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Tips for Visiting St. Petersburg


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#1 fandango

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 12:14 PM

I have been thinking about a trip to St. Petersburg for a few years, and it is seeming more imminent for a number of reasons.

Some friends have told me that it is very difficult to navigate hotels, restaurants, and transportation without a guided tour. However the guided tours include non-ballet parts of the country, and I would rather have more ballet nights and fewer nights elsewhere.

Is what I am hearing correct? Or are there travel services that make St. Petersburg American-user friendly?

Is May-June the best time to go?

#2 Drew

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 12:58 PM

I am in a similar situation with similar questions...For us, joining a tour group is not really an option, but we are concerned about navigating the city on our own.

#3 koshka

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 01:00 PM

You should be able to arrange a St Petersburg-only tour, or perhaps a StP-only tour with a few extra nights added on when you're on your own.

I wouldn't say it's easy to arrange independent travel to Russia, but it's less hard than it once was. You can book hotels and flights online, and most hotels will offer airport pickup (which I would recommend). The hotel will typically provide the materials needed to apply for a visa. Ballet tickets can be bought online.

I personally like April and October for travel to Russia, but the long nights of May-June are hard to resist...

#4 YID

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 01:34 PM

ah, interesting topic. I went in April (to see LOTS of ballets). and the itenerary was like: sightseeing whole day, watching ballets at night - however, i'm russian speaking. But from my english speaking perspective - it's very navigateable, very English-ized, and lovely city. "white nights" has beauty of long days, but also presence of cruiseships in city (resulting in extra tourists), another beauty of May-September - parks in suburbs city will be open. I want to go back as i've not finished all museums and sights, need revisit all those satelite towns and see more ballets

#5 emilienne

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 01:49 PM

I went to St Petersburg a few years ago during June (via rail from Beijing). The three of us spoke maybe thirty words of Russian among us (the travel guide saw fit to inform us that "nice arse" is "klassnaya popka" in Russian, so that's space in my brain that I'll never get back). If you have a fairly good map and some help from a concierge or travel service, such as from some of the English speaking hostels (if you're looking for something low key), the city is very navigable on foot or via the metro.

We were able to order Mariinsky tickets online and picked them up at the theater with the credit card of purchase. In the meantime, we scrambled all around the city and ate from cafes and grocery stores alike. Petersburg is very European and many of its inhabitants, especially in the more tourist-y spots, are very happy to speak English or put on a pantomime with the tourists.

I would advise acquiring a basic knowledge of Cyrillic. PECTOPAN becomes a very welcome restaurant when one is hungry.

White Nights does offer a lot more daylight hours during which to see the city, but I think that it makes the jet lag worse by completely disrupting your sensation of "day" and "night" with the amount of sunshine available.

#6 koshka

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 07:15 PM

White Nights is peak tourist season, so there's lots to do but it's very crowded, with prices to match.
If I were planning a spring trip, I might examine the ballet calendard to see what's appealing with an eye toward possibly catching a Vaganova school performance (ideally a graduation performance).

It is true that there is much more English signage and that the city in general is much, much more tourist-friendly than it was 20 years ago.

So--if you are up for learning the Cyrillic alphabet (not all that hard, esp. if you know a few Greek letters already) and you are normally a do-it-yourself tourist, you could probably book hotel, airport transfer, and ballet tickets and then away you go!

The only difference between Russia and other countries is then the visa situation. Getting a visa is a complicated process, but it essentially involves getting a hotel voucher (indicating that you have a hotel prepaid) and then applying for the visa. There are firms that can help with this process, or you can do it on your own. It is a bit of a hassle, and it is moderately costly in time and/or money, but it is very doable, especially with advance planning.

#7 Jayne

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 07:30 PM

This is a fascinating topic, and I might make the same trip in a few years. For the experts (who have been before), if you had a week in St Petersburg, how would you plan it? What traditional spots are worth the effort or not? What unusual spots would you recommend?

Let's say I fly in on Friday afternoon, stay a week, and depart the following Sunday. Obviously I would try to visit the Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky and Hermitage. What else should I see / hear / eat / do?

#8 YID

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 08:11 PM

Jayne, with all due respect, this forum is about ballet. (imho-had you had Ballet travel specific questions (say, where is the stage door at Mariinsky, or where to get tickets for ballets))
I usually go to tripadvisor . com for questions like -"For the experts (who have been before), if you had a week in St Petersburg, how would you plan it? What traditional spots are worth the effort or not? What unusual spots would you recommend?". Though there are forum moderators who can tell.

#9 fandango

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 08:33 PM

Right, the topic is ballet. So, what ELSE is there to see re:ballet in St. Petersburg? How far ahead might I discover the ballet/Vaganova schedule? Any way to watch a class?

#10 koshka

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Posted 11 October 2012 - 03:58 AM

Do not know anything about classes but would love to hear.

The Mariinsky calendar is usually up for a full year, but it doesn't seem to show school performances. I don't know how to find out about them in advance, but I know they have sometimes occurred at theaters other than the Mariinsky--I caught one by sheer chance once at the Concert Hall. You would have to check the individual theaters' schedules.

There is a small theater museum--a gem. i can look up the address.
Ballet-specific shopping: the Grishko shop on Gorokhovaya; the music shop on Nevsky (carries sheet music for ballet class among other items); the Lomonosov china stores, which often carry ballet-themed teacups, etc.

#11 Drew

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 10:32 PM

I have some additional queries and hope people won't mind my floating them here:

When are White Nights performances announced usually? I did a search on this sight for "White Nights" I found a thread from last year posted in late March that had some announcements...I'm hoping that is not really the earliest we can know anything.

I gather the Mariinsky is in a slightly different part of town than the main tourist places to visit. Do people find they prefer to stay near the Mariinsky and/or nearer to mainstream sights? I realize the answer is likely to be very personal but am still interested in responses/experiences. Normally, when "ballet traveling" I myself prefer to stay near the theater, but I also wilt easily and am a little worried that by the time I get to, say, the Hermitage from a different part of town I will already be half wilted...

Are taxis available at the theater after performances? (People may be thinking "of course" but for example I have waited for half an hour after a performance at Covent Garden and found myself on an empty street w. no-one around so I don't take anything for granted.)

Seats: I have been to Tripadvisor and found a few reflections on seats and sight-lines at the Mikhailovsky and the Mariinsky, but would not at all mind hearing more about both theaters. (I'm short; I am also willing to consider all prices including the more expensive.)

Obviously no-one has any experience with the new Mariinsky that is supposed to open this season, but any information/rumors would also be welcome.

I believe Natalia and others recommend buying directly from the theater websites and not dealing with middlemen, but if anyone has any experiences with the "BalletandOpera.com" website or other middlemen I would be curious. Reliability? quality of seats etc.?

Is there a quality company or a particularly ravishing theater I'm missing out on by focusing exclusively on the Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky?

These are a lot of questions and I fear must sound very naive to many...so, thanks for reading/responding.

#12 Helene

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Posted 01 December 2012 - 01:59 AM

I haven't been to St. Petersburg, and have only purchased tickets through the Bolshoi site (for the opera), but I hope, too, to get to the White Nights Festival (someday), and I hope people will post with travel info.

#13 Drew

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 04:40 PM

It may be that I went overboard with questions about ballet travel to St. Petersburg during White Nights. In the meanwhile I have resolved my hotel dilemma by making reservations more or less in between the Mariinsky and the main tourist areas and hoping the walk and/or transportation won't be too onerous either way! But seriously if anyone has experiences or advice to share of any kind regarding ballet attendance especially, whether responding to my earlier questions or not, that would be great....Of course I'm checking/reading guidebooks, but I trust ballet fans more when it comes to ballet-related questions and experience. (Timing of our trip is dictated by Mr. Drew's work taking him to Finland, so we are talking about the first week of June.)

#14 Birdsall

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 04:49 AM

I wanted to post this for everyone who plans to fly in and/or out of St. Petersburg. This info will help anyone avoid what happened to me.

I flew Delta from the U.S. to Amsterdam and then St. Petersburg and flew into the "international" airport (Pulkovo 2). When I left I was dropped off at the same airport (Pulkovo 2) assuming it is the international airport and the one I flew into, but my flight was Air France going back through Paris, and I was informed that I had to go to Pulkovo 1.....I panicked, but it is not that bad. You go outside and people ask you if you need a taxi (they are regular citizens) and they will take you to Pulkovo 1 which is not that far by car but you can not walk to it. I advise bartering with the person and saying all you have is 500 roubles or something like that. I hear that many want more, because they know people are desperate b/c they are at the wrong airport. I actually had 700 roubles in my pocket and American dollars but I said I only had 500 roubles and nothing more.

So it worked out for me and I caught my plane. The guy who acted as my taxi to Pulkovo 1 told me that the domestic airport (Pulkovo 1) is being renovated and enlarged to eventually have ALL flights and eventually they will close Pulkovo 2 (the old international airport). But currently depending on the airline you have to be careful and know which airport you need. Flying in is obviously no concern but later when I calmed down I noticed that my Air France info did say "Terminal 1" which means Pulkovo 1, but the word terminal made me think it was just a terminal in the international airport, but it actually meant the Domestic airport despite being an international flight.

I hope all this makes sense, and I hope it helps someone avoid the panic that I experienced returning. It sounds like this problem will eventually be eliminated once they close the international airport (that is an old Soviet style airport) and have everything at one airport.

#15 California

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 05:10 AM

(Timing of our trip is dictated by Mr. Drew's work taking him to Finland, so we are talking about the first week of June.)

If you'll be in Helsinki for a few days, do take a walking tour of the historic architecture, especially around the University. The architects also worked in St. Petersburg and they look strikingly similar. Those areas were often used for location shots to stand in for Russia when it was difficult to film in the Soviet Union (e.g., Warren Beatty's "Reds"). The Sibelius memorial park and gorgeous performing arts center are worth seeing. Great public tram system, so it's easy to get around. Also worthwhile: the daytrip to Tallinn, Estonia. It's an easy ferry ride (which is an international duty-free zone, with plenty of shops on-board) to see the best-preserved medieval city in northern Europe.


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