Initial Questions, possible Summer2013 family trip Moscow & St. Petersburg
Replies: 20 - Last Post: Dec 7, 2012 4:02 AM Last Post By: tiltedflipcurves
Nov 25, 2012 6:31 AM
All input invited, but I'm not asking anyone to plan our trip for us. For now, as I sketch out this alternative, I just wanted to check on some of the basics.
1) We have a two-week window, maybe expandable by a few days. We'd probably spend one week in Moscow and one week in St. Petersburg. Would that generally be the split and destinations recommended for a generic traveller?
2) Most of our travel has been oriented towards nature rather than culture or history, but we're interested in both and I take it that a family trip by non-Cyrillic-speakers will be a lot easier to make work if it's centered in the historic areas of those cities. Right?
3) But, is there a 2-3 day trip to get out of the cities that would be worth looking into? This may be a fantasy, but I envision taking an overnight train with a sleeping compartment to a taxi to an inn on a river, lake, or Baltic Sea, staying there an intervening night or two, and then returning. (I've driven in Nairobi, Latin America, and Italy, so I wouldn't totally rule out driving, but would be somewhat nervous about reading road signs, and I expect the distances would tend to be long.) To be clear, it's not like we'll suffocate if we just stay in the cities, but i'm wondering whether there's somewhere in reach that would be worth an excursion like that.
3A) on further research - is the best answer to #3 a trip by ferry or rail to a Golden Circle desination? If so, which would y'all recommend?
4) I can readily visit the Russian Embassy in D.C . We have lead time, valid passports, no criminal records, ample funds and ties to home, willingness to pay for an "invitation" service, will book lodging in advance, etc.. So I see no reason to expect a problem getting a 30-day tourist visa, which would be ample. I know nobody here can offer guarantees, but I don't want to put off booking just to complete that process, which would risk seeing airfares increase. Given that situation, would it make sense to book nonrefundable airfares and then promptly start the visa acquisition process?
Edited by: tiltedflipcurves
Nov 26, 2012 6:53 AM
1You can see all the major sights of St. Petersburg in one week. They include: the Hermitage, Peter-and-Paul fortress, St. Isaac's cathedral, the Church-on-Spilt Blood, Usupov palace, the Russian museum and the most famous summer palaces - Peterhof, Pavlovsk and Catherine's palace. The summer palaces are located outside the city (with Peterhof - on the shore of the Gulf of Finland), so you'll have a chance to get to the nature. In case you prefer it to the city historical and cultural attractions there are two more less frequented, but equally worth visiting summer royal residences in Oranienbaum (not far from Peterhof) and Gatchina (an extra half an hour drive from Catherine's palace or Pavlovsk). Another sightseeing option while staying in St. Petersburg is going to the ancient city of Novgorod, you can make it a day trip or spend a couple of days there.
Nov 26, 2012 3:31 PM
Almost regardless of what time you have available and your interest of churches the view from the top of The Isakievsky Cathedral is a great. As it is open during the night in Summer you can decide if you want to see St Petersburg from above during daylight, at night or both. If you are the "see one really good museum"-type rather than "seeing them all", I recommend Pyotr and Pavlov fortress for history buffs (and the 2nd best view over St Petersburg) and the Ermitage for art buffs.
It is easy to OD on cathedrals in St Petersburg and Moscow. If you want to see only one the mentioned Isakievsky (you will probably go anyway for the view), Church of Spilled Blood (there is a souvernir market outside) and alternatively Kazansky are good choices in St Petersburg. The metnioned St Basil is a good choice and close to the Kremlin and Red/Beautiful square anyway.
If you came for the cultural and historical sights (More time in St Petersburg than Moscow is also better for your budget...), I would say allow twice as much time in St Petersburg, but you say you are more interested in nature. Moscow is close to most places in European Russia and has a virtually unlimited number of worthwhile excurtions outside the city including the best opportunities to explore some of the countryside - argueably the very essence of Russian civilzation. St Petersburg on the other hand is hardly en route to anywhere else in Russia, but also is surrounded by some very nice places for excurtions - the former poster mentiones some of them. If nature is your preference Pavlov and Pushkin has nice parks and woods that you will not find at Peterhof. Novgorod will perhaps be an even better alternative, an old fortress where you can stroll (if you should only see one fortress in Russia, Novogorod is a good alternative), there is a town with houses, shops, cafes and opportunities to relax and bath in the river.
No journey in Russia is complete without an overnight train-journey and I will encourage you to go! Between St Petersburg and Moscow is obvious (but if you fly in to one city and out of the other you avoid wasting time on doing the same trip twice...). There are several nice towns in Lower Volga region, if you want to explore more of Russia and more trains. Vologda is a nice provicial town to stroll for a day as detour between St Petersburg and Moscow. If you want to see the Midnight Sun you can take a train to Murmansk from St Petersburg. You could stop and explore Solovetsky Island en route if you need more nature, culture and sea (it is in your LP guide)... Golden Circle is already metioned, nice places but definately more "history and culture"-type of places... I guess your problem will be to decide what not to see.:)
Generally train tends to leave in the late afternoon to evening and arrive the following morning, meaning that you don't waste daytime of your holiday and save a night accomodation... On the other hand, when it is not dark it will be flat and far from spectacular views outside the train window. Plan for how to have a nice time inside the train, don't expect spectacular sights.
Another nice destination from St Petersburg is the Bay of Finland. There are busses from outside metro station Chernaya Rechka north of island Petrogradskaya storona. It is nice for bathing, suntan and there are outdoor cafes there.
cyrillic are the letters not what is spoken. I recommend you reconsider and spend the 4-6 hours that you need to learn the alphabet - that way you can get off at the right metro, and see what street you are in. It will turn out very useful.
oh, and you will also need this phrase:
chetire bileta v kupe v Moskvu/Peterburg/Vologdu/Murmansk sevudnya vecherom
4 tickets in kupe to... this evening:)
if they answer you somthing with "platskartny" they are out of kupe tickets - just nod or shake your head
if they ask you something about "passport" just hand them over
Have a nice trip,
Edited by: jaoto
Nov 26, 2012 3:57 PM
3Thanks for the great advice, keep it coming. I should clarify that we're planning to fly both ways between Moscow and St. Petersburg -- the Aeroflot fares I'm looking at would include (and probably have to include) that leg both ways.
If it was just the parents we'd probably spend days in the Hermitage and most of the rest in palaces and cathedrals -- because history and cultural attractions are what's most different in Russia from North America, even though we're usually ecotourists -- but I know our kids won't stand for that.
Are there bed berths available on trains? I've spent most of a month sleeping on train floors myself, but no way the rest of the family is going to buy in to an overnight journey without beds.
Nov 26, 2012 9:49 PM
4We have a two-week window, maybe expandable by a few days. We'd probably spend one week in Moscow and one week in St. Petersburg. Would that generally be the split and destinations recommended for a generic traveller?
Yes, more or less, if you include day trips. For those, I recommend Petergof and Pushkin from St. Petersburg (royal palaces), and Sergiev Posad from Moscow (the ecclesiastical center of Russia). Or you could cut these by a couple of days to factor in Vladimir and Suzdal - they are ancient capitals of Russia with a lot of old churches and a rural feel.
Most of our travel has been oriented towards nature rather than culture or history, but we're interested in both and I take it that a family trip by non-Cyrillic-speakers will be a lot easier to make work if it's centered in the historic areas of those cities. Right?
Well, most of the signs are in Cyrillic, even including signage in most museums. But most restaurants should have menus available in English though.
But, is there a 2-3 day trip to get out of the cities that would be worth looking into?
The day trips are best done by train. The issue is not aggressive driving - you can adjust easily given your experience, and I have been to many places with a lot more aggressive and chaotic driving. However, bear in mind that a) traffic jams are beyond horrible (trains are usually faster), b) all signage is in Cyrillic, c) rental rates are very high (unless you rent a classic Lada from a local agency, and those cars are just not safe at all in the event of a collision), d) there is literally no parking, e) traffic flow in Moscow is very poorly organized. In short, renting a car is just not a good idea.
Nov 27, 2012 10:49 AM
your children will probably like Pjotr and Pavel fortress better than the Hermitage. And may be they would like an excurtion to Chernobyl:
in addition to the nuclear disaster, the abandoned provice town of Pripyat is excactly as in the 80s and give you an impression of the close history.
Kiev, Ukraine is overnight from Moscow with train. If Kiev is an option, there is also a very nice outdoors museum just outside the city with old traditional countryside houses:
"v Kupe" means (scroll down a bit):
the alternativ "v platskartnom vagone" means:
experience of a lifetime!
Edited by: jaoto
Nov 27, 2012 7:43 PM
6I think adding Kiev to your trip is a bit too much for two weeks.
Nov 28, 2012 8:26 AM
7Why too much?
5 days in each city sounds enough (even 3 or 4 could do, especially for Moscow...) to me. The poster says he would really like to take the night train as part of the trip. His son is interested in an excurtion to Chernobyl (I am not surprised as it is one of the most uniqe excurtions in Europe). It will of course be much stress to see Kiev and Golden Circle and Novgorod and everything else, but that is not special for Kiev. Moscow-Kiev and Moscow-St Petersburg is more or less the same distance (St Petersburg-Kiev involves a transit visa for Belarus or a plane, that the poster say they probably would take between St Petersburg and Moscow...). With a lot of different preferences on what to see and do, it gets blessingly easy to decide the program the days you need to travel from city to city;).
Nov 28, 2012 8:37 AM
Nov 28, 2012 11:14 AM
You don't write what passport you have, but provided you are US citizens you don't need visa to Ukraine - the great thing about taking the train is that the passport control boards the train, 30 minutes on each side - much quicker than if you enter/exit Schengen.
If you want a different destination you should of course find your desitnation. You might want to to have a closer look at what "less populated opportunities" you have outside the cities though, as I have visited few cities with such a good choice of oportunities to get away from the noise of the city as these cities. Castles, Cottage areas, beaches, parks, countryside, woods, provincial towns, estates of all sorts. St Petersburg is number one when it comes to castles etc and beaches, but relatively week on real countryside as the city historicaly was founded in the middle of a swamp, without the same countryside surroundings as the other cities.
Nov 28, 2012 12:24 PM
10Thanks again. I've been doing some internet searching for overnight trains from Moscow to a Golden Circle or other suitable desination other than St. Petersburg, but I'm having trouble finding information for destinations other than St. Petersburg. Any suggestion that would line up with what I've discussed above?
Is V. Novgorod a good answer, via either daytime or overnight train, and if so, would you suggest a roundtrip to there start from Moscow or from St. Petersburg?
Or can Vladimir/Suzdal, or Rostov-on-Volga, work by overnight train, and local taxi or bus, without a car rental?
Nov 28, 2012 3:36 PM
11I belive you will need a good travel guide, Lonely Planet is a good choice on Russia. Thee you will get the information you need about transportation, not to mention about possible destinatinations. Could be useful for you both for planning and inspiration and on the road - espescially since you don't speak Russian.
It is better to reach Novgorod by bus from St Petersburg. It is a few hours to get there and you have all the time you need to see Novgorod by taking the bus there in the morning, stay for a few hours and go back in the evening.
Rostov (I assume you refer to Veliky Rostov as opposed to Rostov na Donu) and Yaroslav can be reached tby train from Moscow (Yaroslavsky Vokzal). I am not sure about Vladimir/Suzdal, but these destinations are in the Lonely Planet guide.
Nov 28, 2012 4:26 PM
12For train in Russia, go to www.rzd.ru. The page will load in Russian, but you can change it to English to get schedules. For Rostov you can base yourself in Yaroslavl, which itself is an historic city. For Suzdal you can base yourself in Vladimir. Just don't try to do too much. Moscow is good for at least 5 days IMO, and Petersburg as well. Petergof and Pushkin have huge baroque royal palaces and I think they are very worthwhile day trips from Petersburg. They are both very large cities with a lot of sights, history and atmosphere, but are quite different. For a taste of old architecture you can visit Sergiev Posad as a daytrip from Moscow. If you feel you have a bit more to invest, you can visit Vladimir and Suzdal for a couple of days - Vladimir has better logistics than Yaroslavl as it is on the high speed train and it takes less time to get to and back. You can actually take a high speed train between Moscow and Petersburg that are very popular with the Russians, but of course the benefit of taking a night train is that you save money on the hotel. There are nightly trains called Krasnaya Strela that are very luxurious and even have a private bath in a compartment, but obviously those are not cheap.
Nov 28, 2012 5:04 PM
Nov 29, 2012 8:48 AM
you are very right they are both worthwhile. On the other hand they represent virtually the exact same type of day trip and there are different and equaly worthwhile destinations on offer. Novgorod is one example (medevial history, fortress - arguably the finest example of medevial fortress in Russia, provincial town), bay of Finland is another (sea side), Vyborg is a third (park, provincial town, clocktower with a view).
If you know that you will see Yaroslav, Vladimir or Suzdal, keep in mind that Novgorod is the closest thing of the day trips from St Petersburg in case you want to ensure you cover some different things and not repeat yourself too much. If you want to includude a Russian Kremlin on your trip, both The Golden circle and Novgorod are better than Moscow and St Petersburg.
Totally agree, that is what I base my point that you have all the time you need for a third stop in 2 weeks on.
please do. I hope the program is not too "us over 40" for your teenagers...
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