May 19 – May 28, 2022   “Cathedrals, Vodka & Caviar Dreams”

BOOK NOW“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” – Winston Churchill

#solotour-russia

Talk about a vacation fit for a czar! Gilded palaces, onion-domed cathedrals, and walled medieval cities wait for you in 3 different countries.  Our past AFSers loved our Russia Commie-trips, but we raised the bar with this Balkin Odyssey.  From the splendor of Moscow to the beauty of St Petersburg, countless wonders are revealed.  By planes, trains and ferry we explore new regions, each with their own language, cultures and cuisines.  It’s chockfull of UNECO sites on a trip both educational and fun.  You waited so long for this.  Russia is open 2022 for you! 

Mighty Moscow will astound you.  This electrifying 24-hour capital provides nonstop energy with its iconic must see’s.  See the gilded St Basils Cathedral, the Kremlin and grand Red Square to the incomparable Gorky Park.  Stroll cobbled Arbot Street filled with shops and cafes.  Savor the borscht and caviar with flavored vodkas.  Shop for nesting dolls, crystals, and paintings.  Together we’ll explore the ultra-surreal 200 mile Underground filled with exquisite art.  Evenings come alive with fun and culture on dinner cruises or at the storied Bolshoi Ballet, theater and Moscow Circus. 

We high-speed it by train to dazzling St Petersburg, “Venice of the North” to follow footsteps of the czars.  So much history in this elegant and imperial city.  Visit the famous palaces, churches and magnificent Hermitage in 4 glorious days.  On to intriguing Latvia to enhance your passport stamps!  The Old Town in the capital Riga is a World Heritage Site with architectural delights.  Here we enjoy a day at the Open Air Museum Village to teleport yourself back 300 years.

Our Baltic adventure continues by ferry to Tallinn, Estonia – a photographer’s dream with its ancient walls and noble houses. Everyone loves the well-preserved Old Town here.  It feels like you’ve stepped into a fairytale among its soaring towers.  May is the perfect time to beat the crowds, but the outdoor concerts and markets are in full swing.

See below what Lonely Planet has to say about these mysterious lands, vast and beautiful. Together, they hold more sparkle than a Faberge egg!  This AFS Baltic Dream is a unique combination of legendary treasures that must be experienced to fully appreciate.  They just may become your new favorite parts of our world!

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 What Lonely Planet Says…

#afstravel

#solotravelers

#solotours

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Our Glorious AFS Itinerary

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May 19, 2022  Depart the US to Moscow

Detailed trip tips coming soon by email with group air option.

May 20                  Welcome to Moscow!                  D 

Our tour begins today in Moscow where after arrival, we are greeted and transfer to our hotel. The Radisson Slavyanskaya is located in the heart of Moscow and overlooking the Moskva River. This gorgeous modern hotel has three restaurants, a pool and a fitness center, but you are walking distance to most of the city’s most important sites.

The afternoon is free for you to settle in before we all get together for a scrumptious Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.  Get to know your fellow AFSers.  (May move dinner to next day when you are not too tired.)

Overnight: Radisson Slavyanskaya (2 nights)

May 21  Moscow  – Full day city tour                                                     B
One of the largest cities in the world, Moscow is the symbolic heart and soul of Russia. Your sightseeing tour begins at Red Square, dominated by colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral and by the massive red walls of the Kremlin. Visit the Armory Museum, with its impressive collection of Tsarist, Russian, and foreign jewelry, armor, and other artifacts. Then walk by Moscow University. Continue with a drive along the wide boulevards and a stroll through GUM, Russia’s largest department store. Continue, on the north bank of the River Moskva, passing by the 16thcentury baroque Novodevichy (New Maidens) convent. We end our tour at the popular Arbat shopping district where we turn you lose to grab lunch and shop ‘til you drop.  If time permits, check out the Vodka Museum or Gorky Park.

EVENING TOUR MOSCOW / METRO & RED SQUARE BY NIGHT –  No visit of Moscow is complete without a tour of its elegant Subway Stations! These are not the stations you are used to by any stretch of the imagination. We will show you some of the most beautiful stations decorated with marble, brightly colored stained glass, mosaics, and chandeliers. Later, we take a stroll in Red Square, passing the tomb of Lenin and seeing the beautifully lit St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Overnight: Radisson Slavyanskaya

May 22     Moscow – St. Petersburg                      B,Dhermitage

Our morning is free to relax or explore a bit more of Moscow. In the afternoon, we head to the railway station for our four-hour ultra-modern high-speed Sapsan train ride to spectacular St. Petersburg.

We head immediately to the world-famous Hermitage. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, it is home to more than four million works of art and ranks among one of the largest and oldest museums of the world.

Afterward, you will have free time to stroll this historic city with a leisurely evening on your own. Our home for the next three nights is the elegant Ambassador Hotel which is located near St. Nicholas Cathedral, the Mariinsky Theater and a ton of shopping and restaurants.

Overnight: Ambassador Hotel

May 23   St. Petersburg City Tour                                                                          B

After buffet breakfast, we begin with a sightseeing tour of St. Petersburg including the Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great, the Stock Exchange, Senate Square, Vasilievsky Island, Smolny Cathedral, Admiralty, the Alexander Column, the Church of the Spilled Blood, the Kazan Cathedral, the Blue Bridge, and of course,  a trip down Nevsky Prospect, the main street. We also take an excursion to the Russian Vodka museum with tasting 3 types of vodka. We’ll take a break for you to grab lunch on your own.

In the afternoon, we travel to Pushkin to explore what’s considered one of the worlds greatest palaces –  the baroque wedding cake looking Palace of Catherine the Great. Your evening is free to enjoy the exciting nightlife here.  Check out the the many clubs along the river side

May 24   St. Petersburg – Free Time to Play or Peterhoff                                      B

You have a full day on your own to continue exploring this beautiful city.   There’s countless things to do here.  Take time to climb to the top of St. Isaac’s Basilica or venture out to Catherine the Great’s Palace. Our hotel is so close to the Mariinsky Theater. St PeteWhy not take a tour? Or check out the incredible works at the Faberge Museum or the fun Erotica museum.

Tour of the Peterhof Palace ($98 optional) – The former summer Residence of Czar Peter the Great, he built this to outshine Versailles. It is famed for its palaces, extensive gardens, terraces of gilded statues and fountain cascades on the Gulf of Finland. Relax and enjoy the elegant atmosphere of these baroque gardens and palaces on your visit.  Persoanlly I feel this is a must-do!  More details in Trip Tips.

At night consider a theater or a river cruise through the canals and River Neva transforms the city into a magical place that has inspired generations of artists. On board, you can enjoy champagne, caviar, and vodka – talk about a Russian experience! Enjoy the sights of this classical city from a different perspective.

Overnight: Ambassador Hotel

May 25     St. Petersburg – Tallinn, Estonia  Walking Tour                                   B/L/D

TallinnToday’s journey takes us to the beautiful Baltic Sea country of Estonia. Our first stop is the picturesque city of Narva, set just across the border from Russia on the Narva River. We’ll enjoy lunch here before continuing to Tallinn. Estonia’s capital, Tallinn is a mesmerizing walled city situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland.

Our afternoon includes a Walking Tour to visit the Dome Cathedral, Town Hall Square and medieval Town Hall, Toompea Hill and Castle, the Niguliste Church, St. Olav’s church, and Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral. We’ll explore the medieval walls and fortifications (no entrances included).  Look for the GOT sites and new chocolate boutiques.

We overnight at Hestia Europa, located near the port and convenient to restaurants and shops. Dinner on own.  There are endless affordable choices here for hearty peasant cuisines and great nightlife.

 Overnight: Hestia Europa (1 night)

May 26   Tallinn – Riga, Welcome to Latvia!                                                                      B

After breakfast, we travel south to historic Riga, Latvia. The drive through the Estonia countryside is beautiful! When we arrive, we’ll do a City Tour which includes the Riga Castle on the banks of the Daugava River, the magnificent Dome Cathedral, St. Jacobs RigaCathedral, St. Peter’s Church, the Parliament building, and Liberty Monument. Riga is known for its amazing architecture and Art Nouveau District and we’ll get a real taste of what the fuss is all about.  We’ll get to spend time at the Central Market to find treasures to take home.

The rest of the day is free to explore more, shop, or maybe sample Latvian crepes. Evening at leisure.  We’ll be staying at local landmark Radisson Blu Latvija. Located right across from Riga’s most popular park, the Esplanade, numerous shops and restaurants are all within walking distance.  Check out the award-winning ESPA Spa next door.

 Overnight: Radisson Blu Latvija (2 nights)

May 27 – Full Day in Riga, Latvia                                                                                B/D

Morning free to explore this beautiful old city. A fun area to visit the oldest section, the Vecriga, whose cobblestone streets and lined with shops, restaurants and museums. There’s also the less explored Kalnciema Quarter, known for its outdoor markets and cafes. You may want to seek out a café and sample some of the local liquor called Riga Black Balsam, good on its own or mixed with just about anything. There are tons of art as well as just plain old quirky museums to visit. Our groups enjoyed the Amber museum.

Afternoon guided tour to the Open Air Ethnographic Museum where you will travel back in time to the 18thCentury. Located on the outskirts of Riga, it is set on 100 hectares of land in a pine forest on the banks of the Jugla Lake. The 118 historic structures include farmhouses, windmills, fishing villages, churches and other historic structures that have been rebuilt and preserved here to re-create a proper village preserved from this era.

In the evening, we gather with your fellow AFSers for a wonderful Estonian buffet Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

Overnight: Radisson Blu Latvija

May 28     Depart Riga for Home                                                                           B

Following breakfast, we head to the airport to return to the U.S.

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Land Price:   $2495 pp twin share plus $85 pre-paid gratuities for guides and drivers  Final due Feb 17, 2022
Deposit $500  Based upon 30 participants

Not included: Visa  –  email Marc info@passportvisaadvisors.com for help with visa

Group Air:   $890 + 498 taxes = $1388

Outbound
May 19  LH445  ATL-FRA   4:10 PM (check-in by 1:30PM – landing 7:30AM next day)
May 20               FRA-DME  8:05 AM to 12:15 PM
Homebound
May 28  LH893  RIX-FRA     6:15 AM to 7:30 AM
                           FRA-ATL    10:15 AM to 2:15 PM (same day)

FRA – Frankfurt, DME – Moscow, RIX – Latvia

  •  All prices are per person twin share.  Single rooms limited per group and a single supplement applies.  Cost set by hotel/cruiseline and vary considerably.  AFS will find you a roommate match. All hotel rooms are “run of house.”  
  • Please review AFS Terms and Conditions as well as Heading Abroad with AFS.  
  • Land – Price based on a minimum number of trip participants, as well as local currency exchange rates which can fluctuate.
  • We write our itineraries over a year in advance. Though unlikely, we always reserve the right to modify schedules, tours and hotels if necessary. 
  • Group air – Airlines may add surcharges to offset fuel inflation or taxes. The total ticket cost is not final until we receive your final payment and the group is ticketed. If doing own air, airport transfer may or may not be included depending on your air schedule. Do not buy air until the group air is set or we advise – though unlikely, airlines, times and dates can change!

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AFS Trip Tips Russia, Latvia & Estonia 2021  (Postponed from 2020)

 Prepare to be thrilled by our new 3 country Baltic vacation like no other.  Our past groups loved Russia, but this is far more expansive with fun in Latvia and Estonia!  Not only is this educational but we added some epic hand-picked activities to ensure you’ll never forget the glorious regions on this trip.  You really want to do this on a guided group tour. Mother Russia is the world’s largest country filled with riches. There may be some bureaucratic inconveniences (like a visa), but it’s all part of the travel experience here. We have it covered so you can relax and enjoy the differences found here. Updates will be sent right up until departure!  We have a wonderful group of 38 solo travel lovers.  After final payments are in and group is set, we’ll send you the contact and room lists.  Connect with others on private FB group page.  

To all who waited so long for this, thank you for your patience. Normalcy is returning to Russia, Latvia and Estonia and we are confident all will be open for you May 2022. You are wise travelers to choose this AFS trip to these three countries in one vacation with our guidance as they would be most challenging to visit on your own. (Our suppliers had to raise the nine-day land price from this trip designed for you 3 years ago. For those originally booked then, we will absorb the increase and protect your price.) We are fully attentive to all you need to know right up to departure. More updates will be coming. 

The tips are designed to answer all trip questions.  It’s your responsibility to read this information and bookmark this webpage to find your way back as all updates and addendums will be posted here.  (We find it disheartening when a guest is denied boarding because they missed vital information presented here.)

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We will have an expert team meticulously working behind the scenes who will always be a step ahead of us each tour day, just as we had on our past 10 groups during pandemic. Do not stress or read sites from the Russian government, state department, CDC, etc. as often it is old news. We get direct local updates so let us sweat the details.  Our guides are excited to receive you. With less crowds, it will be the best time to visit all the famous sites.

Your fearless GTL (gracious trip leader, not a guide but liaison between our guides and group to ensure things run smoothly.).

GTL CarolCarol has been on 20+ AFS trips over the years and has led many of our solo travel tours. She has been a ray of sunlight to each of those groups. She has a passion for seeing the world and experiencing new cultures. Having traveled to over 92+ countries and all 7 continents, she continues to pursue her dream, while working for the past 25 years in the banking industry. Her goal is to build relationships, problem solve and keep clients happy. She genuinely cares for people and is cool under pressure. These are great qualities for the business and the travel world.

During a recent sabbatical, Carol coordinated and lead a once in a lifetime journey around the world, visiting 13 countries! Carol’s excitement to discover new things is complimented by her unique ability to get along with and relate to people of all backgrounds. She has a deep understanding of new and seasoned travelers with a knack to inspire all. Carol is all about the experience: from skydiving to trekking with the gorillas in Rwanda, leading a group to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and always making many new friends along the way.

Trip Prep:

  • Read the revised Heading Abroad with AFS, especially if you are new to AFS.
  • Ensure your passport is valid 6 months after return date with two blank pages.  We recommend renewing your passport well ahead of any planned international travel. Take a photo of your passport to store in the cloud or bring a copy. Scan your important documents – Covid tests, trip tips, passport etc. If you lose your passport, US embassies now except a digital copy from your email folder on your phone to re-issue new one quickly.
  • To speed through US Customs download Mobile Passport.  Look in your App Store for details.
  • Notify bank and cc company of travel dates so they don’t block charges.
  • Vaccines – I got mine feeling it will eventually be necessary for travel. Many countries now are eliminating Covid test and quarantine for vaccinated visitors.  Bring your vaccine card.  Don’t laminate vaccine card as some countries won’t accept it.  You can take photo of both sides and store on phone or copy both sides and laminate the copy.  Login to your trip file booking form and answer question about Vaccine Yes (or will) or No.  Suppliers want this info.
  • All airline Covid rules differ.  It is imperative to read your airline rules to ensure a smooth departure!  Click here for the latest info on PCR tests required to travel abroad Latest Covid Testing Info.  Failure to get the correct test may cause the airline to turn you away.   It’s your responsibility to know the airline rules that can change right up to departure. They won’t speak to us with reservations in your name. All websites post their Covid rules at top of landing page. All airlines in the process of making significant routing and scheduling changes now as they scramble ramping up hiring for the travel surge to come. How to reach them?  Call direct or request a callback time. Check to see if your questions can be resolved on the airlines mobile app or via Twitter or turn to their social media for assistance. Travelers get best results via Facebook message to the airline.
  • The local supplier and AFS may require you sign a Travel Pledge before departure.  If so, we’ll email a form to you  prior.
  • Covid Testing Rules tend to mutate faster than the virus itself.  Therefore a special webpage has been built so you can get the latest info… Click here  Failure to read this page can result in your airline preventing your boarding your flight!  Read the page, it’s vital  https://www.afstravelers.com/basic-covid-info/

Visa –  WAIT until we advise!   New changes to come.  You need a visa to enter Russia. Officials are extremely fussy.  If you make a mistake, you’ll pay for each change or be blocked from entry.  Rules often change. We’ll send you an Invitation Letter to start the application process for Single Entry Visa for around $198 + process fees. (Cost can change without notice).  It’s only valid for 3 months.  After Feb 15, we’ll send your exact docs and instructions.

How to get a tourist visa on your own for Russia?

  1. Have a valid passport and copy of Vax Card
  2. Set your itinerary: Cities and Hotels.
  3. Get a letter of invitation or visa support.
  4. Fill out the Visa Application Form.
  5. Print the form, sign it, and attach a photo.
  6. Take all of your documents to the Russian Visa Center (or consulate)
  7. Collect your passport.

Use an expert.  Russia is notoriously picky and the visa application must be perfect.  A reputable visa service will make the process easier and is worth the fee.  You can google a visa service or call our friend Marc Gilland of Passport/Visa Advisors    Ph:  (704) 246-6373. Email: info@passportvisaadvisors.com.

Fitness level – 2   (No trouble walking.). There are walking tour daily

Group Air with Airport Transfers– We fly into Moscow and out of Riga Latvia!  Nowadays, most travelers choose group air because it’s hassle free and fun to fly together into Moscow and out of Riga.  There are now two Moscow airports – main one is DME (1 hour outside city) and smaller SVO. Arrange your own air or join the group. We had quotes come in from KL, AF and BA, but LH -Lufthansa had one with best connections, no layovers, direct flights and price from Atlanta!  We’re only holding 22 seats and offering these on first come basis.

Outbound
May 19  LH445  ATL-FRA   4:10 PM (check-in by 1:30PM – landing 7:30AM next day)
May 20               FRA-DME  8:05 AM to 12:15 PM
Homebound
May 28  LH893  RIX-FRA     6:15 AM to 7:30 AM
                           FRA-ATL    10:15 AM to 2:15 PM (same day)
Price $890 + 498 taxes = $1388

FRA – Frankfurt, DME – Moscow, RIX – Latvia

Transfers- Airport transfer upon arrival and departure are included with Group Air. If your flight time coincides with the group, you may take our single airport group transfer. It’s your responsibility to find the group as they exit baggage claim.

Doing Own Air– You may arrange your own air from your hometown into Moscow and our Riga May 19-28.  We like Google Flights and Skyscanner. If your arrival or departure times do not align with Group Air times, you’ll need to arrange your own airport/hotel transfers. Meet up with group at group air arrival time or meet May 20 by 3 PM at Radisson Slavyanskaya hotel. (There are three Radisson hotels.)  If you go early and check-in AFS hotel before group arrives, it’s your responsibility to change rooms with your roommate if necessary day one when trip begins.

Meet Up with Group – May 20 meet Carol and the group in the hotel for a briefing around 4PM.  More on this later.  We moved group Welcome Dinner at local restaurant to Day2 so you can better enjoy it.

Accommodations – Please see the Air/Lodging tab on this website for details. Hotels can change, but it’s rare. Google each to see how cool the properties are.

Baggage– Think light to ease your burden, not like you’re fleeing your homeland.  You change hotel properties several times. 1 carry-on bag& 1 medium suitcase not to exceed 45lbs – weigh on a bathroom scale – are ideal. This weight limit is set for our porterage and luggage vans.  If you overpack by adding side pre-or post-trip luggage, make prior plans as to where to stow the excess luggage. You may be responsible for any overage charges. So many cool new luggage trackers with GPS available now to prevent lost baggage!  We like LugLoc, DynoTag, Samsung or Apple Trackers.   The new hard cases are difficult to fit in coach storage. Be sure to attach ID to carry-on and bag to assure your bag never gets left behind.   Leave space for souvenirs.

Packing – Google weather in Moscow a week prior departure – should average 59°F to 68°F.  Read Packing 101 in Heading Abroad with AFS

Pack your hygiene kit and munchies in clear plastic bags.  Airport and inflight food service may be limited.  This trip is so easy. Simply pack summer clothing with a light jacket for nights and long flights. Think umbrella, daypack, wide-brim hat, sunscreen, comfy sneakers, swimsuit for spas.   This trip is so easy. Simply pack casual spring clothing.  Bring water resistant jacket, sweater or fleece to layer.

Electric – Don’t forget chargers, cords, gadgets, batteries etc.  Cell phones and tablets do not need a converter, you only need an adapter plug.  AFSers often leave charger cords in room, be sure to double check before check out.  All properties have hairdryers.

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Money Matters – You will need some cash for personal tipping, meals, and shopping. $400 in cash should suffice. (Venmo may be convenient at home, but useless overseas, ATM may eat your card.  Always bring some cash!  Wise to have new crisp bills.)   Change currency arrival at airport, bank, or hotels or withdraw local currency from an ATM.  Note -independent ATMs are risky due to skimmer scams. Safest ATMs are at airport and banks. Always shield your pin number when entering. Avoid using unless it’s an emergency.  Master Card and Visa widely accepted.  Amex rarely accepted.  Be sure you bring New Bills (dates after 2016) as countries may not accept older bills when changing money.  Credit cards are far safer than using your debit card. I convert half of it upon entry. I use my credit card for most purchases.  Many cards now offer no foreign transaction fees.

Currency – Exchange Rate  $1= 74 Russian Rubles, $1= 73 Latvian Lats, $1 = 1.73 Estonian Kroon

Gratuities – (Prepaid) It’s protocol to tip our local guides, assistants, porters, drivers and ground staff. Guidelines have increased globally, but around $10 to $15 per day should cover all for the trip.  A $90 total will be added to your invoice. Please understand this is only the suggested minimum.  For ease of distribution, your GTL will tip the different ground services for the entire group each day.

Tipping on own –  If service is stellar, feel free to give more directly.  All we tourists leave behind is our reputation.   I carry a personal stash of US ones in an envelope to draw from as needed.  Bellstaff / porters – AFSers roll bags to the room.  If you use a porter, please tip $2.   Restaurants 10%.  For Group lunches or dinners, please leave a dollar or two for waitstaff.

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Communication– Internet is available. With smartphones, be sure to check with your provider for rates and coverage for international phone plans before departure. Data Roaming rates can be expensive. To reach home – Texting, iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook messaging when using WIFI. Be cautious using public Wi-Fi without using VPN. Without VPN never open attachments or view financial or personal accounts on the Internet while abroad.  Phone calls, text messages, and data usage of all kinds, it is crucial to understand that, unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, every use of your phone incurs a data toll. That means that viewing and downloading email, browsing the web, viewing social media, and mapping all incur data charges, as do applications that we sometimes assume to be “free,” such as Skype and WhatsApp. Unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, however, WhatsApp is using cellular data, so you are getting charged at your provider’s international roaming data rate.  Facebook Messenger Phone is an easy free way to make calls.

Get Smart: Avoiding Hackers on Vacation.  Thieves not only want your money but also your data.    Change passwords often. Check device security settings before you leave for your trip. Back up, update, and encrypt your devices and data using a virtual VPN.

  • In hotel rooms, hide iPods or laptops to avoid “evil maids” that want to clone your tech.
  • Bottled water is always best abroad, as our gut isn’t accustomed to local tap water. Eat clean food and avoid street vendors.
  • Pickpockets are everywhere now, especially at night.  Never carry your passport outside of the room.

It’s wise to grab a business card from the desk before heading out on own.  To get back just show the card to a taxi

Retail Therapy – The famous wooden dolls within dolls, Faberge eggs, crystal bowls, leather bags, fine woolen sweaters, amber and gold jewelry, paintings, exquisite   lacquer boxes and painted wooden dishware, pottery, porcelain, vodkas and fun commie souvenirs.  Bargain!

Photography – Before taking pictures of locals, please know it is always polite to first ask for permission.  Your Private Facebook Group Page is a great way to share your best shots with each other. AFS loves photos with group participants (not typical churches, monuments, or any shot that looks like you pulled it off of the net, etc.) on our website. The best photos are ones that include a group member with a local, children, animals, or at iconic sites in the same frame!

Websites of Interest – 

Cuisines –

Russia:  Try a bliny (Russian pancake or crepe), sirniki (bliny with cottage cheese), kasha (buckwheat), pelmeni (meat or fish dumplings), varenekki (filled dumplings), pirog (baked dough filled with sweet or savory filling), borscht (sour beetroot soup), and okroshka (cold yogurt based soup). For those with a sweet tooth, sample varenye (homemade jam) or a priyaniki (sweet bread or cookie). As is well known, Russia is famous for its infinite variety of vodkas, great beers, but poor wines.

Estonia:  Estonia is known for its rye bread, sult (aspic (savory meat-filled jelly)), anything pickled, smoked fish, smoked sprat open faced sandwiches, rosolje (potato salad), semla (sweet roll), kali (similar to a root beer), kohuke (sweet snacks), and chocolate goodies. Local Estonian beers are definitely worth a taste. Vannin Tallinn, a rum-based herb-infused liqueur, is an acquired taste.

Latvia:  Traditional Latvian dishes are simple and include potatoes, pork, stewed fish, dry-curd cottage cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers, summer berries, stewed sauerkraut, and rye bread pudding. Fresh juices from wild berries are refreshing. Riga’s Black Balsam is a thick, black alcoholic herbal drink containing ginger, oak bark, bitter orange peel and cognac and has been produced since 1700. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret!

Roomies –   Single supplement rates have significantly increased – if available at all. Save money and buy yourself an awesome local gift. We all live alone, but you can save money when traveling by rooming together. Suzy spends a lot of time on roommate matching. 99% of our clients are wonderful, and besides, you’re only in your room to sleep at night.

Leisure Time –  AFS travelers revel in the element of surprise in new destinations and allow the wind to blow them where it will. It’s best to ask our local expert guides for suggestions upon arrival. Our trip is filled with awesome daily tours, but there will also be some free time. Just Google “Things to Do”.

Moscow, Russia:  You have a choice of over 80+ museums – the best being the KGB Espionage Museum and the Vodka Museum. Visit the Tretyakov Art Gallery, shop Arbat Street, and spend time at Gorky Park with paddleboats and beer halls. A foodie’s dream is GUM department store! In the PM, plan for a performance at the Moscow Circus or Bolshoi Theater.

St.Pete’s, Russia:  Things to consider are the Museum of Erotica, Military Museum, Kresty Prison Museum and its historic dungeons, and St. Catherine’s Palace. Enjoy Segway tours in the city, explore Nevsky Prospekt Street, and travel the city’s rivers, canals, and islands via boats and cruises. Stroll through the beautiful Summer Gardens. In the PM, plan a dinner cruise or attend a performance at the Marinsky Theater.

Riga, Estonia:  Have fun marveling and photographing the lovely architecture and churches in Old Town, indulge at the Central Market, and visit the Riga Cathedral and Jewish Museum. For extra pleasure, choose to relax at one of the city’s many amazing spas – the best is ESPA Riga. In the PM, enjoy the vodka-fueled nightlife.

Tallinn, Latvia:  Get lost in Old Town, relish the local art scene and chocolate boutiques, or explore the city by taking a scooter tour. Fans – visit some of the Game of Thrones sites! Try not to miss the Estonian Open Air Museum, an incredible life-sized reconstruction of an 18th century rural fishing village.

Arranging Pre- or Post- Trip Plans –  We often see AFSers on your Private Facebook Page urging others to join them in traveling to other countries before or after our trip. Stopovers are great to add, but understand AFS has nothing to do with this nor is it responsible for side trips.

Recommended Option –  AFS Full Day Tour on Free Day May 24.

  1. PETERSBURG / PETRODVORETS (PETERHOF) $95 Join our private AFS guided full-day tour by hydrofoil to Peterhof, the former summer Residence of Czar Peter the Great was his Russian recreation of Versailles. So worth it.  (Watch the movie “Catherine the Great” to get inspired.) It is famed for its palaces, extensive gardens, terraces of gilded statues and fountain cascades on the Gulf of Finland. Relax and enjoy the elegant atmosphere of these baroque gardens and palaces on your visit. Transport is by Hydrofoil and our private coach.  Mind boggling opulence with 66 fountains and 8 miles of gardens constructed in 1700’s.  Our past groups loved it and it’s a Must See.  We saw that everyone wanted this to her a while back. They would like a headcount now. Please email us if you do not want it.  

Emergency Contact –   Please call the AFS phone at: 770-432-8225, or email us at: info@afstravelers.com. Your guide can handle a call home for a true emergency. Do not expect to use your trip leader’s cell phone; you’ll need to use your own cell phone.

Travel Insurance– While travel insurance is optional, in today’s world we highly encourage you to get standard coverage to cover trip interruption and cancellation.  Call to ask what Covid coverage they have.   Some companies cover Covid related issues. Best source for all is www.insuremytrip.com.   CFAR or cancel for any reason covers Covid but is expensive.  Note that no company covers for fear.

Preexisting conditions – If you would like the security of travel insurance and have a pre-existing condition (elderly parent, medical, etc.), you must purchase insurance within 15 days from your initial trip deposit in order to assure full coverage.  The trip cost can be amended or adjusted as needed after your initial purchase (eg. like adding an air ticket cost later). You can buy travel insurance at any time, just know that there may be some possible limitations if purchased outside the 15 day period.  We like TravelSafe, World Nomads and Seven Corners.

Travel Psychology 101  Prepare for your departure joyfully with no contempt before investigation upon arrival. Please understand that whenever you travel, things are not like at home and changes may occur. Great trips work best for those with an open mind, flexible attitude and adventuresome spirit.  If changes occur, embrace them with serendipity. Who knows?…The unexpected may prove to be a better experience.  Adapt and go with the flow with a laid-back attitude.

Be spontaneous. Be tolerant of foreign cultures in respecting their centuries of traditions. Embrace the differences. Be curious, not shy. Smile – locals will sense your energy of kindness and kindness always begets kindness. (This goes for your roommate, too. Most of us are used to living on our own; but, have fun while being accommodating and patient when sharing a room with another fellow traveler). Our common goal is to experience different cultures, make new friends, get great photos, have large fun, and return home safely with memories worthy of recollection.

The best spirit of an Explorer requires the openness of a child – Suzy

“When traveling, remember that a foreign country isn’t designed to make you comfortable.  It’s designed to make it’s own people comfortable.” – Clinton Fadiman

 A bit more…

Welcome to Moscow – Lonely Planet

Kremlin & Red Square  The very founding site of the city (and arguably, the country), the Kremlin and Red Square are still at the heart of Moscow – historically, geographically and spiritually. Feel the weight of this significance as you wander within the walls of the ancient fortress, marvel at the mind-boggling magnificence of St Basil’s Cathedral and pay your respects to the revered leader of a now-defunct state. Moscow will move you. It will tantalize your senses, soothe your spirit and boggle your mind – and it all starts right here at the Kremlin and Red Square.

Communist History  The remains of the Soviet state are scattered all around the city. Monuments remember fallen heroes and victorious battles, while museums attempt to analyze and synthesize the past. See Lenin and Stalin – off their pedestals – at the whimsical Art Museum. Step into the socialist-realist fantasy at VDNKh. Descend into the depths of the Soviet system at Bunker-42 Cold War Museum. Ride the museum-like metro and remember the millions who suffered at the Gulag History Museum. Nowadays, retro clubs and cafes give their guests a taste of the Soviet experience. You can even try your hand at Soviet-era arcade games.

Performing Arts  What is more thrilling than watching a ballerina defy gravity, leaping across the stage at the glittering Bolshoi Theatre? Or feeling the force of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, just a few blocks away from where it premiered more than a century ago? Or oohing and aahing as circus performers soar under the big tent? The classical performing arts in Moscow are still among the best in the world. Nowadays, even the most traditional theatres are experimenting with innovative arrangements, reviving lost favourites and hosting world premieres. Whether you appreciate the classics or prefer the contemporary, the capital’s performing arts will impress.

Orthodoxy & Architecture  At nearly every turn in Moscow, you’ll see golden domes peeking out over the rooftops and hear church bells peeling through the streets, which are dotted with some 600 churches – many of which are glittering after recent renovations. There are colourful hidden gems, historic fortresses and gargantuan cathedrals. The exteriors are adorned with stone carvings and glittering domes; interiors are packed with ancient icons, swirling incense and faithful worshippers. For more than a millennium, Orthodoxy has helped to define the Russian nation, a significance that is palpable in these atmospheric spiritual places.

Welcome to St Petersburg  The sheer grandeur and history of Russia’s imperial capital never fail to amaze, but this is also a city with a revolutionary spirit.

City of the Tsars  The creation of westward-looking Peter the Great, St Petersburg was intended from its inception as a display of imperial Russia’s growing status in the world. Fine-tuned by Peter’s successors, who employed a host of European architects to add fabulous palaces and cathedrals to the city’s layout, St Petersburg grew to be the Romanovs’ showcase capital and Russia’s first great, modern city. The capital may have moved back to Moscow following the revolution, but despite all that history has thrown at it, St Petersburg still feels every bit the imperial city with its historic heart largely frozen in time.

Venice of the North  Whether you’re cruising along the elegant canals, crossing one of the 342 bridges in the city, or just watching them being raised in summer over the mighty Neva River at night to allow ships to pass through, you’re never far from water in St Petersburg. This has earned the city unsurprising comparisons to Venice, but the similarities don’t stop there: walking around the historic centre will reveal canals lined by Italianate mansions and broken up by striking plazas adorned with baroque and neoclassical palaces. North of the city centre there are also pristine beaches fringing the Gulf of Finland.

The Hermitage  It would take approximately nine years to cast even a glance at each of the museums 150,000 works on display and that’s only 5% of the museum collection! It’s a never-ending maze at the Hermitage Museum’s 1000 rooms.

The Hermitage boasts over 2.7 million exhibits and displays a diverse range of art and artifacts from all over the world and from throughout history (from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century Europe). The Hermitage’s collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, a unique collection of Rembrandts and Rubens, many French Impressionist works by Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, numerous canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin and several sculptures by Rodin. The collection is both enormous and diverse and is an essential stop for all those interested in art and history. The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in the Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you’d seen them all. However, we recommend you opt for a guided tour instead!  The Winter Palace was built between 1754 and 1762 for Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great. Many of the palace’s impressive interiors have been remodeled since then, particularly after 1837, when a huge fire destroyed most of the building. Today the Winter Palace, together with four more buildings arranged side by side along the river embankment, houses the extensive collections of the Hermitage. The Hermitage Museum is the largest art gallery in Russia and is among the largest and most respected art museums in the world.

Welcome to Tallinn  No longer the plaything of greater powers – Danish, Swedish, Polish, German and Soviet – Tallinn is now a proud European capital with an allure all of its own. It’s lively yet peaceful, absurdly photogenic and bursting with wonderful sights – ancient churches, medieval streetscapes and noble merchants’ houses. Throw in delightful food and vibrant modern culture and it’s no wonder Tallinn seems in danger of being loved to death, especially after a few cruise ships dock. But it’s one of those blessed places that seems to cope with all the attention.

Welcome to Rīga  The Gothic spires that dominate Rīga’s cityscape might suggest austerity, but it is the flamboyant art nouveau that forms the flesh and the spirit of this vibrant cosmopolitan city, the largest of all three Baltic capitals. Like all northerners, it is quiet and reserved on the outside, but there is some powerful chemistry going on inside its hip bars, modern art centers and the kitchens of its cool experimental restaurants.  Standing next to a gulf named after itself, Rīga is a short drive from jet-setting sea resort, Jūrmala, which comes with a stunning white-sand beach. If you are craving solitude and a pristine environment, gorgeous sea dunes and blueberry-filled forests begin right outside the city boundaries.

Covid News  – Book AFS with Confidence 2021

The health of our Travelers comes first. As the world slowly opens, we are dedicated to creating responsible adventures!  All our trips are different, so specific plans in each region may be circumstantial. We work closely with our local suppliers to know the best practice in each country. That being said, we present a blanket procedure below to be followed on ALL AFS trips. Our local guides will brief you on arrival with the support of our Trip Leaders to ensure we follow local safety protocols. They are fully committed to aiding your well-being.

We will re-discover the world through more slow, easy and mindful travel. Our groups will be smaller.  All clients must take the AFS pledge that they are Covid free and will follow all safety protocols.  Booking travel now is complex because rules always change. Tour companies can’t become “health and safety experts” when policies are inconsistent. Even experts are in the dark at times with the changing patchwork of government laws, but we’ll do our best.  This is a learning process for all of us and as we go, we will strive to make each step as safe and seamless as possible for you.  Read all below on AFS detailed Terms & Conditions.

 Thank you for booking! We are blown away by the support from all of you throughout this pandemic. It validates the trust and values AFS was built on over 30 years. As countries reopen, so will we. Travel is a shared experience. Together we press on and travel boldly. Below are new guidelines. We all must adapt and embrace any challenges with confidence for the freedom and privilege to travel.

As in life itself, travel comes with some inherent risk the minute we step out our door.   Travel isn’t dangerous. Being irresponsible is. For your protection we want you to be proactive in following new health and safety protocols. They involve teamwork and personal responsibility, but they do not preclude you from having fun and enjoying your trip! Things constantly change and it’s a huge challenge for airlines, airports, hotels, cruises and tour companies.  We will do our best to keep you up to date with any adjustments.

Please understand we reserve the right to amend any tour activities, if needed. To present responsible travel, we at AFS do our part: Our vetted suppliers uphold the highest standards under CDC guidelines.  At present, some international airlines may require a negative Covid test within 96 to 72 hours of departure. Details later as they come.  This may change as rules are always being revised.

Please review the modified AFS Terms and these steps regarding COVID-19:

  • If you are in a high-risk group, it is suggested you do not travel.
  • It is your responsibility to check resources below as well as your airline requirements for travel. You may need to show proof of wellness note. Click to see CDC , WHO
  • You may not travel if you have any symptoms such as sore throat, shortness of breath, fever and verify you have not been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid in the last 14 days.
  • Safety measures on a trip; frequent handwashing, (bring personal sanitizer), exercise social distancing and wear a mask when applicable.
  • Purchase travel insurance. Squaremouth.com explains all.  World Nomads is affordable. All provide trip cancellation (not from fear), trip interruption, added medical protection. Call them to understand coverage. We are not responsible for additional cost to do to quarantine or illness. APRIL International Insurance is the only company at this time to cover Covid. More will follow.  Many are now considering refunds for CV.

 We at AFS assure you we will continue to offer you quality trips to countries where you will feel protected – countries that are going to extraordinary lengths now to provide a safe visit. Each destination is far less crowded than ever before and that means better personal attention.  Planes are half full and we can trust our astute global suppliers when each country is clear to visit. We’re taking great precautions and encourage you to remain positive.

Our Pledge to You

  • Our global, vetted suppliers uphold the highest standards under new CDC guidelines.
  • We ensure that heightened sanitation methods have been adopted in every place we visit and that all hotel properties and vehicles have passed cleanliness protocols.
  • Our guides and drivers must test negative and pass stringent safety measures.
  • Most of our groups will be limited to half the size of normal in the past.
  • We are choosing destinations with wide-open spaces for physical distancing.
  • Some private tours for groups of friends only can be arranged.
  • We’ll monitor your trip closely and provide a 24/7 emergency number if your trip is disrupted.
  • All clients must take the AFS pledge that they are COVID-free and will follow all the safety protocols.
  • We relaxed booking conditions with most trip deposits at only $250 and final payment deadlines from 4 months out to 70 days before departure.  This is a learning process for all of us as we go. We will strive to make each step as safe and seamless as possible for you!

Your Pledge to AFS

We ask you to assume personal responsibility to protect your health and the well-being of your fellow travelers, guides and locals.

  • Read and print all updated Trip Tips on AFS website
  • Get travel insurance with trip interruption
  • Stay healthy with vitamin D and zinc
  • Confirm within 14 days of departure but you have no symptoms of Covid nor being in close contact with anyone diagnosed with it.
  • You agree to assume any risk of participating in trip activities, comply with applicable government, airline and health authorities.
  • Exercise social distancing and local guides directions whenever possible.
  • Sanitize your hands and phone throughout.

 Read more here –  https://www.afstravelers.com/terms-and-conditions/

Covid Travel Rules are ever-changing depending on country and time of year.  Therefore, we created a single Covid rule page so everything can be up-to-date for participants on our trips.   Click Here for the latest Covid Travel Rules

Brief technical update from Russian supplier  Russia, Estonia and Latvia

Day 1        FLY TO MOSCOW  

Upon arrival at Moscow Airport meet and greet and transfer to your hotel.

Accommodation:       Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel (2 Nights)  Square of Europe, 2  Moscow, Russia, 121059

Day 2         MOSCOW                                                                                                                   (B/D)

Moscow, one of the largest cities in the world, is the symbolic heart and soul of the country. Your sightseeing tour begins at Red Square, dominated by colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral and by the massive red walls of the Kremlin. Visit the Armory Museum, with its impressive collection of Tsarist, Russian, and foreign jewelry, armor, and other artifacts. Then walk by Moscow University. Continue with a drive along the wide boulevards and a stroll through GUM, Russia’s largest department store. On to the north bank of the River Moskva, passing by baroque Novodevichy convent; ending the tour at the popular Arbat shopping district, time to shop or enjoy lunch on your own.  The rest of the afternoon is at leisure.

MOSCOW/METRO & RED SQUARE BY NIGHT

No visit of Moscow is complete without a tour of its elegant Subway Stations!  We will show you some of the most beautiful stations decorated with marble, brightly colored stained glass, mosaics, and chandeliers. Later stroll in Red Square, passing the tomb of Lenin and St. Basil’s Cathedral.  Welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 3         MOSCOW – ST. PETERSBURG                                                                                  (B)

Time at leisure in Moscow, before transferring to the railway station for our four hour high-speed Sapsan train ride to St. Petersburg.  Upon arrival, visit the world-famous Hermitage, housing more than four million works of art. It ranks among one of the largest and oldest museums of the world, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great.  Evening at leisure and overnight.

Accommodation:       Ambassador Hotel (3 Nights)  St. Petersburg

Day 4          ST. PETERSBURG                                                                                                        (B)

This morning, begin with a  half-day city sightseeing tour of St. Petersburg including the Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great, Stock Exchange, Senate Square, Vasilievsky Island, Smolny Cathedral, Admiralty, Alexander Column, Church of the Spilled Blood, Kazan Cathedral, Blue Bridge, and Nevsky Street. Take an excursion to the Russian Vodka museum and taste 3 types of vodka. Free time for lunch (own expense).

In the afternoon, visit Catherine’s Palace, a former summer residence of Russian tsars that is famous for stunning baroque-style interiors, opulent Amber room and a beautiful park. The complex is part of a complex of palaces and parks of the city of Pushkin, declared a World Heritage Site.

Day 5          ST. PETERSBURG                                                                                                        (B)

Full day at leisure unless you have signed up for the Optional tour.

St. Petersburg/Petrodvorets (Peterhof) for 35 passengers

The former summer Residence of Czar Peter the Great was his Russian recreation of Versailles. It is famed for its palaces, extensive gardens, terraces of gilded statues and fountain cascades on the Gulf of Finland. Relax and enjoy the elegant atmosphere of these baroque gardens and palaces on your visit. Today’s transport is by Hydrofoil.

Day 6           ST. PETERSBURG – TALLINN                                                                            (B/L)

Today’s journey will take us to Estonia, where your first stop is Narva, set just across the border with Russia. Here we stop for Lunch before we continue to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Upon arrival, begin with a half-day walking tour including Dome Cathedral, Town Hall Square and medieval Town Hall, Toompea Hill, and Toompea Castle, Niguliste Church, St. Olav’s church, Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral, medieval walls, and fortifications (no entrances are included).  Dinner on your own.

Accommodation:       Hestia Hotel Europa (1 Night)  Estonia

Day 7          TALLINN – RIGA                                                                                                         (B)

Continue to Riga. Upon arrival, see Riga Castle on the banks of the Daugava River, the magnificent Dome Cathedral, St. Jacobs Cathedral, St. Peter’s Church, the Parliament building, Liberty Monument, and the district of Art Nouveau houses on a morning sightseeing tour.  Spend time at the Central Market finding treasures to take home.  The rest of the day is free to explore, shop, or maybe sample Latvian crepes.   Evening at leisure.

Accommodation:       Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel (2 Nights)  Latvia  

Day 8            RIGA – OPEN AIR ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM                                             (B/D)

Visit the open-air Ethnographic Museum that depicts 18th century farm life. This unique museum is set on 100 hectares of land on the outskirts of Riga, in a pine forest on the banks of the Jugla Lake. The 118 historic structures including farmhouses, windmills, fishing villages, churches and other historic structures have been rebuilt and preserved here to re-create a proper village preserved from this era.   In the evening, gather with your fellow travelers for a farewell dinner at the hotel.

Day 9            DEPART RIGA                                                                                                              (B)

Breakfast, transfer to the airport.

FLY RIGA TO USA

Covid travel rules seem to mutate faster than the virus itself.  To keep all groups up to date with the lasted information, we’ve created a page that’s updated as needed.  Set a reminder for yourself to check the Covid page 7 days before departure.  

Please open and read about traveling and Covid Rules

#solotravelers