Time Lapse Saint Petersburg

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I was hoping to visit Saint Petersburg and the Baltics for my vacation this year, but I discovered that it’s a huge pain for Americans to visit Russia right now. Think I’m going to do Berlin and Copenhagen instead. But what a beautiful city.

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25 Responses to “Time Lapse Saint Petersburg”

  1. #1 |  billhang | 

    I highly recommend Balkan travel – I haven’t been into the interior too much but made many trips to the Adriatic coast. Take a ferry from Split or Rijeka and visit the islands. Something very special about the Dalmatian people. Berlin and Copenhagen are great but much more culturally familiar, from an American point of view. But if you happen to like sitting around smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, Berlin can’t be beat.

    Meanwhile, St. Petersburg would be interesting to visit & analyze from a libertarian point of view – it’s the ultimate Big Government project.

  2. #2 |  Patrick | 


    or do you mean Baltic states, otherwise I find the itinerary complicated.

    I quess you could go to Helsinki and get a cruise to St. Petersburg from there, you then get a 24 or 48 hours visa waiver if I remember correctly.

  3. #3 |  Astra | 

    …but I discovered that it’s a huge pain for Americans to visit Russia right now.

    What time frame do you mean by “right now”? I went in 2009 and it wasn’t that hard. Getting the visa requires a few steps and some $$ outlay but my hotel issued the visa invitation and Travisa waited in line at the San Francisco embassy.

    I suspect that most visitors must travel in groups. I spent a few days in St. Petersburg by myself and was asked for directions by Russians three times. Too bad I don’t speak the language.

    It was beautiful in June. St. Petersburg averages 44 sunny days a year and I experienced 7 of them. The city comes alive during the White Nights–everyone is out.

  4. #4 |  Matt I. | 

    Why is it a huge pain for Americans to visit Russia now?

  5. #5 |  Erin | 

    It’s not that much of a pain; it’s just a bit expensive. They’ve actually streamlined the process recently and made it easier to apply. The Russian Embassy uses visa processing companies (unless you can apply in person in DC) and a list of these companies is available on the embassy website; they will walk you through everything you need. You have to pre-book your hotel and the hotel will send you a sponsorship letter. You need this to get your visa. The NYT has reviewed several hotels in St. Petersburg and you will be able to find a good one from their reviews. A good hotel knows exactly what you need and will do everything for you via email. Once you’re in the country, if your plans change and you stay at a different hotel, you will need to update it with the immigration authorities, but the hotel will do everything for you. Or if you prefer to use a tour operator rather than traveling on your own, the tour operator will do it for you.

    Russia is the most amazing place I have ever visited, and if you have the financial means to afford the visa and lack of cheap hotels, you should definitely do it. I’d suggest visiting Moscow too. Berlin and Copenhagen are lovely, but they have nothing on Russia. It’s definitely worth the small amount of paperwork you have to do.

  6. #6 |  Jerryskids | 

    You can still visit St. Petersburg, Florida. I am pretty sure many of the residents are more ancient than anything you can see in Russia.

  7. #7 |  DarkEFang | 

    Considering that a crackdown against the growing discontent against Vladimir Putin is imminent, I think I’d stay out of Russia for the time being.

  8. #8 |  Ted S. | 

    There’s a cruise between Helsinki and Sankt Peterburg that gives you 72 hours in the city visa free. I don’t know how much cheaper it is, though:


  9. #9 |  JMHM | 

    It’s not much of a pain in the ass at all. Getting a tourist visa is easy (have a hotel there do all the setup for you — they do it all the time). I lived there for years and helped more than my share of Americans come out to visit.

    If you go, I would advise you stay at least a bit in Pushkin, to the south — the Natali is their main hotel, and I know for a fact that they can bang out your visa stuff for you in no time at all. In fact, Velikiy Novgorod is only a bit further south (daytrip distance) and well worth seeing. But in any case, yeah. It’s a great city — puts Moscow to shame.

  10. #10 |  JMHM | 

    oh yeah. And it’s not hard to find good, relatively cheap hotels there, too. There’s a good place right like a block off Nevsky that we’d stick people at every once in a while. Bridge Town, it’s called. Something like well under a hundred bucks a night for two people to stay there. You’ve just got to look around.

  11. #11 |  KristenS | 

    Seriously with all this visa stuff? I was easier for me to get into China, fer crying out loud!

  12. #12 |  Onlooker | 

    Did you mean Balkans, or Baltic countries? Just wondering as St. Petersburg is in close proximity to the Baltic, not the Balkans. No big deal though, of course.

  13. #13 |  Alex Volkov | 

    Travisa (company that helps with this) is very helpful in terms of getting your paperwork through. And I will echo earlier commenters to the effect that the hotels will help you with the rec letter and application.

    Just make sure to answer “no” on the question where it asks if you have had “specialized military or nuclear training.” One would imagine that a yes answer to this would at the least get your application scrutinized a bit more heavily.

    I have family there so it is easy for me to go but I have some friends who just visited this past fall without a lot of difficulty.

    If you do not peak the language it is probably easiest to visit just Moscow or Petersburg. If you have some Russian-speaking friends I would recommend the “Golden Ring” of cities east of Moscow on the Volga. Yaroslavl being a very nice one to visit. Very beautiful places and the heartland of Russian history and culture.

  14. #14 |  Lee | 

    I went in in the summer of ’87. Suck it up and go. Even then it is a wonderful beautiful city (just don’t drink the water :).

  15. #15 |  marko | 

    If you really plan to come to Balkans, I just wanted you to know that you have readers in Serbia who would definitely like to meet you.

  16. #16 |  the innominate one | 

    I visited Moscow and St. Petersburg (still Leningrad at the time) in the spring of ’87, and it was amazing. The history and museums were impressive. The Soviet system for getting in and out of the country were less so. Flying Aeroflot was harrowing.

  17. #17 |  picachu | 

    Go to the Vin & Ulgod in Copenahgen. It’s an old Danish celler beer hall with good food and you’e seated at a long table next to people from all over Scandanavia as well as everywhere else and everybody gets drunks and sings. It’s really cool!

  18. #18 |  JSinAZ | 

    My wife and I did the Baltic tour thing this summer, by ship. Initially we sent for the Russian tourist visa applications and procedures, and were appalled at the expense and general bureaucratic mess of the process. It was clear after looking at various options that the result (intended or otherwise) was to shove potential tourists into one of the existing tour operator’s queues, given how steep the price/paperwork expense is for an independant tourist compared to the packaged products.

    That said, if you do take the shore excursion route there are things you may wish to consider… One obvious (and sad I thought) feature of the guided tours through the Hermitage was the concentration on certain “high-dollar value” artists and works. OK, the Rembrandts and the single DaVinci were nice, but works by those artists I have seen elsewhere and with better presentation.

    No, were I to take the tour again, I would immediately separate myself from the tour group (noting rendezvous time/place etc) and go the areas that contain stuff only the Hermitage has, that the tour groups walk past quickly. As an example – the rooms full of amazing Renoir, Monet, and the much less impressive Cezanne were just places to march through, on the way to the $$s.

    The really sad part was that I think this reflected on the Russian national mood (or even less charitable, character) in some general way. To me, even more horrifying was that these high-dollar works by Rembrandt were on display in rooms with the windows open to the outside (so: get the rubles and yet not give a shit about destroying what generates the rubles). By this time I assigned it to the growing mental list of Things Russians Do, a list which did not contain many positive points.

    Last note – if you are in the Baltic countries, then Estonia is well worth a visit and a stay. We enjoyed Talinn very much, and like most places we have gone, the history we learn _after_ the visit is so fascinating that we regret not doing more prework so the place-names would mean more.

  19. #19 |  Lori Wilson | 

    I visited the USSR (Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and a few minor cities) in 1985. St. Petersburg was beautiful and the people very friendly. Do not drink the water as it is contaminated with Giardia. The museums are spectacular! Try not to fly Aeroflot unless you enjoy being terrified! The train system in 1985 was clean and efficient; I don’t know how it is now. I’m sure it is easier to get a visa now than it was then. Go for it!

  20. #20 |  Sean | 

    Radley, I have several ex-pat friends living in Russia and I’ve been there myself, I’m not aware of some recent change in policy vis-a-vis Americans. As some have pointed out, it was much more difficult in the 80s and 90s but people managed it anyway.

    So suck it up, bitch.

  21. #21 |  Radley Balko | 

    So suck it up, bitch.

    Uh, okay.

    I was really only referring to the fact that I’d need to get a visa and a sponsor. There are lots of places I’d like to see. And it’s easier to see cities where a visa isn’t required.

    Not sure this is a point worth getting riled up over.

  22. #22 |  Sean | 

    Radley, I didn’t mean it seriously.

    It’s pretty easy to get a visa and a ‘sponsor’, basically just a question of money. I think there’s more opportunity to see something off the beaten path in Russia. Copenhagen is a nice city but ultimately boring, IMO. That being said I’ve never been to St Petersburg, but I don’t think visa requirements ought to be decisive parameters.

  23. #23 |  Radley Balko | 

    Radley, I didn’t mean it seriously.

    Fair enough.

    Comments section has just been filled with weird invective in odd places lately.

  24. #24 |  Sean | 

    “Comments section has just been filled with weird invective in odd places lately.”

    I haven’t noticed an increase in invective but I’ve not been paying that much attention to the comments, lately. Still, I think this thread was quite reasonable and it was interesting how many commenters had actually journeyed to the USSR/Russia. I say, da, go for it, dude.

  25. #25 |  Robert S. Porter | 

    Way late to this. But I live in Berlin. I vote Berlin.