St Petersburg, Russia travel tips

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Panhandling is a problem in the city. Be aware of this, especially in parks, and keep in mind that if you feel the urge to give money, you will probably be bombarded by panhandlers.

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When walking or driving, be aware of manhole covers, as they are likely to be poorly-fitting or missing altogether.

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For a lovely stay, book a room at the Grand Hotel Europe.

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In the summer months, the bridges over the Neva River are raised every night from 1am to around 5am to allow ships to pass through. If you don't want to get stuck on the wrong side of the river, be sure you cross back over before the bridges are raised.

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In Russia, the word "festival" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing it does in English. It might be a festival, or it might be a relatively mediocre event with "festival" attached to generate interest. Check ahead to make sure you're actually going to a festival.

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If you're in St. Petersburg during the summer and want a hotel with air conditioning, try the Herzen House or the Nevsky Inn.

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A nice, cheaper alternative to the city's major hotels are the many small guesthouses. Among them: the Central Inn, which is next to St. Isaac's Cathedral. It has a small gym and a sauna.

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If you're unsure of where to stay or what kind of accommodations you want, contact City Realty. An American-owned company, City Realty can help you book whatever kind of accommodation you desire, and can also help with visa support. www.cityrealtyrussia.com

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If you find yourself in St. Petersburg during the White Nights, book a room in the St. Petersburg, and try to get a room facing the Neva River, where the views will be fabulous. Otherwise, it's a pretty nondescript, slightly worn hotel.

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For a small hotel in a great location, book a room at Casa Leto. It's next to the Hermitage and has only eight rooms. They're a bit larger than average, and the hotel is brightly decorated and has a friendly, accommodating staff.

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For a lovely stay and a bit of history, book a stay at the Astoria Hotel. It's in a great location, is beautifully decorated, and is the hotel Hitler boasted he'd be staying in when Leningrad was defeated. Leningrad (St. Petersburg) held off Hitler, but you can still book a room there.

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History lovers should not miss the Field of Mars. It was once a marsh, which Peter the Great had drained as St. Petersburg was being constructed. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, it began to be used as a burial ground for Red Army soldiers. In 1919, the massive Monument to Revolutionary Fighters was unveiled.

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Art lovers should visit the State Museum of Russian Art, one of the country's most important art galleries.

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Make at least a small effort to learn the Cyrilic alphabet. Even though you won't be able to speak it, more than likely, even being able to recognize some of the letters will make getting about a little easier.

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For delicious pastries and cakes, be sure to visit Zhyly-Byly, which is decorated with folk objects and is open around the clock.

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Lovers of literature should check out the Dostoyevsky Literary-Memorial Museum, at the last home where the writer lived. Like many attractions in the city, it's open every day but Monday.

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If you're in St. Petersburg during the summer months and get to experience the city's famous "White Nights," consider yourself lucky, and don't miss the festivals that accompany the phenomenon. The Mariinsky Theater offers Stars of the White Nights.

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For an interesting dining experience, head to the Evropa Restaurant, which is in a ship permanently docked in the Kronwerk Canal. The restaurant on the second floor has three different halls, two of which have excellent views of the Hermitage Museum.

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Be sure to visit the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the final resting place of the tsars, including the remains of Nicholas II and his family.

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For those who are fascinated by the tragic history of the Romanovs, be sure to visit Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was murdered. One tour of the rooms where his murder took place is given daily in the late afternoon, but you must arrange an English-speaking tour at least a week ahead of time.

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