I rode from Lappeenranta to St.Petersburg in Russia, 30 minutes to the border, Finland Immigration stamped my passport and checked my Bike documents and I was through in 5 minutes.
Rode another 5 km to get to Russian immigration, queue of about 15 cars, warm and sunny weather, you just have to wait until someone tells you what to do, it is organised but very bureaucratic and slow. First I had to park my bike and queue up at the immigration window, took ages because of all the stamps in my passport, the girl did not speak English and kept ringing someone, you have to show them your passport, bike registration document and the Invitation to Russia and fill in an Arrival and Departure form, they keep the Arrival and you keep the Departure which you hand in when you leave the country. Next stop Vehicle Importation counter, only a couple of people ahead of me, the guy here knew exactly what he was doing and showed me how to fill in the form, two copies (one for them, one for me) using an example form in English which he gave me. Next customs, he just looked at my copies of the forms and waved me through, did not ask me to open anything, next short ride to a barrier where they looked at my passport and finally on the road again.
No one asked me about Insurance for the bike and there was no where to buy any. After arriving in St.Petersburg I asked reception at the hotel about Insurance and they showed me an Insurance company around the corner who insured my bike for RUB 1,705 about 24 Euro for 3 months as a temporary resident of St.Petersburg. You have to show them the Registration form the hotel gives you, this was cheaper than one month as a foreign resident.
The first few kilometers it said Border Zone 60 kph speed limit but cars were wizzing past me so I joined them, the limit increased to 90 kph, again no one was taking any notice, I just followed the slowest of them doing 110 kph hahaha. Then roadworks, they are extending the freeway from St.Petersburg. I was trying to avoid the freeway because I did not have any rubles for the toll but my GPS lost the plot with all the confusion and I ended up on the freeway, first toll booth I offered the girl Euro and she gaped at me and called her boss, he came over and there was some discussion until the woman in the car behind me called them over and paid my toll which was RUB 50, less than 1 euro, I waved thank you and down the road to the next toll booth hahaha, this time the woman asked me if I had a credit card, we tried that and it worked, again RUB 50, easy. I soon learnt that you can use your card to pay for anything in St.Petersburg.
Off the freeway and crawled through the city to the other side where my hotel is located. I don’t think the traffic lights are synchronised because I kept getting stuck at a red light at every intersection and people park anywhere reducing 2 lanes to one. Traffic is not as well behaved as it could be but they do stop for pedestrians and red lights.
The first thing the hotel does is take your passport and register you as a temporary resident of St.Petersburg, this is compulsory and they give you a form to carry with you at all times in your passport along with your Departure form.
Next I went looking for an ATM to withdraw some cash and after walking for a couple of hours and trying out a few ATM’s all of which had a limit of RUB 5000 about 70 euro, I gave up and made two withdrawals of 5000 each. Next stop a phone shop to get a SIM card for my phone, the one they recommended has 4G unlimited data across the whole of Russia for 30 days and cost RUB 500, http://www.ekomobile.ru. You have to show your passport and temporary residence form for a local address, it took about 2 hours to start working after turning the phone off and on.
Day 2 – proceed to the Metro and buy a Metro card from the ticket machine for RUB 60 and recharge it with 10 rides for RUB 330, all paid for with a credit card (unlike Berlin where my card was not accepted and I had to pay cash) and the machine spoke English, easy, a single ride costs RUB 35. The subways are deep underground and the escalators go a long way down.
The Church of Our Savior of the Spilled Blood is closed on Wednesdays so I took some photos of the outside and visited the Russian Museum next door. RUB 450 entry, it has mainly paintings by Russian artists on display, well done.
After lunch it started to drizzle and continued that way the whole day. Next stop the Hermitage Palace / Museum. This place is huge and crowded, a bit like the Louvre in Paris, with a long queue in front waiting for tickets. You can buy a ticket online but its double the normal price. I discovered a quicker way to get in by reading a review online from another visitor. Facing the main building walk to the right and follow the signs that say Internet Ticket Entrance, just before you get to the Entrance there are 2 ticket vending machines, buy your ticket at them RUB 600, they speak English, walk another 10 meters to the side entrance and your in :-), don’t forget to pick up a map at the counter inside
The place is full of paintings and other forms of art and the palace itself is something to see. I had no idea where I was most of the time (like the Louvre) just wandered round for about 3 hrs until I found an Exit and out into the drizzle, you could probably spend the whole day here.