At the start of the year, I spent two weeks in Russia, it took a bit of planning, but overall it was definitely worth it!
Starting off, I had to make some sort of plan, but I find if you become too rigid, it can interfere with your holiday, becoming a bit of a chore. The Idea was to fly into St Petersburg, spend 4 nights there, go down to Veliky Novgorod for 3 nights, then spend 4 nights in Moscow, and finally back up to St Peterburg.
Once I had an initial plan, the next step was booking flights, and getting the “de rigueur” visa sorted. I decided at this stage, to get a visa through one of those agencies, I knew that they would charge more that if I cut out the middle man, but it meant a bit more flexibility and less hassle, and as far as getting the visa processed, they were first class, if anyone out there ever needs to use them, http://visaworld.ie/ come highly recommended.
I then got the flights sorted out, getting a connecting flight in Amsterdam, same thing the way back. I started to learn a bit of Russian, well, tried to, it was a struggle, as I have a bit of a stutter, and it takes a while to get your head around a different alphabet, and sometimes forgetting that some letters look the same, but sound different. I did eventually learn a few phrases, and a few words that would come in handy
It was interesting trying to learn it, as the teacher in class (she was from Siberia), gave me a few tips for going over there, and one of the other people in the class gave me a map of St Petersburg, and more advice for travelling there which came in very handy.
Because it was going to be Janurary, I had to get my thermals sorted too. I also had to sort out travelling between the major places, and got my tickets booked, even though one of them went to waste. The website http://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en/main-pass/public/en/ was invaluable, especially as it allowed you to plan things out a lot easier.
As the trip neared, although I was looking forward to it, there was slight trepidation, but its better to be more cautious, than be gung ho and bale into somewhere, without putting any thought into where you are going.
The flights went without a hitch, got into St Petersburg, and although I felt a bit nervous, when going thorugh border control, or whatever equivalent of it was, strangely, it felt a whole lot more stragithforward that going to the USA.
All it amounted to was handing over the passport (which had the visa stuck on one of the pages inside of it), some person, sitting in a booth looked at you, then gave you a migration card (really its just one quarter of an A4 page), and voila, you are in Russia!(note – just make sure you get registered when you land in at your first place of stay, can be a bit of hassle if you dont, will talk about it later)
After that, I went to book a taxi, and thought this would be a good opportunity to use whatever Russian I learnt, but as I got to the front of the queue, I chickened out, as the counter girl seemed in a bit of a pissy mood, and no one in front of me had spoken any Russian.
I got the taxi booked, the taxi drivers English was even more non existent than my broken Russian, he took me to where I was staying which was no mean feat, as Nevsky Prospect was chock a block, with people out buying stuff in the new years markets and the like. I got settled into the hostel, it seemed a bit rough and ready, and got an early night.