By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: I have won a five-day trip to St. Petersburg, Russia where I will be staying at the Sheraton Nevskij Palace. Could you please give me some information about Russia? Specifically, St. Petersburg. What is it like there as far as safety? Any information would be greatly appreciated.

A: The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) reports Canadians visiting Russia should be alert for unusual behaviour, unattended luggage in public areas, and other unusual events.

Pick-pocketing, assaults, and robberies occur frequently and are often done by groups of children. The department lists underground walkways, the subway, tourist sites, restaurants, airports, train stations, and hotel rooms and residences, even when locked and occupied as vulnerable areas.

Having said that, the Sheraton Nevskij Palace is rated as a five-star hotel and is located in the heart of the financial and shopping areas within walking distance from a myriad of historical landmarks.

Often dubbed as the "Venice of the North," your hotel street address on Nevsky Prospekt happens to be the main avenue of St. Petersburg and perhaps the most famous street of Russia. Nevsky Prospekt runs from the Hermitage Museum which is west of the hotel via Ploschad Vosstaniatel to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. At the end of Vladimirsky Prospekt there is a beautiful yellow-and-white Baroque-style church known as the Church of Our Lady of Vladimir.

One helpful source listing all kinds of traveller's tips to St. Petersburg is the "Fresh Guide to St. Petersburg." Started as a traditional guidebook in 1992, Fresh Guide to St. Petersburg went online in 1996 and reports to be updated regularly with a section entitled, "Safety Warnings."

Covering such topics as the Economic Situation, the Political Situation, Safety Issues on Crime & Theft, you'll see there is a long list of pointers. Author Ben Lehrer recommends the most important point is don't be paranoid. Lehrer writes, "The best advice is to be a little wary of trumpeting your status as a foreigner anytime you're not with a good-sized group."

The DFAIT advises that Canadians should carry their passport and their entry/exit visa at all times, since identity checks have increased.

"Carrying a photocopy of your passport and visa is not sufficient and may cause inconvenience and delay if the police demand further identification. Travellers should safeguard at all times their passport and the originals of visas and currency control documents, and any photocopies," reports the DFAIT.

For more travel-related information, contact the DFAIT at toll-free 1-800-267-6788 or 613-944-6788.


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All text & photos 2004.