Pickpocketed in St. Petersburg!

Saint Petersburg Travel Blog

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I recently took advantage of the airfare wars to Russia; both United Airlines and American Airlines recently started service to Moscow; at one point the airfares were under $400 even from Austin.   The fares were the same to St. Petersburg as well.  I had been to Moscow before, but not St. Pete.  I decided to make a 10-day trip of it, also visiting Helsinki, Tallinn, Kaliningrad and then flying home from Minsk in Belarus.  I had to arrange my Russia and Belarus visas ahead of time.  I am dual citizen US/UK; for Russia I planned to use my US passport since getting a visa would be easier from home.  For Belarus it is possible to get a visa on arrival; it is $180 for US citizens but only $60 for UK passports, that was a no-brainer which passport to use.



Apr 30, 2009
Flight: Waco (ACT) to Dallas (DFW), American Airlines, economy
Flight: Dallas (DFW) to London (LHR), American Airlines, economy
My flight today departed from Waco airport, about 2 hrs north of Austin.  I have flown out of Killeen and San Antonio before, but this was the first time flying out of Waco.  I left about 3 hrs before the flight; driving up I35 past Round Rock and through Temple.  The Waco airport was actually some distance out of town.  I pulled into the free long term parking area.  The small terminal was just a short walk away.
  I arrived at the checkin desk to find out the flight to Dallas was delayed by 25 minutes.. my connection in Dallas had originally only been an hour or so.  

By the time we arrived 50 minutes late in the B-terminal in DFW I only had 35 minutes before my flight left to London!  I took off running down the concourse, then caught the Skytrain to arrive at the D-gates with the flight already boarding.   Unfortunately that left me all sweaty just before getting on Already the overhead space was limited and had to search back a few rows before I found room for my bag.  I had a cute seatmate and we started talking; turns out she was from Austin as well and was heading onto Amsterdam.  She had a long wait in London before her flight and so I offered to guest her into the British Airways lounge when we arrived.
  Some friends of hers were also on the flight.

May 1, 2009
Flight: London (LHR) to St. Petersburg (LED), British Airways, economy
Hotel: [url=http://www.hon.ru/en/st_petersburg_hotels/skyhotel/]SkyHotel[/url], 67$
We arrived into London nearly 40 minutes early but that time was lost as we had to wait for a gate.  Arriving at T3 in LHR it was a looooong walk down to flight connections, where we missed the bus to T5 by seconds.  The next bus arrived a few minutes later, then took the drive over to T5.  I hadn't been to the new terminal yet, which was very light, open and clean compared with the other terminals.
  Everything had gone quickly and smooth.. until we reached flight connections where there was a huge mob waiting to go through the security screening.  Apparently there are several lines but it was very chaotic.  

By the time I got through I had lost sight of Jen and decided to go straight to the gate, which ended up being right under the lounge.  I still had 20 minutes before the flight boarded so went back to the lounge and found her waiting there.  Luckily the lounge dragons still let us in, I realized that my Qantas Gold card had expired on April 30th!  The lounge looked very nice but I barely had time to grab a couple sandwiches and a drink and exchange emails before heading down to the gate to board the flight to St. Petersburg.  The A321 flight was just over 3hr; I was surprised when they served a full English breakfast onboard, even in economy!  Grilled Sausage, bacon, egg, tomato and mushroom with a fruit cup and yogurt.
  We arrived at Pulkovo airport on time at 4PM in gorgeous clear weather, I got out some money from the ATM here while waiting on my bags.  I had $300 US in my wallet, I took the time to put this in my moneybelt, which turned out to be a good thing.  Immigration was very quick, no problems with my visa.

Taxis from the airport into town want 35EUR or more to the city, but there is the option of public transportation into the city.  There is a bus that runs to the nearest metro station at Moskovskaya for 24R; from there you can catch the metro (20R) anywhere else in town.  I can read Cyrillic well enough to navigate the metro stations.  The hotel I booked was just a few blocks off Nevsky Prospekt and the metro.  The metro station was pretty deserted, very deep underground like the metro in Moscow.
  There isn't an open platform here, just a hallway with doors that open when the cars arrive.  As I stepped onto the car a short guy in front of me stopped and felt pushing from behind; I immediately knew I was being pickpocketed as the guy in front of me turned around and ran out the door just as it closed.  I turned around but there was another guy there behind me blocking the door and the car starts moving.  My wallet was gone, with my DL, credit cards, and the $150 in Rubles I had just gotten out from the ATM! Usually all this goes in my money belt but I was just on my way in from the airport after traveling for 24 hrs and hadn't gotten my system setup yet.  They were good though, I carry my wallet in my front pocket, my shirt was untucked and I'd had my big backpack on my back at the time.
  Now that I think of it the guy blocking the door was probably part of the team.  That left me with only the $300 US and about 30 Rubles in change in my pocket and just starting out on my 9-day trip.  Luckily all my hotels had been prepaid so I didnt have to worry about a place to stay.

I got off at the next station then got back on the next car heading back to Moskovskaya and went to the police.  They didn't speak English, but I had my dictionary, managed to explain my wallet was gone and they called someone who spoke English to get my statement.  The officers flipped though my passport wondering at all my stamps for Paraguay, East Timor, Azerbaijan, etc.  It was late Friday afternoon, the police station would be closed the next day and I was planning on leaving on Sunday.
. they finally told me to go to the end of the metro line where I could get a police report.  The officers let me back on the metro for free, then rode to the last stop.  I had to wait awhile for the officer to show up, meanwhile I started calling my credit card companies on my cell (at $5 minute!); I'd had 4 cards (2 ATM, 2 CCards) so it took quite awhile!  I was taken to a small dark room with a cell in it where the officer was waiting to take my report.  More calls back and forth with the English speaking person while the officer smoked the whole time.  Finally got the police report filed and headed back into town to the hotel, it was now about 7PM but still quite light out.

The Nevsky Sky Hotel turned out to be in a great location between the Winter Palace and the Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood; right in the center of town just a couple blocks off Nevsky Prospekt.
  The budget hotel is  located on the 6th floor of a building; one website had said the elevator was currently out due to repairs!  Luckily though they had already fixed it.  The reception was tiny, just a small desk.  The rooms are small as well, but very clean and quiet; hostel style two single beds w/ TV and shared bathroom.  Free wifi access and breakfast were also included in the rate.

There were still a few hrs of light left and jetlag hadn't yet set in; I still had energy so I set off walking around town.  I first headed to the Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood; a very elaborate church with colorful onion domes similar to St. Basils in Moscow.  The cathedral is on one of the many canals that criss-cross the city, giving it the title Venice of the North.
  I next headed down Nevsky Prospekt which was packed with people, shops and restaurants.  I noticed everyone here walks very fast!  I found a place to change some money so at least I could get something to eat.  I ended up walking all the way down to Moskovsky Vokzal!  From there I caught the metro to Finlandsky Vokzal to inquire about buying train tickets to Helsinki for Sunday.  They said to come back the next day, so then headed back to the hotel.  I had noticed an Uzbek restaurant down the street and decided to try that for dinner.  It was delicious!  I had some meat-filled dumplings and a tomato/eggplant dish but can't remember the name.  Also had a tiny shot of vodka of course!  By now it was nearly 11PM and only just getting dark.
  I went back to the hotel and watched TV awhile before passing out.. it had been an eventful day!  One of the shows looked very familiar and I realized it was a Russian copy of Married with Children.. the sets and characters were the same but with lookalike Russian actors.

May 2, 2009
Hotel: [url=http://www.hon.ru/en/st_petersburg_hotels/skyhotel/]SkyHotel[/url], 67$
Today the plan was to visit the Hermitage museum.  I had also been in contact with a local girl via the Hospitality Club who had offered to show me around town, I planned to meet up with her later in the afternoon.  One tip for the Hermitage museum; it's possible to buy tickets online ($18) and skip the long wait for tickets.
  I was in St. Pete for such a short period, that and it being a holiday weekend meant I wanted to waste as little time as possible.

I woke up very early, 7 AM or so and went across the street to the Nevsky Grand Hotel, which is where the breakfast buffet was located.  It was another great day, clear blue skies and crisp.  From there I walked the streets for several hours, passing via the Hermitage, St. Isaacs Cathedral, the Faberge store (still closed),  Mars Field and the Catherine the Great Statue (A LOT of walking).  I manage to always bring the wrong power adapter; the one I had brought didn't have long enough prongs/form factor for the Euro-style round plugs used here, after searching around was able to finally find an adapter.

From there I headed back to the hotel then over to the Hermitage.
Russia ruble
  The line by now was insanely long, but since I had already bought mine online I was able to walk straight up to the window and get my ticket!  The Hermitage (Winter Palace) is now a huge museum, containing some of the largest collections of art in the world.  Over 1000 rooms filled with priceless artifacts; the amazing thing is that is only about 5% of the actual collection.  Imagine Versailles meets the Louvre meets the Vatican, you get some idea.  Elaborately painted walls, mosaic tile floors, even a full scale reproduction of one of the rooms in the Vatican is here.  The walls are covered with paintings of the great masters of Russia and Europe.  You can spend hours or even days just wandering around the rooms.

After leaving the museum, headed back to the hotel where I called Sofia; we planned to meet at 5PM nearby.
Russia ruble
   Jetlag finally kicked in and I collapsed for a nap for a few hrs.  I then went to meet Sofia, who was quite cute.  The train booking office was nearby and she helped me book tickets for tomorrow's trip to Helsinki.  After there we grabbed coffee and some local meat-stuffed bread and then walked for several hours all over town, past the Cathedral of Savior on the Blood, the Summer Gardens, then back down Nevsky, talking about travel all the while.  She had been to several places, Tunisia and Turkey with her daughter.  We met her sister and sister's bf for dinner.  They offered to come pick me up later that night and show me the raising of the bridges at 1AM; St. Petersburg is built on several islands in the Neva river delta, connected by several drawbridges.
Russia visa
  These bridges open at night for several hours to let shipping through; since the metro stops running by that time you have to make sure you don't get stuck on the wrong side!

They dropped me off at the hotel where I slept again for a few hrs before they came back to pick me up.  When we arrived at the bridges I was surprised to see several thousand people already there waiting to see the bridges rise.. apparently this is a common tourist attraction!  It was bitterly cold though.  We drove across one of the bridges but were too late to see them actually raise.  We did end up getting stuck on the island and so went to a 24hr coffee place for awhile before the bridges opened again!

May 3, 2009
Train: St.
British Airways Y LHR-LED
Petersburg to Helsinki

Hotel: [url=http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hotel/helwe]Holiday Inn City West, Helsinki, Finland[/url], Points Stay
I still had the full day to spend in St. Petersburg, my train to Helsinki didn't leave until nearly 4PM.  I got a bit of a later start today; I had walked so much yesterday my legs were still sore.  I finished breakfast about 8:45 and headed to the metro.  I was heading to the Peter/Paul fortress this morning.  There is supposedly a metro stop nearby, but either it is closed or for whatever reason the metro didn't stop there, so ended up having to walk an extra mile or so from the next stop.  I hadn't been to this part of St.
Petersburg yet (Petrograd).  It was less grand than the central part of the city.  I reached the fortress after about a 15-minute walk.  Old bands seem to be popular to tour here, I had seen posters everywhere for tours by Foreigner, Alice Cooper, etc.

When we were driving around last night we had passed by the fortress and I noticed alot of old Russian military hardware along the road.  I walked down to where I remembered seeing it and it was all part of the military hardware museum.  They had APCs, missle transports, tanks, howitzers, etc.  Pretty cool stuff.  The fortress itself was built by Peter the Great to defend against the Swedes, but never put to use for that purpose.  Inside the fortress is the huge cathedral where most of the former czars are buried.
  The grounds open early for people to walk around but the buildings don't open until 10 AM.  I wandered around the grounds for awhile, then outside the thick stone walls which face the Hermitage across the Neva.   This is a popular spot for sunbathers, and there was already a large group of people gathered, all ages, all sizes, all stripped down to their skivvies and standing up against the wall absorbing the sun, this despite it being 45 degrees!  This is where in the winter they chop holes in the ice and go for a swim.

I started walking back to the center of town.. just before crossing the bridge back over to the Mars Field; I noticed an Uzbek-style mosque nearby and went to check it out.  Lots of very elaborate blue/turquoise tilework  on the dome and alcoves.
Savior on the Blood cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia
  My next stop was the Russian museum which Sofia had recommended yesterday.  If you have a student ID you can get some great discounts at museums here.  I  had lost my student ID when I was pickpocketed so unfortunately had to pay the full rate (350R).  The museum here wasn't as elaborate as the Hermitage but still had some great paintings.  I didn't spend too much time here though.

It was already nearly 1PM and my train was leaving at 4.. I just decided to head over now to the Finlandsky train station and wait for a few hrs.  The station had a waiting room and a cafe where I bought a couple of empanada-like pastries for lunch and sat down to wait.  Soon time to board the Sibelius train to Finland.  There are two trains a day from St.
Petersburg to Helsinki; the Russian train runs in the morning and the Finland one runs in the afternoon.  I had paid 2800R at the office yesterday for 2nd class seating.  The train was nice and clean, 2x2 seating in blue cloth seats.  My seat was backward facing the whole trip; not that I noticed... jetlag and exhaustion had set in by now and I slept almost all the 6hr trip, only waking up for border formalities.  These are done on the train as the officials come up the aisles and collect/stamp passports.  I exited/entered Finland on my US passport and did get a stamp here.

Arrived in  Helsinki at 10PM, it was only just now getting dark.  I had booked two nights at the Holiday Inn City West on a Point Break award stay, only 5000pts per night.
Savior on the Blood cathedral, St.Petersburg,Russia
  The hotel was located a short walk from  the metro two stops from the train station.  I luckily had just enough Euro to buy a one-way metro ticket to the hotel.  I had a friend in Helsinki I had met on the North Korea tour a few years previously.  I was originally supposed to meet her at the train station but hadn't been able to get in touch with her.  I headed to the hotel.. starving as I hadn't eaten in almost 7 hrs.  Helsinki seems to close down after 10PM though, the hotel is located in a business area and there weren't any restaurants around.  I checked into the hotel and received an upgrade to the Executive floor!  But even the hotel restaurant was now closed and they had stopped room service.  I had to settle for eating the free chocolates/cookies they had put out with the coffee & teabags and raiding a can of Pringles from the minibar.

cotton_foam says:
Thank you, Jordan for the quick reply! Yes, I found three different websites to purchase tickets even in advance.
Posted on: Feb 03, 2016
hauteboy says:
There's a new fast train now, takes ~4hrs. Looks like you can book it online.

http://www.seat61.com/helsinki-to-st-petersburg-by-train.htm
Posted on: Feb 03, 2016
cotton_foam says:
"train" not "trail" :) sorry...
Posted on: Feb 03, 2016
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British Airways Y LHR-LED
British Airways Y LHR-LED
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Savior on the Blood cathedral, St…
Savior on the Blood cathedral, St.…
Savior on the Blood cathedral, St…
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