I flew in to St. Petersburg mid-afternoon on Wednesday ~ I usually plan to arrive in the evening, but have discovered (through trial and error) that arriving while it is still daylight is generally best, especially if you have to find your way around. Unfortunately, sunset in St. Petersburg is around 4 pm, so it was dark by the time I got to the city.
Every traveler needs a visa to enter Russia. And every traveler needs an invitation to get a visa. I was prepared with the paperwork I needed to enter the country, but I wasn’t prepared to spend so much time completing additional forms at the airport (!!) and waiting in line for almost an hour. I was happy to get through and retrieve my bag.
I was very thankful that I had arranged for an English-speaking driver to pick me up at the airport - there is NO WAY I could have found my hotel on my own. It’s conveniently located near the metro and a bank, but is hidden away behind a gate and a courtyard, very private and very secure. Had it not been for the driver (Leonid), I probably would not be staying at the hotel at all, as the staff speaks limited English. The Russian lessons I took a million years ago are obviously of no value in a real life situation - thankfully the driver was there to translate every document, sign, and spoken sentence.
I thought the hassles with my visa were over … So naive! You must register your visa with the OVIR (Russian Visa and Registration Department) within 72 hours of your arrival – or there may not be a departure. The good news is that the hotel registered my visa for me – had they not, I could have experienced the joy of Russian bureaucracy first hand. Final words of advice from Leonid – although the stories of police harassing the tourists may be exagerated, spotchecks do happen. You must always have your passport and valid visa with you and be prepared to contact your embassy. Very comforting …
Wow, I’ve only been here a few hours and I’m already worn out. This could be a very challenging few days …
I definitely won’t attempt any public transportation until tomorrow, but I did venture out for a few hours to check out the neighborhood. I did not find the internet cafe that is supposed to be nearby (yes, go left, cross the street, then cross the street, then it is across the street … what?! ) but I did find a very hip restaurant, a bakery, and a coffee shop. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was roasting inside my down coat. I’ve been told that is really cold here, but the temperature tonight is around 32F/0C, and it appears that temps have been moderate for a while, as there is litle snow and the streets are very sloppy and wet. I may have overpacked, with heavy sweaters and long underwear, but better too much than too little … as long as it all fits in one bag, right?
Thought for the day ~ Americans who travel abroad are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.