Within our semester abroad in Finland we took the chance to travel to St. Petersburg in Russia! Traveling by boat to Russia, EU citizens are allowed to stay in Russia for 72 hours without the need to apply and pay for a visa. Therefore it was the perfect opportunity to go there from Finland. We booked a 3 day trip with the organisation „OpenYourRussia“, which we can highly recommend.
We booked the trip approximately one month prior to our journey. We simply sent an enquiry through Facebook and filled out the necessary documents (passport number etc.). Furthermore we could choose with whom to share the room in the hostel. That’s it! We had to pay for the trip in cash (EUR), when we arrived in St. Petersburg.
The whole trip, starting from Seinäjoki, took five days in total, whereof two nights have been spent on the overnight ferry. In St. Petersburg we had three entire days. The price for the tour was only 235 Euro per person.
Info: OpenYourRussia offers another trip, which costs 195 Euro per person and includes a day in Tallinn, Estland and two instead of three days in St. Petersburg.
On the 6th of May 2016 we started our trip early in the morning. With four friends from France, who studied with us in Finland, we took the train from Seinäjoki to Helsinki. The ferry departed at 7 pm and we had to kill some time in Helsinki.
On the ferry, we shared a four bed cabin with other students, who booked their trip with OpenYourRussia. Unfortunately we could not choose with whom to share a cabin. Luckily a girl had no problem to swatch her cabin with Flo, so that we could stay in the same cabin. The ferry itself was pretty big. There were eight or nine decks with restaurants, bars, a swimming pool, duty free shops, a casino…
Our cabin was unfortunately on the second deck and we could hear and feel the engine noise. Moreover, Flo’s bed was crooked, so that he would fell out of it. He decided to sleep on the tiny floor of the cabin, where there was just enough space to put his mattress.
We arrived in St. Petersburg at 9 am the next morning. It took ages to get through the passport control. After the passport control we met our guide Polina, who was approximately in our age. We were 10 people in our group, which was a perfect group size.
Info: The organisation „OpenYourRussia“ has been founded by students and as far as we know, all the guides are students as well.
We then took a shuttle bus to get to our hostel. The hostel was unfortunately not what we expected. OpenYourRussia has its own hostel, which looked really nice on the internet! But unfortunately this one was overbooked for the weekend. So we had to stay in another hostel, which was quite dirty and the 8 bed dorm was really small. We were all disappointed. At least we got 5 Euro back, which was actually a joke, but we did not want to ruin our trip because of this.
After we arrived in the hostel, we just put our stuff in the room, had a quick shower and were ready to go. The first stop was a typical Russian restaurant. Everybody was starving and the food seemed to be cheap and good, but unfortunately not for vegans. We therefore had to go to a nearby supermarket to buy lunch. The supermarket was extremely small and we could not read any ingredient on the packages. We ended up with Oreos for lunch, because we knew they were vegan.
The first sight was St. Isaac’s Cathedral. However we did not go into the cathedral, but on top. The 360 degree view of St. Petersburg was awesome! It cost only two Euro and was totally worth it.
Info: In May 2016, when we were in St. Petersburg, we were extremely lucky with the exchange rate. Therefore everything was really cheap for us. Whereas a 30 cm sandwich from Subway costs around 10 Euro in Germany, we only paid 7,50 Euro for two sandwiches in St. Petersburg.
Afterwards, we went to the Kazan Cathedral, where were able to see an orthodox service. Women have to cover their hair in orthodox churches and no one sits during a service. It was a really good experience.
In the evening, we did a boat trip through St. Petersburg for around 60 minutes. For only four Euro we can definitely recommend it! After that we were all starving and went to a fancy sushi restaurant. For around 12 Euro each we ate 35 pieces of vegan Sushi. It was so delicious and extremely cheap.
The next morning we had breakfast in the hostel. It was quite simple (cornflakes, milk and cookies), but Polina bought soy milk for us, what we appreciated a lot. We continued our sightseeing tour and went to a really old metro station. We have never seen such a beautiful metro station. Besides the ornaments on the walls, there even were chandeliers. We then took the metro to another station. This one was newer and probably the deepest station we have ever been to. Another special thing about the metro stations in St. Petersburg is that there are no bins at all. They say „No trash bin, no trash“ and it seemed to work well.
Polina showed us the Palace Square and Alexander Column. It is a huge square with a high column, showing the Emperor Alexander I. It was build after Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Next to the Palace Square is the famous Eremitage, one of the biggest and most significant museums of the world! The building itself is already worth seeing with a lot of golden details. From the inside it looks really pompous and we were more fascinated by the rooms itself than by the paintings. The museum is so big that if you only spend one minute in front of every artwork, you will need eight years to see everything! We shortened it to one hours
Afterwards we visited the Peter and Paul Fortress. There was a statue of Peter I, which brings you luck, if you touch it or lay a coin around him. The man, who was collecting all of the coins, obviously misunderstood the whole matter about the mojo.
The last stop of the day was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
The church looks amazing and is one of the most beautiful churches we have ever seen. From the inside, it is completely made out of mosaic (7,500 square meters!).
The church owes its name to Emperor Alexander II, who has been murdered right where the church has been built afterwards. When you visit the church, you can see a shrine on the exact place, where Alexander spilled his blood.
For dinner we just went to PizzaHut to eat a nice (vegan) pizza. Later in the evening the whole group rented a limousine to drive through the city. For only 15 Euro per person we could enjoy a nice ride. It was so much fun, especially because some Russians did a street racing with smoky and squealing tires.
The last day started with the same breakfast. After packing our bags, we took a bus to go to the Peterhof Palace. The palace is located outside of the city centre and it took us 30-40 minutes to go there. It is a huge palace in front of the Baltic Sea. The entrance fee was around 5 Euro. The palace and its garden is just wonderful. You can easily spend the whole day there without getting bored. The weather was perfect as well and we enjoyed the warming sun after a cold Finnish winter (and got sunburned…).
Bye bye St. Petersburg
When we returned to the hostel in the afternoon, Polina gave us some Russian sweets (she bought dates for us instead, as the typical Russian sweets were not vegan). We took the shuttle bus to the ferry and waved goodbye to Polina. We arrived in Helsinki the next morning and were really exhausted from our 3-day sightseeing trip to St. Petersburg.
We totally fell in love with St. Petersburg. We definitely want to go there again and cannot recommend it enough.
We were also really satisfied with OpenYourRussia. For the amount of money we paid, we spend unforgettable three days in one of the most beautiful cities, we have ever been to.
Info: You do not have to be in Finland to travel with OpenYourRussia, but you can also start from Stockholm or Talinn!