I have always been interested in visiting St. Petersburg, but have
been unable to because of my busy work schedule. Since you have
had some experience traveling in Russia, I would like to ask you a few
questions about travel:
Would you advise a visit to St. Petersburg in the month of November?
My 10 days in Moscow/St. Pete was the middle part of a 3 week trip to Europe in February, 1993. Train through Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland (Warsaw), plane to Moscow, train to St. Pete, then just retraced back to Frankfurt. For me, seeing Russia in winter made perfect sense.
** Since there is the likelihood of cold and snow, how should a visitor be prepared? What type of shoes should one wear? **
I believe December can be the coldest month, however, Russia is pretty darn cold all winter. I had a ski cap, ski gloves, down coat, 2 heavy wool sweaters, 2 thermal turtle-necks, 2 sets of thermal long-john underwear, 2 pair heavy wool socks, 2 pair lightweight thermal sock liners, lightweight thermal ski glove liners (like wearing a thin pair of socks on your hands under, or instead of if not too cold, the ski gloves), Eddy Bower insulated ski boots, 2 pair jeans, a few underpants.
My boots were great for walking in snow, but sucked big time on ice. I fell on my butt 4-5 times without much warning. My boots had a tread sole like hiking boots, I think the folks with the boots like they wear back east worked better for ice. I call them duck boots, like L.L. Bean sells, with a crinkle rough rubber type sole.
A few times I wish I had a ski face mask and something that covered my ears better, brrr.
Because I was moving around alot, I packed light, just one main bag with shoulder strap (I think sometimes 2 straps like a big backpack would have been easier for walking long distances), and one smaller daybag (like the kids use for school bags now). I basically took only 2 sets of clothes, do a little laundry in hotel sink each night (wear 1 set, wash 1 set). So when I moved, the big bag was slung over my shoulder, the daybag in one hand, still had 1 hand free to take photos with my pocket camera or whatever :)
I also had a waist money belt, leg money pouch, 2 travel pocket packs of toilet seat covers (doubles as toilet paper), small note book to keep a daily travel log and write words/numbers to show people who do not speak same language, 4 boxes of granola bars for snack food, travel alarm clock, small flashlite, pocket camera, spare batteries for flashlite/camera, spare film, some basic medications (cold medicine, asprin, Immodium AD, a few bandaids, tooth brush/paste, shampoo, etc), universal voltage electric shaver, 2 prong European converter plug, small personal alarm (same battery as flashlite) wedge shape for under hotel door at night, small can opener, small pocket knife, small bottle of liquid Woolite for laundry, flat rubber sink stopper, fast drying all rubber shower shoes (flip/flops), small lightweight bath towel, solar powered hand held calculator (to convert money).
For snow, an unbrella is just extra dead weight, but for rain, maybe handy if no hood on coat. Maybe take a foldup lightweight plastic rain coat if expecting heavy rain, otherwise, again this is just dead weight to lug around.
Consider 1 set nicer clothes if planning to meet women and/or for ballet/opera. I did not feel bad about being in winter in jeans but probably should have dressed a little better for some shows. If staying put in one hotel/flat, consider maxing out your weight allowance with canned or just-add-water instant foods, buy bottle water there, do not drink or brush teeth with tap water. If planning to mix with the locals consider getting government recommended travel shots.
My coat had handy zippered pockets on both inside and outside. Be prepared for pickpockets before you exit the plane. Keep most valuables in money belts, split up in a few locations (ie. do not use one easy to steal wallet that has your whole trip in it), take a second picture ID like a driver's license incase you need to exchange money while the hotel has your passport first few days to register visa, the hotel card you exchange for your key each time you go to/from your room can be shown to taxi drivers or police to identify what hotel you are at, keep multiple Xerox copies of your important addresses/phone numbers/passport in various bags/locations incase you lose the originals.
Think of it as the trip of a lifetime. It may be a long time before you return, so don't hold back, do everything while you are there. I thought I would return to the Alps in a year or so, that was 7 years ago now and no return trips in the near future. Even setting aside the Russian Women, Europe/Russia is a great trip, a grand adventure. Be prepared for problems, things and people different from what you expect, just go with the flow, and have fun.
** Are there any St. Petersburg hotels in the $40 to $60 price range (U.S. currency)? There are hotels like Hotel Europe, but that is way beyond my range of affordability. What type of accommodations can I expect from a "low-budget" hotel? What kind of neighborhoods are these hotels situated in? **
I stayed at the Oktinskaya which I thought was very nice, although some distance from the downtown area, but then we had a tour bus carting us around.
St. Petersburg Hotel Guide
Additionally, there is a Youth Hostel in St. Pete, a member of the Russian Youth Hostel Association, which can arrange a visa and inexpensive room stay, but I have heard it is not so great a place to stay in summer (mosquitoes), do not know about winter.
Some folks rent a short term flat (apartment). Again not sure where or price, but RWL Archives would have opinions from other travelers.
I used a local travel agency which specialized in Russian tours for Moscow and St. Petersburg, they did a great tour for me. It was a tourist type tour, not an expensive dating tour for men wanting only to meet Russian Women. Unfortunately, they are no longer in business.
I arranged my other travel tickets myself. Round trip airfare San Francisco to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, Eurail Train Flexipass for Western Europe, $200 round trip airfare Warsaw to Moscow on LOT Polish Airlines. I bought 1 way train tickets at the respective train stations for Vienna to Warsaw (before Russia) and Warsaw to Vienna (after Russia), suggest buying a first class ticket unless you want to sleep sitting up with 4-5 other guys in the compartment, write destination city in your notebook to show ticket seller if they do not speak English.
** Would there be English-speaking assistants at the front desk? **
Yes, in many cases, but maybe not entirely fluent English.
A few travel suggestions...
Be prepared for pickpockets before you exit the plane. Keep most valuables in money belt(s), do not use one easy to steal wallet that has your whole trip in it, take a second picture ID like a driver's license incase you need to exchange money while the hotel has your passport to register visa, the hotel card you exchange for your key each time you go to/from your room can be shown to taxi drivers or police to identify what hotel you are at, keep 1 or 2 Xerox copies of your important addresses/phone numbers/passport in various locations incase you lose the originals or the bag they were in.
Pack a change of clothes, tooth brush/paste, razor, snacks, etc. in your carry-on bag incase your checked baggage does not arrive with you.
Pack important or expensive items in your carry-on, they may be stolen from checked baggage.
Carry a travel pack of toilet seat covers (or toilet paper) on you incase needed.
Carry a small pocket notebook to keep track of your trip, prices, gifts. Write down numbers or words to show others who do not speak English.
Also consider: small flashlight, travel alarm clock, spare batteries, spare film, basic medications (cold medicine, asprin, Immodium AD, a few bandaids, tooth brush/paste, shampoo, etc), universal voltage electric shaver, 2 prong European converter plug, small pocket knife, fast drying all rubber shower shoes (flip/flops), small personal alarm for hotel door at night (mine is wedge shaped to fit under door and uses same battery as flashlight), solar powered hand held calculator.
Do not drink or brush teeth with tap water.
Take some snack foods: granola bars, candy bars, cookies, etc. incase hungry and no restaurant available.
Take a gift for first meeting with woman, maybe one red rose. Flowers are always given in odd numbers, even numbers and yellow are for death. Ask interpreter's advice.
Be prepared for problems, things and people different from what you expect, just go with the flow, and have fun !!