Personal Observations, Saint Petersburg
I was so happy to meet Igor and do a free tour with him because he's so knowlegable about his city.
Fondest memory: I recommend Igor Rogovtsev to show you around Saint Petersburg. His company is called "Saint-Petersburg Feel Free Tour". You can contact Igor
His website is www.feelfreetour.net
St. Petersburg is a wonderful city, but I suggest that you go there either with a group, or go on your own if you know Russian.
There are no English signs and it is really difficult to move around if you are on your own.
The alternative is to visit St. Petersburg and stay with your Russian friend.
This is the best.
St. Petersburg has many indoor and outdoor markets for for all kinds of fresh groceries or used stuff including soviet memoriabilia.
The atmosphere in these markets is often interesting and gives you a fair insight into the local life. As Russia is Europe's leading honey producer you will find many market stalls offering honey from different origins.
So don't miss the opportunity to visit a few markets, but beware of pickpockets. You find the markets which I visited under my "Shopping Tips".
St. Petersburg's metro is the deepest in the world. So the first thing you will notice are the long, steep and fast escalators packed with people. Construction started in 1940, but the first line was inaugurated in 1955.
Many stations are beautifully decorated. Unfortunately, taking photographs is prohibited. Nevertheless, I took a few photos in the less busy stations.
The stations of line 1 (red line) are especially worth seeing. I recommend having a closer look at Ploshad Vosstaniya, Ploshad Aleksandra Nevskogo, Pushkinskaya, Avtovo, Kirovskiy Zavod and Narvskaya.
For more info about the metro, please have a look at my "Transportation Tips".
It is quite interesting to note that many, many public buildings were in stages of restoration when we visited St. Petersburg. I, for one, am very happy that the need to preserve the beauty & history of St. Petersburg is being recognized and work is being done on such a grand scale. Nearly every important, historical building appeared to be undergoing restoration. However, I'm not sure that the same interest is being directed toward improving the general living conditions of the citizenry. Perhaps any measure of personal comfort still takes a backseat to other public works. Our guide explained to us that several families sharing an apartment is not an unusual circumstance even today.
Fondest memory: It is quite awe inspiring to be in the presence of a city and a people who withstood the 900 days Seige of Leningrad, and who are today gradually emerging from events they had no control over. I would like to listen to stories the people of St. Petersburg have to tell about their lives.
When you are inside museums it is difficult to setup a tripod, it is in the way of the people walking by and you really would need to make arrangements and pay a big fee for some special professional access. There are banned in the major museums for regular tourists.
Better to find some ways to get a sharp picture with other availalbel light techiniques like holding camera against an architectural element.
A person with a tripod really draws attention to themselves in these days of digital photography. While you are concentrating through the viewfinder a pickpocket may be concettrating on your valuables.
I find the little pocket tripods handy sometimes, especially for self-timer shots. On word of warning, don't wander far fromyour camera with the self-timer set, as you walk back to position you may find your camera no longer there!
There is an American Clinic, a Medem Clinic, and then for a good Russian clinic you can use the Polyclinic Complex.
It is clean, professional and not as expensive as the foreign run clinics. Best if you speak Russian, but they can work with Englsih speakers too.
In operation since 1948.
Fondest memory: 812-316-58-81
I've always been one of those who prefer „Plastic Money“ and therefore I travel with minimal cash or T-Cheques.
Here is my tip on getting Money on a cheap and safe way in St. Petersburg...
During my stay I picked up cash at the CitiBank ATM on Newskij Prospekt. CitiBank has one ATM within walking distance from the Hotel Grand Europe. If you have a Bank Card from CitiBank you can withdraw Money in Rubles or USD without any fees based on daily rates.
There is no easier way to get money.
PS - I don't work for CitiBank, I am just a satisfied customer:-)
You need crisp new bills to exchange in Russia.
Damaged bills will be refused. The rates change daily and signs posted outside banks let you know when the exchange rate is.
Generally, you can get a better rate off Nevsky Prospect. And the Government bank, Sberbank, usually is not a good rate. I have good luck on Sennaya Ploschad to find a good rate for US dollars. Bankomats or ATM machines are also excellent for travelers. As usual, the ATM will charge a small fee for the transaction and exchange your currency to rubles. many Bankomats give dollars or Rubles, but rubles are the only official currency of Russia.
In 2007 the exchange was below 26 rubles to the dollar, but euros are 34 rubles. The dollar has devalued over the past few years while the euro has been strong in Russia.
Fondest memory: The least fondest is receiving a damaged 500 ruble note from the Russian government bank, Sberbank. No one including Sberbank would take it back.
Sberbank also gave me a counterfeit $100 bill that was confiscated by another bank.
Look at your bills when you get them!
The main unit of Russian currency is the ruble which is made up of 100 kopecs. We could have changed money on our ship, but didn't because we thought we'd have a chance to do so on shore. This didn't happen, but we were happy to find that everywhere we went in St. Petersburg, either American dollars or major credit cards were accepted. It seemed as though we actually had more bargaining power and got better deals when paying in American cash with people trying to sell you souvenirs on the street.
We were advised not to "change" money with anyone on the street even though we would probably have gotten a much better exchange rate than with your average cambio. This most likely would have been viewed in an extremely poor light by Russian authorities to say the least. Use your own judgement but because dollars are accepted I see no need to be cavalier.
The main function of banks seems to help with currency exchange. You can find banks everywhere.
We have tried many banks, but the most friendly and professional for English-speaking people is the Austrian "Raiffeisen bank." Everyone speaks English there and understands normal customer service.
The most frustrating bank is the Sberbank, the state bank of Soviet times. They are eveywhere, are slow, inefficient and always make mistakes. Just to put some rubles in an account can be 5-10 minutes if there is no line.
You have to keep all your receipts and be prepared to be there for hours sometimes for one simple transaction.
Fondest memory: http://www.raiffeisen.ru/
They have a number of branches inSt, Petersburg:
Branches in St. Petersburg
Finding Internet access to check e-mail, send a fax, off-load pictures and so on is simple in St. Petersburg.
The two biggest clubs on Nevsky Prospect, Cafe MAx and Quo Vadiis can help with a wide variety of business services.
Costs are usually about $3 hour, 60-80 rubles an hour. Some less central clubs can be 50 rubles or $2 an hour.
Quo Vadis Nevsky Prospekt 76. http://www.quovadis.ru
Cafe Max Nevsky Prospekt 90/92, metro Mayakovskaya. 812-273-6655.
24 hours. http://www.cafemax.ru
Cafe Orange at Pik Center, Sennaya Metro has a nice Internet club for 80 rubles and hour and often live music in the evening.
Fondest memory: Free wi-fi is starting to spread
Free wi-fi on the 4th floor of the PIK center at Sennaya Ploschad
City Bar, see other tip, has free wi-fi
The Pulkovo I and II aiports are said to have free wi-fi Internet, but we did not try it yet.
Most signs in Saint Petersburg are in Russian Cyrillic Alphabet only. Learning how to romanize (transliterate) the Cyrillic letters to phonetic English will go a long way to understanding where you are. :)
Here is an old sign for the Kanal Griboedova. The main canal leading to the Church of our Saviour on the spilled Blood. Can you read the sign? If not, see my next tip, Cyrillic Transliteration :)
Starting in 2007 Russia introduced the 5,000 ruble note.
Now the paper money coms in 5000, 1000, 500, 100, 500 and 10 rubles.
The dolalr has fallen in value against the Ruble and the Euro for several eyars now, in fact since the Euro was introduced.
Check teh current conversion rates:
Yahoo Currency converter
5000 rubles = about $200
1000 rubles= about $39
500 rubles = about $19
100 rubles = about $4
Fondest memory: Russian coins come in 5 ruble, 1 rubles and then kopeks, 50, 10 5 and 1 kopek.
100 kopeks = 1 ruble, so the kopek is really small in value, about 1/30th of a penny.
Favorite thing: Even if you do not intend to learn Russian for your short trip to St. Petersburg, try at least to learn the Kyryllic alphabet. It is not that difficult and will greatly help you to decipher street or place names and get a general idea where you`re heading.