Diary of a Russian Wife

10/27/2007

Booking an Apartment in Moscow

What to consider as the start of a journey: a flight, or your first day in the city of destination?

Our trip to Moscow started with a pretty enjoyable flight. The plane was half-empty, and I was able to lay down across 3 seats and got some sleep.

But our first day in Moscow was just terrible.

Last month I had several failed attempts to find a hotel that would be (1) close to the center of Moscow, (2) had reasonable prices (under $150 per night), (3) had good reviews on the Internet and (4) was available from October 27th to November 3rd.

Instead, I've booked the "Jasper Suite", a 2 room apartment located on Novy Arbat, 22: http://www.allrussiahotels.com/apartment/moscow/jasper.html.

Well, now I know: if you want your trip to be surprise-free, go to a hotel.

Our plane has arrived about 1 hour early, and passport control and receiving luggage took less time than expected. Our check-in time was scheduled for 12:30 pm, but we arrived at the apartment building at 11 am. If we were in a hotel, we could leave our suitcases in a storage and go for a walk or do something. Here, we had to sit and wait. I called a manager and asked whether it is possible for a company's representative to come earlier to let us in, but received polite but firm answer that their representative will come by 12:30 as agreed.

At 12:30 their representative has arrived, but... she had the wrong key.

She apologized, made numerous calls, sent numerous SMS trying to reach someone from management. What a mess. Finally, she told us that in 30 minutes a cleaning lady will bring a spare key.

In an hour, at 1:30, another girl has come. She had a big bag of keys. It looked like she had keys from all apartments in Moscow... except our apartment. Yes, I am not kidding - she didn't have the key to our apartment. So, it started all over again - phone calls, SMS to management and apologies. In a meantime, the first lady left because she had other tourists to meet (good luck to them). The second girl said that she has to go too and that some other guy will bring us a key shortly. I said that I won't let her go until the damn apartment is open. She has put me on the phone with her manager, and the manager said that she will come herself, in 30 minutes.

When someone in Moscow tells you "30 minutes", multiply it by 2. In a hour, the manager has come. Surprisingly, she had the key! The key has fit into the whole, but didn't turn. The manager got on the phone and asked someone how to operate it. After 10 minutes of watching her fighting with the lock, the door was finally open.

So, here we are: extremely tired, jet-lagged and stressed out.

10/05/2007

Booking a Hotel in Russia

In my worst nightmare I couldn't image how challenging it would be to book a hotel in Russia.

The first thing that I've learned was that you shouldn't assume that the information on the Russian Internet is current. When I started planning a trip to Moscow, I didn't worry about a hotel at all. My friend recommended me the "Rossia" hotel. It's located very close to Red Square, and prices are very reasonable, $73 per room per night. I've found the hotel's web site and started calling their reservation phone number. But every time I called, I received a voice mail, "We are sorry, but all lines are busy right now. Please try again later". I tried later at night, I tried early in the morning, I tried for 3 days in a row, but still received the same message. With frustration, I started searching through other web sites... and found out that the hotel "Rossia" has been under reconstruction for 2 years already. Why, for God's sake, they don't have this information available on the hotel's web site? Why the voice mail has never been re-programmed???

The second lesson that I learned was that if you want to book a hotel in Russia - do not try to contact the hotel directly. Yes, that's right. When possible, I look for ordering services/products from the first source. But this way doesn't work in Russia. When I tried to book a room directly from the "Izmailovo Beta" hotel web site, I've received a response, "We are sorry, but there are no rooms available for this period". I started panicking. But numerous booking services web sites offered this hotel for the exact same period. I tried one of such services, and voula - I have a reservation! There was one strange paragraph in the confirmation e-mail though. It said that upon arrival, do not come to the Check-In Front Desk, but go directly to the 6th floor and pay for the room there. First, I through it sounds way too fishy. But after some research I've realized that this is how booking services do their business in Russia: they book entire floors in popular hotels and then re-sell rooms by their prices.

The third lesson that I learned is that Moscow is indeed the most expensive city in the world. Prices for hotels in the center of the city are outrageous. $150 per night for an economy class room in an OK hotel outside of the city center is considered cheap. Rooms in the central hotels are $300 and up to $4,500 per night. Another observation: prices vary depending on a day of week. The most expensive days to stay in a Russian hotel are Tuesday through Thursday. I am still trying to figure out why...

Many web sites offer apartments for rent in Moscow. But here is the problem: if you have a travel visa, you need to register your visa in Russia within 3 business days after your arrival. If you stay in a hotel, they will take care of your visa registration. But if you choose to rent an apartment, your landlord might or might not be willing to go through the hassle with your visa registration. So, ask before you book an apartment.

Customer Service... well, there is no such thing in Russia. After I booked a hotel online on one of Russian booking services web site, I had to wait for 2 days for their response. During those 2 days I was wondering whether I will ever receive any response or it's just a scam site phishing out my credit card information. But, as I already mentioned, in 2 days I received a long-waited response. They wrote (in poor English) that there is no room available for 7 nights as I requested. They offered me a room for 6 nights instead, and a room in a next door hotel for the last night. How would you like to pack your bags and move to another hotel for one night? I didn't like it.