Now that you’ve read an introduction to St.Petersburg, including tips for pre-departure, acquiring a tourist visa, transportation, first impressions and a recommendation of where not to stay, let’s move on to the actual itinerary of my 3-day adventure in Mother Russia. Question: why is it Mother Russia when countries like Germany are referred to as the Fatherland? Anyways, here goes.
As we left our hotel and made our way along the embankment, the first thing of interest we stumbled upon (after getting accustomed to the fact that nearly every building looks like a palace from the outside) was the Bronze Horseman and St.Isaac’s Cathedral. The statue depicts Peter the Great and was a gift from Catherine the Great who inscribed it with the words “From Catherine the 2nd, to Peter the 1st, 1782”. The statue was also the inspiration for Pushkin’s poem “The Bronze Horseman” written in 1833.
привет! That’s hello in Russian – and honestly, I had to Google it. I don’t speak a word of Russian and with no particular desire to start, I relied on a great big smile and hand gestures to get me through a week in Russia. The hand gestures worked – the smile, not so much.
How Russia landed on my travel map
Admittedly, I never had a pressing desire to visit Russia. For me, Russia was an even colder part of the world (remember, I’m Canadian) that came alive, now and then, via movies like Enemy at the Gates, an amazing film featuring Jude Law as the fictitious hero of the Battle of Stalingrad. Then, as I worked my way through university, taking courses like Eastern European Politics, and History (before and after 1945), I found that my interest in visiting Russia had finally been piqued.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to places with a troublesome pasts (and sometimes presents) but the rise and decline of the great Russian empire is so complex and so full of drama (father murdering sons, wives murdering husbands etc.), romance (Catherine the Great had a long list of lovers after her husband died), mystery (including subversion, spy games and espionage), and social and political turmoil (from the October Revolution through to the Cold War and the rise of the oligarchs) that I couldn’t help but want to see it with my very own eyes.
So, I just got back from a three week adventure to Sweden, Finland and Russia and after ripping apart my bank for leaving me high and dry overseas, I have to admit – I should have made the call. Here’s what happened.
As I was emptied my purse in preparation for the trip, I stood contemplating which credit card to take with me overseas. You see, my husband and I are lucky enough to have a German account from which we can withdraw money from any bank machine around the world. So, the easiest way for me to pay for things while traveling – and avoid massive charges on my Canadian credit card – is to take out money and just pay cash. That being said, I always take my Canadian card with me in case I run out of moolah and need to use the plastic.
Making payments prior to take-off
Since I was heading to Russia, where I had no idea how easy it was to get things done on the ground, I decided I should plan a little further ahead than normal. My itinerary had me flying into Stockholm, traveling onward to Helsinki and Kuopio, and then onto St.Petersburg for four days of discovery before heading home.
First of all, since the Russian visa application for Canadians (and Europeans) demands an invitation letter from the hotel for every applicant, we had to make our reservations months in advance. We reserved four nights in a three star hotel called History Hotel on the English Embankment (review of what is possibly the worst hotel in St.Petersburg, to follow) through St.Petersburg.com (mixed feelings about this site, you’ll find out why later). I made two separate reservations, since 4 of us were staying for 3 days, and only 3 were staying for the 4th. To make sure that we had the best possible “Russian” experience, we also booked tickets to see Swan Lake at the Hermitage! Needless to say, costs were adding up, but given the fact that I had made the purchases on the Canadian side of the ocean, I was sure there would be no problem with the order. Continue reading “Credit card catastrophe: Why it’s important to inform the bank when you travel abroad”→