Written by Danner on 21 Jan, 2002
Travelling on the coach to St Petersburg made me feel as though I was travelling on a refugee bus, too many people, 7 or 8 year olds sleeping on their parents' laps and in the aisle, babies crying, bad smells most likely from the babies.…Read More
Travelling on the coach to St Petersburg made me feel as though I was travelling on a refugee bus, too many people, 7 or 8 year olds sleeping on their parents' laps and in the aisle, babies crying, bad smells most likely from the babies. I fell in and out of sleep and spent most of the journey with the child next to me's legs on my lap which I didn't mind because I put them there and it made it easier for the mother. It seemed as though the night never arrived as it was fairly light all the way through. After 3 or 4 hours travel we reached the border, where it was perfectly clear that you were going into another country.
As we walked along the Nevsky Prospect, the city’s central ‘vein’, the city was beginning to wake up and the cultural differences were beginning to show themselves. One contrasting scene that made for 'artistic' photography, was down a side street. There was this pale blue and white, clean church set right in the middle of these disused and rundown housing blocks with piles of debris and rubbish outside. It was either a visual metaphor for the church being an oasis in the desert of poverty, or a visual metaphor of how wealthy the church and how far removed from the people in poverty it has become.
Just off the prospect is 'The Church of The Bleeding Saviour', one of the places I wanted to see. Now to clarify, this church is not like a 'normal' church, this one is similar to the Kremlin. The church looks like an ice cream decorated with hundreds and thousands. It has gold plated,(signifying that it is Russian Orthodox) swirly domes at the top of its towers, this was enough to invoke awe, but a closer look at the exterior walls and you'll see that it's made up of square mosaics, like someone's vinyl collection with each cover being a story from the bible, there were at least 250 of these, placed next to the gold drapes and outlines it was a truly beautiful sight. The church was built upon the site where the Tsar Alexander II 'the liberator' was assassinated in 1881, which makes it all the more amazing given that it is only 120 years old. The interior makes this unbelievable as the entire inside is covered with different mosaics of different saints, disciples, and of course, Jesus. In the centre of the church there is a memorial to Alexander, I stood quietly, looked at his face and thought a little bit about the history.
Across the River Neva is the Peter And Paul Fortress. The main attraction of the fotress is the cathedral, whose spire shines with gold across to the main centre but it is only covered on one side, the side facing the city, to show the Tsar's people the wealth they had. Inside the cathedral the Tsars and their families eternally rest, gathered together in family groups. It was amazing at first to think the bones are inside the marble cases and so I went off to look for the 'famous' tsars only to find that the writing is, of course, in Russian so I didn't know who was who, so I just took pictures of them all. Peter The Great was obvious by the bust on the top of the coffin. Nicholas II, the last Tsars was there, he arrived in 1998 after the discovery of the bones outside of St. Petersburg at the place of execution, but I also think there was some politics associated with his transportation.
Walking back towards the centre we went via St Isaak’s Cathedral which has an amazing view at the top, well worth a look. We headed towards the Winter Palace and Palace Square. I was more interested in the Square and disappeared to take pictures of the place where the Marxist ideals were first applied in practice. I was definitely not bowing to any pressure to keep moving. I was going to stand and think about what happened in 1917. The Bolsheviks entered through the archway and gathered outside the Palace, which was home to the provisional government after the February Revolution in which the Tsar's dynasty had ended. The battleship 'Aurora' fired an empty shell over the palace which both scared the government and signalled the Bolsheviks to storm the palace. I could almost hear the shouting and the organised chaos of that day in October 1917. The square was also where Catherine II (the Great) was crowned Tsarina. The centre point is the Alexander Monument, a tall column created by De Monterrand again, to celebrate Russia's defeat of Napoleon in 1812. There is an angel carrying a cross at the top, it faces the palace and maybe if it had been facing the arch the Bolsheviks may not have succeeded, with it facing the palace it is symbolically supporting the actions of the revolution. However, I was slightly disappointed that the historical square was now home to beer tents and ice cream stalls but I suppose that is 'progress'. I had my 5 minutes of reflection time, whilst the others hurried to get inside the Winter Palace.
On the second day I set off by myself to investigate and explore the city by myself. I made for the Lenin Statue on the Fortress side of the River Neva. When I got there I sat underneath his outstretched arm and smoked a proletariat cigarette and then photographed it and paid my respect to the man with the right ideas which Stalin messed up.
While having a cigarette and a rest, I noticed that it's maybe not so much that there are a lot of immigrants in St. Petersburg, but rather that Russia is so big that it contains many different races of people, the Turkish Quarter may well have been the refugees from the Russian regions near to the Middle East. I reflected upon the past two days, I had seen just about everything, including a statue of the writer, Pushkin, who died in a dual with a French officer who was cracking onto his ballet dancer wife, Natalaya. One of my friends had commented on how I take a lot of photographs of statues but to me they're not just statues, they're living history and proof that these things happened and that these people were alive. Being here now, in this city is being in history. The history comes alive through the memorials, the buildings and the statues. The statues are the people who made history and changed the world, they're not just bronze or metal structures they're real, living history.
Its sad that for a city so steeped in wealth and history there are many forgotten people, gypsies, beggars, people with no legs and wheelchairs, and people with just no legs. It's so shocking and sad but maybe this is the history of these people and now they have progressed from the serfs and poverty to city dwellers and poverty. This was no more apparent than when we got on the bus that would take us back to the 'western world'. While my friends were sorting their bags out, a man on crutches was begging for money, pleading with us "please give me money, no one cares about me, no one looks after me." I wondered just how much truth was in that statement. The truth is that Russia has too many people and not enough money, I wonder how the country would have been had Stalin not messed with the ideas and plans of Lenin and Trotsky.
While my friends were filling in the customs form all I wanted to do was to say goodbye to the history, to this city, I think I'd become more attached to it because I knew its past and I'd spent more time amongst its baroque and neo-classical buildings, I'd soaked up the atmosphere and mingled with its people, I was an historian not a tourist.
Written by Amanda on 13 Sep, 2000
The Hermitage is incomparable. It is one of the best art museums in the world, and probably has the best building of any of the greats. It's set in the Tzar's winter quarters, known collectively as the Hermitage. It's made up of 5…Read More
The Hermitage is incomparable. It is one of the best art museums in the world, and probably has the best building of any of the greats. It's set in the Tzar's winter quarters, known collectively as the Hermitage. It's made up of 5 interlinked buildings - the main two are the Winter Palace and the Large Hermitage.
The building's wonderful collection was amassed in ways not possible in the West - the Communists just swiped everything they liked and stuck it here. A friend of my father's talked to us about the Hermitage, talking us through which paintings were his father's, his uncle's, and his cousins'!
There is such a lot to do here, that I can't possibly describe it all. I'll write about the two groups of rooms I liked most. Bear in mind that this museum has well over a thousand rooms, and more than a hundred staircases! You'll probably want to go several times, and plan your visits so you see the most without walking a marathon. There are good floor-plans and descriptions of the rooms available near the entrance, but supply is a bit intermittent, and sometimes only Russian ones are for sale. A good guidebook is therefore a very useful thing to have with you.
The first group of rooms I particularly enjoyed was in the Winter Palace, on the 3rd floor. Ther rooms between 314 and 331 are amazing, wonderful, and beautiful. I wander through there in a daze - I've been 3 times to this group and want to go again! You start with the impressionists, a couple of gorgeous Monets are among the collection. Then there is a small, narrow room of Rodin sculptures. I defy the hardest cynic in the world to look at the soft, flowing stone of the entwined couple, and not believe in love. It's impossible to believe that passion and emotion can dance around stone and brass in this way, until you've seen them. After the Rodin room are some great Gauguins from Tahiti, which provide a bold, vivid, colourful contrast, on your way through to the Van Gogh and Cezanne rooms.
The second group of paintings are also about love, but the religious and spiritual kind. The second floor of the Large Hermitage has a series of rooms, starting at 207, of medieval and early modern Italian art. The Fra Angelico is especially moving, particularly a wonderful Virgin and Child.Close
Written by marcopolo on 11 Oct, 2000
Although most travelers to Russia know they must have a visa, they might not know how to go about getting one. Today the procedure is quite simple and the best way is to call the most efficient visa service that I have relied upon…Read More
Although most travelers to Russia know they must have a visa, they might not know how to go about getting one. Today the procedure is quite simple and the best way is to call the most efficient visa service that I have relied upon in the past.The company is: Visa Services Inc.1519 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 300Washington DC 20036.The phone is 202-387-0300.The fax is 202-387-5650.The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.The owner, a charming man named Michel Allinquant, leaves no stones unturned in his quest to deliver visas on time. He can provide visa support which makes the visa possible in the first place, and he can handle any existing problems with an out-of-date passport by helping you receive a new American passport in a timely fashion.I am often confronted by Americans that resent having to pay the Russian government a fee for a visa. Please remember that it costs Russians an equally high amount to get an American visa to visit the United States. I look forward to the day when it will not be necessary to have a visa to visit Russia at all.Close
Written by barbara on 06 Jun, 2000
The weather in May can be quite warm,
but it was quite cold on several mornings,
too. Pack clothes that can suit 40-75
degree F weather. The second half of our
stay was mostly warm---shorts weather---
but I was still grateful to have a
windbreaker along.…Read More
The weather in May can be quite warm,
but it was quite cold on several mornings,
too. Pack clothes that can suit 40-75
degree F weather. The second half of our
stay was mostly warm---shorts weather---
but I was still grateful to have a
Saint Petersburg has
so many things to see that you will not
possibly be able to see them all on
one visit. A tour can help you hit the
most important things in the least amount
of time by taking away the hassle of your
worrying about the details.
A guide of some sort would be extremely
helpful if you don’t want to do a group
because there is a language barrier.
(The Tour Company that we went through
provides an individual guide service,
too, which we will use on our next trip
to that area of the world.)
Be advised that you will see some
beggars on the streets.
I was told it is fine to give Rubles to
the old people at the churches. The old
are not very well taken care of in Russia.
There are gypsies in the city, too,
however, and these are not to be given
to under any circumstances. They are
known to be pick-pockets and
professional beggars even though their
barefoot children will make your heart
I also found that I became extremely
interested in Russian history after our
tour. You might want to read a book on
Peter the Great or Catherine the Great
or Nicholas and Alexandria before
visiting St. Petersburg. All of these
rulers lived in or near this city at some
point in their reigns, and all of them
have fascinating stories behind their
And for Gosh Sakes!
Pack some of your own Toilet Paper!
Russians use what feels like cardboard
(at the beginning of your trip) or
sandpaper (nearing the end of your stay!).
You will miss this not-much-thought-of
Western comfort if you forget to pack
Written by sararevell on 24 Aug, 2007
The change in food as you travel west to east on the Trans-Siberian and Mongolian trains is noticeable. The further east you go, the better the food becomes. I have to admit that apart from borscht I’ve yet to experience a really good Russian meal.…Read More
The change in food as you travel west to east on the Trans-Siberian and Mongolian trains is noticeable. The further east you go, the better the food becomes. I have to admit that apart from borscht I’ve yet to experience a really good Russian meal. I know that plane and train food has a worldwide reputation for being bad, but on a couple of nights, the chef (if there was one) gave a whole new meaning to bad train food.The restaurant car attendant served us quietly, dressed in a short crimson skirt and a crimson pin-stripe waistcoat over a transparent black lace blouse. In contrast to the provodnitsas’ button up coats, she seemed to be the train’s ambassador for racy uniforms.Our meals on the Trans-Siberian were included in the price of our ticket, but for some strange reason we had little choice over what food we were served. Our first lunch started off with a fairly promising serving of fried fish and fried potatoes followed by tea, coffee and biscuits. It wasn’t bad as far as train food goes and had some hints of flavour. At dinner things took a dive as we were presented with a solitary chicken leg and some dry rice. The next day a pattern emerged as lunch was a fairly flavourful beef stroganoff but dinner was a completely rancid lukewarm frankfurter sausage with the same rice as the day before. The one after-dinner highlight was a plate of juicy orange segments. Fruit seemed to be a rarity on the trains in Russia so we were happy that we’d thought to bring some orange juice with us. And given the lack of seasoning we were also relieved that we’d decided to indulge and bring along some chocolate biscuits and creamy yogurts.On our final day on the Trans-Siberian, they decided to pull out all the stops and we were served a vast lunch of a hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise, roast chicken with mashed potatoes, a yogurt and a swiss-roll snack by the name of “Torpedo”!In addition to the dining car, a sweet young girl had the thankless task of pushing a food cart up and down the train a few times a day selling beer and snacks so when we fancied a drink later in the evenings we’d often buy a beer or two from her when she was on her rounds.Close
Written by erikm on 10 Feb, 2007
Jewish life in St. Petersburg is as old (or young) as the city itself. Many Jews came to the north with tsar Peter the Great, when he founded the city in 1703. The history is one of repression, relative freedom, and again repression. The synagogue…Read More
Jewish life in St. Petersburg is as old (or young) as the city itself. Many Jews came to the north with tsar Peter the Great, when he founded the city in 1703. The history is one of repression, relative freedom, and again repression. The synagogue though, one of the biggest in Europe, kept on working during the city's hardest days, those of the blockade during World War II. A big Jewish cemetery is located in the south of St. Petersburg, and the Russian Museum owns works of one of Russia’s most famous Jews, Marc Chagall.SynagogueThe Jewish Synagogue in St. Petersburg is one of the biggest in Europe and has just been beautifully restored. In 1869 the Russian authorities gave permission to build it, but only in 1893 the synagogue was ready for consecration. The exterior of the building is in Moorish style with a grand entrance flanked by minarets. The interior is more devoted to old Jewish traditions and was designed by the architect Bachman, the first Jewish graduate of the Russian Academy of Art. With a capacity of 2,000, it’s not even big enough for the more popular Jewish holidays when people sometimes have to stand outside. There is a red-brick Small Synagogue next to the big one, as well as a Yeshiva, where Torah and Hebrew lessons are given and where meals are provided for Jewish pensioners.Jewish Synagogue, Lermontovsky pr. 2, m. Sennaya pl.Jewish CemeteryOnly in 1802 did Jews receive a piece of land to bury their dead. But it was not a solely Jewish cemetery, because they had to buy strips of land from the Lutheran part of the Volkovskoye cemetery. On the 1st of December 1872 a separate place was given to the Jewish community more to the south of the city. At the entrance a synagogue is erected. To get there, take the metro to Obukhovo and walk north along the rail tracks for about 5 minutes.Close
Written by KDKerr on 09 Jun, 2005
On my trip to Finland and Russia, the tour director's objective was to fit as many sightseeing opportunities as possible into each day. On the morning of my third day outside of the US, I took a brief bus tour of Helsinki's major sites before…Read More
On my trip to Finland and Russia, the tour director's objective was to fit as many sightseeing opportunities as possible into each day. On the morning of my third day outside of the US, I took a brief bus tour of Helsinki's major sites before heading to the Finnish/Russian border. I was told that crossing into Russia can be an exercise in frustration. It can take as little as an hour, or it can last for half a day. Border patrol workers get paid next to nothing, so they get satisfaction providing tourists with a sample of their misery.
Fortunately, my experience with the border patrol could almost be described as pleasant. My entire tour group, nearly 40 people, made it through in a snappy hour and a half. After entering the country, a time-consuming bus ride into St. Petersburg remained. I'm 6 feet, 3 inches, so cramped seating on planes and buses always prevents any thought of a blissful rest. Needless to say, I was exhausted upon arrival to the hotel, and I was scheduled to take a 2-hour evening cruise along the Fontanka and Neva Rivers.
My group was set to depart the hotel for the boat at 8:30pm. At this point, I was having some serious second thoughts about the cruise because my physical and mental stamina was so thoroughly drained. I managed to conjure up some extra energy and felt peppy once aboard the boat. Inside, we were seated at small tables that included vodka, champagne, and caviar hors d'oeuvres while a small folklore group performed at the front of the vessel.
While sailing along the Fontanka River, we noticed a teenage boy running alongside our tour. As the cruise went on, the boy stayed comfortably in stride with our watercraft. He would occasionally run ahead so that he could stop and wave. For the entire 2 hours, he accompanied us on foot as we enjoyed St. Petersburg's sights from the water.
We had many theories about his reason for following along. The most popular one being that he was a "special" child attracted to boats in the same way that a dog chases cars that pass it by. The cruise finally concluded, and the boy sat down at the pier and waited for everyone to disembark. Almost everyone in the group gave him some kind of donation. He probably collected somewhere between $50 to $75.
I've lived in NYC for 9 years, and I've seen plenty of unique street performances. However, this kid's schtick was pure genius in its simplicity, and best of all, it was paid healthy living. Two days later, during the afternoon, my nephew and I were walking along the Fontanka on our way to pay homage to Chizik Pyzhik. We noticed another cruise making its return to the pier, and sure enough, here came St. Petersburg's Forrest Gump doing his thing. This kid must be one of the most athletic and profitable entrepreneurs in the city, especially if he does this routine multiple times each day. If you find yourself on a cruise in St. Petersburg, be on the lookout for this kid and try not to yell out, "Run, Forrest, Run!"
Please note that if you are confined to a wheelchair, it is nearly impossible to board the enclosed boats. You cross a very narrow wooden plank that is much thinner than the width of a wheelchair's tires. Additionally, there are three small boards crossing the top of the plank that must be overcome. For disabled tourists, I would suggest finding an alternative tour. My mother, who has MS, can still walk short distances, and it was even difficult for her to get onboard.
Written by LetsGoThere on 18 Aug, 2005
Spending a half a day at the summer palace at Peterhoff is a great way to kick of your trip. Getting there without a guide will be difficult; it’s about an hour out of town. Our visitrussia.com guide was excellent at getting us…Read More
Spending a half a day at the summer palace at Peterhoff is a great way to kick of your trip. Getting there without a guide will be difficult; it’s about an hour out of town. Our visitrussia.com guide was excellent at getting us where we needed to be. The gardens are spectacular. With over 150 fountains and hundreds of gold-leaf statues, looking up at the place from the gardens is a spectacular experience. The palace itself is as good a knock-off of Versailles that you will ever see. Apparently, Peter the Great spent a little vacation time in Italy and France and fell in love with the place. His favorite architect, Rastrelli, was a master of baroque, and ornate wood carvings painted in gold abound in every room. I won’t ramble on; take a look at some of my pictures and you can decide for yourself.
The drive from the city is fascinating. Once you leave the beauty of downtown, you find yourself passing ghosts of the former Soviet Union. There are hundreds of huge apartment buildings crammed with thousands of living units. People still live in them today, but now they have pay rent. I got a few ominous shivers when I passed a statue of Lenin and saw an old rusted out hammer and sickle on a huge factory. All kind of statues memorialize the millions of Russians that died during the 900-day Nazi siege of the city during WWII. Roumia still speaks proudly of the "heroic struggle of the soldiers and citizens of St Petersburg during the siege."
Written by Piscean Amber on 27 Feb, 2005
Our city tour guide, Lenna, teaches English at the university, but she said that she would be living at the poverty level on her university salary. She supplements her salary by teaching private English language classes and working for the hotel as a tour guide.…Read More
Our city tour guide, Lenna, teaches English at the university, but she said that she would be living at the poverty level on her university salary. She supplements her salary by teaching private English language classes and working for the hotel as a tour guide. She said that every year she hopes it will be better, but every year it gets worse. People say that under the old regime, they had money, but there was nothing to buy. Now everything is available, but there is no money. I’m worried what will happen after Yeltsin. The man in charge of the president’s security is former KGB.
Oh, yes. Here’s a Lenna story. On our city tour, the car stopped in front of a rather ugly greenish building with an antenna farm and various satellite dishes on the roof. Lenna said, "People say that this is the tallest building in St. Petersburg. Do you believe it?" I looked at the building and shrugged, "I’ve seen taller ones in St. Petersburg." Then Lenna got a mischievous glint in her eye and said, "But people say that from this building, even from the ground floor, you can see Siberia!" She explained that it was formerly the KGB headquarters but now housed the state police security force, but she pointed out that it was the same thing under a different name. Then she showed us two statues of sphinxes along the Neva River. We couldn’t stop because of the traffic, but she said that the other side of the sphinx shows a skeleton. One faces a prison across the river, the other faces KGB headquarters. They are monuments dedicated to dissidents and were created by a former Russian (now an American) sculptor.
These are people of incredible courage. Even when they were starving to death the Nazis couldn’t defeat them. Lenna showed us the Astoria Hotel, where Hitler planned to hold his reception after conquering the city. The invitations were already printed and were found with Third Reich documents. Through it all, they still managed to keep their wit and humor.
Momma and I fell in love with St. Petersburg. Even though the city’s infrastructure is collapsing right and left, she has a grace and dignity that peeling paint and potholes in the road can’t diminish. She is like a lady of noble birth who has slide into poverty. You still see the fine breeding and the elegance in spite of tattered edges. I love cities with big rivers and beautiful bridges. The turn-of-the-century wrought iron is something special on the bridges and balconies of superb craftsmanship. My favorite word in Russian is most, which means bridge. There are the canals with all the gorgeous bridges. A sight not to be missed is the Lion's Bridge. It has winged golden lions at each end. It is too small to drive on and is just for pedestrians, but it is lovely.
Lenna said that in June, the sun sets at 3am, so what we saw was just the tail end of the White Nights. While we were there, the sun set around 10:30pm, and it was still light at 11pm. Momma and I were walking in Mikhajlovskij Park and couldn’t find the way out. I asked a family group if anyone spoke English. A woman immediately came forward and we started talking. We ended up exchanging addresses, and I just received my first letter from her. Her name is Natalia (Natasha), and she teaches English to 7- to 10-year-old children. She loves American films and literature. She reads Huckleberry Finn to her kids in translation and also likes Hemingway. She asked me if we were afraid to visit St. Petersburg. I asked what she meant. "Our crime is very bad," she said. "Oh, is that all? I’m from Los Angeles. Anything you’ve got, we can match!" I said. But you see, we had no problems at all, not even with the infamous gypsy children, who can pick you clean in moments. The only people we met were friendly, open, helpful, and anxious to speak English with us. I was told by an American woman who speaks fluent Russian that they are nicer to foreigners than they are to each other! She gets better treatment when speaking English. I suppose it is because we are still a novelty. It was illegal to talk to Americans only a few years ago.
Lenna took us inside St. Nicholas Cathedral, where we burned candles for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and travelers. There were a few times when I was starting to wonder if this really worked because I always seemed to have a guardian angel sitting on my shoulder. We saw some exquisite icons with filigree silver covers. We even saw a wedding procession. It was quite dark and smoky inside the Russian cathedrals – very mystical and moody.
Okay, here it comes. I didn’t like the Hermitage Museum! It is not "user friendly" unless you happen to speak Russian. It is extremely crowded, with huge tour groups shoving past you. Even though I had purchased an advance ticket through the concierge, I still had to stand in a long line to buy a photo permit for 15,000 rubles. There is a lot of pushing and shoving – but these were the foreign tourists!
I did, however, get to see the 74 Impressionist paintings of "Hidden Treasures Revealed." Not all of them were first rate, but there were a few gems. There was a Renoir still-life of a vase of roses that delighted me. It looked three-dimensional. You don’t normally associate Renoir with floral still-life paintings.
Lenna told me that if you spend just 1 minute looking at each item in the Hermitage for 24 hours a day, it will take you about 5 years to see it all. All the signs on the displays are in Russian only. It is just too damn big, too overwhelming. It is set inside the famous Winter Palace, which also is too damn big! Some of the inner rooms are rather dark and dreary. Some of the floors are very un-palace-like oak plank (must have been the servants’ areas).
But still, looking out the windows of the adjacent Neva River and the beautiful Palace Square, we do get a rather grand sense of history. The gunboat Aurora still sits in the river. In 1917, it had its guns trained on the Winter Palace and fired a blank shot from its front gun as a signal to storm the Winter Palace.
Written by Kossack on 18 Sep, 2005
I've been to St Petersburg six or seven times in the last 15 years, but the crime problem has really gotten a bit worse lately. And I would not have been aware of how to protect myself, or even what to look for if I'd…Read More
I've been to St Petersburg six or seven times in the last 15 years, but the crime problem has really gotten a bit worse lately. And I would not have been aware of how to protect myself, or even what to look for if I'd only relied on the local St Pete press or local tourist mags or brochures.
Thankfully, as I flew into Moscow earlier in the month, the (English language) Moscow Times had an article on the increasing number of (foreign) tourist crime victims and how they were being victimized--in St Petersburg!
This may also go on in other European subways, but I'd never seen it in Russia until this year. The article described how tourists would get surrounded by a group of four to eight thugs and how they'd go through his/her pockets/bags very quickly, then scatter off the train, before the doors closed and even before the person realized they'd been robbed.
Being a Russian speaker of Russian parentage and walking with local Russian friends, I thought I might blend into the crowd. Not likely, as apparently even the way we foreigners walk/carry ourselves (and our shoes) are giveaways that show we're not local and likely have a foreign passport or camera or cash or something else they might want. As we walked underground between Metro stations, they spotted me as an "easy mark" and prepared to strike.
As my friend, his wife, and I waited for the train, there were only three other people waiting with us. BUT as the train pulled in, the doors opened, and the disembarking folks started out, we were surrounded by a "rush-hour type" crowd. Also, one of the bad guys had run into the subway car through another door and started pushing behind the folks getting off. Meanwhile, the ones behind us were pushing us INTO the train.
My friend was in front, and his wife was behind me. We had not planned specifically for this, but it's probably what saved me.
Also, anytime I get into a crowd-type situation, I reconfigure most of my stuff.
I had reslung my daypack/rucksack onto one shoulder, in front, carrying it like a rugby ball. My jacket was tied by the sleeves, around my waist, blocking access to any pants pockets.
This all happens very quickly as they try to do the deed and get back on the platform before the doors close. Normally (and this is rare, I've been told), if a passenger is accosted on the train, there's a call button in (each?) car to notify the driver to lock the doors and not open them until the police open them at the next station. True or not, the thugs want your stuff and to get back to the relative safety of the unprotected platform. Now, there is a police presence as you enter a Metro station at the turnstiles, but that's it. It's VERY RARE to see them elsewhere, so the thugs are pretty free to rob and run on the platforms.
Back to my story: as were being pushed into the car, my friend in front felt someone trying to grab his fanny-pack, which he'd turned around to the front, and my friend's wife started getting yelled at by the leader(?) of the thugs, as if she was blocking him getting onto the train (but in reality, she was blocking ME from THEM). All the other passengers were distracted by this screaming fellow, and we still didn't realize that we'd been accosted or attempted-mugged or whatever you want to call it.
When the guy (30ish years old and the dead eyes of a former "guest" of the State) didn't get onto the train and and two other guys got off (who had just gotten on with us), we realized what had just happened--that they'd tried to rip me off. We were extemely lucky, as I'm sure their success rate is pretty high.
Long story short: Don't assume you're safe in a crowd, don't drop your guard ANYWHERE, and be prepared for someone grabbing your stuff, be they gypsy kids or teenagers or older guys wearing black leather jackets. We did see the same guys the next day, in the same station (Gostiny Dvor), and while they saw and recognized us, they didn't try it again, so maybe that's the best way to deter those kind of guys: make eye contact and let them know you see them.
I don't mean to scare anyone off of visiting this beautiful and really amazing city, that's not the point. While it may be inconvenient for you, keep your valuables in hard-to-get-to places. Also, be aware of your surroundings and of those around you, and while many Russians are quite hospitable and friendly, don't assume they're all that way!
I've also heard the cops in Russia are REALLY ineffectual after the fact, so it's REALLY unlikely that if you get robbed, you'll see your stuff again, so just DON'T get robbed is the best advice!
I've since heard of these kinds of attacks happening in Madrid and Italy and other spots in Europe, so I know they're not exclusive to Russia or St Pete, but it was still kind of sad.