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St Petersburg navy people never have communication problems, as they know exactly how to break the ice – especially those who work on ice breakers! 2 and 3 May the large-scale Ice Breaker Festival was held in the city.
Being a port, St Petersburg often runs different navy-related events, such as Marine Festival, Navy Day etc. The Ice Breaker Fest is relatively new, however, it is becoming popular. You would feel it if you lined up to visit an ice-breaker – the line stretched for a couple hundred meters, and the approximate time of waiting was about 1.5 – 2 hours. However, this was definitely worth it, as normally you do not have a chance to climb on an ice breaker’s deck every morning.
There were a few enormous ice breaker ships docked at the embankments of Neva river, and they opened free access to their decks for all the guests. While waiting in the line, the visitors were entertained by a concert given at the main festive stage and could enjoy singing and dancing of the local performers. Onboard of the ships the volunteer students of navy institutions were eagerly answering people’s questions and were very excited to share all their knowledge about the ice breakers in particular and the naval service in general.
All in all, the Ice Breaker Fest not only gives a chance for everyone to learn something new and interesting, but also opened the festive season in St Petersburg. Now the summer and fall in the city will be full of various events, and we will be just praying for good weather for them.

7 most scary myths about Russia

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Despite being the largest country in the world, for a lot of people across the globe Russia is the real terra incognita. There are lots of passionate travelers who get concerned when it comes to visiting Russia, as there are quite a lot of scary stories about it. Here are the top 7 myths about Russia, together with the truthful information about how things actually work.

  • Russia is not a safe place

Right now there are no wars or other armed conflicts; no natural disasters; no revolutions or political and social unrest of any kind; no epidemic dangers. Russia is not more dangerous than any other country in the world. Going there, just follow the general safety rules: don’t leave your things unattended, beware of pickpockets, try not to walk alone in deserted and shabby areas after dark etc. Do not be paranoid – just be reasonable and remember that large-scale politics usually have nothing to do with everyday life of common people.

  • What about Russian mafia?

In 1990s there were too many scary legends about Russian mafia, and at that time they were quite close to reality. However, in recent 20 years things changed dramatically. If there still are any representatives of so-called mafia, they are definitely not interested in tourists, who’ve come to the country for sightseeing.

  • What if a Russian policeman stops me on the street?

The situations when policemen stop people in the streets are not likely to occur. The street patrol usually just makes sure nobody breaks the general rules, for instance, no one is walking on the grass or climbing a monument to Lenin. You may, however, be asked to show your passport (or its copy) and maybe open your bag at a metro station or train station, as these places are considered to be the most popular objects for terroristic acts. However, this is quite universal, and not only about Russia.

  • If I lose my documents, I will go to jail and stay in Russia forever

The general travel tip is to have copies of the most important papers. Also, it is a good idea to have a phone number of your consulate in Russia with you. Losing documents is a pain in any foreign country, and even in your own. However, it is impressive, for instance, how efficient American consulates are – they can issue a new passport for you within a couple of hours. Here you also just need to be reasonable, and you can be sure no one is sent to jail for losing their papers.

  • I will not be able to get off my cruise ship without a visa or a cruise line tour

A lot of cruise lines try to persuade their passengers that if they book a tour with another tour operator, they will not be allowed to disembark without a visa. This is NOT TRUE! If you book with an authorized tour operator, they will arrange your visa-free disembarking and provide a guide to accompany you throughout the 72 hours of your stay. Normally all these tour operators value their reputation greatly, and are very careful about all the paperwork and rules.

  • Can I miss my ship?

This concerns a lot of people who book a tour
with a local operator instead of buying one from the cruise line. Will they bring me back on time? Here again the attention to the reputation of an operator works for you. If someone misses the ship, the operator will never get any customers in the future, so they are also very careful about this. Usually they take you to the ship early, so you have enough time to go through the control and reach your cabin safely.

  • Is it safer to be with a large tourist group than on a private tour?

If you follow common safety rules, it is safe everywhere. However, with a large group there is more possibility to get lost in the crowd, and it is not a secret that crowded places are work base for pickpockets. With a private guide you always have someone to take personal care of you and provide necessary warnings when needed.

TOP 15 FAQs to Travel Russia

Just about to start your Baltic cruise

1. Visa related issues (rules, papers, requirements, prices, process)?

You can visit Russia with or without visa.

Cruise passengers DO NOT need a visa, to visit St Petersburg, if they are accompanied with a representative of a registered tour operator. If the cruise line is trying to persuade you that you cannot disembark if you book a tour with a private tour company – THIS IS NOT TRUE.

The tour company you book with issues the travel vouchers that you need to print and have with you to disembark. You will need to provide you passport data for the tour operator.

Ferry passengers DO NOT need a visa. They pay 25 Euro for a tour shuttle onboard, and can stay up to 72 hours in St Petersburg. They can stay in a hotel and walk around independently.

If you are coming by plane/train/bus and/or planning to stay more than 72 hours, you DO need a visa. You can apply for it in the Russian embassy of your country. The required documents usually are:

  • Filled application form
  • Valid passport
  • Picture of the applicant
  • Check or receipt of the payment of the consulate fee
  • Invitation letter from hosting person or organization

Visa fees can be checked on the official websites of embassies. For instance, a single or double entry visa for US citizens costs from 160 USD.

The time of issue can vary from 6 working days to 3 weeks.

2. What to do and see in the limited time?

If you have just a couple of days in Russia, the capitals are the cities you should focus on. Here are some suggestions on what to do and see in St Petersburg and Moscow.

St Petersburg:

  • The Hermitage museum – about 3 hours, if you are not REALLY into art
  • Peterhoff – half day trip
  • Catherine’s Palace – half day trip
  • St Isaac’s Cathedral – 30-40 minutes
  • Savior on Spilled Blood – 30-40 minutes
  • Peter and Paul’s Fortress – 1-1.5 hours
  • Yusupov’s Palace – 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Pavlovsk Palace – half day trip
  • Rivers and canals tour – about 1 hour

Moscow:

  • The Kremlin with Armoury and cathedrals – half day tour
  • Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral – about 1 hour
  • Lenin’s Mausoleum – at least an hour in the morning (the lines are huge)
  •  Tretyakov Gallery – about 3 hours (if you are not too much into art)
  • Vorobyovy Gory viewpoint – 30-40 minutes
  • Cathedral of Christ the Savior – 30-40 minutes
  • Metro tour – 1-1.5 hours

3. How much time to allow for St Petersburg/Moscow?

If you are on a cruise, your time is limited to the cruise stop. If you have 2 days in Russia, it is NOT worth trying to see both St Petersburg and Moscow – it’s too little time. If you are in Russia for 3 days, you can take a day trip from St Petersburg to Moscow, using Sapsan speed train.

If you are traveling overland, usually you need 3-4 days in Moscow to see the main sights. For St Petersburg you can allow 5-6 days to visit the top attractions.

4. Money issues (daily expenses in Moscow and St Petersburg, use of ATMs, exchange rates)?

The prices in Moscow and St Petersburg are similar. If you are on a tour, you do not need to worry about entrance tickets to the venues. For meals and little purchases it is usually enough about 50 USD per person a day. If you are travelling on your own, add about the same for entrance tickets and transport. It can be less, but better be prepared. Also, traveling with a tour, allow about 10% of the tour cost to tip the guide and the driver.

Using ATMs and paying by cards in Russia is perfectly safe. However, since 2014, Russian banks do not accept foreign MasterCards, so use other types.

There are numbers of banks and exchange points in St Petersburg and Moscow, so it is easy to change USD, Euros and other foreign currencies. The exchange rates are not very stable at the moment though, so keep an eye on them.

5. Is it safe for Americans to visit Russia now?

There are no restrictions for ordinary citizens of ANY country to visit Russia. The political issues usually involve the top politicians, not common people, so it is completely safe for Americans to visit Russia. Russians are generally very friendly and helpful, and normally are not too politically oriented.

6. Independent visit vs a visa-free private tour?

If you want to avoid the hassle and expenses of getting a visa – choose a visa-free tour. you will not need to worry about the documents, planning of your trip, communication, logistics and timing – the tour company and your guide will do it for you. This is the perfect option if you have just a couple of days in Russia with a cruise.

If you are adventurous and have some more time than just 2 days, go for an independent tour. However, it’s better to do a bit of homework before you visit. Think of what you want to see and do, plan the schedule, check the sites’ opening days/hours, book your accommodation and transport beforehand and try to learn basic Russian phrases.

7. Private tour vs a small group tour?

Private tour can cost you more than a group tour. However, it will be designed specially for you and according to YOUR own wishes and interests. It will be definitely more flexible than a group tour, and you will see more things in the same time, as you will not need to wait for other group members. You will be able to do your activities at your own pace. You will also have full attention of your guide, who can customize their explications to your own interests. What is more, you will go in front of all the lines instead of waiting.

8. Tours for seniors/disabled?

Now more and more venues are made accessible. The best choice in this case is a private tour, which can be planned according to your needs, with necessary stops and equipment. It also usually provides special vehicles, wheelchairs (if needed) and wheelchair pushers.

9. Transportation and getting around?

On a tour the transport is usually included in the tour cost. If you are traveling independently, in St Petersburg and Moscow they have excellent metro systems. Get a metro map to navigate, and buy a few rides when you come there first, to save time. The system of buses, trams and trolleys is a bit more complicated, and there are no English signs or announcements. So, if you need to use this type of transport, better to check in your hotel or in a tourist information centre, how to get to your destination. Taxis are quite easy to get in both cities, however, it is NOT recommended taking a taxi at or near train stations or airports – they rip you off.

10. Russian cuisine – what to try in restaurants?

Some of the most typical Russian dishes are:

  • Borshch (beetroot soup)
  • Solyanka (meat and potato soup)
  • Pelmeni (meat dumplings)
  • Blini (pancakes)
  • Beef stroganoff
  • Pirozhki (filled pies)
  • Salmon cooked in different ways
  • Chicken Kiev

11. What souvenirs to buy?

The most popular Russian souvenirs are:

  • Matryoshkas (nestling dolls)
  • Replicas of Faberge eggs
  • Amber jewelry
  • Lacquer boxes
  • Wooden Christmas decorations
  • Fur hats with red stars
  • Porcelain
  • Wooden kitchen sets “Khokhloma”
  • Books, CDs and DVDs about sites visited

12. How to attend concerts, sport games, celebrations?

If you would like to see the ballet or opera in Bolshoy, Mariinsky or some other Russian theatres, you can book them online on their official websites. It is a bit more complicated with sport games, however, you can also book online on the sites of the main stadiums and sport centres. As for the celebrations and public events, they can vary in different places and at different times of the year, so better check with your tour operator, to have the up-to-date information.

13. What if the tour company cancels the group tour the day before?

If the tour company has sent the confirmation letter, they MUST provide the tour, even if they didn’t manage to get enough clients. If they do not, they have to refund at least some of the tour cost. Usually tour operators value their reputation and do not cancel tours without prior notification. If you are worried, you can double-check, or take a private tour, to stay on the safe side.

14. Advantages and disadvantages of taking a river cruise Moscow – St Petersburg?

River cruises take you to more places in Russia, than just St Petersburg and Moscow. You can travel the country in the most comfortable way. You can also spend in Russia longer than your cruise is scheduled to see more. However, the vessels are smaller and there’s probably not too much to do in the ship. Also for these cruises you DO need a Russian visa.

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