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Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel.com is pleased to have as our guest Yelena Yermakova representative of SPBGUIDETOUR.COM. Good day Yelena and thank you for participating in our interview.

Norm:

Please tell our readers what exactly is SPBGUIDEDTOUR.COM?

Yelena:

We are not a tour operator but rather a union of freelance English-speaking guides who provide guided tours of St.Petersburg and its surroundings. As we are well-experienced, we also have wide connections with larger travel companies for whom we act as agents.

All of us are certified as guides with a great deal of experience. What we do is arrange home-stay accommodations in St.Petersburg, transportation for excursions and high quality excursions. We also can provide Tourist visa support for Russia for the period of time you vacation here.

As agents, we are able to recommend travelers to some reliable travel firms that are located in St.Petersburg and we also provide travel services throughout Russia, including Moscow, European part of Russia, Siberia, Tran-Siberian railroad, and many other places in Russia. These firms will make custom-made itineraries for you or your group.

Norm:

As you are knowledgeable about St. Petersburg Russia, please tell us where it is located and something about its climate and topography?

Yelena:

A quotation from a city tour: "St.Petersburg is the northernmost city in the world whose population is over one million. (5 million in fact). It is located on the same latitude as Alaska and Kamchatka peninsulas."

Due to its nearness to the North Pole, we have a period known here as White Nights when the sun does not go far below the line of the horizon. There is an evening glow all through the night that is so bright that one can read a book near the window of one's room.

White Nights last about 2 months. It is a very poetic period, when many people, including tourists, spend the night walking on the streets near the Neva River and its open drawbridges. (This is compensated by long and dark nights in winter, alas&)

As for the climate: If I am not mistaken, it is a British saying: "We do not have climate, we have only weather." Same here. St.Petersburg stands on the Baltic Sea shore or rather on the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic. It is a maritime city with a maritime climate, which means that the weather can change several times during the day and is unpredictable. In general, summers usually are not too hot and winters are not too cold, but you never know what to expect.

Topography: In figures: water occupies 10% of the city area. Besides the shores of the Gulf, there are over 60 rivers and over 200 bridges spanning them. The numerous bridges in the city- center were built in the 19th century, when people appreciated beauty along with technical qualities. As a result, these old bridges are beautifully designed and decorated-something worth seeing. In fact, they often compare St.Petersburg with Venice.

Norm:

Please briefly describe for our readers some of the unique venues and destinations in St. Petersburg and which ones would you choose as being the most romantic?

Yelena:

Strangely enough, many tourists traveling to St.Petersburg from abroad don't expect to see so many great historical places, as well as buildings of artistic interest, and they are fascinated with their beauty. They have heard about Moscow, however, they don't know very much about this great city. After their visit here, most of them admit that St.Petersburg ranks among the most beautiful cities in the world.

In my opinion, two places are must see venues when visiting St.Petersburg:

***Hermitage Museum (one of the 5 biggest art museums in the world)

and

***Peterhoff (Petrodovrets), which was the summer residence of Russian Tsars. In Peterhoff there is a big rich royal palace, however the park nearby eclipses everything. You can watch the 150 fountains during the day, each in itself is a unique work of art. What enhances the beauty of the park is the nearness to the Gulf of Finland.

Norm:

Can you tell our readers something about the accommodations and dining establishments one can expect in St. Petersburg?

Yelena:

As for hotels, they range from one star to five stars. In summer, when there is big flow of tourists, it is often difficult to book a hotel, even if far in advance. It is preferable to book a hotel through a travel firm, as they have good connections and agreements with hotels.

Quite often hotels seem to be overpriced, but this cannot be helped. The demand for accommodation is very high in summer and hotels no doubt take advantage of the circumstances.

In winter prices can be 30-50% lower. Homestay accommodation would be a good choice and easier to book in summer. It can be EURO 20 per person, including breakfast. At homestay tourists are given a separate room in their hosts' apartment and share the facilities with their hosts, usually a family of 1-2 persons.

Homestay usually accommodates 1-3 persons, not more. If you are a small group of friends or a family, 4 to 6 persons, a quality apartment in the city center would be a good choice. The entire apartment can cost around EURO 200/night, which is not so much, considering that you are many. Apartments usually do not provide breakfast, but they are big, very nice, and have all the facilities.

All kinds of dining establishments are available, from vintage restaurants to bistro or whatever else exists. I myself like some of our bistros, where they serve good quality, inexpensive meals, and you can have a full dinner for around EURO 5- 7.

Norm:

I also understand that you arrange tours to Novgorod, Pskov, and Vyborg. Where are these cities located and why would you recommend travel to these cities?

Yelena:

As well as St.Petersburg, the cities in question are located in the North-West of Russia, and their short distance allows you to visit them and return to St.Petersburg within one day.

***Pskov and Novgorod are very different from St.Petersburg, as they are very old Russian cities dating back from early Mediaeval times.

Much of authentic Russian architecture and history has survived until now in these cities. Both of them can be compared with the Golden Ring cities near Moscow, but they have their peculiarities of North-Western Russia. They are especially interesting to any student of art, culture, and history. They retain the real atmosphere of old Russia.

***Vyborg, however, is very different from the other three cities. It was under Swedish rule for over 300 years, and it must be the most western-like city in Russia. It is more interesting to visit Vyborg during the traditional knights' tournament, which takes places every summer, and sometimes more than once. History festivals are becoming more and more popular in Russia.

Norm:

Where is Lake Ladoga and tell our readers something about the sail boat trips you organize?

Yelena:

Well, here we act as agents for the company, which organizes the sailboat trips. We like sailing ourselves and have some connections with sailing clubs.

***Lake Ladoga: The lake (some 100 km from St.Petersburg) is as huge as a sea, and like any sea, it can be rough and stormy.

The sailboats are not big enough to risk sailing in the open lake, as a result sail trips are confined to the scurries of the lake and short sallies into the open.

It is all quite safe. When the lake is rough there is quiet water in a bay. I remember a stormy night, which we spent on a small island. One side of the island overlooked the lake. There the wind was hailing, the trees were bending, and the waves beat against the rocks. (Quite an impression). The other side overlooked a bay. There was a full quiet in the air and still water in the bay!

The contrast itself impressed us a lot. Stormy weather does not last long on Lake Ladoga. The bays of Lake Ladoga are very picturesque with rocks that are sometimes very rough and bare, topped with forests. We visit many uninhibited islands and lovers of nature will enjoy the adventure.

For foreign tourists the best option is the 4 day/3 night long sailing. Such trips begin on Thursday morning and end on Friday evening. If you are individual travelers, you will join a group. Price is very moderate- EURO 150 for one person, all-inclusive.

By the way, the sailing company offers a number of other boat trips, including rafting down the Vuoksa River, which trip lasts about a week. Just ask us for more information.

Norm:

How safe is it to travel around St. Petersburg?

Yelena:

It is quite safe in terms of bodily harm. I do not remember any acts of terrorism in St.Petersburg. Crime here is mostly connected with money matters and tourists pick pocketing is the most dangerous. These individuals are artists and psychologists. Just looking at you they can detect that you are a tourist and are foreigners-thus more helpless.

The biggest concentration of pick pockets is in the most touristy places or metro stations in the center. They are very rarely found in other places.

The best way to guarantee against pickpocket is to keep your money hidden on your body, where a hand cannot easily and momentarily reach or at the bottom of a big bag, like a rucksack. The rules of safe behavior are the same as for any other location. Just do not stare around and do not ask for problems yourself.

Norm:

When is the best time to visit St. Petersburg?

Yelena:

Summer is most popular, particularly because of White Nights, which is quite understandable. But in my opinion, early September is the best. By that time, the high season is over and there are very few tourists. Museum rooms are almost empty (crowds in summer), but nature looks even better than in summer. Trees begin changing color, and parks (like in Peterhof or Pushkin) acquire a special beauty of autumn.

Norm:

How easy is it to travel to St. Petersburg from North America and Europe?

Yelena:

Formalities might be the main difficulty. A tourist needs a tourist visa for Russia. To be able to apply for it, you will have to have the so-called visa support from a Russian travel company, confirming your bookings in Russia (hotels, transport).

We can arrange this for EURO 30/person or free in some cases. It is advisable to book all the services in advance, as during high season you will come across difficulty booking accommodation or train tickets. It can turn out that all suitable hotels are booked and all suitable tickets sold out. Traveling stand- by is a problem in summer.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered? Yelena

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to tell your readers more about St.Petersburg. I only want to add a few words about the process of booking services through us.

If it is just excursions in Russian North-West, we are the right persons to provide you guided tours here. Just send us a message.

If you are looking for more extensive services not only in the North-West of Russia, but anywhere in the country - we can offer you tentative itineraries for your consideration from the leading travel companies of St.Petersburg. Here we act as their agents.

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