Difference between revisions of "Saint Petersburg"
Revision as of 12:35, 27 July 2006
For other places with the same name, see St. Petersburg (disambiguation)
Founded by Peter the Great, the former home of the Czars and the center of Russian culture, St. Petersburg was known as "The Venice of the North" in its heyday. Renamed Petrograd in 1914, the city was renamed again as Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin's death. Bombed, besieged and starved during World War II, during the Communist era the city took a back seat to capital Moscow.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city has been rapidly making up for lost time and is by far the most cosmopolitan of Russia's cities. Now formally known by its original name again, most Russians call it what they always have, the friendly diminutive Piter (Питер).
Pulkovo Airport (LED) serves a wide variety of destinations in nearby countries and within Russia. Terminal 1 serves domestic flights, while Terminal 2 is for international connections. The airport is 17 kilometers from the center.
Taxis infest the airport, but the prices are astounding, working out about 50 euros to get into St. Petersburg. Instead, take a bus to the nearest Metro station, Moskovskaya, which will cost you all of 14 RUR. From there you can get anywhere on the St. Petersburg Metro for a 12 RUR token.
St. Petersburg is a major train hub. The 5-hour train ride from Helsinki (Finland) is one of the most comfortable ways to reach the city. Trains also connect to destinations in the Baltics and Central Europe. Alternatively, you can head inland to Moscow.
There are five principal stations:
Note: Finland station is no longer used for trains to Finland! Currently there seems to be no train service to and from Tallinn
Note: Warsaw Station seems to be closed or on reconstruction, trains arrive at the Baltic or Moscow Stations
The cheapest way of reaching St. Petersburg from neighboring countries is long-distance bus. Buses from Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Finland, the Baltic states and Scandinavia arrive at the bus station. Métro: Ligovsky Prospekt.
Passenger boats also operate on the inland waterway "Volga-Baltic" which links Moscow, the River Volga and Lakes Onega, Ladoga and Neva.
Most means of transportation cease functioning for the night time. Subway is closed from 24:00 till 05:00, varying slightly for different stations. Taxis work 24/7, but are costly. Hitching a ride is quite popular, though it is not always safe. City is separated in two by Neva during the night - don't miss the bridges being drawn. One bridge - Volodarsky - will let you cross the river from around 3:45 am to 4:15 am. Other bridges are drawn all night long, from around 1:45 am till 5:15 am. See the schedule for each bridge.
St. Petersburg's metro system is second only to Moscow's in size and the best way to get around. Trains are cheap, rapid and very frequent (intervals go as low as 90 seconds in peak hours). The pay is 12 RUR per-entry no matter how far or how long you travel. There is a map of subway in every train car, often with station names in roman alphabet. Travelling during peak hours is a risky kind of sport, and one should avoid unnecessary jorneys, if not used to big crowds.
A more scenic but slower way to see St. Petersburg is by tram. In recent years, due to the traffic troubles train lines are removed from the downtown often.
By bus or trolleybus
Buses and trolleybuses are cheap (12 RUR) and frequent. Tickets are sold by a conductor and very often by the bus driver. Buses and trolleys on main routes are frequently overcrowded.
By route taxi
Route taxi (marshrutka) is sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere. Taxis are 14-20 seat vans, usually white or yellow, always with a route number plate. There are no regular stops, you have to tell the driver when you want to quit or hand out while on the roadside to stop one. You have to pay to the driver at entry. If you cannot reach the driver on your own, pass the money through the other passengers and be ready to pass other's money if you sit close to the driver. Marshrutka experience may seem exciting sometimes, especially when you see some brave driver counting change while steering with his knees at 70 mph.
An advice for foreigners visiting the Hermitage Museum: Get yourself on a tour. They're 200 rubles instead of 350, and include the photography fee and a whistle-stop tour of the museum (but note the free entry for students). Don't accept a tour from the numerous touts hanging around the queue. Instead, march past the queue and in through the main entrance, or the exit opposite if the queue's blocking the entrance (don't worry, you're not queue-jumping). Have a scout around for notices with museum tour times in your native language, or in extreme circumstances, ask at the desk. If you find a good candidate, you're all set to go to the Tours Office to book yourself on it. This is where things get slightly surreal.
To get to the Tours Office from the main entrance, go forward past the cashiers, and turn left down the corridor. The Tours Office is in front of you at the end, and may or may not be marked. Get yourself a place on your tour, collect the bit of paper, go to cashier No. 5 (who is not with the rest of them, instead turn left out of the Tours Office and she's in a box at the end of the corridor), pay, get your paper stamped, take it back to the Tours Office and get it checked, stamped again and muttered over and then you're ready to brave the coat dungeon.
Bags aren't allowed in the museum (and neither are cameras without the appropriate ticket), so stash them in the busy cloakroom.
There are many things to do in the evenings, for example music, dance, circus, opera. Performances start early (6pm). Do not be put off by the length of an opera at the Mariinski Theatre as there are many intervals. And the language is not an obstacle: the text is translated above the scene.
Universities and private schools offer Russian language courses (individual and group tuition).
St. Petersburgers know how to party.
Sleep Cheap - Located on Mohovaya Ave, reasonably priced (700 rubles) accommodation. Very hard to find (go to number 18, and through the dark tunnel), no Internet Access or hot water (for a couple of weeks during the summer).
Grand Hotel Europe Five star hotel in the centre of town. Hosts Ballet, and several restaurants. Many rooms have great views over the city. Well worth a visit.
There's a number of GSM 900/1800 and CDMA 2000 networks and the coverage is quite sufficient (every built-up area and most of the country roads). If you stay for a few days or more and need to make local calls it is advised that you buy a pre-paid SIM card (you may be asked for a passport) and a cell-phone if you don't have one matching local standards (possibly a used one) which is going to be much cheaper than roaming in most cases. Cell outlets are plentiful around the city (numerous at every subway station and shopping center). You can pay for your talks at most supermarkets, cell-phone shops and ATMs. Emergency service number is 112. For international calls, consider buying a calling card which would allow very cheap calls (a few rubles for a minute to Europe or the US). Calling from a hotel room may result in rather painful bill. There is a lot of internet cafes around the city, although it is not so easy to find one when you need (you'd better ask locals). Also there are so called computer clubs with dozens of computers for network gaming (usually crowded by kids playing CounterStrike) which also offer internet access in separate rooms for a little charge. Free WiFi is available in the airport, most major hotels, business and shopping centers, restaurants and other public places.
St. Petersburg has a somewhat dangerous reputation, although mafia gang wars are unlikely to affect the average tourist. Gangs are a problem. Much of the police force is corrupt and best avoided. Avoid travel alone at night and do not get into altercations with drunken Russians. Take care of money, documents, cameras, mobile phones, and anything of worth because of pickpocketing. Especially watch out on the Metro during busy times, as people start pushing and pickpockets are frequent. Juvenile delinquency is also a very big problem. St. Petersburg is also famous for violence and break-in's in some areas. The best way to stay safe is to stay in the city centre and avoid suburbs.