ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The ruble’s weak. The warnings about a complicated visa process were wrong, at least with a travel agency’s help. And current geopolitical tensions make this a good time to temper headlines about Russia with everyday people and places.
Consider the prices, at least outside the summer tourist rush: A round-trip air ticket between New York and the lovely St. Petersburg this fall was less than $600, and winter prices are looking about the same. Hostel beds start at around $6. A balcony ticket to the ballet at the famous Mariinsky Theatre is about $10. Tickets for most runs of the high-speed, four-hour train between St. Petersburg and Moscow are around $55.
You can get flights to Kaliningrad, a fragment of Russia tucked between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, for as low as $40 from Moscow. Do a bus tour for about $17 to the Curonian Spit, a fragile sand dune peninsula on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
If you’re a budget traveller, fall and winter are when you’ll find bargains. Of course that also means bundling up in gloves and down jacket. Hot drinks and ever-warming vodka help too.
It’s useful to download free apps like SpeakEasy Russian and iTranslate, add a Russian-language keyboard to your smartphone and even get a Russian SIM card to stay online and benefit from Google Translate. Most locals appreciate the effort.