How I traveled visa-free to St.Petersburg

Remember those gorgeous snapshots I sent you from St.Petersburg? I promised to tell you about how Mr.A & I traveled visa-free to St.Petersburg. Here’s the whole story.

Since we hold Indian passports and Schengen visas, nearly all our travels in recent years have been in and around Europe to countries that acknowledge the Schengen. (Do you want to check out all the lovely places we have been?!) We’d need a visa to visit Russia but that’s a pity considering how close it is – a flight from Stockholm to St.Petersburg is a mere 1 hour and 20 minutes! So we’d always fantasise about going there someday when we had more time to fix all the paperwork.

But one fine day Mr.A came across some new info – a cruise liner called St Peter Line that allows visitors into St.Petersburg without the hassle of applying for a visa, upon a ship named ‘Princess Anastasia’. It follows a fixed weekly itinerary docking at four ports around the Baltic Sea, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn and St.Petersburg. Of these, all but Russia accepts a Schengen visa, which we both hold on account of living and working in Stockholm for the past few years. We had visited Helsinki during an excruciatingly cold December a few years ago, and in spite of the weather, had managed to see most of the places that interested us, so we weren’t too keen on Helsinki again. Last year I was in Tallinn for the first time but for Mr.A it was the third, so we ruled that out, too. But then, St.Petersburg was a whole new proposition and we were both instantly saying, as we almost always do, ‘Let’s go!’.

 

In case you decide to take this route, here are some practical suggestions that might help with your planning:

  • The cruise liner’s website provides you most of the information you need including visa free rules, day by day itinerary, etc.
  • You don’t have to stick to the whole journey but can opt for any leg of the journey. Since our goal was St.Petersburg, we decided to fly to between Stockholm & Helsinki, and cruise between Helsinki & St.Petersburg.
  • Need I state the obvious? Remember to carry your passport and any other resident permits that you hold.
  • The cruise itself is on the average side but there are enough options to eat & drink & pass the time. The evening dance performance we watched was quite a good show. Taking bigger & better cabins on the higher decks might considerably improve your experience but the ones on the lower deck are obviously cheaper. Your pick!
  • Since you stay overnight in the city, you can either book a hotel in the city or choose to return to the cruise for the night. We chose the latter  option. Not only was it terribly cheap to add the  extra night, it also eliminated the hassle of carrying our stuff back & forth and the time constraints of checking in & out of a hotel.
  • Before boarding, you check-in at the terminal and they provide you with the boarding cards that couple as room keys as well as three other cards required for the visa procedures. The personnel explain all of this pretty clearly, bottom line being, carry them with you at all times & hand them over when asked to.
  • When you get to St.Petersburg expect some rather longish queues (assuming the cruise was packed) at the terminal because this is where the border control happens and you get your passport stamped, yayie!
  • Mini-buses transfer you free of charge between the terminal and a couple of drop off points the city – the one outside of St.Isaac’s cathedral brings you to the heart of the city. Bus schedules are provided when you board or you can simply ask for one at the reception on the ship. These seat 20 eager passengers at a time and ply every 15 mins, so it might be a bit of challenge to get on the first one that comes by – people don’t really follow the queues here, not even the Europeans, everybody is impatient to get their trip kicked off. Taking a taxi into town would be a quicker way out. Might be a good idea to check with the reception about the most suitable time to leave or return to the ship.
  • Once in the city, we were off on our own. I’ll tell you the highlights of our trip in another post soon. Promise!
  • Return to the ship in good time on the day of departure, since there might be a bit of queuing then as well, though I noticed it was way less than on the day we arrived. Watching the ship sail away from the docks with a refreshing drink in hand is very relaxing & enjoyable. Especially while leaving St.Petersburg, you get to watch the ship graze by inches below a bridge. They do this every week, but it’s nearly impossible to hold back a whoop & a cheer for the captain 🙂

 

Is St.Petersburg on your travel wishlist too? Then I hope you find this post helpful. I’ll be more than happy to share my two cent’s worth on this journey, in case you have any questions, fire away!

 

Objects in the mirror…

Every road trip that Mr.A and I brings so many transient moments like this one captured in the side view mirror of our car, when we feel we own the road, the landscape, the world! And they make me wish if only I could hit a pause button and hold on to this feeling a little longer. But as they say, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, so are those memories held closer in our minds than we know, and they come back to us at inadvertent occasions to surprise us and bring a smile on our lips…

In response to the weekly prompt “Transient” on The Daily Post.

There’s more of the weekly photo challenges on Sunny District, hope you enjoy them, too!

Weekly Photo Challenge : Order

Mr.A & I are not big collectors of souvenirs, except for that one customary fridge magnet that marks every country that we have visited. However, there was one memento that I always wanted to buy whenever I got to Russia – the Matryoshka or Babushka, aka Russian nesting dolls. You see, travelling though eastern Europe, you’ll find these everywhere, but that’s not their true origin, is it? What’s the fun in buying a tiny Eiffel-Tower-keychain anywhere else than Paris, right? So I told myself I would get a set of dolls when I actually made it to the right place. And so I finally got mine in St.Petersburg. For all I know, it is highly possible that the wood, paint & craftsmen were not Russian at all! Nonetheless, I felt quite happy for having found an ‘authentic’ piece. Yes, sometimes I’m silly like that. Never mind me, look at these cute dolls arranged in the order of their heights. Of course, there was lots to choose from but I stuck to the classic style. But it was fun to observe that apart from ladies with fancier dresses, they even had some very creative version featuring cats, dogs, Harry Potter, Trump & Putin!

Sunny District has so many more entries to the Weekly Photo Challenge, I hope you like what you find!

Things I love, Salzburg

During the long Easter weekend this year, Mr.A and I took off to Austria’s most popular destinations, Vienna & Salzburg. Remember I told you about those innumerable Easter eggs in Vienna? It was on the same trip, that we also dropped by Salzburg. I instantly fell in love with this city, spending our time walking around its diminutive Old Town, relaxed and care-free. Some things of course, stood out a little more than others…

# Love locks across the Salzach

Among the very first things one notices as they cross the river Salzach into the Old Town, is the Makartsteg bridge, almost every inch of which is covered in love locks. Perhaps it was intentional, but somehow the majority of the locks turned out to be red, giving it an utterly synchronous look. It’s impossible not to click a hundred pics, it’s so damn cute!

# Street signs on Getreidegasse

It’s hard to miss the ornate guild signs that announce the stores along Getreidegasse, the main street in the Old Town. Everything is available here, from food to fashion to trinkets to souvenirs, each shop bearing proof of its trade in the form of wrought iron signs. The beginning of this tradition was in the middle ages, but today even the McDonalds outlets and Zara boutiques on this street have their own medieval emblems. Incidentally, this street also boasts of Mozart’s childhood home where the artist first revealed his prodigy. How fascinating!

# Mozart’s church a.k.a. Salzburg Cathedral

Going by the number of spires and domes, one can easily guess that the city, especially the Old Town has an abundance of churches. I was obviously impressed by them, but I was particularly taken by the Salzburg Cathedral which is intricately painted ceiling in earthy tones against a white backdrop. Here Mozart played at Sunday service for two years. There are four strategically placed organs that transform the church into a concert hall. Sunday service is open to everyone to enjoy some brilliant music. From the outside, too, the cathedral is quite imposing and beautiful. The main facade opens into the spacious Cathedral Square, the centrepiece of which is a serene statue of Virgin Mary. Though damaged by a bomb during WWII, the reconstruction stands grander than ever.

# St. Peter’s cemetery

St. Peter’s cemetery and monastery opens up to visitors through a modest passageway, but as soon as I entered, it felt as though I were in a Secret Garden world. The cemetery is a cluster of tombs surrounded by pretty flower patches. It is overlooked by the cliffs of the Mönchsberg upon which looms the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Burial space in Austria is rented out, not sold, hence several headstones have ended up on the walls when the rented ceased to be paid.  A walk around this serene resting place for bygone souls can be a moving experience.

# Views from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

A short funicular ride up the Mönchsberg will bring you to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The ticket includes the funicular ride and entry to a couple of museums housed within the fortress and allows you to walk around the fortress at your own pace. The best part for me though, were the wide views offered at the top of the watch tower. We could enjoy a 360 degree look at the rolling landscape around us. It was a rainy day, every green thing appeared extra lush and vibrant! A couple of other vantage points along the fortress wall also dole out grand sights far & wide, over the spires and rooftops through the city, all the way across the river and as far as the mountains in the distance. So, so very beautiful…

Have you been to Salzburg? What did you love best?