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2015 - St. Petersburg, Russia - Travelers with experience please!

All - I tried searching through the forum but was hoping for a more concise response from travelers who have been to St. Petersburg.
Main concern is safety and navigation. I plan on learning basic Russian before I go to get me by.

Questions if someone could kindly answer:

  1. Sticking to the main sights, etc walking on Nevsky prospect - am I relatively safe?
  2. Any recommendations on what to wear walking around? (Hopes of blending in)
  3. How hard is it to navigate, is everything in Russian? (may seem dumb but I would rather be prepared and learn more Russian if needed)

Thank you so much, hope someone can help and provide some insight.

Best,

Steven

Posted by
92 posts

I may not be of much help since I visited for 2 days as part of a cruise ship excursion. We were of course bussed to the various sites, but walking the grounds of places like Catherine's Palace or Peter the Great's Palace, I did not perceive any safety issues. Polo/golf shirt with slacks and whatever comfortable walking shoes you like (I use Merrell Vibram) will be fine. I don't know that a tourist can ever really blend in, but the locals seemed to be in bland neutral colors (black, grey, tan, white) most of the time. If you can learn Russian, more power to you! Everything is in the Cyrillic alphabet as far as signage. I never saw anything that included English subtitles. I was there in 2010, so that may be changing, but I doubt it. Even in the more touristy areas, I did not get a sense the local Russians really cared to learn the " international language."

Posted by
4686 posts

I visited for 3 days in 2014.

1) Sticking to the main sights, etc walking on Nevsky prospect - am I relatively safe?

Yes. It doesn't seem all that different from any other big European city.

2) Any recommendations on what to wear walking around? (Hopes of blending in).

Wear the same clothes you would wear in any European city. If you are visiting tourist sites, everyone will know you are a tourist anyway.

3) How hard is it to navigate, is everything in Russian? (may seem dumb but I would rather be prepared and learn more Russian if needed)

I personally did not find it difficult, particularly when you are focusing on the main tourist sites. I had a streetwise St Petersburg map and used that to navigate. I also used the subway without knowing the cyrillic alphabet.

Posted by
14898 posts

I was there in 2009 for 2 days on a cruise. I was with 2 friends. We did everything on our own. At the top tourist sites there were language barriers. We were in a long line to buy tickets to the Hermitage, and when we got to the window and tried to use a credit card, the woman just said "nyet, nyet" emphatically. We did find a staff member who spoke good English and took us to another bank of ticket sellers. Except for a few rooms (European art) everything was labeled only in Russian. Most signs everywhere were only in Russian. Some cab drivers spoke English, some didn't. We always had both our destination and our port information (for you hotel info) in Russian to show the cabbies. We didn't use the metro. We never felt uneasy. We found that if we smiled at people, they smiled back and were very friendly - but they didn't smile first. We knew how to read the alphabet, so we were able to decipher names. We managed fine and had a great time. Beautiful city.

Posted by
2469 posts

Re that map link: On that Amazon link, see under "Customers also bought" the Borch series laminated map. The entire Borch series is great, full detail, all streets named. Since it is laminated it will stand up to anything St Pete's damp weather will throw at you, survived our son's semester in St. Petersburg unblemished.

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you so much for the responses! Larry thank you for the map, going to get that now, appreciate it!!!!!

Posted by
4686 posts

Adding to Chani's post, if you are going to the Hermitage I highly recommend buying your ticket on line. You then go to a special internet sales booth where you exchange your voucher for a ticket and then you basically go to the front of the line and get to enter right away. We happened to go to the Hermitage on the one free day they have each month. Had it not been for the internet tickets, we would have probably spent more than an hour in line. The Hemitage has audioguides in English.

Posted by
31 posts

Laura, would you recommend buying most tickets in advance? Did you have an issue with the language barrier on the websites?

Best,

STeven

Posted by
4686 posts

The only advance ticket we bought was for the Hermitage. The website is in English.

For Catherine Palace and Peterhof, we arranged a tour so the guide took care of the tickets.

I was in St Petersburg for 1 week at the end of April this year. I found Nevsky prospect to be safe and fine, much like any other major European city. I usually carry my money and credit cards in a money belt or neck strap under my clothing. It was a little cold when I was there so I wore comfortable pants, turtle neck shirts, and rain coat. In the center part of St Petersburg, I found most of the street signs are in small English letters underneath the Cyrillic alphabet. In the Museums I was in, the labels were in both Cyrillic and English. I was at the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Church of Spilled Blood, Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral, Peterhoff, Catherine Palace, Alexander Palace. The Metro was very easy to use, clean, and I felt very safe on there. I learned very little to no Russian, and had very few problems navigating around. The Metro stations are in labeled in English. The busses are not in English, so you will need to keep your eyes out at each of the stops to figure out where to get on and off. A great Taxi service to use is Lingo Taxi, their drivers all speak very good English and are very friendly. I Used Lingo Taxi to get from the Airport to the Hotel in the City Center and to go back out to the Airport when I left. I also used them for a day trip out to Pushkin. Most of the Restaurants will have an English menu, you just need to ask for it. One Tip for the Hermitage is that as you enter the gates from palace square, there are some Self Service Machines to get Tickets in the Courtyard on the Left hand side as you enter. You can choose English on the Self Service Machine and you can use your Credit Card at these machines. This will save a lot of time as you can skip the lines to purchase tickets and go directly into the Hermitage. Also for the Hermitage, there is a great IPad App you get for an audioguided tour of the Hermitage. You can go to the Hermitage website to get this App. I hope you enjoy your trip to St Petersburg! It is a Great city with Lots to do!

Posted by
6609 posts

Any recommendations for local tours. We will be buying Hermitage tickets on line and will walk from our apartment to central tourist sites but there are a number of sites out of town and it might be more convenient to have a locally based tour for those to make logistics easier. What companies did you use for those?

Posted by
4686 posts

janet, In 2014, I ended up booking a one day tour with TJ Travels (https://st-petersburg-tours.ru/st-petersburg-tours ) that covered Peterhof Gardens, Catherine Palace, and Peter and Paul fortress. We joined one day of one of their two day cruise tours for 16 people. They picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel. We were in a van. The guide was excellent and very hard working. The cruisers not so much (most did not seem terribly interested). The tour was $170 a person. Given that we were only there for 3 days, this was the most efficient way to see both Peterhof and Catherine Palace. We experienced no lines at those sites as the tour company had prebooked everything.

I contacted multiple companies and TJ Travels was the only one who was able to add us to an existing tour to the places we wanted to visit. Ulko tours also told us that they could add us to a small group tour, but didn't happen to have one that covered Catherine Palace the day we were there. If you want to do a private tour with guide and driver, I found the going rate was about $600 a day.

Posted by
99 posts

Just finished 4 days in St Petersburg as part of a RS tour. My husband and I walked (without the group) down Nevsky Prospect withno issues; we rode the Metro and felt as safe as in any major European city. We left passports in tne hotel room safe, keotmost of our money in a money belt and kept our expensive cameras in the bag unless we were using them.

We dressed as we always do when traveling to Europe. Comfortable walking shoes, khaki slacks and layered tops.

Four days was not enough. Very little Eglish (even at the airport). Navigation could bechallenging, butnot impossible.

Knowing what I know now, I'd go independently, but book a day tour for transportation to Pushkin. Loved the gardens there.

We stayed at the Pushka Inn Hotel (I highly recommend it for the location, friendly, helpful, English speaking staff and for itsclean, comfortable rooms). Steps from the Hermitage and a few blocks from the Church on Spilled Blood.

Posted by
2005 posts

We just spent two days there.

I have to disagree with an earlier poster. Do NOT leave your passport in your room. Put it in your moneybelt and take it with you. You are required to have it with you if asked by an official. (I am shocked that the RS Tour didn't really stress that to the poster!)

As to the OPs specific questions

  1. We never felt any concern for our safety from crime etc.... I will say that around 11 PM Nevsky Prospect becomes a drag racing strip, don't jaywalk!!!!

  2. You aren't going to fit in, just live with it!

  3. We navigated to all the major sites just using the street signs and tourist map so it's not that hard IMHO!

Have fun!

Posted by
31 posts

Carol did you visit all of the major sites? Kazan Cathedral? St Isaacs church?

Best,

Steven

Posted by
2005 posts

Ok. I have now posted this all over the internet but here it is... My "St. Petersburg on Your Own Report" (Also posted on CruiseCritic and TripAdvisior LOL!) (By the way we did not get into Kazan, but it's undergoing major renovations that kind of kept us away) This is just the biggies... I tried to leave off random wandering around as it's already too long (and it's going in two posts here.(

Yes You Can Do It! St Petersburg on your own!

Step one was the visa. Yes, it’s not cheap. If you are doing a two day stay in the city and want to return to the ship, do NOT get the one entry visa like I did. You will need to go for the multiple year, multiple entry visa R had. Apparently in the past the one entry worked, but now one entry gets you off the ship ONCE! That meant that we had to stay overnight in the city.

So we get off the ship, clear immigration (about 30 minutes) Now this is where we hit our first roadbump. There are two ATMs in the port building, one was out of order, the other either was out of order or only spoke Russian. But don’t panic the Taxi woman takes dollars. For $30 she got us a paid taxi into our hotel The W St. Petersburg.

The hotel is very nice, beds are comfy and the concierge is GREAT While I checked in she calmed R down by telling him exactly where to go and telling him the ATM in the basement spoke English. They gave us a great room on the 8th floor. Room was ready so we dropped off the backpacks, got some rubles (probably $100 worth) and headed out.
We were in port on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since some of the sights were closed on Wednesday this drove our sightseeing plan. First stop was St. Issac’s. It doesn’t open until 10:30 so we were early and stood in line for about half an hour but quickly got tickets when it opened. We climbed the colonnade first for the great views. This also helped out with our orientation since we could see where things were. Then we toured the church. HUGE place, very beautiful and kin d of overwhelming.
Out of there we headed on to Church of the Spilled Blood. We navigated well using just the tourist map, but I did have a better map In my bag if we needed it. I loved this church, R not so much. IT’s over the top covered with mosaics and he swears they were looking at them but it’s an amazingly beautiful church.

Lunch was at Stolle. There were tour groups there and locals. R’s friend had told us what to order so we got two small meat pies, one cherry and one lingonberry.

Now on to Peterhof. This was a trade off. The palace was closed today, but we decided that we would be more worried about getting back from our “out of the city” excursion on Wednesday when we had to worry about missing the boat. The Fountains are amazing and the boat ride over was fun. We spent a lot of time in the fountains and gardens before catching the boat back.

(Note: For all admissions so far we had used my chip and pin Mastercard. But the boat to Peterhof was only taking cash so we were glad we had some

Next stop Fabrage Museum If you go after 6 PM you don’t have to take the tour which is often in Russian. We did not spend a huge amount of time here but I really enjoyed seeing the eggs!

While I was buying tickets to the museum R had a chat with one of the employees and got some recommendations for ‘local food’ where they could help English speakers. We had dinner at a Georgian restaurant very close to the museum.
Now this did mess up one of our other plans, We wanted to take the evening canal tour, but the last one we could find in English was at 8:30 or so. So we took it in Russian. We understood nothing but enjoyed navigating using our maps and just seeing the sights. Next was what we thought would be nice walk up Nevesky Prospect…. We were wrong. Apparently it’s drag racing strip around 11 pm. Cars peeling out at every lights, souped up hotrods with no muffler

Posted by
2005 posts

DAY TWO
We got up and went downstairs, checked out and arranged for the hotel to get us a cab back to the port. We wound up eating breakfast at Subway (and it was HORRIBLE!)
But then we hiked over to the Peter and Paul Fortress and spent some time looking at it and the great views. We walked back by the ballet theater and got some other great views of the Hermitage.

And now it’s time for the biggie. Hermitage. When we got there the ticket line was VERY long, but I got in line for the kiosks while R scoped the place out. Kiosk line took about 10 minutes. They take Rubles and chip/pin credit cards. Plus it’s fast. We could not figure out why all those people were waiting in the LONG line, but we waltzed right in with our kiosk ticket. (Note: They did make us throw out our water bottles) We spent HOURS here and there’s no way I can describe everything we saw. The best thing we did was get lost at the beginning. We wound up in the “apartments” and other rooms that were beautiful and basically empty! So the first few hours of our visit it was very quiet and peaceful. Then we figured out where the “biggies” were and headed to the Italian /French/German blockbuster section. That was wall to wall tour groups LOL! But we did see stuff just not as well as the lesser known things. We finished up in the Egypt/ Greece areas which once again were pretty deserted. We had a great time. My personal favorites were the rooms we saw early including one with “gold” on the walls and the chapel But you could spend a lifetime here.
We then headed to a pub for a beer. Yes, we had British beer, but we needed a breather.

And it’s time to shop. We found a “grocery” and bought some Vodka, hit up some shops and got some little dolls, postcards etc… The W mailed our postcards for us for 60 rubles which was more than the post office, but considerably easier!

Back to the W for the return to the port. We had a pick up of 3:30 and the cab was there on time. Very nice cab and it cost 600 rubles or $10 We spent our last amount of Rubles in the shops at the port
So in summary…
Would I do it again? YES! We were exhausted but we had a great time and we saw what we wanted to.
It helps to be outgoing. R talked to everyone. We got a wonderful restaurant suggestion from the staff at a museum. We got great directions and everyone was very helpful.
My suggestions
1. Stay in the city if you are in port overnight. That port is way out there and since it doesn’t get dark until very late you can still do stuff in the city!
2. If you stay in the city, get a hotel with a good staff. The W is a little pricy, but there are some other options (We stayed here using my Starwood points so all we paid was some small Russian registration fee)
3. Go with an open mind and realize it’s not going to be like home!

Posted by
99 posts

Re leaving passports in hotel room safe-
Carol,
Our RS guide, specifically recommended leaving our passports in the safe in our hotel room.

I have not found anything, anywhere, in writing, that says you have to have it on your person all the time.

Posted by
2005 posts

Here you go

http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/russia.html

"Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time and without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, you should carry your original passport, migration card and visa with you at all times (see sections on Migration Cards and Visa Registration for additional information)."

Carry that passport folks.

Posted by
31 posts

Yeah I was told to carry it on you. But by carry I mean strapped to my body.

Posted by
51 posts

In case you haven't had enough, please check and download maps.me maps for free. You can navigate using those.

Posted by
1724 posts

We spent 8 days in St.Petersburg in 2014. We loved the city and felt very safe everywhere we went. We did take Rick's small book on St. Petersburg and other northern cities. We found his St Petersburg's map and restaurant suggestions were good. As for Nevsky Prospect, we walked it, but didn't like it that much- just big and busy. We stayed at 3Mosta Hotel which was great, very close to The Hermitage and Church of Spilled Blood. It's great to learn the Cyrilic alphabet that way you can sound out most words. But we did find that St. Petersburg has many signs in English too. If you haven't gotten your visa yet, we found the 3 year tourist visa is only $20 more dollars. We ended up going to Moscow this year, which we also loved.

Posted by
6609 posts

I plan to use a money belt in Petersburg since we are in an apartment and won't have a safe and the odds are greater of actually being hassled by police in Russia apparently than in western Europe where we never carry the passport itself. I will just have our passports stowed well under clothing along with spare cash and cards. I don't know how secure apartments are from burglars either, so we are taking old computers and will plan to replace them if they are stolen. Luckily we will be there in fall when the type of clothing we will wear makes stowing them well easy.

Posted by
6869 posts

We came off a cruise ship in St. Petersburg last week. TJ Tours were setup for a 2 day tour with 13 others in a Mercedes van. Our driver got us to the Hermitage and we had early entry reservations before the masses of people hit the place @ 10:00 a.m. Our driver knew every alley and small street to get us through the congestion of the city quickly and efficiently.
We found St. Petersburg to be a great tourist city with absolutely incredible sights. Our tour guide was fantastic, and she was a walking, talking expert on every museum and just about every painting and sculpture we saw.

St. Petersburg would be relatively difficult to navigate on your own. City streets are very confusing and they don't have "interstate" type motorway roads within the city center. And their alphabet is difficult to deal with. We didn't find it terribly expensive in comparison with Scandinavia, but we considered our $210 two day tour to be a bargain. St. Petersburg is not a place for someone inexperienced in world travel should go on their own.
I would think to travel the city on your own would require an extreme amount of walking and use of their subway system. We found their subway stations to be quite a sight on their own--spotless places for the most part.
Cruise ships are a very easy way to travel the Baltic region and they're quite a bargain in every way.

Posted by
6609 posts

We spent 9 nights /8 days in St. Petersburg and did carry the passports in my moneybelt just in case. We had no issues with security at all, found shopping for food for the apartment, finding restaurants etc easy to do. The one occasion I needed a passport was to collect my Hermitage 2 day ticket from the internet booth; they were fine with my passport card which is what I keep accessible. The actual passport was in a money belt under my clothes. In September we absolutely did not need to have paid the much higher ticket price for Hermitage tickets on line. The machines in the Hermitage courtyard had no lines and so for our 3rd and 4th visit we just bought tickets from the machines at about half the cost of on line purchase -- and walked right pass the line to get in.

Someone recommended taking lunch to the Hermitage and so we bought sandwiches at a bakery near our apartment; this was good advice as the food options at the Hermitage are terrible and overpriced. We were happy to buy drinks and have our quite excellent sandwiches. We were very happy with the quality of foods in the bakeries and found shopping in the grocery stores for supplies fun. You can't drink Petersburg water and there are large jugs of water available all over; there was a little mart around the corner from us with water as well as basic supplies and a supermarket a few blocks away.

We loved St. Petersburg restaurants. We had an apartment near Kazan Cathedral and there were lots of small restaurants in the area. We ate wonderfully for 20$ or so every night. Many places have an English menu (even fast food places like pie and dumpling places often have one behind the counter) and many places have illustrated menus. The places we ate were almost entirely filled with locals but they still has illustrated menus in some cases. Having a phone that will photograph and translate was handy and we used that in restaurants without English menus. We tried the Russian pie places but didn't find the food there very good. The little Georgian restaurants near our apartment were superb.

Even more than the Hermitage, we enjoyed the Russian Museum near the Church on Spilled Blood. I would suggest that is a must see. We booked a private tour with Tours by locals to the Catherine Palace which made it easy -- very enjoyable. Local transport is difficult. It was easy to get the card and fill it for rides on buses, trolleys and metro and the metro is lovely, but the metro doesn't work well as local transport -- it is designed for long hauls. The trolleys are so miserably crammed full that it is more pleasant to walk a couple of km instead which is what we ended up doing.

We were failures at shopping. There is a very American like mall called the Galleria near where we had to register our visas at the metro stop one past Gostiny Dvor. Prices were high. I had considered getting Masha and Medved dolls for my granddaughter, but I can buy them on Amazon for less than in a big Russian toy store. We ended up buying an amber necklace and a fur hat (one of my kids wanted one) at the Gostiny Dvor shopping center. We certainly got no bargains but are happy with the quality of the purchases. We found the classic souvenirs quite high priced.

Rick Steves recommends an English speaking boat tour and we took that one -- although the guide was not very good, I can't imagine doing the boat tour in Russian and getting anything out of it. The English boat is on Nevsky Prospekt on the Fantanka; they provide blankets which in September in the evening made all the difference -- it was pretty chilly.

We found the warnings about crime and such overblown -- we had no issues at all with security, shopping for necessities, visiting museums and such. We took it easy and didn't see everything. we got 3 year visas and are thinking of heading back next year or the year after.

Posted by
31 posts

I just got back - what an unbelievable trip. No issues with safety whatsoever.

Posted by
6868 posts

We found the warnings about crime and such overblown

What was the source of these warnings? I think, for whatever reason, well-minded people fear what they don't know, so they somehow assume that St. Petersburg is a crime haven...are there any statistics to back that up? Or whether police really hassle foreigners in some unusual way? Just because somebody repeats what others have written in various forums doesn't make it true...that's how rumors get started and perpetuated. I'm having a hard time judging even from these posts whether an experienced traveler would really find it that difficult to travel in St. Petersburg.

Posted by
31 posts

Honestly - I read it in various forums and some travel books. Even ricksteves gives a warning. Or maybe it was lonely planet, I can't remember. Going to post my trip below for reference since everyone so kind to respond to me.

To sum it up: St. Petersburg is UNBELIEVABLE. Needed to share with the community.

Oct 3 (arrived around 3) and left October 7. I would give yourself atleast 3 full days. We had roughly 3.5 and were able to do it all.

Safe, absolutely gorgeous, clean, fun and many great sights to see.

Safety: Was never really worried at all. I was hypervigilant because the thought of an American going to "Russia" and some of what I read indicated I should be. I kept a small amount of money in my pockets along with my phone, everything else is locked away in my backpack (as it always is no matter where I was traveling). I had no issues whatsoever. I DID carry our passports with us at all times.

Border/Customs official were polite and laughed with us. We took the train from Helsinki, Finland (Awesome, fast, clean, english speaking train employees). 99% of the people were extremely nice. Learn a little bit of Russian, it goes a long way.

I used uber 99% of the time, no issues, even though some drivers do drive like lunatics. Extremely cheap to move around the city. Request pickups on streets away from Nevsky, way way too congested.

The only minor issue I had was as follows (was rather funny): Our uber driver picked us up, I greeted him as my girlfriend and I entered his car. He then proceeded to say something in Russian, so I said in Russian back, "I am sorry, do you speak english?" Obviously my Russian is horrible so that coupled with me asking him if I spoke english prompted the following response (atleast what i could make out)

"F*** English/Americans?"... My girlfriend got nervous... I laughed, and said, Nyet - ya lyublyu St Petersburg! He smiled and laughed back. Ya lyublyu means "I love".

He then proceeded to teach me some Russian on our drive back. All was good. I asked many many people the same question, they all smile back and know a little or indicate they dont know any english.

Puklovo Airport: Beats JFK. Its certainly smaller, but has a brand new main terminal. Plenty of places to eat/shop/relax before your flight. Very smooth and easy through customs/security.

Transportation within St. Petes. This city is MASSIVE. We walked, but took alot of ubers. The subway is efficient and fast but uber was so cheap it was a no brainer.

Food: One of the best restaurants I've eaten at Mansarda. Pricey, but worth it. View looking at St Isaacs Cathedral. Other restaurants were good but nothing special.

Hotel: W. St Petersburg - Worth every penny. Location is right in the middle of everything, the staff are hands down the best, rooms are great, and there is a ATM right in the basement which makes life easy.

Ballet: Mariinsky 2 is phenomenal. We saw the Giselle ballet, unbelievable.

Bars/Clubs: Didn't go to any clubs here, the one I was interested in was far away. We did go to a few bars close by and grab some beers. We never stayed out past 12-1, was getting cold at night.

We did a few tours when we were there. Used Russiantrains.com to book canal tour and dancing bear tours for a private tour of Peterhof/Catherine Palace. (No brainer, go to both of these)

Also used Peterswalk for a walking tour of Hermitage and around some main sights. Did not fail to impress, they were beyond great.

Found it easier to do a tour here because of the language barrier, made it easier to learn Russian history.

So in conclusion, if your on the fence about going to St. Petersburg... GO!!!!!!!!!

US Dollar is strong against the ruble, it goes a long way.

Posted by
3458 posts

Agnes , I really must defend Janet' s remark about overblown fear mongering . I experienced the same starting with Rick himself . If you look at his comments , and the various posts ( obviously , not all ) over the last two years , there is the unmistakable scent of unwarranted fear . In short , I recently spent nearly three weeks in St Petersburg , and concur with most written above . A basic grasp of Cyrillic is helpful , but I found it to be , on balance , much like other European Capitals . One of the highlights of our sojourn there was a day trip to Kronstadt on Kotlin Island , twenty miles out in the Gulf of Finland , to see the stunning Orthodox naval cathedral of St Nicholas . We did this ( as the rest of our stay there ) independently with nary a care . As we have a three year visa , we are returning to Russia next fall , it was wonderful . As the previous posts indicate , it is a wonderful place .

Posted by
6868 posts

I'm glad that many respondents here had a great experience - I have heard several positive reviews outside of this forum. I have to admit, I take what Rick says as only one input. He's interested in selling tours - if he made everyone very comfortable/ confident about a place, they could just go on their own (probably with his book checked out from the local library). He does a good job making Europe more accessible for travelers who have not been before, but he writes some seriously "off" stuff sometimes so, for me at least, it's worth taking him with a grain of salt.

Posted by
3458 posts

Agnes , I appreciate and quite agree with your comments . It is fascinating to see how Rick' s focus has evolved over the last thirty five or so years, when we first watched " Travels in Europe with Rick Steves "
In the early eighties on PBS . I understand his current perspective , but prefer his past views

Posted by
6609 posts

The one fear to take seriously is the water. We have a friend who returned a year or so from St. Petersburg with Giardia. He claims to have forgotten and brushed his teeth with the local water once. Even the locals buy water and it comes in handy large jugs of 4 liters or so and you can get it at any of the many many small mini mart type stores everywhere. I know this used to be a major problem but was actually surprised that it still apparently is a fairly significant risk.

Other than that we encountered no petty crime, little begging and a felt less targeted than we do in Paris where pickpocketing is a high art as it is throughout major cities in the EU. I was slightly apprehensive about living in an apartment and handling everything on our own, but that is what we do everywhere else, so we did it. It was terrific. Loved St.Petersburg.

Re water bottles in Hermitage -- we each carried one and had a picnic lunch and had no problem with either. Since they sell water bottles in the museum that does seem nuts.

The reason Russians are in those long lines at the Hermitage rather than the kiosks (where there was zero line when we were there) is that many Russians are eligible for free or greatly reduced entry, but they have to get the ticket with their documentation hence lining up. tourists in that line are just ignorant that they don't need to stand in it but can get tickets at the kiosks and walk right in.

Posted by
3458 posts

Just to tack on to Janet' s comments about the water - we took that seriously as well , neither drank nor brushed teeth with it . Based on what I read in preparation for our trip , the principal issue was a high concentration of heavy metals , that is not addressed by water purification techniques . The case of Janet' s friend , may or may not have been related to their water , Giardia can be transmitted in different ways , hard to tell . The big factor for me was a post sometime ago , by Ed from Pensacola , who was rarely bothered by anything , and had great tolerance for things that would make many travelers wince . Even Ed said he wouldn't drink the water in Russia - good enough for me !!

Posted by
31 posts

In regards to the water - we had bottles of water everywhere. However, we brushed our teeth with the water. No issues.

Posted by
6609 posts

I bet there are people who brushed their teeth with the water in Calcutta and had no issues. The water supply in Petersburg is always a potential giardia risk -- this is a very nasty thing to get while traveling. It is foolhardy to brush your teeth in the water; I actually know someone who got giardia from doing that in the last few years.

Posted by
31 posts

Well thats not good - didnt know you can get it from brushing your teeth.

Posted by
3458 posts

I will add on to this - the transmissive aspects of giardia are not limited to the ingestion of water . It , and other intestinal parasites , are transmitted in various ways , fecal - oral contact , contaminated food ( food handlers not properly washing after toilet use ) are but two additional examples . DO NOT drink water that could be suspect , but additionally take reasonable precautions . One technique that I utilize , even at home - I never touch public door handles without the protection of , for instance , a hand in a pocket , if you catch my drift . I can't tell you how many times I have seen someone exiting a toilet stall , without THOROUGHLY , washing up . Guess what is on the door handle, pathogenically speaking ?

Posted by
3458 posts

Another specific thought . We were in St Petersburg for nearly three weeks this past September , and often bought dinner in the supermarket at the Stockmann ( CtokmaHH ) department store near Ploschad Lenina . It was incredibly clean and well run . To wit , if you went to one of the counters ( deli , pastry , prepared , hot food , great roast chicken , by the way , ) no one touched the food without first donning a fresh pair of protective gloves . They never missed or forgot to do it !!

Posted by
6609 posts

Water is the primary route humans get giardia -- it can however be transmitted through sloppy hygiene in food and of course through salads and such washed in contaminated water. The level of contamination is much lower now than it was a few decades ago supposedly but the pipes are old and cysts can lurk in the system.