Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Russia – video slideshow & gallery

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Video slideshow of the best pics from our trip to St Petersburg and Moscow, Russia.

Also check out the gallery of the best photos from our trip here.

Russia hotel reviews – W St. Petersburg & Hotel National Moscow

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

The new W St. Petersburg and the old Hotel National Moscow were our hotel picks for our long weekend in Russia.  They are both part of the Starwood group but are very different hotels.

First up, the very new W St. Petersburg.

W St Petersburg room interior

The W was only open for 3 days before our stay and it was suffering from the minor issues that most new hotels suffer from.  Nothing major was wrong but a few picky things like the curtains wouldn’t close all the way, no water or towels in the gym, nobody to greet us upon arrival and help with our luggage, long check in process, and a few other minor things.

The biggest complaint was trying to get a transfer to the airport.  I had reserved a car the night before but I found out in the morning they didn’t order it.  They called the taxi company immediately and said it would be there in 10 minutes.  It was an hour later and the taxi still wasn’t there.  The staff just kept saying it would be here soon.  It wasn’t until I made a scene in front of a very full lobby that the manager got involved and ran out to a busy street and flagged one down for us.  We made it to the airport on time but only barely.

Breakfast was also ridiculously expensive.  $75 USD for french toast and an eggs benedict.  They were very, very good but 75 USD… really??

Other than the few minor complains the hotel was very nice.  Great location. Spacious and well appointed rooms.  All very typical of W hotels.

Our next stay was at the Hotel National in Moscow.

Hotel National Moscow

This hotel has an amazing location overlooking the Kremlin and the Red Square.  It’s also been around since 1903 so they have had time to work out the the new hotel issues the W St. Petersburg suffered from.  The hotel has a lot of history and is decorated to an almost museum like quality.  Lenin and many other communist leaders even lived here for a while.

We stayed in the new wing so we didn’t get to stay in Lenin’s room but it was still very nice.  Take a look at the gallery to see some more pictures of the room.

Just beware of the breakfast.  We found out after the fact that the breakfast buffet wasn’t included in the room charge.  It turned out to be a shocking $50 per person for what was basically a mediocre continental breakfast.  Ouch.  There are a lot of cafes nearby that sell much more reasonable breakfasts.  There is also a Mc Donalds near by just in case.

Moscow – Part 2 of our long weekend in Russia

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

The Kremlin and Red Square

“Do you know why there are so many beautiful women in russia?” our Moscow tour guide asked.  I looked at him puzzled and said no… why?  He went on to explain that in Europe any ugly women could say that a beautiful women was a witch and they would be killed.  The ugly women wouldn’t need any proof and just needed to hint to the fact she could be a witch.  He went on to explain that in Russia they didn’t have this happen so none of the beautiful women were killed.  To him, this explained why most Russian women were beautiful and most European women were ugly.  Not sure if I believe all of that but it was an entertaining story.

Christ the Savior Cathedral

Our tour of Moscow was provided by the same tour company that did our St Petersburg tour and once again they did a great job.  Our first stop of the tour was the Christ the Savior Cathedral.  It was originally completed in 1860 but was then rebuilt in 2000 after it was demolished in 1931.  There is a lot of controversy around the rebuilding of the cathedral but there is no doubt it’s a stunning piece of architecture.

We also went on a quick city tour to see some of the highlights.  We visited an overlook to get a good view of the Moscow Olympic Stadium on and the ski jump.

Moscow Olympic Stadium

If you turn around from this view you can see Moscow University which is the largest university in Russia with about 50,000 students.  It’s also a pretty impressive building.

Moscow State University

Another stop was to the pond in front of the Novodevichy Convent which is thought to be the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Novodevichy Convent - Swan Lake

Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill was the next stop on our city tour.  It was built to celebrate the Russian victory over Napoleon and a WWII museum was later added to the park.  It’s spectacular park that was a hub of activity on the beautiful spring day we had our tour.

Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill

The main tourist attraction in Moscow is the Red Square and the Kremlin.  Our hotel was directly across the street from the Red Square so we spent most of our time visiting the sights nearby.  Two of the best places to take photos are across the river and from on top of the new Ritz Carlton across the street.

Kremlin Panorama from across the river

Red Square and the Kremlin from on top of the Ritz Carlton

Within the Red Square is the Saint Basils Cathedral, Lenin’s tomb, the State Historical Museum, and GUM department store.  Lenin’s tomb was closed and our guide said the inside of Saint Basils Cathedral wasn’t worth entering so we just walked around the square and took lots of pictures.

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Lenin's Tomb

Moscow State Historical Museum

GUM department store

All of this surrounded by the imposing Kremlin Towers.

Kremlin Towers

Although our visit to Moscow and St Petersburg was short it was definitely memorable.  We will need to return someday to explore more of both of these amazing cities.

St Petersburg – Part 1 of our long weekend in Russia

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

The Hermitage

The first 2 days of our long weekend in Russia was spent in St Petersburg.  While searching the trip advisor forums for things to do in St Petersburg and Moscow I kept coming across good reviews of the tour company Insider Tour.  I sent them an e-mail with what we wanted to do any they were more than happy to help.  After some back and forth we decided to do a City Highlights tour, visit The Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, Catherine’s Palace and Alexander’s Palace.  I took care of the hotel stay myself but everything else was arranged by Insider Tours (I’ll post a review about our stay at the brand new W St Petersburg later).

The Hermitage

First off, we visited The Hermitage Museum.  Normally I don’t like visiting museums.  I have the patience of a 5 year old high on pixie sticks (jumping off of buildings is more my thing).  However, for some reason this time was different.  We spent almost the entire day at the museum and I actually enjoyed it.  Part of the reason is we had an excellent guide from Insider Tour and the museum was HUGE so there was a lot to look it.  With over 3 million items it would take you years to look at every one.

Here are some of my favorite rooms in the the Hermitage.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Hermitage - main entrance

The Hermitage

The military was rehearsing for an upcoming parade which make for some nice photo ops.

Square in front of the Hermitage

Russian military in front of the Hermitage

Here is a collection of some of our favorite art work from the Hermitage.  There was just so much to soak in but we did have a few favorites…

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The arduous process to get a Russian tourist visa

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

The process to get a Russian tourist visa is a complicated one.  Even more so if you are an American.  Here is what we had to go through in order to get tourist visas for our long weekend trip to Moscow and St Petersburg.

Step 1) Get a tourist voucher from the hotel.  This is an official document that needs to be issued by a hotel or travel agency inviting you to visit Russia.  It’s pretty easy to get but did take a couple days for the hotel to issue it.  There wasn’t any cost as long as you stayed at the hotel.  Travel agencies will also issue it free of charge as long as you do a tour with them.

Step 2)  Download the visa application forms.  Visa form for US, UK, and Canadians here.  Everyone else can download the one here.

Step 3) The form for US citizens asks for an extraordinary amount of detail.  Some of the things they ask for are:

  • List EVERY educational institution you have EVER attended.
  • List EVERY professional, civil and charity organization which you are / were a member of or cooperated with.  Really?  I asked for clarification on this one and the visa officer said that even if I donated money to a charity that needed to be listed.
  • And my personal favorite, list ALL the countries you have visited in the last ten years and indicate the year of visit.  I’ve been to about 50 countries and the visa officer made me list them all out on a separate piece of paper with the year of visit.

How many people would actually remember of all these things and what would happen if it wasn’t accurate?

If you aren’t a US, UK or Canadian citizen then the form is very simple.  It’s the standard stuff like name, address, trip duration, etc.  None of the details that were required for americans.

Step 4)  Take all these forms and a passport sized photo to the Russia immigration office and wait for a week for them to issue your visa.  Americans need to pay about $150 USD and others need to pay about $50 for the standard processing time for a single entry tourist visa.

Ok… so maybe it wasn’t all that arduous but I did spend more time getting a visa to get into russia than any other country I visited.  It was worth the trouble.  A trip review for our long weekend in St Petersburg and Moscow will be posted shortly.