Russia was probably the most complicated holiday I ever booked. Not that many travel agents specialise in Russia and the few that do seemed intent on selling me a group tour. Not against group tours but prefer to do my own thing in my own time.
Booked flights directly with BA, into Moscow out of St Petersburg – easy enough. Hotels there are all overpriced in my opinion but managed to get a slight discount booking them via an agency. Actually I managed to get the Kempinski in Moscow at a decent rate.
The real headache was getting the visa and invitation letters so just used an agency which did it all – for a hefty fee of course. But I still had answer the reams of questions ranging from a list of all the countries I’d visited in the last 10 years to information on any specialised skills I possessed in nuclear matters or biological chemicals! And I still had to ‘register’ my visa when I got to both cities and depending on the hotel they’d be an extra charge for that.
Then there was booking the trains from Moscow to St Petersburg, via seat61.com which routed back through an agency so about 30% extra for their commission … oh the joy.
So everything was finally booked and I should have been looking forward to the holiday right? Well, reading some of the advice of the FCO’s website was quite concerning.
Then there was the terrorist attack on the train from Mos to SP in late November where 26 people lost their lives. This did nothing to help ease my already over concerned mind.
And just as I was tempted to think that I had experienced every headache planning a holiday could bring, BA cabin crew vote in favour of 12 day walk out over Christmas. Was one holiday really worth it I asked myself?
Finally make it to bag drop, but it’s not smooth sailing yet. Check in lady had to check, re check, triple check the visa then phone for one of the visa experts to come and check it because there’s some good fakes out there and if we got to Russia and it was proved to be a fake then they impound the plane for a £25,000 fee.
But it was worth the effort of getting as all my fears were unfounded I had a completely problem free holiday.
Holiday Highlights in pictures
Eventually I was there, the largest country in the world! 3 nights in the capital city, 1 night on an overnight train, 4 nights in St Petersburg.
Kempinski Moscow. The only bad thing about this hotel is just how hard it is to tear yourself away and see the sites.
Flights to Moscow £280 pp. Stay at Kempinski £200 per night. A kiss in front of St Basil’s, in the snow … priceless
Overnight train to SP. Not quite value for money compared to flying (train tickets £116 each, 7 hours. Flight £57 each, 1 hour) but a nice experience.
Hermitage in the snow…. So worth the effort of getting here
Father Frost, as he is known in Russia. They celebrate Christmas on 7th January
Feel yourself Russian – folk show at the Nikolaevsky Palace theatre.
Only took this photo in passing, didn’t go in.
Stuck in the snow
New Years Eve in Palace Square
Father Frost band
It was a great holiday. Shame they make it so complicated and expensive to get there. My next visit to Russia will hopefully be on Trans-Siberian Express!