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About napoxoguk

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    Cool Cruiser

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    Gardening, dogs, judo.
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Vodohod, Mosturflot

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  1. Thanks for the link! This article is extremely dated - just as an example, the "mandatory sale of 75 percent of foreign currency receipts" requirement was lifted back in 2007, if I'm not mistaken. Back then, there were indeed additional restrictions on currency transactions even between residents and non-residents. Like I said, if you follow the letter of the law, the only major restriction remaining is currency exchange - so selling dollars for roubles to a friendly peddler outside of the Hermitage is a no-no. That said, I'm still quite uncomfortable with foreign cash transactions when it comes to paying for cruise tours (not the actual guides, though). I'll have a hard time articulating my position, and even a harder time defending it, but I feel that most of the museums, churches, and other attractions you visit are, in the most general sense, the property of the people of Russia and the very least all these tour agencies can do to "give back" is pay their taxes. If you pay cash you can be almost 100 percent sure that it's not happening.
  2. To quote Article 6 of Russian Federal Law 173-FZ ("On foreign currency regulation and control"), "hard currency transactions between residents and non-residents shall not be restricted", except currency exchange operations (which are restricted as per Article 11 of the same Law). Under Article 1 of that same Law, "foreign currency transactions" are understood to include, inter alia, "use of foreign monies as a means of payment". Since a transaction between a cruiser and a Russian company would be a transaction between resident and non-resident, it seems to me it will not be illegal. Whether or not it is advisable is another story altogether (in my opinion, it is not).
  3. Just for some peace of mind of those people who do prefer to deal with cash - I don't think it is. If I remember correctly, any restrictions on foreign cash currency transactions only apply to residents and/or currency exchange operations. This, however, is a real issue - every time you pay with USD/Euro cash, you can rest assured none of it will ever find its way into any tax return form.
  4. This is no longer the case. The tickets to Hermitage, for instance, are RR700 ($10.5) flat. Same with Kremlin. I've seen a couple of places that still have the "dual price" policy, but even there the difference is not huge. You'd have a really hard time finding $200pp worth of cover fees, especially over a 3-day visit. I do agree that having a guide would make sense, but not sure about the driver - it might be more cost-effective just to uber between far-between places, and use public transportation for everything else. As to red tape - I do agree it can get quite annoying, but if you've ever carried a Russian passport (vs. the USSR one), the procedure for getting a new one is quite straightforward - it's about 3 months and $250. With the price of a 3-y visa currently at $160+35, renewing your passport seems like a viable option. Given where you live (btw, congrats to Rockville for making it into some mysterious list of Top Ten Most Livable Places in the US for a third year in a row), it should be easy-peasy.
  5. Nattie, Thank you for publishing this - I'm sure many will find it extremely useful (including the management of one particular company that may realize that manning their inquiry desk is more important than posting dozens of "reviews" on every imaginable travel site). Actually, I think yours is a rare case when applying for a regular tourist visa (at about $200pp) and going DIY way would actually make sense.
  6. I'm a believer in the power of reviews, too - but when it comes to St.P, that proverbial grain of salt should be replaced with at least a bucketful. For instance, there is a Spb-based company that must have served at least a couple hundred thousand customers over the past decade or so - and they don't have a single review, good or bad, on TripAdvisor. At the same time, some much smaller operators have hundreds of cookie-cutter glowing reviews. Travelling in the US, I find it cringeworthy when I have to tip some teenage DuckBoat tour "guides", who deliver a 30-minute memorized speech and can't answer most basic questions about their city. I'm not a big fan of generalisations, but St.P guides are usually from a different league altogether, typically with a couple of degrees under their belts, as well as a couple of foreign languages, lots of mandatory certifications with individual museums, etc. What's more important, most of them are pretty amazing and a pleasure to deal with. In a cruise tour kind of setting, you are your guide's captive audience - for hours on end. Ultimately, it's your guide that can make or break your tour experience. So yes, I'm totally OK with leaving a 20-dollar tip at the end of the day. If I have any issue with my guide's performance, I will adjust it accordingly.
  7. Ginza project is an umbrella brand for about a hundred different restaurants, ranging from excellent and quite upscale to expensive, kitchy (but good) Russian (Mari Vanna) to casual Georgian/buffet style (Obed Bufet, Baklajan) to quite nondescript experimental (Edim Rukami) Choose wisely, read lots of reviews.
  8. A brief reminder - they have changed their visa fees last week; any visa (including the 3-yr one) is now $160. If you live near one of their consulate centers - it actually becomes a viable option (if you don't, there will be mailing fees, and the total cost of the visa will still be around $280-$300).
  9. Maybe, - there has been quite a bunch of these here recently. It doesn't necessarily mean it's bad - I'd say, a very similar user experience is to be had with any of the "top" 20 to 30 companies, out of which maybe five usually get mentioned on these boards. I've even used the company that usually provides the dreaded "cruise provided" tours - but in a small-group setting, and I have to say all of their guides were top-notch. What I'm somewhat unhappy about is their dubious marketing techniques. But then again, what else can all these companies do to promote their services? Unless and until they get a couple hundred happy cruise critic customers, any of their mentions will be totally lost in the flood of Alla, SPB, TJ, Best Guides, etc. endorsements. In any case, things to look out for: new(ish) accounts; participation on any non-Baltic boards (if any) limited to very casual observations; posts on Baltic boards never failing to mention that ONE company; experience as described lacking details - just how great guides were and how awesome it was to skip the lines. Hmmm.... come to think of it, it actually describes my account pretty accurately :)
  10. Alenka is an umbrella brand for over a dozen Russian confectionary manufacturers. If you do find the time to visit one of Alyonka stores, you might want to have a general idea of what you're getting before you go, as their selection is pretty mind-blowing - they have easily several hundred different kinds of candy and chocolate. Their site is in Russian, but sort of self-explanatory (and then, there is always Google translate): https://shop.alenka.ru
  11. In both Moscow and SPB metro I feel much, much safer than during off-peak hours in DC or New York subway. Their system there is a lot more efficient, too.
  12. My *guess* (at about 99.99% confidence level) would be you can't do that - the 72hr waiver rule applies to passengers that ARRIVE and LEAVE via the port. The airport passport control will simply not let you through - in their book, you would not have the paperwork to prove you're in the country legally. Long story short, if you debark the ship for good, you need a visa - it could be a transit Visa, but you still need one.
  13. Russian chocolate and candies are very good, but a bit of an acquired taste - they love darker chocolate and all sorts of nut-based, praline, and alcohol fillings. For best selection (and prices locals would pay), go to one of Alyonka (Alonka) stores - there is one on Nevsky. Apart from mass-produced stuff (which is still very, very good), they also have a small section of expensive handmade confectionery. For "souvenir" chocolate, there's a privately owned "Museum of Chocolate", also on Nevsky - not much of a museum, more of a glorified candy store selling all sorts of weird and kitchy sculptures (like a bust of Putin, for instance) made of chocolate. Can't vouch for the quality of their chocolate, though. Estonian chocolate is also good, with wide range of choices and beautiful boxes.
  14. If that's the case, you might want to consider another option: ... (drumroll) ... the ferry (stpeterline.com). They don't do Copenhagen, but they do stop at Stockholm. It's not much of a cruise, but they operate under the same 72hr visa-free rule in St.Petersburg as all the "proper" cruise lines, except better - you can get a hotel and you won't need to be accompanied by a registered tour guide at all times, so you are free to go wherever you wish and at whatever pace suits you best. As to the visa - I'd get one if I were in for a longer stay. Doesn't really make much sense for such a short visit, especially considering the availability of the ferry alternative. But, for future references, if you do decide to get one, the "letter of invitation" (aka "visa support", aka "tourist voucher") is available instantly from a bunch of online providers and should cost in the range of 15 to 30 dollars.
  15. To an extent and somewhat indirectly, that is correct. It's the (city) government that, years ago, saw an opportunity to increase tourist flows and offered lucrative terms to developers and operators to build a deep-sea port; it's the government that runs a tourism watchdog agency that is quite watchful (and dogged) when it comes to individual or corporate tour guide licenses; it's the government(s) that came up with the visa-free arrangement that effectively re-routes visa fees from federal coffers to the city economy, and it's the government that ultimately foots the bill for upkeep, maintenance, and restoration of the top attractions in the city (with the notable exception of Faberge museum, which seems to be a private collection). That said, the government doesn't have any say in what individual tour companies decide to show their clients and what the guides can and cannot say during the tour. The market, which at this point is highly competitive, takes care of that. The downside, of course, is that millions of people over the years have done pretty much the same tour, tajen pretty much the same pictures, and heard pretty much the same jokes (raise your hand if you haven't heard "the tallest building in St. Petersburg" joke).
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