August is a month of vacations in Russia before school starts on Sept. 1. This year marks the continued concern about the pandemic, but if you are vaccinated in the USA, there is little to worry about. Most businesses and venues are open with a few mask requirements.
After 6 weeks spent between Moscow and St. Petersburg, I can say the covid restrictions have lightened a bit and everything is open for the most part. Public still required to wear a mask for public transport as well as entering and purchasing from restaurants and shops. Enforcement on entering metro seems a bit stronger in St. Petersburg, but riders often make their own decisions once one board.
The unpopular vaccination QR code in Moscow required to enter restaurants and ended after two weeks with the government announcing 60% of food workers were vaccinated and the public was either vaccinated or already had the virus giving also a 60% herd resistance. Not sure there are any hard numbers there.
The hot spell a month ago has ended and the weather has generally been 70Fs in St. Petersburg with partial clouds and rain, and 80Fs in Moscow with clouds and less rain. Hot spells in the 90Fs are possible.
With that in mind, the fashion savvy people on the streets evident during the warmer Euro2020 in June and July seems to have disappeared. Clothing is casual and even a bit of Seattle grunge among youth.
On August 1, 2021 there was a big paddle board Fiesta on the Fontanka River and Canal Griboedova Canal. You can see the dress has gone more practical and casual similar to european cities for people on the street. And almost like Halloween for the costumed paddle boarders in the Fontaka SUP Fiesta. I followed them along the way and I think you will enjoy seeing people having fun in St. Petersburg.
I have been asked about visas and process for Americans traveling to Russia. Yes, it is again possible. You need a negative covid PCR test, a direct flight from USA, and of course, passport and a visa. It costs about $350 for a visa and you should ideally apply 2 months in advance for smooth economic processing. Russian consulate staff is still limited. I recommend https://www.gotorussia.com/visa/russian/select The online application is relatively simple. They take care of the required letter of invitation and getting documents through the consulate and back to you. I have used them since 2002 with 100% success.
Like everything related to travel it is good to check any changes in rules before making reservations.
Is it a good time to go considering the pandemic? The State department has issued a level 4 do not go warning.
For me, yes, Russia is bustling again.. I recommend being vaccinated and to follow local rules for masks on public transit, shopping and restaurants. As of August most things are open in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tourists are trickling in, but museum lines are short and it is actually quite nice to be in tourist areas with fewer tourists. Streets are safe and clean. Wish you could be here
I should mention that the Hermitage tickets are mostly online and you need to make them at least a day ahead, better two or three to pick your time. General entrance is about 500 rubles with add-ons for other exhibits. Through August there will probably be no walkup tickets except for some special case tickets for $2,000 rubles.
One benefit of being outside the US is to see with new perspective how petty the politics have become at home with unnecessary animosity towards each other and foreign countries. I don’t miss it at all! Hopefully it will get better!
Regarding the US Embassy in Moscow, it is limited in activities due to short staffing. The American Consular Services located behind the main building is doing notary by appointment, limited immigration visas and emergency passport service. They are able to do a notary appointment for US citizens set up by email a few days in advance. I had one appointment and it went fairly smoothly. Security was friendly and helpful. There were two paths inside, one for ACS and one for job applicants. Staff at each of the windows I used were training another person. The goal is to increase services at some point.
There is still no processing of visas for Russian citizens wishing to visit the USA with the exception of some immigration visas, presumably for a close relative or spouse to join their families already in the USA. Still no Sister City delegations from Russia possible.
One interesting comment I’ve heard is how the undocumented workers, mostly from CIS countries, disappeared at the beginning of the pandemic and there has been a general shortage of labor. A Moscow story estimated about 100,000 businesses closed in the past year. Certainly a number of small shops and restaurants disappeared, perhaps a benefit to the bigger operations, as has happened in the US.
There are more for rent signs on Nevsky Propect in St. Petersburg and on Old Arbat in Moscow than I am used to seeing in pre-pandemic times. And definitely less foreign tourists. There are a healthy number of Russian tourists enjoying themselves, as well as folks from former CIS countries. And I have noticed more middle-eastern tourists in small groups. Perhaps because of the complete absence so far of the many Chinese tour groups that dominated tourist areas before the pandemic.
All told, Moscow and St. Petersburg seem fine choices for visitors right now. With luck, it will continue as the pandemic gets through the 3rd wave here and everyone can relax a bit more. I look forward to your questions and comments.
Wishing you well,
David in St. Petersburg
Convenient rooms to rent with great view on Sennaya Square https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/29052797?