Subject: St. Petersburg, Russia
Hi Tom, We travelled from Helsinki to St Petersburg by train, travelling solo - ie not on an organised tour. Our train trip took - from memory - about seven hours and was completely hassle free. We found it fascinating, particularly as we would not have had an opportunity to see the countryside otherwise. We had only about five or six days in St Petersburg - way less than we would have liked. When we travelled, it was in December, and our train left Helsinki at around 6am, so the first few hours were in the dark, as the daylight hours in that part of the world are precious few at that time of year, something we are not used to down here! I've not tried any of the alternative forms of transportation but would recommend the train, if you have the time - especially as you would be travelling at a time of year when you would have a surfeit of daylight hours. The visa requirements when we were trying to arrange the trip - about three years ago - were pretty horrendous, at least from Australia, but the main problem seemed to be that we were not travelling with a group. There appeared to be no easy mechanism for dealing with such a bizarre situation, so we had many visits to the Consulate while the powers-that-were produced yet more forms each time we managed to fill the requirements of whatever they had given us on the previous visit. Finally, they appeared to shrug and decide that we would simply keep on coming back until they gave us the visas and so it was done. Once the decision had been made, it was a breeze and went through in no time - but that was after weeks of stonewalling. We had actually had a formal invitation from a business group to visit officially - but that seemed to present even more of a challenge, so eventually we went the private visa route. It was necessary, though, to book hotel accommodation as part of the visa process. We wanted to stay with friends of friends - and this also did not compute. The arrangement finally was that we booked the hotel, and paid a fee - not to stay there! - had our papers stamped, and then stayed privately, which was a wonderful experience. The city is fantastic. The Hermitage alone is worth the trip. We visited three times during our short stay, once with a private guide, once with a friend as guide and once just going back on our own to revisit special favourites. And, as with any great city, the best part of all is just walking. The streetscapes are simply marvellous - and, of course, you wouldn't be trudging through snow and slush to enjoy them, although the December snow did add to the magic, if not to the comfort. Guess you are more used to such weather anyway. Some websites that may help are: Good luck with the planning. Joan Back in Melbourne, Australia