Welcome dear readers to the first trip report of Russia in a nutshell!
This time we will take you on a trip to the stars of the north: St. Petersburg and Helsinki.
The booking for this trip was rather straight forward.
To get to St. Petersburg from Moscow, there are several variants.
You can take a train there, either the fast Sapsan train which does the journey in 3h50 or 4h00 with only 3 stops en route or the night trains, which are much slower at around 7-8 hours. But if you book early also the Sapsan is affordable with Economy class fares starting at 999 RUR one way.
Another option is to catch a flight, which only takes between 60 and 90 minutes.
There are flights by Aeroflot from Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow to Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg, then flights by Rossiya Airlines and UT Air from Vnukovo to Pulkovo and several airlines from Domodedovo to Pulkovo, for example S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines and only 2x a week Alrosa.
We this time opted to take the airplane from Vnukovo airport.
Vnukovo airport is not so crowded these days, also has a lot to do with the bankrupt of Transaero airlines.
To get to the airport we took a taxi, which is affordable and fast in the early hours of the morning. During the day when MKAD is blocked, often it is more recommended to take the Aeroexpress train, as this one only needs 30mins from the centre to the airport.
For the first 2 nights we selected the Radisson Sonya Hotel in St. Petersburg, which we used before and which is a rather pleasant and nice hotel on Litvieny Pr. only a 15mins walk from Nevsky Pr.
After that we booked the Allegro train to Helsinki, a joint venture between Russian Railways RZD and Finnish VR. The train only needs a bit more than 3 hours between St. Petersburg and Helsinki and operates 4 times a day,.
More on the train later.
In Helsinki we booked the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel for our one night stay using an attractive points and cash rate by Club Carlson.
To get back to St. Petersburg, we used again the Allegro train.
For our last night in St. Petersburg we booked the Radisson Royal Hotel on Nevsky Pr., although this was a rather disappointing experience. But also on this more a bit later.
When they day arrived and the alarm clock rang at OMG-o’clock our prebooked taxi was already waiting and we made the journey to the airport in a bit over 30mins which is only possible at night when the roads are relatively empty.
The fare was 900 RUR. As a tip, when you go to the airport there should be fixed rates, not more than 1000 RUR from/to the centre of Moscow to any of the three big airport Domodedovo, Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo.
The airport was still deserted, but not so long and the check in opened and we quickly got our boarding passes.
Security control was fast and we were in the domestic departure area of Vnukovo.
Boarding was also soon announced and we stepped on board, where I saw a familiar cabin.
The airplane, operated by Orenair, or by now the new Rossiya airlines was an ex Hapag-Lloyd / Tuifly aircraft from Germany, and most likely I flew it before on one of the many Mallorca shuttles
The flight wasnt fully booked and load factor was only about 70%.
Flight time was announced to be 1h15 and we quickly pushed back and made our way into the early morning sky.
Service onboard was quick and this morning there was water and chai/coffee on offer, as well as a small pastry, which tasted well and was fresh.
Quickly after decent was already announced and after the promised 1h15 we landed in Pulkovo, where I was positively surprised by the new airport terminal, as it is a nice facility.
Our luggage was already waiting for us on the belt when we arrived there and we went outside.
To get into the city, there are basically 3 options: Taxi, the for Russia typical Mashrutkas, a mini bus, who does a dedicated route and departs when it is a full, and the normal bus.
We took the bus which cost 30 RUR per person.
The Mashrutka costs 40 RUR on this route, so only slightly more expensive, but mostly also faster.
The bus and also Mashrutka drops you off at Moskovska Metro Station, from where you can reach basically every place in the centre by metro in about 15-20mins.
The fares for a single journey are 35 RUR per person.
We got quickly to our hotel and checked in. Thanks to my Club Carlson Gold status, we got upgraded to a Business Class room.
The room was fairly nice and we headed out into the city.
For first timers in St. Petersburg, there is a lot to see.
As we have been here before we didnt visit the typical sights, but if you want to know more about the sights, do not hesitate to contact us via the contact form.
This time we visited the Museum of the Appartment of Pushkin.
It is a very nice and interesting museum, where you will learn a lot about the life of the famous poetist Pushkin. Tours are offered in Russian language, but audio guides are also available in all other common languages like English, French, German.
In the evening we visited a show in the comedy theatre about Broadway hits and the quality of the musical – like show was very high and the theatre is very recommendable, if you like such things.
To eat we had sushi the first day in the chain restaurant Eurasia, which is not recommened in my opinion, as all their restaurants are rather dirty and the sushi rolls very small and with very little fish. It is better to spend a bit more and get some decent ones.
The second day we went to the Fabergée Museum, where they have the second biggest collection of the present eggs to the Zhar Family ( The biggest one is in Moscow in the Kremlin ).
This museum is very interesting, but during the day only tours are allowed and every tour only has place for 15 people, it is better to go there early in the morning to buy your ticket for your desired time during the day, or simply reserve online before your visit.
To eat we went to the Trattoria Limononcello on this day, a small italian restaurant, which we visited before and food there is always very nice and plentyful.
Also the restaurant is very clean and very nicely decorated.
The next morning, it was time to go to Helsinki. The Allegro train departs the Finlandsky Voksal in St. Petersburg and as it is only some 1-2km away from our hotel, we elected to walk in dawn, cause the weather was very nice.
Note that at the station, there is a special entrance for the Allegro train, where your luggage will be checked and you will be checked in into the train.
On the train, it is very comfortable that the customs checks will be done enroute, so there is no stop at the border required. Between St. Petersburg and the russian border city of Vyborg, the russian immigration officers check the passports and then between the finnish city of Vanikala and Helsinki the finnish officers do their duty.
All were very friendly and efficiant.
Currency exchange is also available on board, as well as restaurant wagon, but as the wagon is operated by the finnish VR, high prices need to be expected.
Anyway soon we arrived at the main station in Helsinki, where you can simply step off the train like any other domestic passenger. Our hotel was very close to the main station, so we walked there.
Arriving there, we were happy that our room was ready, but upon entering we found a completely dirty room with hair on the bad and a lot of dust everywhere.
After letting the customer relations manager know, we got a nicer and also clean room.
Further on the first agent did not recognize the gold status and in general was rather rude. I filed a complaint with Club Carlson, so interesting what they will answer, because a hotel in this category should not offer dirty rooms to customers. If it is a small room, completely fine, but please keep it clean.
Business Class rooms are allowed to use the Plaza lounge in the Radisson Blu Plaza Helsinki and we made use of that in the evening, where there is a nice dinner spread and also beer and wine available, as well as waiter service.
In Helsinki we went for a walk in the centre, first to the lutheran cathedral and after to the harbour, where we decided to take a ferry to Suomenlinnen, an island about 2 km off the shores and which is connected by a ferry every hour.
As the weather there was very poor to be honest, we only took a walk around and then went back to mainland, but i can imagine, that in summer , it is very pleasant there as the nature is beautiful and the air very fresh.
After coming back we did some shopping on Alexanterinkatu, where also the first Stockmann department store is located and they have everything from groceries to clothes.
Even if life in Finland is rather expensive, the prices in Stockmann are on par with prices in most other european capitals.
In the evening, we selected to dine in Vapiano, an italian restaurant with, in my opinion a nice concept. You must note thought, that prices are about 50% higher than in other middle european countries, but quality is very constant and food always tasty.
The highlight of the Radisson Blu Plaza though is the breakfast: It was one of the best hotel breakfasts I had in any hotel.
The spread was plentyful and the quality of the items very high.
They also had a cooking station for wafles and eggs and we elected to try the,for Finland typical, Reindeer in form of a Reindeer omlet. It was very tasty, but I’m not sure if I would order it again,as the reindeer has a very dominant heavy taste.
After we went to the Ateneum museum to check out finnish art.
The museum is a middle sized one and with 15EUR has rather steep entry fees, but it was worth seeing. Of course only if you are interested in art.
Next was a stop at the famous Fazer Café. Coffee and pastries are very tasty there and the atmosphere is also nice, but be prepared to pay around 5 EUR for a cup of coffee.
In the evening we checked out of the hotel ( thanks to the friendly manager we were granted a 18h00 late check out ) and walked back the 5mins to the train station, where after a bit of waiting we could board our Allegro train back to St. Petersburg.
About 15mins on the way, the train suddenly stopped and a technical issue was announced. As they were unable to fix it, our train went very slow to the finnish city of Lahti, where we arrived with a delay of about one hour. But only 5mins after the replacement unit from Helsinki arrived and we could change the train.
After we were offered free coffee and pastries and the train driver tried to make up some of the delay, and in the end we arrived with only 45mins in St. Petersburg.
As the metro was already closed when we arrived in St. Petersburg, RZD organized a bus shuttle to the most frequented metro stations.
In total the technical issue was handled very well.
From the train station we used Yandex taxi to get to our hotel.
With only 150 RUR, the fare was very cheap and affordable.
Radisson Royal was my opinion not worth the money.
The rooms were old and although clean, tears and scratches everywhere and staff in general interacted with a very arrogant attitude.
As an example, we asked for a 30 to 60min late check out, and I checked before if the hotel was free, and there was a lot of capacity, it was simply met by a no. After asking them, if they know that it is complimentary for Gold Members on available basis, they said they dont do it. stop. So i will certainly not use this hotel again and in the future for stays in St. Petersburg most likely choose the Radisson Sonya, where staff is very nice and always helpful.
The next day we simply took a walk and had lunch at Limoncello again, where we had a very tasty pizza.
To get back to the airport we used the metro and the bus again and quickly arrived there.
The flight back on Rossiya airlines, this time one of their own aircraft, a A319, was comfortable again and again a pastry and drink was served.
After a bit more than one hour we landed in Vnukovo, from where we took the taxi back home. This time it took more than 90mins. As MKAD was completely blocked we used some other ways, and only thanks to the bus lane, which taxis are allowed to use, we could move.
The new Rossiya Airline is a nice way to fly to St. Petersburg!
For hotels in St. Petersburg I would recommend you the Radisson Sonya, because it is situated in a nice area not far from Nevsky Prospekt and service is very good.
In Helsinki the Radisson Plaza is the way to go! Stunning property in the middle of the centre only a stone throw away from all the main sights.