Russia: St. Petersburg
This was an incredible experience! Forget all the worries about Russia not being friendly to Americans! I had the pleasure of meeting a variety of friendly people many who spoke English. From Uber drivers, to my AirBnB host, to the Professors at EUSP, to just everyday people at restaurants, shops, and museums – all were polite. This made for a warm feeling on this memorable trip.
Polkovo Airport, SPB
The only negative I can mildly complain about is upon arrival at the Polkovo airport in St. Petersburg
Our luggage didn’t make it with us. we had to stand in line at a desk with heavily made-up young women who never smiled. We were required to fill out paper forms in quadruplicate! If one little mistake was found, you had to redo the whole piece of paper again. That happened twice. Another example was that no blue ink pens were accepted, just black. You had to completely itemize, from memory no less, the contents of your suitcase and attach a value to each item. After about 1 ½ hours of going through this tedious bureaucratic process we were allowed to leave the customs area. We were given a print out with vague instructions to call a number in the lost luggage department. I was so exhausted and exasperated at the same time I got the giggles. I’m sure they thought “What a crazy American!” as they threw me the side-eye from time to time.
Getting Around by Taxi & Uber
Our taxi driver was waiting for us the whole time outside customs as I was able to text our AirBnB host what was going on. (Our AirBnB host had arranged the taxi transfer) We met up with our taxi driver Sergei next to the Starbucks in the Polkovo airport. He spoke very little English but when he smiled his gold teeth showed he was eager to help us out. Sergei’s driving was a bit like Mr. Toad’s wild ride at Disneyland. I don’t know if that’s because he had to wait so long for us to leave customs and he had another job to go to, or this was just how driving is in St. Petersburg. It took me the 2 weeks to realize the latter.
Later, on other occasions to get around the city, our Uber drivers took risks I wouldn’t, but then, I had to consider the layout of the city being from the 17th century. It was never designed to hold millions of vehicles, just horse carriages. Thus, the modern-day result was that Russian drivers became very savvy about congested one-way streets and speed was essential to navigate. In other words, buckle up and hold on!
Nevsky Prospekt=Main Street
We made it to our apartment on Nevsky Prospekt. I rented it through AirBnB and found it accommodated our basic needs very nicely. The location was fantastic on the Nevsky Prospekt, which is the main boulevard through the city of St. Petersburg, Russia. Many tourist places, such as museums, shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. are within an easy walking distance. The bus is also available, but I found they run a bit slow and are very crowded. It never took more than 20 minutes to get around town and see the sights. Even McDonalds was located around the corner and at 1130pm at night was open, busy, and between my very basic Russian and the cashier’s limited English, I managed to order the equivalent of 3 Big Mac meals for the equivalent of a few dollars. Gotta love that exchange rate between Rubles and Dollars!
We came here independently, without the services of a tour operator or travel agent and managed to do so many things on our own. We even got our tourist visas independently. See my article here on that topic: How To Get A Russian Tourist Visa
More on this trip to St. Petersburg will be broken down into separate articles by places visited; Summer Garden, Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, Peter & Paul Fortress, Marble Palace, Mikhailovsky Castle, Starbucks, Peterhof, Mariinsky Theatre, Dostoevsky Museum, Pushkin, Catherine Palace, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and Faberge Museum. Stay tuned…
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