How to Survive Your First Trip to St. Petersburg, Russia
As a child of the 80s and 90s, Russia is clouded in mystery and one of those places you were taught to consider "scary." I never thought I'd have the chance to visit. And then a career change came along and I found myself issued a seaman's book "just in case you get assigned to Russia," that would allow me to enter without a visa.
That day came. I was going to St. Petersburg, Russia, and I was so excited. While I could get into the country without a separately issued Russian visa, my mother couldn't. Unless, she was only going on ship-sponsored tours. So, she ended up forking over the cash a few months prior to her departure to secure one. You can use an assistance company to help you through the process, or you can tackle it on your own. I'm actually planning a trip back to Russia for the fall 2017, and since I don't think it will fly for me to use my seaman's book...I'll be using a company as well to help me understand all the red tape.
My mom and I took a taxi into St. Petersburg, because it's about 20 minute drive into the heart of the city from the cruise ship terminal. You can also take the metro, but not having any Russian Rubles, we opted for the taxi that accepted US dollars. The man was very nice, spoke a little English, and gave me a thumbs up when I told him "thank you" in Russian. He dropped us off right outside the Winter Palace / Hermitage Museum and said to meet him back there at 3pm and he would return us to the ship.
Wow. The Russian Imperial era has some pretty impressive buildings. I would love to visit inside the Hermitage someday, but due to time constraints, we couldn't wait in the ticket line which gets very long in the summer. You can purchase tickets in advance...I just failed to do so. Don't make my mistake! Next, we strolled over to the Church of the Spilled Blood. My photo looks very old...the quality of phone cameras in 2011 were not what they are today, so hence this vintage look:
There was a outdoor market near the church so we wandered and I spotted a beautiful woman's fox fur hat. When in Russia!
We then made our way to the Singer Building, first named for the Singer sewing machines, and the US Embassy used to be located in it. We went into the upstairs cafe for lunch. We each had blini's (basicially Russia's version of crepes). Mine was filled with ham, dill, and a white cheese sauce, my mom had salmon on top of hers. We had the most spectacular view from the cafe as well, right outside our large window was The Church of Our Lady Kazan, which is actually a museum now.
After wandering the streets a while longer, just taking in the fact that we were in Russia and seeing the beautiful gold architecture, it was time to head back to the ship...a girl has to work! We wanted to arrive at the spot our taxi driver instructed us about early...then we'd have time to locate another taxi to take us back. We were quite surprised to arrive 15 minutes early and he was already waiting for us. I've had friends who lived in Russia for periods of time recommend to not get in taxis, but we didn't have a problem. At the ship terminal, the director at the taxi stand was giving you a set price to get into town, so I didn't feel scammed.
Later that evening, we went to a Folk singing and dancing program at an old theater downtown through a ship sponsored tour. Most lines also offer an evening ballet performance (but they tend to sell out very quickly...so if you're going to Russia via a cruise line and want to see the ballet...purchase your tour in advance!).
St. Petersburg is an exciting place to visit, and I felt completely safe. But be smart...don't go alone, stay in well-traveled areas, and as my friend told me, "Never get into a black Mercedes." I say that in jest...because who doesn't love a Mercedes...but maybe there's something to it.