Travel Tuesday: St. Petersburg (buildings + travel restrictions)
When I found out T was getting a free trip to Saint Petersburg, I honestly didn’t know much about the city, but I knew I was definitely coming along!
The city looks very European architecturally. Half of the people I say this to say something like “yeah, well it is in Europe! Haha!” So yes, Russia is in Europe, so I guess I mean that it looks like a western European city, except with nice wide roads rather than cute & romantic cobblestone streets (much more practical). However, unlike many western European cities which formed organically around the city center, Saint Petersburg was very intentionally designed and mostly all built at the same time. Every long road has something to look at at the end, the roads end with public squares, and the facades and bridges all make for a beautiful city.
More facinating, in my opinion, is what is behind the facades.
(Just outside the frame of the above photo, there was a man sitting on a bucket who threw up on the ground as we walked past. I hear if you drink only vodka, you don’t get a hangover. He must have mixed his alcohols. ;))
On our way to our hotel from the airport, we past a bunch of Soviet era big bland gray buildings that looked like how I imagined “Russia” would look in my mind – no pictures of these. Even near our hotel there were these massive “modern high rise” buildings.
I got a lot of questions (in real life) about the travel restrictions and visa process for Russia. In general, it is not so bad. It is just expensive and a little confusing.
Filling out the visa stuff was a huge pain and a little complicated. The conference T was attending had to send us an inviation in the form of something called a Telex number. With that, we could fill out the hugely confusing online form. You have to go to a Russian embassy, and there aren’t very many. There is not one in Los Angeles, so we paid a company to get ours for us at the one in San Fran. If you pay a company, I think they can usually procure the invitation or telex number for you.
Once you get to Russia, your hotel has to stamp your visa and keeps your passport overnight so they can register you with the Russian immigration. We were on a legit trip, so this was no issue. A lot of (budget and more under-the-radar) tourists just get any hotel hotel to stamp it for the whole trip, even though they stay elsewhere. Everything is for sale in Russia, including your visa paperwork! There is a lot of red tape compared to most countries, but with time, money and a little research, anyone can go (probably) anywhere in Russia. (We did not venture out of Saint Petersburg.)