St. Petersburg, Russia
This was an incredible experience! Forget all the worries about Russia not being friendly to Americans! I had the pleasure of meeting a variety of friendly people many who spoke English. From Uber drivers, to my AirBnB host, to the Professors at EUSP, to just everyday people at restaurants, shops, and museums – all were polite.
The only negative I can mildly complain about is upon arrival at the Polkovo airport in St. Petersburg. Our luggage didn’t make it with us. So we had to stand in line at a desk with heavily made-up young women who never smiled. We were required to fill out paper forms in quadruplicate! If one little mistake was found you had to redo the whole piece of paper again. For example, no blue ink pens, just black. You had to completely itemize, from memory no less, the contents of your suitcase and attach a value to each item. After about 1 ½ hours of going through this tedious bureaucratic process we were allowed to leave the customs area. We were given a print out with vague instructions to call a number in the lost luggage department.
Our taxi driver was waiting for us the whole time outside customs as I was able to text our AirBnB host what was going on. (Our AirBnB host had arranged the taxi transfer) We met up with our taxi driver Sergei next to the Starbucks in the Polkovo airport. He spoke very little English but when he smiled his gold teeth showed he was eager to help us out. Sergei’s driving was a bit like Mr. Toad’s wild ride at Disneyland. I don’t know if that’s because he had to wait so long for us to leave customs and he had another job to go to, or this was just how driving is in St. Petersburg. It took me the 2 weeks to realize the latter. Our Uber drivers took risks I wouldn’t, but then, I had to consider the layout of the city being from the 17th century. It was never designed to hold millions of vehicles, just horse carriages. So the modern-day result was that Russian drivers became very savvy about congested one-way streets and speed was essential to navigate. In other words, buckle up and hold on!
We made it to our apartment on Nevsky Prospekt. I rented it through AirBnB and found it accommodated our needs very nicely. The location was fantastic on the Nevsky Prospekt which is the main boulevard through St. Petersburg. It leads to all the tourist places in an easy walk, bus ride, or Uber ride. Never took us more than 20 minutes to get around town and see the sights.