Russia, TransSiberian, Belarus and Ukraine sticky
Replies: 53 - Last Post: Aug 7, 2013 9:55 AM Last Post By: iestar
Aug 19, 2010 2:25 AM
Nov 10, 2010 7:55 AM
Nov 30, 2010 10:29 AM
17I am in need of a reliable tour operator for Belarus. I haven't been able to find any through ASTA or other sources. Does anyone know of a USTOA tour operator that will assist me in putting together a program for a client?
please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nov 30, 2010 5:20 PM
18Try looking for some posts by Burdenkoff. He is a Belarus based travel agent.
Mar 8, 2011 7:35 PM
I am asking for help from anyone who has applied for a Russian visa in SE Asia recently. I have heard the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong has changed the visa procedure and now for most 'Western' nationalities you will need to have been in Hong Kong for at least 30 days, or 90 days for some countries - they check your Hong Kong entry stamp apparently. This means effectively you are a local resident and so can not get the visa while passing through.
Also, apparently for most nationalities the application takes seven days - the express application has been suspended.
I will be travelling through SE Asia soon and so could apply in Bangkok, Hanoi, (Ho Chi Minh?, Vientiane?, Hong Kong, or else Shanghai or Beijing (the latter I have heard you definitely need a residence visa to apply for a tourist visa and also need the original documents.
So, please anyone who has applied since February 2011 please let me know:
Where did you apply?
Did you need original invitation?
How long did it take?
How much was it?
How long had you been residing in the country (what type of local visa)?
Was the visa application successful?
Did you go direct or use a visa agent?
Thanks for helping me with my travel plans!
(I hope this appropriate on the sticky post)
Mar 8, 2011 8:48 PM
20No. It is not appropriate for the sticky. Sticky messages of this type tend to be informtional only.
I have been collecting information about obtaining Russian visas for almost 20 years. If there is a change in Hong Kong, it is essentially a disaster since there is no other place in Asia where you can be guaranteed to be able to obtain a Russian visa. I suggest that you look at my website (link below) as I have the information reported by folks on this forum posted there.
I can answer some of your other question generically.
Apr 6, 2011 2:05 PM
21Last summer (2010) me and a friend travelled to Russia and Ukraine. Because it's quite hard to travel there as a backpacker, I wrote down all my experiences below. It doesn't contain much information on where to eat or what to visit (read the LP), but a lot about how to plan your trip. First a short outline, then the full story.
By the way: we both didn't speak Russian, besides 'da' and 'njet' (yes and no).
We went to St. Petersburg on August 27 2010 by plane from Düsseldorf. After 4 days in St. Petersburg we travelled to Moscow by train. We spent 2 days in Moscow and went to Kiev by train. A few days later we trained to Odessa. Two days later we took the bus to Vylkove, in the Danube delta. We stayed one night there and then went back to Odessa, with the same bus. The next day we rented a car and drove to Bakhchisarai. One day later we went to Yalta. We stayed a few days in Yalta and then drove on to Feodosiya. A day later we went to Simferopol where we took the plane back to Dortmund, via Kiev.
Before going to Russia, you need a visa (if you’re from the EU anyway). On all the forums I read, I didn’t really get a clear vision of what to do, to get this visa. But this is what we did. First, we booked an apartment in St. Petersburg. We booked an apartment at http://www.saint-petersburg.com. You can book any apartment or hotel, but you do need one with ‘visa support’. This visa support is a letter you will receive by e-mail, declaring that you booked and payed for an apartment.
Besides the visa support letter, you’ll also need a letter from your health insurance, declaring that you are insured in Russia.
With these two documents (and a photo), we filled in a form at a visa support agency, http://www.cibt.nl/. You’ll have to print all these documents (at exactly the right size) and send them together with your passports, to the visa support agency. This agency makes sure everything is sent to the Russian embassy. After about 9 days, we got our passports back, with a Russian visa in it.
You’ll also have to book a flight to Russia of course, but that’s as easy as booking any other flight. We also booked the flight back from Simferopol and booked an apartment in Moscow, but that’s not required for your visa.
When you arrive in Russia, you will have to fill in a small 2-piece form. One piece is for arrival and one for departure. At the customs, they take the first part. You have to keep the second one for departure.
After going through customs, we got some money out of an ATM-machine. You can get money with your normal (Dutch) Maestro card at almost all the ATM-machines in Russia.
At the airport is also an office where you can book your train tickets. Before going to Russia, we checked the trains we wanted at http://rzd.rusland-desk.nl/default.asp. You can also book your tickets there in advance (at least, when you’re Dutch). The girl at the airport spoke some English and was very helpful. We booked our train tickets to Moscow and to Kiev there. The ticket to Moscow was an e-ticket, the one to Kiev wasn’t. That means you have to go to a train station to get the real ticket (I’ll get to that later).
After all that, we had to get to our apartment. First, you have to take bus 13 to metro station Moscowskaya. We were there for 5 minutes and 3 buses 13 went by. So it probably leaves very often. It only costs a few rubles, so make sure you have some small bills (by buying anything at the airport). Get out of the bus when everybody gets out :-). Or ask the bus driver ‘Moscowskaya?’.
Next you have to by a coin for the metro. That’s pretty easy: show the person at the desk how many you want and hand over some money. They won’t rip you off. From Moscowskaya there is a direct line to Nevsky Prospect. Once you get into the metro, you can stay on as long as you want, so it doesn’t really matter if you take the wrong train.
You might need a map to get to the right address after getting out of the metro. It’s hard to find any address in Russia or Ukraine, because the buildings are very big and only have one number each (while there are many entrances). So you have to search.
If you booked an apartment at http://www.saint-petersburg.com, you need to walk east to find the office of STN. It’s the last building before the canal. Go left just before the canal and immediately left through the gate. There’s a door at your left. The office is at the second floor. The girls there speak perfect English.
You’ll also have to register your visa. We tried to do it ourselves, but we didn’t find out how to. So we asked the STN-girls to do it. It cost € 20,- per person and takes one day. You will get a small piece of paper with the registration on it (I think). Keep it with your passport.
Once you got to your apartment, you will like to buy some food. To find a supermarket, you’ll have to look for a shop that says “Продукты” (pronounced Producti, I think). When you’ve found one, take a look at the huge wodka-section :-). Everything else in there is pretty much the same as anywhere else.
In St. Petersburg it’s very likely you will visit the Hermitage. Go early to avoid long lines and have the opportunity to see a small part of the huge collection.
Also, you can take a boat through the canals and the Neva. Most tours are in Russian, but there are a few with an English guide.
Most restaurants in St. Petersburg have an English menu. Try to learn the Russian words for the things you order, in case you get to a restaurant without an English menu later. Russian for restaurant is ‘Pectopah’, but you can also get a decent meal in a café, ‘кафе’.
Going to Moscow
We took a fast train to Moscow, leaving at 13.00 h and arriving at 17.45 h. The train is very comfortable. It’s not hard to find the right train, but it will take you a few minutes. The train to Moscow leaves from train station Moscowskaya. There’s a metro station there with the same name.
Once we arrived in Moscow, we exchanged our e-tickets to Kiev at the train station. There’s a small booth there with ‘e-ticket registration’ on the side. Give your e-ticket and your passport and you will receive the actual ticket.
In Moscow, we also registered our visa at the hostel, costing about € 15,-. We still don’t know if that’s required. We stayed at the Eesti Airlines Hostel, which has nothing to do with any airline, but it was a nice, quiet and well-situated hostel. It’s almost impossible to find, though. It’s located at the back of the building.
In Moscow, everything is pretty much the same as in St. Petersburg. When we visited, the Lenin mausoleum was opened till 13.00 h., but I don’t know if that’s always the case.
We also liked the area around metro station VDNKh (Russian: ВДНХ). There’s a monument there for the Sputnik, the statue of the ‘The Worker and the Collective Farm Woman’ and a park with a lot of nice buildings, entertainment and a rocket.
Going to Kiev
We took the night train to Kiev, leaving at 23.23 h and arriving at 08.00 h the next day. We had a second class coupe, with 4 beds, so you might have to share your coupe. The train leaves (not surprisingly) from Kievskaya train station.
You will pass the border in the middle of the night, so you have to get up. Our passports were thoroughly checked by the friendly officers. The two visa registrations were completely ignored. Another officer wanted to ask us some questions, but when he found out we didn’t speak any Russian, he got a laugh from his colleagues and continued. Altogether, it took about 10 minutes.
A few minutes later we passed the Ukrainian border. As a EU-citizen, you don’t need a visa to enter Ukraine. You will need to fill in a two-piece form. You have to keep the departure form, which will, once again, be completely ignored when you leave Ukraine.
We booked an apartment at http://www.rentapartments.com.ua. We booked while we were in Moscow. When you send an email to Evgeniya (check the site for the address), she responds very fast. The apartment was quite good, but the beds were uncomfortable and the kitchen very poorly equipped. We booked an apartment at Basseyna Street, pretty close to the city centre. However, we’d advise you find an apartment around Kontraktova square, which seemed to be a nice neighborhood.
Among others, we visited the Percheskyi Lavra; a very big monastery, with some caves where monks are buried. You can only visit a very small part of the caves though.
In Kiev, we also took a cooking course, which turned out to be a great experience. I found a cooking course on www.localyte.com. If you search for local experts in Kiev, you will find Anna Kachanova. She gives Ukrainian cooking courses for a very reasonable price. Anna and Valentina (the cook) came to our apartment and first we went to the market to buy ingredients. In our (poorly equipped) kitchen, Valentina cooked (we helped) and Anna translated and told everything she knows about eating and cooking in Ukraine. Very recommended!
Going to Odessa
When we wanted to buy a train ticket to Odessa, we were warned that nobody in the ticket offices speaks English. We went to the central ticket office at T. Shevchenka Street 38/40. Very hard to find, but when we walked into some office next door, it turned out to be the ticket office. There are a lot of windows there. We went to the first window and asked if they spoke English. We were sent to window 10, and were helped by a lady who spoke impeccable English. We booked two first class tickets on the night train, leaving at 23.15. We only had to pay about € 30,- per person. Not very expensive for a compartment with two beds on a train that takes about nine hours.
When you take the night train and you don’t have any place where you can leave your luggage, it’s possible to leave your luggage at the train station. Nobody speaks English at the luggage counters, but just follow the rest: first buy a ticket at the window and then drop of your luggage at the counter. You can pick up your luggage 24h per day.
In Odessa we stayed in the Babushka Grand Hostel. It’s not very grand though, but a real hostel, with very lazy people and a very full fridge. Odessa is a pretty city, that looks quite European.
However, we were getting tired of visiting cities, so we embarked on another adventure: we wanted to go to the Danube delta. Most of the delta is in Romania, but a small part flows through Ukraine. There’s only one small town there: Vylkovo.
Going to Vylkovo
The day before we left, we visited the (very big) market and also dropped by the bus station to find out what time the bus left. It’s pretty hard, because nobody speaks English and Vylkovo should actually be pronounced as Vylkove. It left at 16.40h, what confirmed the information we found on the internet. There is actually a very good site: http://ticket.bus.com.ua, also available in English. You have to select Odessa Pryvoz as departure station, that’s the station close to the train station. And then you can select your destination. The bus to Vylkovo leaves at 6.25, 11.15, 15.45, 16.40 and 18.30.
We took the bus the next day at 11.15. It’s recommended to be there early to buy a ticket, because there is a limited number of seats. Try to find the bus and ‘reserve’ your seat by leaving something on it.
The bus ride takes about 3,5 hours. The bus also passes through a small part of Moldavia, but that was no problem: the bus could easily pass the borders. The bus sometimes stops for a few minutes at a big bus station.
We didn’t have a map of Vylkovo, so we didn’t have a clue where to go when we left the bus. We knew we had to find a hotel called Venezia, but not where it was. Luckily, we were helped by Victor. He hardly spoke any English, but we understood he was a captain, so he probably gave excursions. However, he called Nina and she spoke good English. We explained to her what we wanted and she told Victor, who guided us to the hotel. If you want to find the hotel yourself: just follow the road into town, the hotel is on the right side.
When we got there, the hotel was closed, because there was no electricity. Victor was kind enough to show us another hotel. Well, it was not really a hotel, more like a guesthouse. But the rooms were very clean and the woman working there very friendly.
The restaurant in Vylkovo was also closed because of the lack of electricity. So we had no choice but to cook our own meal. Not a very big success.
The next day, Victor was already waiting for us, because we ‘told’ him we wanted to make an excursion to the delta. We also booked Nina as an English guide and that was a very good choice. Her English was very good and she was very friendly. If you want her phone number, contact me. She told us a lot about Vylkovo and translated everything Victor told about the birds.
We liked Vylkovo, but it’s not a very easy place to go. If you like to see the Danube delta, I’d advise you to spend a full day. Furthermore, almost nobody speaks English, so you really need Nina.
We took the bus back at three o’ clock. Nina told us it’s possible to reserve a seat on the bus, but fortunately there were some free places.
Going to Crimea
Back in Odessa we stayed at a hotel and picked up our car the next day. We had already booked the car the first time we were in Odessa. We rented it at VRC (http://www.vrc.com.ua/en/). At the website it seemed a very good deal, but we also had to pay $ 150,- to drop the car of in Simferopol. The booking at the website was somewhat difficult, so we went to the office in the city centre of Odessa. The people there speak perfect English and the car (Daewoo Lanos) turned out to be a good car.
When you start driving in Ukraine, it takes some time to adjust to the road habits, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as some travel guides say. When you’re out of the city, it’s easy. You do need a good map (buy it at a book store).
The first day, we travelled to Bakhchisaray, which took us about 8 hours. There was a lot of traffic, so we didn’t make very good progress at first. But when we arrived at Crimea, things went way faster.
We arrived in Bakhchisaray at 7 pm, so just before dark. We hurried to find a hotel and the first hotel we could find was Hotel Prival. It’s not really a hotel, but a lot of cabins. We had some language difficulties, but fortunately one of the guests spoke French.
The restaurant at the premises was closed, but we could get shaslick at the café. It was very good and probably a safe choice everywhere in Ukraine.
The next day we went to the Kahn’s Palace and that was a definite must-see. After that we went up hill, to Chufut Kale, an old refuge for all kinds of people. It’s a very long (and warm) walk up hill, but a nice sight.
After Bakhchisaray we drove to Yalta. We didn’t book a hotel in advance, so we had to drive through Yalta looking for one (helped by the Lonely Planet). It was very busy in Yalta, so we called The White Eagle Hotel and they still had some rooms left. That’s probably caused by the fact that it’s almost unfindable. Eventually, I found it on foot. It’s not at the square, as the map in the Lonely Planet suggests. You have to follow the street (Lomonosova) along the river a little further up hill and then turn right, just past the bridge. Take the first right and there it is. You can only recognize the hotel by the white eagle at the façade. It’s recommended by the Lonely Planet and they’re absolutely right. A very nice, clean and quiet hotel and the location is perfect.
We stayed a few days in Yalta and then went on to Feodosiya. On the way we also visited Sudak, a small town with a huge ancient fortress overlooking the Black Sea. The drive to Feodosiya was very nice, with a nice and quiet road and breathtaking views of the mountains and the sea.
In Feodosiya we stayed at the Lidya hotel, after noticing that the Astoria in Feodosiya is probably the crappiest Astoria in the world. We only stayed in Feodosiya for one night, but we had a lot of fun there. The only person we met who spoke English, turned out the be some kind of bodyguard for the son of the mayor.
Going back home
The next day we went to Simferopol airport, to return our car. We checked in to the hotel at the airport (not exactly a business hotel, but small, old and friendly) and took a cab into town for dinner and souvenirs.
After a short night, we took our flight to Kiev, had lunch there and went back home…
Edited by: hanska
Apr 6, 2011 2:52 PM
Apr 10, 2011 10:47 AM
Jun 7, 2011 8:35 AM
24I recommend to book theatre tickets in St/ Petersburg!!! I booked tickets on the site www.tickitnow.com with delivery to my hotel. It was very nice - all in time! Prices are very good, at least everything is much cheaper than on site baletandopera.co. We went to the Hermitage Theatre, to the Mariinsky Theatre Swan Lake is my love!!! and to Nicholas Palace - a folklore show is terrific!
Edited by: CatherinaLe
Jun 18, 2011 2:32 PM
Im looking to travel on the trans mongolian from Moscow to Beijing in August. I have found a website called real russia which has a booking feature which enables you to book all legs of your journey and how many days you want to stopover in any particular town.
I was quoted between 550 and 615 pounds sterling for the whole trip which I think is quite good.
However my question is this. I am a little uncertain about whether i could end up regretting having my trip times set in stone like this. Does anyone know how easy/difficult it is to book each leg a day or two in advance? Is the price i have been quoted likely to be what it is partly because they are all booked ahead? Will the price be significantly higher if i was to go leg by leg?
Has anyone done the leg by leg or all pre arranged bookings? How did it go?
Also any advice or tips on good stopovers and trains and train classes would be absolutely fabulous! :-)
Thanks so much everyone, safe travels.
Jun 18, 2011 4:14 PM
26This is a sticky message for posting information, not for posting questions.
Your particular question gets asked about once a week or more often and I answer the same all the time. Real Russia is reliable and expensive. Their mark up is about 30%. That means that buying tickets as you travel will likely cost you less not more.
If you have some flexibility in your schedule and aren't racing to make a flight home in three weeks, then you can buy tickets as you go. You can even check the ticket availability and prices up to 45 days prior to departure. It is all explained on my website: here.
Not only can you check availability, you can even buy tickets online. That process is described in this thread: Buying rzd.ru tickets.
Regarding stopovers, trains and train classes what would you like to know? Please read through other posts and then ask specific questions.
Jul 26, 2011 1:44 AM
27we get a nice trip to russia last june, it was realy amazing.we get a visa in malaysia, through the nice tour operator. anybody need help, send them an email, pretty nice and responsible people there.: email@example.com , they also can help with other visas, to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and all Central Asian countries.
Jul 26, 2011 1:50 AM
Sep 22, 2011 5:48 PM
29The links do not work well. I cannot access information about Tranbs Siberian RR.
(0 star Hotel)
From US$20.91 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$88.12 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$37.04 per night