Personal Observations, Saint Petersburg
When your guide stop you from buying in a museum souvenir shop it means that she will bring you to another place where she is paid her 10-20% interest on your account. Just compare prices.
Fun Alternatives: Moderate prices for souvenirs are at the airport on departure
I read about a British tourist who had a very nice visit to an upscale souvenir shop called Northway, located at the English Embankment and Truda.
So why not give ti a go? He said he was greeted at the door with a glass of vodka and a smile ...
Well, they took one look at me and told me there was nothing here for me, entrance is only by private invitation or with tour group! Northway the Rude way.
Okay, it is a very good looking shop. And many nice things. But unless you enter dressed upscale with money hanging out of your pockets to be plucked, be ready to get forcibly removed from the premises. Face control. Hmmmmm.
Unless you look like a rich tourist, wide-naive eyes, large designer purses and fat wallets in your back pockets, better stick to the souvenir markets where normal manners and attitudes for customers can be found.
Unique Suggestions: Well, if you manage to stay in the store, let me know how your experience went!
Fun Alternatives: Go to the main souvenir market by the Church on the Spilt Blood and haggle a little for typical souvenirs.
And there are wonderful elite souvenir galleries especially in major hotels and they are happy to see you even if you keep your wallet in your front pocket where they may not have a chance to get it!
The date changes alittle every year for the opening of fountains. This year 2008 the fountains will open May 9th. You can check the official Peterhof website to see the date, time and the information about tickets.
Unique Suggestions: If you are a veteran of WWII you can go for free to see the opening seremony
Fun Alternatives: If there is no fun for you, you can see the fountains on the Neva river
I hear comments on the desparity of prices between foreign and local tickets. the People (we foreigners) should NOT complain about the fact that the Russians get a discount on ballets, museums, etc. It is not a scam. What we pay, is actually comparable to what we pay almost anywhere else. The Russian prices are appropriately adjusted for Russians' earnings. And how nice that the average Russian can attend their OWN BALLET theatres - and that they dont have to have residence on Kammeniy Ostrov to afford it. I went to school in Leningrad in 1980 - I remember the "Beryozka" foreign currency stores where we could shop but soviet citizens were not allowed to enter. It seems fitting today, that prices are adjusted. My nationality has been confused on occaision and when asked if I am buying a foreign or regular ticket - I always state "foreign" and they, particularly older people, seem to appreciate that. One lovely woman even insisted that I must be russian and asked to see my passport to see if I was a student or worker in order to give me the discount (if you study there, or have a work visa you are also eligible for the discount). So they are certainly not out to "get" you.
Right by the Church on the Spilt Blood on Canal Griboedova you can often imagine Peter the Great or Ekaterina the Great walking around. It is not by chance. Costumed people walk the streets to get tourists to pay for a picture next to them.
Unique Suggestions: If you want top get a picture of yourself posed with Peter the Great or Ekaterina the Great, pay some rubles and do it.
Fun Alternatives: You can probably stand back and get a picture of the scene for free.
There are rules against advertizing vodka, so enterprising vodka companies have learned to market water- Voda, looking like Vodka except for one letter :)
Unique Suggestions: Laugh and drink warter from another company :)
You'll probably hear a lot about this. In Russia, tourists are expected to pay much more than locals (or, citizens of the former Soviet Union) for museums, monuments, boat trips, etc. When you go to souvenir markets, you'll end up paying a whole lot more than you have to if it's obvious you are a foreigner. As a Russian speaker, it was somewhat disheartening to see this disparity and the way tourists are constantly being caught in these scams. At the same time, when it comes to museums, etc, it makes sense that Russians pay less - they would not be able to afford visiting their own cultural attractions if it weren't for the discount.
Unique Suggestions: If you go to a souvenir market, try to bring a Russian friend if you have one. Everything can be bargained down and someone who knows Russian well must do the bargaining.
I'm quite sure that there are many people who enjoy folklore performances. But my husband and the man seated next to him were snoring through various parts of the performance and the general consensus was that it was about twice as long as most of us could withstand.
The performance we saw was called Feel Yourself Russian, held at the Nikolaevsky Palace.
The Gulf of Finland is one of the places in the world where you find real AMBAR.
Ambar is a resine from a tree which drag mosquitoes, leafs and so on and with hundreds of years it became fossilized.
If you are thinking about buying a gift ....
In the 90s Russia became popular not only as a new "unexplored" travel destination, but also as a place to find a "perfect" wife (not a husband, unfortunately for Russian men..) It's not a secret that some male travelers who come to Russia are also interested in finding a woman, or that a lot of Russian women are not against marrying an interesting foreign man.
There are many reasons for that: Russian women are considered to be very attractive, and foreign men have an image (among many Russian women) of being intelligent, wealthy, and interesting partners.
It can be quite a good thing in itself: there are many examples of people who found each other and lived happily after... However, a huge demand from both sides gave a rise to a new "Russian brides" industry that is gaining popularity, and a lot of individuals found many dishonest ways of making money out of bringing people together. So, if you want to find a partner abroad, you should be really aware: there are a lot of opportunities, but also there's a lot of scam.
I wrote this text in order to help you understand what all this new international "marriage race" is about, and how to make your way through all the haze, if you decide to. The information on this page tends to be more about Russian women for foreign men, than about Russian men (after all, this section is called "Women in Russia"), however, it might be interesting for western women as well.
Finally, we apologize, but when writing about such a matter, generalizations are unavoidable...
Unique Suggestions: It should be pointed out that here we talk not about all Russian women, but only about the women, who deliberately engaged into looking for a foreign husband (either through the internet or newspaper ads or by attending parties etc.).
Generally, the women who decide to find a foreign husband can be very different and can have completely different motivations. Some women are sincerely looking for a partner to create a family together, some women just want to have fun, others want to make money. So, the following classification might be helpful:
"Family-Oriented" Woman. She is looking for a sincere relationship and wants to create a real stable family with a husband who will love her, understand her, and care about her. Usually, she's about 25 to 50 years old. She would like to have a safe enviroment for her family and - partially - this makes her look for the future husband abroad, because it is considered that a foreigner can have a much more stable situation (socially and financially), than a Russian. Perhaps, she had already had a husband, but the first marriage didn't work out very well...
She does not necessarily want to leave their home country, usually, the main criteria is well-being of the future family, for which the place is not so important.
"Russian Lover". She's not family oriented, but she's open and she wants to have nice time and to find an interesting man to spend time with. It doesn't matter if he's a foreigner or not, the main thing is that he's pretty, charming, and interesting to talk with. A man might have a lot of nice time with such a woman, and perhaps, it would be an ideal introduction for an interesting relationship, that could maybe grow into something more serious in the future... The only problem is that this kind of women do not usually look for a husband deliberately. There's more chance to meet them accidentally or at a party.
Fun Alternatives: "Russian Blonde". This is a special kind of woman. When she was a young (17-20) pretty woman, she met a handsome "new Russian" with a lot of money, and fell in love with him and with the ambiance of success around him. She got used to indulge all her needs and to get what she wanted. However, their "new Russian" man was letting himself too much: having so much money, power, and charisma, he was getting with many other women. At one moment, the "blonde" had enough of being just "one of many", and broke the relationship with her rich friend. However, such a "beautiful girl" shouldn't be alone, so she's settled to find a worthy substitute to her old friend, who will worship only her, and will let her indulge into her old habits.
She will most likely not want to leave Russia, because it is very important for her to be able to show the new husband to her girlfriends and to be seen.
"Russophobiac". She despises Russia and Russians, so her main goal is to emigrate. Usually, her first and main condition is to be able to live abroad, and deep inside she doesn't care about the relationship. If necessary, she will be a slave to her future husband, only to be able to leave Russia.
"Money Maker". This is a dangerous type. Her main goal is to make money, so a long-term relationship is not on her agenda. The most important is to get a regular allowance from the future husband. Usually, this kind of people come from poor families and are not able to do anything by themselves. However, some of them are just "players": they get pleasure in sucking out the money, and then dissappearing. There were a lot of cases, when a woman like this would engage into writing over the internet with a foreign man, and then at one moment ask some money to buy a plane ticket to be able to meet. So, a naive "husband" would send his "future wife" a check for $1000 US and never hear about her again...
I know some of my tourist trap tips concern whole Russia not St.Petersburg but I didn't visit whole Russia and I'm not going to build Russia page.
Even so I experienced some not nice things on the borders I still think it was worth going there and to see St.Petersburg. Maybe my Polish nationality caused some troubles...
We passed Russia's border from the Finland in Brusnicznoje. We waited at the border two hours and officers couldn't decide if they could let us go or not. All documents were ok but... We had to stay in the hall. After they decided that we could pass the border they checked our passports 4 times! First if we have passports, second when they stamped them, then they checked if we have stamps and at the end if we have a passports.
This is national road somewhere close to the Pskov. No signposts, even on the crossroads. It was about 70 km like that. Our driver were roaming there a few hours and we even thought that if we would get lost there nobody would find us, our phones didn't work there. We would build Polish settlement there and after a few hundreds years children would learn about us in the schools ;-)
Before we crossed the border we had to wait in the queue. Fortunatelly it wasn't so long but some people wanted to go to the toilet. So on the pic you can see the toilet on the Rusian border... poor TIR drivers who have to wait a few days sometimes.
Leaving Russia wasn't easy, too. Again we had to wait about two hours but now we knew what they wanted from us... Our guider had to pay, 150$ and three bottles of vodka. Otherwise we would stay there next few hours. Also they checked our luggages but I don't know if they were looking for something because sometimes they even didn't watch at the monitor. They were probably trying to scare us.
Unfortunately, there is still a duel pricing policy for seeing most of the museums and churches in Russia. And the babooshkas can spot a pair of reeboks from 500m, so unless your Russian is very good, save yourself the hassle and join the tourist queue.
In general I found the Russians to be very friendly and helpful, with the exception of those selling bus and train tickets. Be prepared to wait in line for a considerable period and be patient with the babooshkas behind the counter.