Summer’s (almost) here for most of us/you in the Northern hemisphere. For us Brits, it was 3 whole days last week! That’s a rather trite attempt at humour, that only those familiar with the UK (or similar climates) will understand. In any case, it must be time to get packing for Russia!
This is especially true now that we are on the brink of St. Petersburg’s White Nights Festival, as featured in last week’s article. An added impetus to include St. P in your itinerary, undoubtedly.
Suddenly, whilst sitting down with a coffee and running through some figures, a psychological barrier is seamlessly crossed. From mere speculation, we now have taken a step into “planning THE TRIP”. Now it’s serious, whether you realise it at first or not.
It’s a quandary; how to go about budgeting for a trip to a country whose financial system you are unfamiliar with. Especially when dealing with expense in relative terms.
For a while the full extent of the label: “Rich Westerner” didn’t strike home with me. They surely can’t mean us, right? Wrong. I’ve written about this in other “Bottom Line” articles, but if you compare your average monthly income to the average equivalent of 376 GBP, 545 USD, 490 Euro or 36210 RUB, then you’ll see just how rich you actually are, relatively speaking. You’ll be handed more than that amount per month for being unemployed and claiming benefits here in the UK. To give some kind of perspective, the average Russian would have to work for 4 days in order to afford a day trip around St. Petersburg, as shown by the St.Petersburg4U blog:
“If you do not have enough time to plan your own route or prefer experts showing you around the city, find a touristic guide in St. Petersburg. Approximate cost of a one day tour – 5000 RUB, for half day – 3000 RUB.”
That’s still around the 50 GBP mark, so it’s best to be aware that you can’t drop by Russia’s second city with some pocket money, expecting to pay local Russian prices, especially for tourist-style services.
For a start, they will see you coming. Maybe it’s your “I’m a tourist” backpack, maybe it’s your loud, Westerner attire or your funny-looking Westerner face and mannerisms. It definitely is your stumbling pidgin-Russian vocabulary and your accent, but in any case: they’ll know. They will know.
You can expect an unofficial +100% Westerner tax added silently to everyday transactions, unless you have a Russian (or streetwise ex-pat) companion with you who can instantly see through their shenanigans. This can apply throughout Russia. Particularly risky are sales that don’t rely on an immediately obvious price-tag: marketplaces, stalls, street vendors, taxis or any situation that requires you to ask for the price, and yes, that’s even in the corridors of “officialdom” too. Aside from the unofficial spur-of-the-moment price hikes, there are also blatant official increases for tourists (the separate pay lines for locals and foreigners at the Hermitage for instance).
The second issue with cash in a city such as St. Petersburg is that it is a tourist magnet, including “Rich Westerner” tourists like ourselves. Did I say tourist? sorry I meant traveller, naturally. Anyway, throughout the popular locales you’ll no doubt encounter a range of overpriced travel services, eateries, accommodation and more that are designed with the likes of us in mind. Tourist prices, in other words.
The third issue is that we are approaching peak season, and the peak of the peak is the White Nights Festival.
There is another factor to bear in mind for this year’s travellers from the UK. In case you have missed the news for the last year or so, we are about to have a referendum on whether to leave the EU. So what? You are heading towards Russia, right? Well, the uncertainty surrounding the issue (particularly where Brexit is concerned) is reflected in the value of the pound in the global market. It has already lost several points against the dollar for instance as a result of pre-vote jitters, and will likely devalue further following a leave vote. Perhaps temporarily, perhaps business (in a stroke of absolute irony) will ultimately manufacture the very apocalypse that it fears. With all major players ostensibly speaking and acting on the platforms of their own vested interests. Frankly, who knows?
The point is that the pound is likely to stretch a little less when abroad this summer. Although with the current exchange rate at 1GBP:100 Rubles (approx.), even some devaluation is still likely to be manageable.
Next week: some prices!
[Photo by canesjuri]