I’ve just got home here and was going to give you some feedback personally.
It was a great trip. In particular I can’t imagine better guides. I had Mischa in Moscow and Svetlana in St Petersburg.
Mischa had so much knowledge on a wide range of topics and was very easy to relate with. He had a great sense of humour and had a personality that was very easy to relate with. He is a consummate professional. Similarly Svetlana has those same qualities. I really enjoyed that I was the only tourist as I was able to get to personally know both guides and they openly allowed that to occur. They both shared their personal lives with me and that was as much an education as seeing the sights. In fact it was more valuable to me as I could see many of the sights in books and on line, it is only through the personal experiences that we learn about other cultures. Svetlana was particularly helpful suggesting additional places and being very flexible by modifying the programme slightly to allow me to fit a trip to the ballet into the programme.
The hotels in both instances were of a great standard, more than meeting my expectations.
The staff were friendly and helpful and the key staff had great English. The Katerina staff were very helpful in helping me canceling my credit cards when my wallet went missing one morning in Moscow. They made complimentary international calls to assist me. The staff in the restaurants were a real pleasure happily allowing me to try to communicate in Russian despite my poor command of the language. That was a real bonus for me. The meals were of a great standard, breakfasts were very varied and huge.
If I was going to change anything about the meals it would be that I would not prebook dinners. The menus were in both English and Russian so ordering would not have been a problem and hence would have made a wider selection available. The dinners themselves were great, in fact I had one of the best steaks ever, and in a coincidence it turns out it was Australian beef.
I think you probably under rate the Ambassador hotel, I think it is more closely described as almost five star, it is a great hotel.
The drivers I had were also great, in particular the two Vladimirs in St Petersberg.
If I could make a suggestion, perhaps you could include in your information pack some important information about Russian currency.
I had no problems getting Rubles in Russia via the ATM at the hotels, but many places don’t have much change so were unable to provide change for 1000 Ruble notes, predominantly dispensed at the ATM.
More importantly perhaps indicate that changing currency from Ruble to any other currency is virtually impossible once you leave, so advise clients to have a minimal amount left on leaving. I have tried to exchange at airports in Amsterdam, Kualur Lumpur and Australia, together with all the banks here without success. It turns out that counterfeit notes are such a problem out of Russia that no one will exchange. The exchange bureau have even indicated rhat they will not exchange US currency that has come from Russia. That of course may be different in the UK but that is my experience. I also took some US currency with me, as per the guidance however it is also of limited value because on the several occasions I tried to change it there, it was refused because they were not brand new notes. Guess I’ll keep my Rubles for when I go back.
I am also not sure if you will get a refund from the ambassador, they had me checking out a day later than our itinerary, so I’m not sure if that night was paid for in advance. The staff were going to chase it up with their booking people.
Think that is about all, just thank you for your efforts, I realize this was probably not the easiest one you have had to do. I appreciate everything you did to make this dream come true for me, it was all I hoped for and I met some lovely people during my time in Russia.
I have to go back to redo the outside parts of those military museums with no snow and more time so I will get back in touch.