizen traveling on a US passport. Good times.

We are well traveled and know enough to always be alert. But in some places it is just easier to have some help, at least part of the time.

WhiteMaxima
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by WhiteMaxima » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:47 pm

Gum department icecream. St Pertersburg fried smelt. My favorite.

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:48 pm

Puakinekine wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:33 pm
I've been to St Petersburg twice, once about 17 years ago, and then within the past 3 years. My husband has traveled there for work without me. Our first trip to St Petersburg, we had a guide for most of our sight seeing and it was money well spent. Previous to this, I had been the sort of person who poo pooed the guide idea, but our guide proved invaluable. She knew the ropes and we were able skip long lines and use semi-private doors. The Hermitage would have been a very different experience without her. In terms of safety, she continuously pointed out places where we should not go, and told us of things we should not do. She did not want to be paid until the end of our two days and only when she was in a safe place.

On the next trip, my husband was physically mugged and knocked down in a St Petersburg subway car. He was with two other large men. It did not matter. The attackers were fast. So...

The next time we went to St Petersburg and took the subway, we decided on the car with all the older women, figuring they knew the safest place. We were fine and had a great day seeing the sites. We also had ice cream, which tasted very different then any other ice cream that I have had--almost as if it was made with sour cream? Is that correct Victoria?

Getting through customs and immigration is always an interesting experience as well. Every time there is an issue, the last being that my husband was not born in the US, but was a US citizen traveling on a US passport. Good times.

We are well traveled and know enough to always be alert. But in some places it is just easier to have some help, at least part of the time.
Yes I heard from my Russian neighbor that we will have to keep our eyes wide open! Further,as I am a U.S. citizen but born elsewhere it looks like I am in for an interesting customs transit? Guides will certainly be hired on this trip.
Thanks,
reggie

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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:50 pm

WhiteMaxima wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:47 pm
Gum department icecream. St Pertersburg fried smelt. My favorite.
Ice cream and smelt.....and vodka? Its going to be a very interesting trip.
Thanks,
reggie

sevenseas
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by sevenseas » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:53 pm

Agree strongly with recommendation to learn Cyrillic alphabet beforehand. I found this especially helpful in translating street signs. If you are a foodie, I am a big fan of Georgian food which you can find readily there. Khachapuri (cheese bread), pkhali (vegetable and walnut dips/salads), khinkali (dumplings), satsivi (chicken with walnut sauce). A complex, unique and underappreciated cuisine (not the least of which is because it is pretty hard to find in the US).

I remember ticket booths (officially sanctioned I believe) in both cities where it was possible to buy tickets for classical music, ballet, opera, as well as popular music. A highlight of my trip was seeing a ballet performance of "Shurale" at the Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov). It's difficult or impossible for a tourist to discover the soul of a country and people in a short visit, but I had some amazing conversations with locals about music and art...and they are innately a reserved bunch with strangers in my experience, so this feeling of even brief connection was special.

Finally: the more time you can spend at the Hermitage, the better! One of the most amazing, perhaps THE most amazing, museums I have ever visited. A collection that is on par with the greatest on the planet, housed in a space that is a work of art, in and of itself. Have a fantastic trip!

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dm200
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by dm200 » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:04 pm

VictoriaF wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:14 pm
I have left the USSR over thirty years ago and have not been back. Obviously, a lot has changed since then, but some authentic experiences probably remain:
1. Take an over-night train from Moscow to St Petersburg, or the other way around, and try a real Russian tea served by the train conductor.
2. Try Russian ice cream that they sell on the streets of major cities.

Be careful about:
1. Your electronics.
2. Drinking with the Russians.
3. Russian women.
4. Public toilets.

(1) Your laptop or smartphone is likely to be hacked. Bring something that does not contain sensitive information or is thoroughly hardened.
(1.a) Be careful about using ATM machines, your account may get depleted before you turn around.
(2) If you do plan to drink with the Russians, learn the rules of drinking without getting too drunk, and practice ahead of time.
(3) You will meet the most beautiful, stylish, intelligent, and good-natured women you have ever seen. Approach them at your own risk.
(4) It's an authentic experience you can live without.

Enjoy!
Victoria
In August 1969, on a boat going up the Volga River, having stayed away from drinking until then - I "lapsed" into drinking Vodka and Champagne - and one of the Russian women there was named "Victoria" (I think she may have been with Intourist). BAD, BAD combination - I have never been so drunk in my life before or after and have NEVER had such a hangover.

Fortunately, nothing else bad happened to me - I eventually sobered up and the hangover symptoms went away.

I really doubt "practice" drinking can prepare an American :)

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dm200
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by dm200 » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:23 pm

Agree strongly with recommendation to learn Cyrillic alphabet beforehand.
We saw a ballet and I was trying to find my seat (original Bolshoi theater) - fortunately an usher helped me. I kept the ticket and once I learned the Cyrillic alphabet back in the US - the ticket said (transliterated) AMPHITEATR (my seat was in the amphitheater area of curved seating)

SrGrumpy
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by SrGrumpy » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:35 pm

There may be Visa issuance delays given the closure of Russian outposts in the U.S., incl. San Francisco, I believe. It's a hassle anyway, getting all the documentation.

I did St. Petersburg while the World Cup was underway in Germany. The city was empty and I had the Hermitage to myself, but had ethical qualms about all the stolen property on display. Sweet memories walking along the main drag while drinking Baltica beer as the sun shone near midnight.

Language and the Cyrillic alphabet are not problems. One annoyance I remember is that the Metro is really, really deep underground. The escalators went on forever. And the St. Petersburg airport is a long way from anywhere: I missed my flight.

The women, indeed, are spectacular. Wouldn't go back, though.

Do Belarus and Baltics instead.

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:50 pm

sevenseas wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:53 pm
Agree strongly with recommendation to learn Cyrillic alphabet beforehand. I found this especially helpful in translating street signs. If you are a foodie, I am a big fan of Georgian food which you can find readily there. Khachapuri (cheese bread), pkhali (vegetable and walnut dips/salads), khinkali (dumplings), satsivi (chicken with walnut sauce). A complex, unique and underappreciated cuisine (not the least of which is because it is pretty hard to find in the US).

I remember ticket booths (officially sanctioned I believe) in both cities where it was possible to buy tickets for classical music, ballet, opera, as well as popular music. A highlight of my trip was seeing a ballet performance of "Shurale" at the Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov). It's difficult or impossible for a tourist to discover the soul of a country and people in a short visit, but I had some amazing conversations with locals about music and art...and they are innately a reserved bunch with strangers in my experience, so this feeling of even brief connection was special.

Finally: the more time you can spend at the Hermitage, the better! One of the most amazing, perhaps THE most amazing, museums I have ever visited. A collection that is on par with the greatest on the planet, housed in a space that is a work of art, in and of itself. Have a fantastic trip!
Thanks sevenseas. I will take your recommendations to heart.

reggie

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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:54 pm

SrGrumpy wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:35 pm
There may be Visa issuance delays given the closure of Russian outposts in the U.S., incl. San Francisco, I believe. It's a hassle anyway, getting all the documentation.

I did St. Petersburg while the World Cup was underway in Germany. The city was empty and I had the Hermitage to myself, but had ethical qualms about all the stolen property on display. Sweet memories walking along the main drag while drinking Baltica beer as the sun shone near midnight.

Language and the Cyrillic alphabet are not problems. One annoyance I remember is that the Metro is really, really deep underground. The escalators went on forever. And the St. Petersburg airport is a long way from anywhere: I missed my flight.

The women, indeed, are spectacular. Wouldn't go back, though.

Do Belarus and Baltics instead.
Yes I have heard that acquiring all the necessary paperwork is a headache. Thinking of a tour to mitigate the issue.
Thanks
reggie

killjoy2012
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by killjoy2012 » Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:16 pm

We spent 2 days in St. Petersburg with a tour guide as part of 2 week Baltic cruise. We had a great time and I was glad we had the guide for multiple reasons -- language, skip some lines at the major attractions, knew where to go in the most efficient manner, dedicated van w/ driver following us around all day and dropping us at the door steps, etc. It optimized our short 2 day stay. At least for myself, what I was expecting and what we experienced in those 2 days were 180* opposites, for the better. St. Petersburg is pretty much on par with some of best major cities in Western Europe.

If you decide to DIY, be aware that the tourist entry visa is expensive (~$200) and very time consuming to obtain (months, usually). I can only imagine it's worse now given the US-Russia politics going on. I've also traveled throughout Europe and parts of Africa, and while I'd say you could probably get by w/ only English, expect a harder time than most parts of Europe.

azurekep
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by azurekep » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:42 pm

SrGrumpy wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:35 pm
Do Belarus and Baltics instead.
I was curious as to what was in Belarus and it turns out there are four UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites:, two of which are castles.

Then of course, there's the not-to-miss Polesie State Radioecological Reserve, which adjoins the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine! While I'm halfway joking, according to Wikipedia the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is seeing a number of tourists.

trirod
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by trirod » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:53 pm

My wife and I visited Moscow 3 years ago (stayed with a friend who was assigned there temporarily with his company). The visas were expensive - almost $400 each - but worth it. I loved Moscow. Such a vibrant city with lots of stuff to see and do. Great restaurants too (try White Rabbit if you get a chance). We were lucky in that we had local friends to show us around, but we spent one day on our own and didn't have too much difficulty.

I grew up during the Cold War so sitting in Red Square drinking a beer on a beautiful September day was just a surreal experience. The Metro was my favorite part of the trip - lots of interesting design and Soviet era art there.

Go with an open mind and you'll have a great trip.

JordanIB
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by JordanIB » Wed Dec 06, 2017 10:10 pm

Traveled for 10 days/nights in Moscow and St. Petersburg two summers ago. For some context, we do not speak a lick of Russian (or any language other than English). Everything was planned on our own, including procuring visas (although this was easier being able to easily go to the consulate in NYC).

Some general tips/thoughts:

- Generally speaking, both locations are quite easy to navigate on your own. Lots of English signs and lots of people who speak English (especially the younger generations)
- Agree with learning the Cyrillic alphabet. This was a big help.
- Day trip to Novgorod (from St. Pete) and Suzdal (from Moscow) were a nice change of pace. (The Suzdal day trip was the one instance we did enlist outside help; a colleague who spoke Russian helped find us an English-speaking tour guide).
- We did the overnight train from Novgorod to Moscow. Not for everyone, but was a cool experience, and in first class you're by yourself in a double compartment.
- I normally eschew guided tours, but it was quite helpful for St. Catherine's palace, both for understanding the palace, and helping to skip some crowds.
- At an off-peak time (we went around 10PM), pop around the Moscow subway system. You can find plenty of lists online of the top stations to see. Absolutely beatiful.
- Ballet at the Marinsky was a tremendous experience. Russian crowds are a hoot.
- Spend part of a day just hanging out and people watching in Gorky Park. Great fun to explore the park.
- Hermitage, obviously. If there were no art in the building, it would still be a great site to see.
- Shtolle for tasty, cheap food.
- Enjoyed Fallen Monument Park in Moscow

Enjoy! It is a great country to visit!

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whodidntante
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by whodidntante » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:47 pm

I'm amused at the volume of warnings in this thread. I've been to poorer countries, ventured out on my own, and I had a great time. Buy the ticket, take the ride. I hope to visit Russia someday myself.

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abuss368
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by abuss368 » Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:09 am

Ring the doorbell of the Kremlin!
John C. Bogle: "You simply do not need to put your money into 8 different mutual funds!" | | Disclosure: Three Fund Portfolio + U.S. & International REITs

JordanIB
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by JordanIB » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:12 am

Someone above mentioned Uber, and I second that suggestion. Removes the language barrier with taxis and helps you avoid scams. Not sure if pricing has changed in the last year or two, but it was obscenely cheap as well, to the point where I felt ashamed at how little the drivers were getting. A dozen or so trips criss-crossing St. Petersburg probably cost us $25-30 total. (This was before in-app tipping was introduced).

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:32 am

killjoy2012 wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:16 pm
We spent 2 days in St. Petersburg with a tour guide as part of 2 week Baltic cruise. We had a great time and I was glad we had the guide for multiple reasons -- language, skip some lines at the major attractions, knew where to go in the most efficient manner, dedicated van w/ driver following us around all day and dropping us at the door steps, etc. It optimized our short 2 day stay. At least for myself, what I was expecting and what we experienced in those 2 days were 180* opposites, for the better. St. Petersburg is pretty much on par with some of best major cities in Western Europe.

If you decide to DIY, be aware that the tourist entry visa is expensive (~$200) and very time consuming to obtain (months, usually). I can only imagine it's worse now given the US-Russia politics going on. I've also traveled throughout Europe and parts of Africa, and while I'd say you could probably get by w/ only English, expect a harder time than most parts of Europe.
Thanks killjoy2012. Yes ive heard of the expense and general hassle of acquiring the visas especially now. Poste haste seems to be the order of the day.
reggie

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:35 am

azurekep wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:42 pm
SrGrumpy wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:35 pm
Do Belarus and Baltics instead.
I was curious as to what was in Belarus and it turns out there are four UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites:, two of which are castles.

Then of course, there's the not-to-miss Polesie State Radioecological Reserve, which adjoins the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine! While I'm halfway joking, according to Wikipedia the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is seeing a number of tourists.
Think we will skip Chernobyl this time around but will be sure to visit on our next trip in 150 years.

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:37 am

trirod wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:53 pm
My wife and I visited Moscow 3 years ago (stayed with a friend who was assigned there temporarily with his company). The visas were expensive - almost $400 each - but worth it. I loved Moscow. Such a vibrant city with lots of stuff to see and do. Great restaurants too (try White Rabbit if you get a chance). We were lucky in that we had local friends to show us around, but we spent one day on our own and didn't have too much difficulty.

I grew up during the Cold War so sitting in Red Square drinking a beer on a beautiful September day was just a surreal experience. The Metro was my favorite part of the trip - lots of interesting design and Soviet era art there.

Go with an open mind and you'll have a great trip.
Thanks trirod. These posts are getting us excited about the trip even though its many months away!
reggie

reggiesimpson
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:39 am

JordanIB wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 10:10 pm
Traveled for 10 days/nights in Moscow and St. Petersburg two summers ago. For some context, we do not speak a lick of Russian (or any language other than English). Everything was planned on our own, including procuring visas (although this was easier being able to easily go to the consulate in NYC).

Some general tips/thoughts:

- Generally speaking, both locations are quite easy to navigate on your own. Lots of English signs and lots of people who speak English (especially the younger generations)
- Agree with learning the Cyrillic alphabet. This was a big help.
- Day trip to Novgorod (from St. Pete) and Suzdal (from Moscow) were a nice change of pace. (The Suzdal day trip was the one instance we did enlist outside help; a colleague who spoke Russian helped find us an English-speaking tour guide).
- We did the overnight train from Novgorod to Moscow. Not for everyone, but was a cool experience, and in first class you're by yourself in a double compartment.
- I normally eschew guided tours, but it was quite helpful for St. Catherine's palace, both for understanding the palace, and helping to skip some crowds.
- At an off-peak time (we went around 10PM), pop around the Moscow subway system. You can find plenty of lists online of the top stations to see. Absolutely beatiful.
- Ballet at the Marinsky was a tremendous experience. Russian crowds are a hoot.
- Spend part of a day just hanging out and people watching in Gorky Park. Great fun to explore the park.
- Hermitage, obviously. If there were no art in the building, it would still be a great site to see.
- Shtolle for tasty, cheap food.
- Enjoyed Fallen Monument Park in Moscow

Enjoy! It is a great country to visit!
Thanks Jordan1b. We cant wait.
reggie

reggiesimpson
Posts: 1584
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Re: A Trip to Russia

Post by reggiesimpson » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:41 am

abuss368 wrote:
Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:09 am
Ring the doorbell of the Kremlin!
Ok. Hope they have a sense of humor.
reggie

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