I might have to do a trip next year to Moscow. Was thinking since I'm there I might as well go to St Petersberg.
How long does it take to travel from one place to the other and which is the best way to do it (bearing in mind I don't know any Russian )
The best way would be getting the train. I spoke no words of Russian except Spa-see-ba (Thank you) and I managed to get by just fine. You can get overnight trains which is what I got. The one I got left at something like 12.50am and arrived at 8.48am so that train took about 8 hours. A couple of quicker ones did the journey but they were far more expensive.
Last year when I got this train it set me back 607.50 Roubles for a sleeper berth in the cheapest type of sleeper cabin. The person at the ticket window didn't speak a word of English and I didn't speak a word of Russia that was required, but lucky I came with a backup plan of getting the hostel to write me a brief note stating what type of cabin I wanted, what city I wanted to go to, what date I wanted to leave and an approximate time in 24 hour clock mode ie 22.00 for 10.00pm etc. With this letter after finding out she didn't understand any english, I just handed the note of to the lady and she typed stuff in to the computer and seeing I didn't know the exact time the trains left she pointed to a time in 24 hour clock 00.50 and then after seeing the price I gave her the thumbs up to go ahead and got my ticket. If you don't speak Russian or are travelling with someone who does, you will need to rely on hostel staff to be kind enough to write a brief letter like they did for me in both Moscow and St Petersburg to get the trains (other than just the standard metro in Moscow which is a tourist attraction in its own right). Watch out for those deadly ticket gates though! If you walk slightly to far through the entrance before inserting your ticket a bar comes down very hard designed to stop people going through without paying (sometimes the bar comes down to try and injure honest people like me because they walk and put the ticket in as they are still moving a bit).
In my view St Petersburg is nicer than Moscow and deserves at least 2 more days than Moscow. I spent 5 days in Moscow and 7 days in St Petersberg and that was enough in Moscow and the minimum for a trip to St Petersburg. If you get to St Petersburg make sure you make the trip out to Catherines Palace. That was fairly tricky to get out to not speaking any Russian, but it is arguably the most beautiful place in St Petersburg region. Peterhof is also spectacular especially the Grande Cascade part that has a lot of gold statues with water getting pumped high in the sky. This only happens in the Spring and Summer months so outside of those months you probably wont get to see the water fountains operating.
I hope that all this will work out what with wanting to go to Africa next August (hopefully will be able to save enough money for both ). Thinking of going to Russia in mid May. Moscow shouldn't be a problem as my Uncle is staying there and he said we can stay at his place and then I can ask him to organise the train for us , it's just when we get to St Petersberg which will be interesting. How did you go around St Petersberg aharrold?
The two trips are sort of linked with each other as we have another purpose for going to both places.
[ Edit: Edited on Sep 19, 2007, at 6:53 AM by mimihops ]
I can only confirm what aharrold wrote. I speak Russian, so it was even easier for me. Night trains are the best method of travel betweeen the two cities. You basically have the choice between 3rd class (platzkartny) and 2nd or first class (spalny wagon). I recommend travelling platzkartny if you want the "real russian" expierience, but 2nd class if you value your beauty sleep.
Notice that both Moscow and St. Pete's have several different train stations, ie in St. Pete's the train to Riga leaves from a different station than the one to Moscow. And best way to get around in both Moscow and St. Pete's is with Metro and bus. It is pretty easy if you have some basic info which lines to take. I looked these things up on the internet and printed them out, but a good guidebook (or your uncle) might be of equal help.
Can anyone recommend a good hostel in St Petersburg?
I can recommend St. Petersburg International Hostel, 3rd Sovetskaya ul. 28. It is in a back road near Moskovskaya train station, very convienent if you are going to or coming by train from Moscow. The hostel is clean with very nice and helpful staff at the reception, while the women who have cleaning and kitchen duty treat you to the real russian experience (ie their idea of service is still the same as it was in the Soviet Union). Bring some slippers or flip-flops to wear inside the hostel.
BTW, where exactly do you live? If you can get to Slovakia on the cheap, buy a City-Star Ticket to Russia there and take the train via the Ukraine. It is IMO the best way to travel to Russia (so romantic - and cheap too). Alternatively fly to Riga or Tallin and catch the train to St. Pete's or Moscow from there. See www.seat61.com and www.skyscanner.net for details.
[ Edit: Edited on Sep 19, 2007, at 12:35 PM by t_maia ]
I stayed at Nord Hostel in St Petersburg and that was a very good hostel overall. The staff were very helpful, it had free internet, it had the best location you could hope for with a hostel in St Petersburg (only about 50 metres from the main square that has the Hermitage in it), the rooms were very clean and spacious and it was possible to get a good nights sleep even when it had almost 24 hour daylight. It was pretty expensive, but I booked about 4-5 months in advance and got a really big special at 13 Euro (in roubles) a night when other people I asked paid 24 Euro a night.
When I was in St Petersburg, I basically walked everywhere (metro was too hard to navigate with not knowing any Russian as I didn't have a metro map). When I needed to purchase the train ticket from St Petersberg-Riga, I got the hostel to write a brief note and took that down to the ticket booking office. I didn't get the ticket at the train station but instead got it at a booking office only a couple of hundred metres away from the hostel (just off Nevsky Propect). The train station where the train actually departed from was quite a long walk away (I think the walk was about 30 minutes with carrying a backpack). The station the train from Moscow arrived at was probably about 20 minutes walk from the hostel but was very basic to figure out how to get there. Only places I didn't walk to in St Petersburg was to Peterhof (I got the hydrofoil there) and didn't walk all the way to Catherines Palace but instead got the train to a place relatively close. Then from the closest train station I got a bus to the palace. It ended up taking me two days of trying to figure out how to get there, but it ceratinly was worth it once I got to see inside the palace. It meant hanging around looking around the grounds for many hours until the afternoon when the palace opened to the public. One room was the most spectacular room I have ever seen anywhere. The gold decorative architecture, the enormous masterpiece of art on the roof which is probably about 50 metres or more in length, everything about the room and the whole palace spelt SPECTACULAR!!!
If you are able to get an ISIC Student card (even a fake one may be possible off Ebay) get it before you visit Russia. It will save you a small fortune on entrance fees (50% off most places and free entry in to the hermitage). It saved me approximately $110US on entrance fees just in Moscow and St Petersburg. All attractions in Russia which you pay to enter also have an additional fee to allow you to take photos. If you are sneaky and can attach your camera to a belt under a jumper, you may be able to get in taking some quick photos without paying for the privledge, but they do have ladies around the buildings looking out for people without the sticker meaning you've paid for the right to take photos.
Have a great trip, but make sure you do not miss St Petersburg whatever you do it is my favourite city anywhere in the world I've been to date in 48 countries.
[ Edit: Edited on Sep 20, 2007, at 5:18 AM by aharrold45 ]
Thanks aharrold for your very helpful response.
I actually just looked on ebay for that ISIC card but couldn't find any
St Petersburg sounds awesome.
Keep looking on Ebay (using the worldwide search option), because I can remember seeing fake cards on the UK ebay site about 12 months ago that when I searched on the Australian ebay site it didn't find anything, so they may appear again.
Also wanted to find out what type of local food you would recommend to try?
Can you recommend any good guide books for Moscow and St Pete's - is LP good one or another one?