Putin-faced matryoshkas, golden onion-domed churches, and Hermitage artwork galore. One day in Russia, why not? That’s what I thought. Since I was living in Estonia this year we thought that we might as well take advantage of the opportunity. St. Peter’s Line cruises offers a trip that enables tourists to visit St. Petersburg for one day without a visa. So, we took it as an experiment to get a small glimpse of Russia and life on the cruise boat for two days. I would say ‘thumbs up’ to the experience of St. Petersburg but I would recommend other options for getting there and maximizing your 72 hours of visa-free time.
Our itinerary was to take the Silja Europa boat (Tallink company) out of Tallinn at 12:30pm on Saturday to Helsinki. The, we left Helsinki on the St. Peter line (Moby company) at 6pm. The next morning at around 9:30am we started the process of exiting the boat and going through customs in St. Petersburg. At about 4:30pm we re-boarded the boat (the Anastasia) for an overnight trip to Helsinki and then arrived back at Tallinn on Monday at 1pm. The exiting process with customs then took us another hour. Silja Europa boat (Tallink company)
: Nice boat with inexpensive tickets. They had some nice entertainment, free wifi, and a large shopping area with decent prices on the three-and-a-half-hour tour. St. Peter line, Anastasia boat (Moby company):
This boat is a bit tired. Views from the top deck were nice leaving Helsinki and St. Petersburg. However, inside I wasn’t expecting no wifi. Apparently, you could pay 5 € an hour for wifi but the connection was so bad that two of the staff recommended not getting it.
We decided not to pre-purchase any dinners, only two breakfast buffets. In the end, I think I would have skipped any pre-purchases. We carried on some Nepalese food for dinner the first night and had very basic margherita pizza at the Italian restaurant on the boat the second night. The 12€ breakfasts that we had at the buffet were not good. I would have been happy even with some decent cereal and toast but no toaster and poor cereal options. The ‘orange juice’ was Tang or some similar kool-aid type version. The eggs were overdone and just not good at all. We walked around and looked at the
other food options on the boat and most just looked like pre-packaged or cheap fried options. Apparently thanks to the numerous tea-drinking Chinese tourists there is now free hot water available in the small coffee café. We took advantage of this by taking our own thermos and tea. There is a dancing and music show offered at 10pm each night but, other than that, there really isn’t much to do on the boat. There is a small shopping area but with much higher prices that on the Silja Europa boat.
We were quite happy with our cabin size after opting not to spend a couple hundred euros for the upgrades with the double bed and larger room. We had also had enough hot water for a shower and a window with a nice view of the water and sunset. St. Petersburg Tour Experience:
The experience starts by exiting the boat and crossing through Russian customs. I was repeatedly asked for my military ID and had to explain that I was a tourist and not in the military. After bringing in a second person to the booth they were finally ok with the situation and let me
pass after taking a copy of all pages in my passport.
Moby offers just two options for tours: one of a bus tour around part of the city and a second that offers the bus tour plus a tour of the Hermitage (85€/person). We took the latter. Apparently, St. Petersburg only gets about 60 days of sun per year and we were very fortunate to have landed there on one. If it had been raining I think the bus tour would have been much less appealing. We are not much for organized tours but thought it might be wise with our limited time in St. Petersburg. I think we made the right decision given our time constraints but would choose other options if staying for a couple days.
We stopped first at the Quay with Sphinxes that had a couple ancient sphinxes bought from Egypt in the 1800s. Then we stopped on the banks of the Neva River at the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. Here there are views of the Hermitage in the distance along with Peter and Paul Fortress. After this we drove through the city stopping quickly at a park near the Church of the Savior
on Spilled Blood and then for a quick stop at the church. One of our longest stops of the tour was to a gift shop arranged by the tour company. Then it was off to the Naval Cathedral of St. Nicholas before a final stop in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Most of these stops were very quick 10-15 minutes and did allow for us to go inside the buildings (with the exception of St. Nicholas Cathedral).
The second part of the tour was a two-hour tour of the Hermitage. Lunch here was rushed with few options (take snacks if you do this tour) Our guide, Yutta, was informative and did a good job moving us through the museum. The Hermitage is immense and just not possible to take it all in at once. We were able to take in some of the highlights in two hours but only scratched the surface of what was in there. Two favorite exhibits were the golden peacock clock and the room full of lapis lazuli furniture. We also saw the two DaVinci paintings and Rembrandt collection amidst many other famous paintings.
After this we were shuttled back to the terminal with
an extra hour and a half before the ship departed. Unfortunately, this just turned into wasted time that we could have used to explore in St. Petersburg. Summary
Seeing St. Petersburg was great – it is full of history and beautiful sites to see. So, we achieved our goal of seeing the city and getting a brief taste of Russia. However, I think the tour involved far too much wasted time that could have been avoided somewhat with better planning. In the end, we only had about 6 hours in St. Petersburg. We were also rushed to a great extent on our tour and it would have been nice to even have just a couple hours of free time to explore the center of the city. Recommendations:
· You get 72 hours of visa free time in St. Petersburg. Try to take a tour that maximizes time in St. Petersburg rather than on a boat. Stay overnight and enjoy two days in the city.
· The visa regulation requires you to join a tour but you don’t have to take the one offered by the company that brings you there on the bus. After
returning we found other options online.
· Visit other sites outside of the city center such as the Peterhof Fountains or even Kronstadt Island.
· Take your own food and snacks with you on the boat and be prepared to have no wifi for the journey
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