Subject: Re: Russia - tour vs. independent
Hello Don,

I was in Moscow and St. Petersburg last month. We did a lot of research and booked most of our accommodations through the internet before we left from companies based in Russia. They provided the letter of invitation needed to apply for the visa. We had a renovated apartment in St. Petersburg just around the corner from the Hermitage and the view from our hotel room in Moscow was the Kremlin. We also stayed for a couple of nights in an apartment building which was used mainly by students and was inexpensive. We walked a lot, but used the subway as well. It was confusing at first, but as someone mentioned earlier, a copy of the Cyrillic alphabet is very helpful and we referred to it constantly to interpret the signs. We did hire a driver and guide for a couple of tours outside the city. We bought tickets for the train between Moscow and St. Petersburg from a travel company at the hotel. We had been told that we would have to declare our money, our itinerary, etc. when we arrived, but we sailed through passport control with no questions asked. We had booked a driver to meet us at the airport because we were arriving at night. We had been told to carry our passports with us at all times, which we did. We were not stopped, but we often saw males being questioned by police and having to show their papers, especially near the subway entrances. There was a lot of security around hotels, stores, subways, train stations, etc. We never felt in any danger and often walked on the streets at night. We did not even run into the infamous gypsys that everybody warns about. There are many ATM's and money-exchanges around, so it is easy to get money anytime, at least in Moscow and Petersburg. I have many pictures and plan to post them on the web soon. It was a wonderful experience. I think the decision for tour versus independent is an individual one, but it is certainly feasible to do this independently, especially if you have experience. If you have any questions, I would be glad to try and answer them.

Regards, Dolores St. John's, Newfoundland