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With such a rich itinerary and so many aspects to touring Russia, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for the tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Russian adventure.
Russia is divided into 11 time zones, with Saint Petersburg and Moscow in the Central European Time zone (GMT + 2 hours). Saint Petersburg and Moscow are 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so when it's noon in Saint Petersburg or Moscow, it's 5 a.m. in New York and 2 a.m. in San Francisco.
There are many beautiful things to bring back with you from Russia, so make sure that you have enough space left in your suitcase. You do not need any formal clothing for this trip, but you'll want to bring something slightly dressier for the ballet performance. Also, it's good to keep in mind that Russian women dress up and wear make-up every day. That doesn't mean that you need to, but it's good to be prepared. Since we'll be walking quite a bit, you should bring your most comfortable walking shoes.
All foreign visitors to Russia need a valid passport to enter the country, as well as a Russian visa. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months past the planned departure date and have two blank adjacent pages to accommodate the visa. All visitors must acquire a Russian visa in advance, as visas are not granted at the border. About 60 days prior to the tour, we will send you your invitation letter which confirms your hotels and tour reservation which you will need for your Russian visa application, whether you're applying in person or through a visa agency. We highly recommend applying through a US visa agency, otherwise visa applications must be submitted to a Russian embassy or consulate; there are Russian consulates in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Houston. Applications are accepted anywhere from 30 to 60 days before departure (the specific time frame changes, but you'll need at least a few weeks for the full process). The tourist visa fee is $160 USD, but this does not include the fees charged if you apply through a visa agency. For more information, you can visit the website of the Russian embassy or contact us with any questions.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
This tour starts on Saturday, July 17, 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and if you are taking this tour by itself, you will probably depart North America on Friday, July 16, 2021 or if you prefer to arrive a day early, you will need to depart North America on Thursday, July 15, 2021. If you are taking this tour in conjunction with the Baltic Renaissance Tour, you will arrive in Saint Petersburg from Tallinn in the afternoon of Friday, July 16, 2021, which is one day prior to the tour's start, and Sights and Soul Travels will cover the cost of the airfare, airline fees and taxes and airport transfers for people combining both tours, however, you will need to cover the cost of the pre-tour night at the Saint Petersburg hotel.
This tour ends on Sunday, July 25, 2021 in Moscow, Russia, and we will arrange for a private airport transfer to coordinate with your departing flight's time. You will fly into St. Petersburg International Airport, for the beginning of the Imperial Russia tour, and depart from Moscow International Airport (airport codes SVO or DME) , at the conclusion of the tour. If you need assistance with finding your flights for this tour, please feel free to give us a call.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones), you should drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
The Russia tour group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the Tour Director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the Tour Director. In addition to the Tour Director, our group will be assisted by professional local guides, museum docents and bus drivers, who will accompany us throughout the tour.
There are no vaccination requirements to enter Russia, but you may choose to take extra precautions; speak with your doctor about recommended travel vaccinations. Avoid eating street food if you can. Both of the hotels where we're staying have on-site doctors, and both cities have several private clinics that offer high-standard care and English-speaking personnel, although at high prices. Mosquitoes are a voracious pest in the St. Petersburg region, and can cause irritation and infected bites. Use a DEET-based insect repellent. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels. Otherwise, they may not make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
Tap water is considered unsafe to drink in Russia, and the water in Saint Petersburg and Moscow is riddled with bacteria. We will be providing bottled water on days that we tour by bus, and both hotels provide bottled water in the rooms. When on your own, please keep in mind that outside of top-end hotels and restaurants, drink only beverages without ice, unless the establishment promises that it manufactures its own ice from clean water. In addition, inexpensive bottled mineral water is available everywhere.
Public toilets are rare and can be uninviting, but you'll find them in major hotels, shopping centers, and cafes. Pay toilets are identified by the words платный туалет (platny tualet). In any toilet, Ж (zhensky) stands for women’s and М (muzhskoy) stands for men’s. In general, it's a good idea to bring a pack of tissues in case the toilet doesn't provide any toilet paper.
Russia is generally a very safe country in which to travel, but you should exercise the same caution you would in any unfamiliar city and always be aware of your surroundings when walking in less trafficked areas or at night. In general, visitors should carry limited cash and credit cards and should leave extra cash, credit cards, and personal documents in the hotel safe, as there may be problems with pickpockets in crowded, tourist frequented areas. Taking a few simple precautions will minimize your chances of being a victim. Photocopy your passport, credit cards, plane tickets, driver’s license, and other important documents – leave one copy at home and keep another one with you, separate from the originals. A hidden money belt remains the safest way to carry money and valuable documents. Take only what you need on busy sightseeing days and use the hotel safe.
There are no particular safety concerns for women traveling in Russia. Russian women are very independent, and harassment in public is rare; Russian men are typically chivalrous and will open doors and carry bags for you, although this plays into the gender stereotypes than run deep throughout the country.
During the Imperial Russia tour, we will travel by private bus, train and boats. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 5 miles throughout the day, often on cobbled streets and uneven surfaces. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is busy. You must be prepared for a couple of full days and some early starts.
Saint Petersburg in the summer is famous for its "White Nights" that run from the end of May to mid-July; the days are long and warm, and the lack of darkness means that you'll find people in the streets right through the morning. In late August, there will still be long days with 13 hours of daylight. Evenings are cooler even when the sun is still shining, but the temperature doesn't dip much below 44°F, with daytime highs around 61°F.
Summer in Moscow is mild or pleasantly warm. The average summer temperature is similar to that of cities like Paris or Berlin, but there are also hot and sultry days, with temperatures reaching 95°F and also rainy and cool days, with highs around 60°F. Typically, periods of hot weather last a few days, and may be interrupted by thunderstorms or wind storms, although in the terrible summer of 2010, the heat lasted around two months. As in all big cities, there is an urban heat island effect in Moscow with temperatures higher, typically by one or two degrees, compared with the surrounding countryside.
WiFi is widely available, and most restaurants, bars and cafes offer free WiFi for patrons. Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow have high-speed internet easily accessible for WiFi devices including cell phones and tablets. Cell phone coverage is generally very good in the city. Check with your carrier about purchasing an international data package, or you can also buy a pre-paid local SIM card, compatible with most unlocked foreign phones.
Voltage in Russia is 220 volts 50 cycles) and the plugs are the typical European "F" plug with two round prongs as well as the "C" plug that is also compatible with "F" plugs. Many stores in North America sell the appropriate transformers and adapters. You do not need a hair dryer, as the hotels where we're staying provides it. Any heat generating appliances that you bring need a transformer, and they may still not work properly with the different voltage.
Russian is the official language, and the alphabet is Cyrillic. Most people you encounter in Saint Petersburg and the major cities will have a good grasp of English, especially at tourist attractions and in higher-end restaurants and shops.
The official unit of currency in Russia is the Ruble. Both our hotels have an ATM on site, and ATMs are widely available throughout the city. You need to have a four-digit PIN, and you should check with your bank to make sure that your card will be accepted. Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted credit cards, and most high-end shops and restaurants will take them - many smaller shops only accept cash, however, so it's advisable to have some on hand.
All tipping for restaurants, guides and drivers is included as part of the tour cost. Tipping is common in Russia, but usually at a lower rate than in the US. For good service at restaurants, 10% gratuity is considered generous; taxi fares are metered and the final amount is usually rounded up, so there's no need to tip. The standard tip for housekeeping is between 60 and 120 Rubles per day.
We'll be visiting several churches while in Russia, and women are required to cover their heads and bare shoulders with scarves often provided on entry. At some religious places women are also required to wear a long wrap-around skirt, which are also often provided to allow entry.
Be very careful about photographing stations, official-looking buildings and any type of military-security structure – if in doubt, don’t snap! Travelers have been arrested and fined for such innocent behavior.
If you'd like to indulge in Russia's most ubiquitous drink, vodka, a point of national pride - there is a specific culturally accepted way to drink it, and you'll rarely find it mixed with juice or tonic. Russians drink it in straight shots, not sipped, and chase it with a lemon, snacks, or a separate glass of water. Feel free to enjoy it however you wish, just expect a bit of attitude from your server or neighboring diners if you imbibe incorrectly.