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Hartmut Heep & Charles Levine
We got tickets for the Kremlin for $46 (beats $770 on the tourist market) and had Bolschoi tickets for $26 (we bought them at the theater instead on the market).
The Ural train to Yekaterinburg was also first class and we enjoyed our journey. Yekaterinburg was disappointing--not a real tourist destination but the hotel was as described. Overall, however, the city is not tourist friendly and we had difficulty finding the metro and the location of the hotel.
The train to Novosibirsk was adequate. The hotel Angara in Irkutsk was simply horrible. Rude service, no heat, spartan furniture and at $147 per night outrageous! At night the phone rang and Russian prostitutes offered their services.
As a recommendation for future guests: it might be better to take the day train from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude around Lake Baikal. We only had about 20 minutes of daylight at the lake on the night train. Please make also sure to advice your guests to have ALL NIGHTS documented --since the hotel in St Petersburg did not stamp our papers and we needed to have EACH night of our 3 weeks in Russia documented at customs.
We made it to Mongolia. The Camp Tereij was as well a nightmare: no services, no excursion program, no warm showers or any heat. The food was worse than fodder for animals. Thanks to the help of other guests we were able to escape the camp horrors and found a hotel in Ulan Bataar for 2 nights. Overall the mark-up for tourist services in Russia and Mongolia is OUTRAGIOUS!. The actual price for the camp was $1000 Togrog or the equivalent of US $10. We paid $142 per night!!. And the fee for the car and driver services was quite excessive.
Life in the former SU has not changed--on the contrary. The pictures of former communists have been replaced with current crooks but the frames are the same. The depression and unhappiness was deeply carved into the faces of the average person. Overall, it was neither a pleasant nor a cheap excursion and our holidays really started on the plane from Ulan Bataar to Beijing.
Nevertheless, thank you very much for working with us. Again, the itinerary worked out well and you provided the service we asked for--however, we will not be repeat visitors to Russia.
Please feel free to email or call us. We are more than happy to provide information and tips that might be valuable to further clients.