Notes on St. Petersburg
Submitted by Ann Chase, University of Michigan Law Library
Editor's note: To see pictures from Ann's trip to St. Petersburg, check out The Final Pics at the end of the newsletter.
It can be exciting and intimidating to travel alone to an unfamiliar country - but last summer, in addition to surviving and spending less than I budgeted for, I completed my J.D., had a fabulous time and learned a lot in St. Petersburg. In anticipation of the IALL conference, I'd like to share a few travel tips and highlights from my trip.
First, some general packing tips: (1) Make sure you have enough cash in Rubles to pay for any taxi rides you might need from an international to a domestic terminal at the airport, and/or from the airport to your hotel; (2) Don't overpack, and use suitcases that have wheels, or a backpack that you can comfortably carry since there may not be luggage carts; (3) Get a guidebook that has some useful Russian phrases to which you can point; (4) Print out maps of the subway system and the city; (5) You'll need comfortable, durable, dark-colored shoes (they'll be dark-colored by the end of the week regardless of what color they start out), an umbrella, and a light jacket suitable for 50 to 60 degree weather; (6) St. Petersburg is a bit infested with gigantic mosquitoes that will still be around in September so bring some insect repellant; (7) If you would like to bring and use any electrical devices, keep in mind that the voltage is different and the electrical outlets are a different shape (two round holes); (8) Bring a few photocopies of your passport and visa because you do need to carry identification with you but should not carry your passport around.
The law school and the Pribaltiyskaya Hotel are both located on Vasilievsky Ostrov (Island), but the main tourist areas (around Nevsky Prospekt and Gostiny Dvor) are on the other side of the Neva River. The Island has three parallel main streets: Bolshoi, Sredny and Mali (Big, Medium and Small) Prospekts. Bolshoi Prospekt is the closest to the Neva River, and Mali Prospekt is the furthest away. Other streets called Linii (lines) run perpendicular to these. Each line has two numbers, one for each side of the street. For example, 8-9 is one single street. The law school is located near the corner of 22-23 and Bolshoi. I lived at 8-9 and Mali, and walked to the law school every day - about half an hour's journey. The Pribaltiyskaya Hotel is on the western coast of the Island, facing the Gulf of Finland. The nearest metro station is about a ten minute walk away, and there is no metro station near the law school but there will be shuttles from the hotel. There are also trams and trolley-buses that run all over this end of the island.
Some of the main attractions in St. Petersburg (which the locals just call Peter) are the Hermitage, the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Isaac's Cathedral (the one with the gold dome), the Church of Spilled Blood (the colorful one with the onion-shaped domes), the Peter Paul Fortress, boat tours on the canals, shopping in the Gostiny Dvor, Catherine's Palace, and Peterhof. There is plenty of information about all of these sites on the web and any guidebook will discuss them so I'll only say that you should try to visit them all. And don't miss the day trip to the Novgorod Kremlin.
To make an international call from a pay telephone, you will need two different cards: one that you insert into the phone, and another that works like a standard long distance phone card. The phone cards are available in banks, post offices, and some metro station kiosks. The long distance cards are sold in cell phone stores, some record stores, and internet cafes. Major hotels have payphones that accept credit cards instead of this confusing two-card configuration, but the easy way is the expensive way to call.
If you are bringing a laptop and plan to use the internet, remember to bring an Ethernet cable. There is a cafe called Black and White (the sign says Black and White in English) where you can buy overpriced (but very good) coffee and wireless access, and a few doors down is an Internet cafe that is more like a computer lab where one can use their computers. This one has a sandwich board out front that says "Internet" in English. These are both located across the street from the metro station on 6-7 near Mali.
Onegin is a French and Russian restaurant near Nevsky Prospekt. It is elegant and contemporary, and at night it transforms into a nightclub where DJ's spin house and techno. The food is great and they have menus in English. Of all the restaurants I went to in St. Petersburg, this one was my favorite. Another restaurant I would recommend is Du Nord in the Oktyabrsky Hotel.
Going to a bathhouse can be a great way to relax and get comfy with the Russian experience. Bathhouses have saunas, showers, and pools. They are segregated by sex (M is for men and Ж is for women, by the way--this goes for restrooms, too). Big towels are supplied but most people just sit on them. They will have buckets of birch branches for sale, soaking in hot water, that people hit themselves with (venik). Bring flip-flops and soap. At some places private sections are available to rent for the more modest.
Shopping in traditional Russian stores is based on a different model. Instead of the customers picking up what they want and bringing items to the counter, in traditional Russian stores, everything is behind counters or guarded by an attendant. The customer asks the attendant for the item, receives a ticket to bring to the cash register (kassa), pays there and then returns to the attendant with the receipt to pick up the item. For those who do not speak Russian, have someone write down what you want in Russian before you head to the store.
I felt very safe while I was in St. Petersburg because I did most things with at least one other person. I also found that having maps and guidebooks with me everywhere I went, and planning my excursions in detail ahead of time made me much more confident and avoided being lost and confused. Use the same common sense standards that you would in any big city (i.e. do not carry wads of cash with you or documents that you need to exit the country, do not carry a bag that does not close securely, and when on the metro, keep your bag in front). Oh, and it is illegal to take photos in "government" places such as anywhere in the metro, train stations and airports.
1. St. Petersburg State University, Law Faculty: www.jurfak.spb.ru
2. Pribaltiyskaya Hotel: www.pribaltiyskaya.com
3. City Map: www.escapetravel.spb.ru/images/map.jpg
4. Subway Map: www.spb.ru/pic/spbmap1.jpg
5. Virtual Tourist: virtualtourist.com
6. Blog by an American in St. Petersburg: megancase.blogspot.com
7. Frommer's Guide: www.frommers.com/destinations/stpetersburgrussia
8. Lonely Planet: www.lonelyplanet.com/worldguide/destinations/europe/russia
9. Let's Go (Eastern Europe): www.letsgo.com/destinations/europe/eastern
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at email@example.com. See you in St. Petersburg!