Russia requires a visa for entry – and not just any visa – basically your life’s story (including every trip over the last TEN years) documented in a lengthy application, plus the standard photos, fees, etc. On recommendations of friends, I used a visa agency (Travisa) to help. In this case, it did help expedite because there wasn’t a Russian Consulate in Chicago, but I don’t think a visa agency is always critical as I had no problem getting my Brazilian visa at the Brazilian Consulate in Chicago.
We secured our visas and planned the details of our trip, meeting up with friends at different parts, but for Adam and I that meant the following:
• St. Petersburg – 2 nights
• Munich – 3 nights
• Salzburg / Fuchlsee – 2 night
• London – 2 nights
• Helsinki – 1 night
With our visas in hand, we were off! I was a bit nervous about being in Russia due to all of the tips for travelers I had read before, but I felt very comfortable and safe the whole time in St. Petersburg.
We stayed at the W. St. Petersburg, which couldn’t have been a better choice. It is very centrally located – with all of the main sights and the river within walking distance – and is incredibly beautiful, and complete with a rooftop bar with stunning views of the city. Plus, they welcomed us in style!
For our 1 full day in St. Petersburg, we decided to book a private tour with Best Guides. For only ~$100 per person, we had an English-speaking guide and driver for about 6 hours on a custom itinerary based on our research into the top sights. Hiring a private tour guide is something I have been doing a lot recently, especially to help cover a lot of ground and for safety.
We met Irina and were whisked off to see the Neva River and the Winter Palace. We then headed to the Church of the Spilled Blood, a personal favorite, which was just stunning outside and inside. I have never seen anything like the mosaicked wall artwork, which truly looked like painting from afar.
We then went to St. Isaac’s Cathedral and then drove around the city center a bit to see the other highlights.
We chose to spend the time driving out to Catherine Palace so missed out on a lot of the other sights in the city center, but it was very worth it. Catherine Palace and the grounds were just stunning. Lavish and extravagant.
After our tour, we went to the Vodka Museum and the adjoined restaurant for some traditional Russian food and vodka. Here are some highlights:
Even though we were exhausted, we still powered through the day and headed out for a sunset drinks and then dinner reservations on the Volga Volga, part restaurant, part river cruise. While the food was a bit expensive, it was tasty and the views of the city from the Neva River lit up at night were just stunning. We even got to see fireworks!
The next day, we made our way back to the airport to head to Munich. While it was a quick stint in St. Petersburg, it was really enjoyable and amazingly beautiful!