I really, really wanted to like you. After all, I added you to my list of countries I wanted to go to this year. And while I can see how the gorgeous canals in St. Petersburg earned you the nickname as “the Venice of the north”, and I can even appreciate Peter the Great’s attempt to model the city after Europe, after a while, all the impressive ornateness of the city just couldn’t make up for the overwhelmingly unimpressive impression I was left with after just three days.
To be fair, I’ve been trying to nail down the one thing that left me with a bad aftertaste, but that’s the problem – there wasn’t just one thing. Here are the six that are top of mind:
1) Getting into the country is a pain in the you-know-what
You make visitors work to get an entry visa! First, we have to be “invited” into the country (somewhat of a joke since we can just pay for an invitation). Then, we fill out a lengthy visa application. There are even rules for how early we are allowed to apply for the visa (45 days before departure date). Finally, since you’ve decided to outsource your visa process, any errors on the visa require me to reapply (of course it’s not your fault if the visa dates don’t match my application– it makes complete sense that I pay the exorbitant fee and reapply!). I’d be lying if I said that having a visa valid for only three days when I asked for six didn’t cause heartache — nor any anxiety ensuring I could depart St. Petersburg before my visa expiration. I did my research and I didn’t want to endure the punishment awaiting me if my departing flight were moved out a day.
2) The people are cold to strangers
Even my Russian friends back me up on this! Being from California, I’m so used to flashing a friendly smile, but when I did that in Russia, I got stares back! I’m sure it’s just your culture (I’ve heard Russians really warm once they know you), but it sure didn’t make a visitor feel welcomed! Perhaps it was naive of me to expect otherwise — as my friend, F, stated, “What did you expect from a country whose major export is sorrow?” Ouch.
3) There’s so much red tape, you must have invented it
There is no such thing as customer service in Russia. Nada. Zilch. None. I couldn’t customize any food orders; if the order was wrong through no fault of my own, I had to just suck it up since it wouldn’t be remade. Your restaurant owners don’t even bat an eye before kicking out their patrons at closing time. There’s also no concept of efficiency when it comes to standing in lines, and there are lines everywhere! The train station, for instance, was filled with long lines at every one of your 30 ticket windows. I wouldn’t mind the long lines, but it was really frustrating to stand in one for 20 minutes, get to the front of the line, and then find out that the ticket agent was off on his scheduled break (some warning here would be nice).
4) The credit card process is morally questionable
Three different vendors charged me for the wrong amount. When I point this out, they said they couldn’t revise the charge! The first time this happened, I just forgave them for the error. The second time, I was annoyed. The third time, I began to suspect that your country was out to scam me! Thank goodness I left after that. Lesson learned: If I ever go back, I’m paying with rubles!
5) Everything is in cyrillic
There’s no English anywhere. Since I can’t read cyrillic, I had to pay expensive cab rides to get around. Or walk. I did a ton of walking. This was such a shame since the subways systems were extensive but pretty useless to a traveler who can’t read the signs.
6) It is expensive
I know I went in high season, but charging $200 for a 3 star hotel that would already be a stretch at even $100 a night just seems like a rip off. The 4-5 star hotels were going for $500+/night!
To be fair, all countries have some element of the above 6 things so the seasoned traveler in me really wanted to forgive you and like you anyway. The problem, however, is that I’ve never encountered all six in a three day visit! That’s a lot of let downs in three days! 🙁
So, while my overall experience left a lot to be desired, I’m trying to stay positive. After all, I don’t regret going. I wouldn’t have gotten decorating inspiration from here nor been mesmerized by the amount of fountains here. It was also a good opportunity for Kimmy and I to connect about everything girly! I just wouldn’t recommend you to the inexperienced traveler. It will take a brave and determined traveler to go through the hurdles to visit you and see beyond that harsh exterior – I just didn’t have the patience to deal with that in my short stay.
Here’s hoping you leave a better impression on your next visitor.