Airlift: We flew Finnair via Helskinki. While St. Petersburg has wide, European-style boulevards, many of its side streets are narrow (the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). This means traffic is a constant issue, so allow extra time when driving.
Passports and visas: U.S. clients need a passport visa to access Russia; check with the Russian Embassy well in advance.
Grand Hotel Europe (www.grandhoteleurope.com), is one of the city's best and close to everything. Names to know include General Manager Thomas Noll ([email protected]). His personal assistant is Natalia Ermashova ([email protected]). The concierge is Irina Tsvetkova ([email protected]); Guest Relations Manager Natalya Sergeeva ([email protected]) can arrange an airport transfer in one of the hotel's 10 new BMW limos.
Hotel Astoria (www.roccofortehotels.com) is on St. Isaac's Square and close to the Hermitage Museum. The general manager is Michael Walsh ([email protected]), but Reservations Supervisor Anastasia Koresheva ([email protected]) can give you the low-down on requesting special accommodations.
Alexander House (www.a-house.ru) is a tiny hotel that will appeal to guests who want to follow in Dostoevsky's footsteps. The hotel provides room service. Its management vows that it can provide a private guide who speaks several languages, even in high season. Contact Alexander Zhukov ([email protected]).
While several cruise ships now dock in St. Petersburg regularly, a unique opportunity is available this summer aboard the residential cruise ship, The World (www.aboardtheworld.com), which visits from August 28 to September 1. Contact Rusti McFarland, national sales director, ([email protected]).
Private Guides: Dmitry Ruchkin ([email protected]), with the Russian Union of Travel Industry (www.rata.spb.ru) is an accomplished guide and translator who can paint a vivid picture of the new luxury hotels and cruise port coming on line.
IsramWorld (www.isramworld.com) provides several options for travelers to St. Petersburg. The most popular is -a three-night package, which includes a choice of hotels with breakfast and private-car-and-driver transfers. A three-hour city tour with private car and driver is included as well; optional tours that visit the Hermitage and the Peter and Paul Fortress and other St. Petersburg attractions are available. Packages are commissionable at 10 to 12 percent. IsramWorld also offers a six-night "Russian Trio" motorcoach tour that visits St. Petersburg, Novgorod and Moscow, which is commissionable at 13-17 percent. Travel agents can call Laura DiCarlo at IsramWorld directly at (800-223-7460, ext. 3) for any questions regarding Russia and Eastern Europe. Other tour operators offering St. Petersburg itineraries include Abercrombie & Kent, Intrav, Trafalgar, Travcoa and Central Holidays.
Booking Tips: Book St. Petersburg well in advance for mid-May through mid-July, when the city celebrates "White Nights" (when twilight lasts all night).
Dining and Shopping: Gwen Sigelmier of Exeter International (www.exeterinternational.com ) notes that dining in St. Petersburg has gone through a revolution since the days of communism.
"One can dine on continental and Russian cuisine in the height of opu-lence at Palkin (47 Nevsky Prospect; 7-812-315-37-62), or enjoy superb sushi and Uzbek cuisine in a hip atmosphere at Ginza (16 Aptekarsky Ave.; 7-812- 324-41-76). Some of our favorites feature the simple country cuisine of Russia and her former republics, from casual Armenian cuisine at Erevan (51 Fontanka Embankment; 7-812-703-38-20) to delicious traditional recipes from Georgia at Karavan (Vozhnesensky Prospect 46; 7-812-310-56-78)."
Sigelmier says that "shopping has evolved in Russia, and most guests are surprised at the excellent luxury goods available." "Russia produces some of the finest handmade objets d'art in the world today. The top lacquer boxes are found at Le Petit Opera located in the Grand Hotel Europe (Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7).
"Excellent jewelry and home décor items in Russian amber are found in the amber shop of Catherine Palace (7, Sadovaya St., Tzarskoje Selo Russia). One of our favorite stops is the Sol Art Gallery (www.solartgallery.com; Solyanoy Pereulok 13), which is connected to the Stieglitz School of Applied and Decorative Arts and features art from the students of the academy," she says. —RT