Now that Russia has opened its doors more widely to the West, tourists can find a variety of ways to explore this vast country. And although the economic situation changes day by day and prices are rising, the price for a “backpacker’s bed” in St. Petersburg this summer has actually dropped.
St. Petersburg’s Western-style “Russian Youth Hostel” was opened in 1992 by Steven Caron, an American who, while studying at Oxford, England, traveled to Moscow and developed the idea with some Russian friends.
Finding a suitable building was a challenge. The group eventually obtained a five-story 18th-Century building that had been used by a trade school as a dormitory for visiting professors. After completely renovating it, they could accommodate up to 60 travelers in rooms with three, four or five beds.
This year they have opened up a fourth floor with dormitory beds; now 80 travelers can be housed. Because a second independent hostel has opened and created a little competition, the nightly rate has been dropped from $16 to $15 (breakfast included.)
The Russian Youth Hostel (RYH) is centrally located at 3rd Sovetskaya Ulitsa, 28 (also known as 3rd Rozhedstvenskaya Ulitsa, 28); from the U.S., telephone 011- 7-812-277-0569. It’s wise to make reservations several weeks before you go by contacting Russian Youth Hostels & Tourism, 409 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Building 106, Suite 390, Redondo Beach 90277; tel. (310) 379-4316, and fax (310) 379-8420. This office can also help with visa arrangements and booking the Trans-Siberian train (the fares for the 6 1/2-day journey are $275 for second class and $400 for first class.)
The average traveler at RYH is 22 to 30 years old. Most take a day train to St. Petersburg from Helsinki, Finland. Those who have Eurail passes will find them good as far as the Russian border; to complete the journey will cost an additional $40.
If you travel via Finland you can make a reservation for RYH at Eurohostel, Linnankatu 9, SF-00160 Helsinki; tel. 011-358-0- 66-44-52. If you wait until you are in Europe to get your Russian visa, Finland is the best place to do so. Keep in mind the faster you need it, the more it will cost.
Many backpackers also arrive in St. Petersburg from Tallinn, Estonia, via night train for about $20. Reservations for RYH can be made at Estonian YHA Liivalaia 2, EE0001, Tallinn; tel. 011-3-72- 2-44-1096. If you don’t already have a Russian visa, ask their advice. The lineups at the Russian embassies in Baltic countries can be incredibly long and special arrangements sometimes need to be made by visitors from Western countries.
The RYH staff has found that the average backpacker stays in St. Petersburg for four or five days and then moves on to Moscow. This year the overnight second-class train fare for foreigners between St. Petersburg and Moscow has jumped from $10 to $30. First-class fares are now $50.
Western-style budget accommodations are available in Moscow for $12 per night in four-bedded rooms at the Moscow International Guest House, a 10-minute walk from the Prospect Mira metro station at Bolshaya Pereyaslavskaya Ulitsa 50, Floor 10, tel. 011-7- 095-971-4059, fax 011-7-095- 280-7686. This guest house has an English-speaking staff, a television lounge, kitchen and laundry facilities. Reservations can be made through RYH.
The most current guidebook available, and the one most highly recommended by the RYH staff, is “Russia Through the Back Door” by Ian Watson. A new, expanded 126-page edition will be available Wednesday. The information for this edition was researched early this year. It includes information on the Baltic countries and travel on the Trans-Siberian trains.
Copies are available for $5.95 from Europe Through the Back Door, Box C-2009, 109 Fourth St. North, Edmonds, Wash. 98020; tel. (206) 771-8303.