Celebrating my Birthday in Russia

Pre-Birthday Celebration in Russia

The hubby asked me where I wanted to celebrate my birthday and in a heartbeat I answered Russia. One of the most interesting places in the world that I haven’t been to which also happened to be the hubby’s favorite country. I actually think that he was more excited about the trip than I am. But whatever thrills him, gives me the same excitement.

celebrating my birthday in Russia

This conversation happened late January after arriving from the States. In February, we went to our favorite yearly travel expo in MOA which I blogged about. We were there to look for good price flights to Moscow but in the process ended up buying tickets back to the United States for spring break.

Due to the nature of his work, getting tickets 7 months in advance was just difficult. We were sure that we wanted to do it this year as a way to celebrate my birthday but we were just not sure if it will be on my actual birthday week (2nd week of September) or weeks in advance. It only became clear to us in July that the best time for both of us to fly to Russia is on the last week of August to take advantage of the Monday 27 August Philippine holiday (National Heroes Day).

How to Process Russian Tourist Visa for Filipinos

We’ve been so used to booking our own flights, trains, and hotels.  As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, it is not in the interest of travel agencies to give their clients the best priced options as they earn from commission so we do our own search for good deals online and through travel fairs.

Independently we also create our own activities and avoid group tours. Joining group tours means getting up early, being in a van filled with other tourons, and missing out on the fun of discovering things on your own. I compare it to being spoon-fed without even having a guarantee of the quality of food being given to you.

For the Russian trip though, we were not allowed do it completely on our own as the Russian embassy requires processing by a local travel agency affiliated with a Russian partner. We hired Rajah to process our visas, hotels, and inter-city transfers but booked our own flights.

We were pleased with the travel agency’s services. They were able to arrange our Russian visa in such short period of time. We lodged the visa application a week before our planned departure. The visa cost P5k for an 8 day stay. Unlike the Schengen and the US visa forms, the Russian was much shorter. I couldn’t believe that I only had to fill up a 1 pager form which did not ask about my financial background. The Russians seem really friendly to Filipinos so in the next years no doubt more Pinoys will be heading there.

Finding Flights from Manila to Russia

We checked several websites like kayak, expedia, and cheapoair to compare round trip flight costs from Manila to Moscow. As we only bought tickets 12 days before our flight, the rates we got were kind of expensive so I always suggest you book yours ahead of time say 1-2 months at minimum.

For our outbound route, the best schedule we found was from Etihad. They offered a Friday midnight flight from Manila to Abu Dhabi and an early morning connecting flight to Moscow.

Outbound: Etihad itinerary

The return route we booked was Lufthansa from St. Petersburg to Munich, Thai Airways from Munich to Bangkok and then to Manila.

Return Itinerary via Lufthansa and Thai Airways

The Adventure Trail

Our plan is to start our adventure in Moscow moving to Smolensk via a hired driver and passing Borodino along the way to recognize Russia’s contribution to Napoleon’s demise. After spending 24 hours in Smolensk, we’ll take a 17 hour train to St.Petersburg where we will wrap up our Russian vacation.

russian train from smolensk to st.petersburg. Photo courtesy of  Russian Railways

Of course, the visit will be incomplete without seeing some friends (the hubby’s), taking home local cheese, alcohol, and other food, and learning the local history.

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