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Sept 2015 Post Tour to Moscow/Pre Tour to Latvia, Lithuania

Hello RS Travelers,
My husband and I are signed up for RS's September 2015 Tallin, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg tour. Does anyone who has done this tour have experiences to share regarding extending to Moscow? It seems a shame not to see Moscow on this trip, but we are very leery of going on our own. Also, does anyone have experiences extending into Latvia, Lithuania, etc.? We were in Tallin and Helsinki a few years ago so we're looking to expand this trip a bit with new experiences. Should we be a bit nervous about this trip given the state of affairs in Russia? Thanks much for sharing any experiences with us!

Posted by
333 posts

Hi!

While I've not been on the RS tour, I did spend time in Russia 2 1/2 years ago. Moscow is an exciting city and well worth seeing if you get the opportunity. Things are tense in Russia politically, for sure, but most of the tensions are near the Ukriane border. I'd suggest going to the travel.state.gov website and read up. I believe only Ukraine has current warnings for US travelers- not Russia. Once you've made your travel plans and have dates, go back to the website and sign up for travel alerts. They'll also send your info to all of the US embassies within your travel itinerary so should the unexpected happen, you can be instructed. Even though I have no travel worries now (I'm back in Europe in May) and I had none in summer '12 (did Europe and Russia) I registered as a safety precaution (kinda like wearing that hidden travel wallet).

Travel in Russia, Moscow especially, is a challenge (they have a great subway system) so I highly recommend having a plan in place before you get there, as well as how you plan to carry it out. There are some good hotels within walking distance of the Kremlin and St. Basil's and it's more than worth the splurge financially to stay in one of those. The airport might only be 15 miles away, but the translation of that is 1-2 hours of Moscow traffic. In other words, don't get an airport hotel if you plan to see the city!

If you have any other questions on Russia, Moscow, St Petersburg or things to do there, just let me know! I hope you can work things out to see this wonderful place!
Lisa

Posted by
695 posts

We've been to all the locations you name except Moscow. If you are considering extending into Latvia and/or Lithuania I recommend doing so. We've been to Lithuania three times and there is lots to see and do. There are easy connections to the rest of Europe from Vilnius, Riga, or Tallinn. Let me know if you'd like ideas about LT. Have a good trip.

Posted by
43 posts

Thanks for the postings. :) Regarding Latvia and Lithuania, did you rent a car? We strongly prefer to use public transportation, but I'm not sure that is realistic in these spots. What did you find the most interesting about these places? If our plans move forward, I may well have more questions; but these will do for now. Thanks again.

Posted by
695 posts

No, we did not rent a car. In my opinion, the bus system is better (more comfortable, faster!) than the train. And we have used the trains. We traveled by bus from Tallinn to Riga to Klaipeda, LT. The bus system can be realistically used all over LT, but we had the advantage of being with a local organization so in many cases transportation was provided. Most interesting--the remaining effect of the Soviet era, the old town in cities like Vilnius, and much more. For researching the region you could go to www.inyourpocket.com and click on the city of your choice on the left of the screen. Or let me know if you want further recommendations in Lithuania. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
11286 posts

I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg with my sister (who speaks Russian) on two separate trips, September 2001 and April 2010. Here's some things from my trips that may apply to yours. Russia changes faster than a place like France or Italy, so do make sure you get up to date information.

To get between the cities, in 2001 we took the overnight sleeper train, and in 2010 we took the Sapsan (high speed daytime train). Both were fine, so use whichever one fits your itinerary needs better. Don't fly; getting between the airport and the city is not simple or fast.

I found that getting around Moscow on my own was not too hard. However, I had learned the Cyrillic alphabet, and I live in New York City, so I'm comfortable getting around a huge city and using subways. If you don't meet all these criteria, don't even think of going on your own.

To learn the alphabet, I used the book Teach Yourself Beginner's Russian Script. I see it's out of print, but used copies are cheap on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teach-Yourself-Beginners-Russian-Script/dp/0071419861/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1420416108&sr=8-2&keywords=teach+yourself+the+cyrillic+alphabet

It breaks down the alphabet into categories: letters that look and sound the same as English, letters that look the same but sound different, etc. This makes it easy to learn the basics. Russian is mostly phonetic (albeit with some tricks), so you really can sound out words and recognize Metro stops. And Russian has more cognates and borrowed words (from various European languages, including English) than it appears to at first glance. For instance, PECTOPAH is pronounced "restoran" and is indeed a restaurant.

For Moscow information, I used Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. Some things that made a strong impression on me while there were the huge statue of the Worker and Collective Farm Girl, Lenin's Tomb (a real blast of the old Soviet Union), the Moscow Metro (particularly the stations on the ring line 5), and the Gorky House (if you like Art Nouveau, don't miss this). None of these required Russian language fluency, but you will need the Cyrillic alphabet to navigate the Metro. I know I'm repeating myself, but it's important: without the alphabet, I would have been miserable on my own.