Ruth & I will be in St. Petersburg soon. Planning any trip on your own that includes Russia gets very interesting.
At first we thought we’d spend a week in this city, but the visa process was long and relatively strange. Lonely Planet taught us the rules but also made us wary. US travelers need a visa in their passports. An up to 30-day, one entry tourist visa is available. If a friend invites you to Russia, you can also obtain a private visa but Lonely Planet warns, “…he or she will undergo some serious hassle to get you an invitation.”
It’s apparently wise to apply for a visa long in advance of travel. Don’t expect to get one if you’re a US citizen in, say, Germany. Lonely Planet warns, “you won’t usually be able to obtain a Russian visa anywhere but at home.” To get a visa you must send the embassy several documents: your passport with at last 6 months of validity left, a photo, a completed application form (to get one, you must register online), and an invitation from a hotel or travel agency. Something called a letter of support might do too. It was the invitation requirement that caused Ruth and me to look for another way.
And we found it. Visitors to St. Petersburg can enter Russia for 72 hours without a pre-arranged visa if they arrive by cruise ship or ferry and also book a city tour with a licensed company. Lonely Planet calls this “rather restrictive” but a good way to see the city without the visa hassle.
So we contacted a visa agency we had used before and learned that the process would cost around $800. Since we could spend 3 days visa free, Ruth & I booked a cruise and will decide later if the visa-way is better.
Acquaintances have provided lots of advice that might be of interest to anyone headed for Russia. Just this morning Ruth’s friend Sue emailed:
1. depend on bottled because the water in St. Petersburg looks & smells so bad you’ll never be tempted to drink it.
2. don’t expect help with luggage in hotels and don’t leave anything out in your room that you “expect to keep”. Lock luggage.
3. you can order roubles from, among other businesses, AAA where it takes a day or two to get them. Sue said it’s best to take some currency. You can get money at a bank, if the bank is open. She didn’t mention ATMs but described her bank experience. It sounded culturally fascinating.
4. most menus have English, except at McDonald’s of all places, where you have to ask for an English menu in the form of a plastic card.
5. a highly recommended, portable souvenir–Russian chocolate bars, which Sue described as mostly dark and of very high quality.
6. you’ll win a lot of points if you learn to say thank you in Russian–spa-see-ba. But Sue said to slur the s & p together, so I’ll have to hear it before I can use it.