Guided city tours are definitely not my thing. Being shoehorned into a bus with 50 or 60 sweaty tourists. Having to stop every five minutes for a coffee or ‘comfort’ break. Not to mention the compulsory ‘opportunity’ to shop at the end of the tour. Shudder. No Thank You!
When I explore a city with Rich and Sue, that’s exactly what we do: explore. On foot. For hours and hours. For miles and miles. If there is an inch of pavement lacking our footprints, we feel we’ve failed. For us, there’s no better way to do it. We love to visit the famous sights, but thanks to geocaching, we also have the inside scoop on cool things the locals know about but tourists rarely see.
That said, there are occasions when going it alone isn’t wise or even possible. Our most recent run-in with this sort of situation was during a visit to the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
For you humans, obtaining a visa to enter the Russian Federation can be quite a process. Thankfully, there are two Russian cities that waive this requirement, so long as you obey a handful of simple rules. Luckily for us, St. Petersburg is one of those cities.
The most important rule for visiting St. Petersburg without a visa is that you must always be accompanied by a licensed tour guide. Given what I said at the start of this post, that obviously wouldn’t usually work for us. But what choice did we have? We initially thought we’d have to take a bus tour with everybody else and simply make the best of it. Fortunately, the reality of turned out to be very different.
After a bit of online research, Sue came up with a solution to our problem: hire a private tour guide. To be honest, the concept wasn’t that new to us, but the revelation was the price. We’d naturally assumed it to be prohibitively expensive. But when we realized it would cost no more than one of the prearranged bus tours, and we could design our own itinerary, we were sold.
There are a lot of companies offering private tours of St. Petersburg, but we went with one called Guide Guru. They were fantastic right from the outset. They accommodated every little tweak we made to the itinerary leading up to our trip, and didn’t even bat an eye when, at the eleventh hour, we wanted to build a whole new destination into the plan.
Our actual guide, Yana, simply couldn’t have been better. We only had to mention the slightest passing interest in something, and before we knew it, she’d built it into the program on the fly. Her knowledge of the geography and history of St. Petersburg was incredible. And when she learned that we wanted to spend the entire second day exploring the city centre on foot (apparently a really rare request), she was completely unfazed. In fact, I think she found it quite refreshing, if a little exhausting. I know she was fascinated by the whole geocaching thing.
The take home message is: it’s always worth investigating every option. We originally thought we’d have to be content seeing St. Petersburg through the window of a bus. But thanks to Google, a little effort and Guide Guru, we were able to arrange our own private tour of this remarkable city and yet still stay within our budget. To read more about what we actually got up to during our wonderful stay in St. Petersburg, check out my blog, Baltic Adventures (Part II).
And to top it off, as the our photos prove, both our days in St. Petersburg were beautiful and sunny. Something Yana told us never happens. Guide Guru really did arrange everything.
I hope you enjoyed this post. My name is Jaspa, and I’m the main character in the Jaspa’s Journey adventure novels by Rich Meyrick. To learn more, visit my website, www.jaspasjourney.com, and blog, Jaspa’s Journal, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.