Homestaying in St Petersburg with Valentina

In the kitchen at our homestay in St Petersburg, Russia

Both times I’ve been to Russia, I used homestay services for my accommodation – I’ve actually never set foot inside a Russian hotel! People often ask me about it and I’ve been reminiscing about probably my favourite one – staying with the charming Valentina in St Petersburg, during the trip I made to Russia with my mother.

But first, some background: in my experience, a majority of homestay hosts across Russia are middle-aged widows who host foreigners to make a small income. Apparently a lot of Russian men die relatively young, and that’s left a large number of widows who find it hard to make ends meet. Enter the job of homestay host – get some income, meet some foreigners, be less lonely.

I’ve also stayed with several families, who seemed to be hosting tourists for similar reasons – a little side income, and sometimes introducing their children to foreigners, or having a chance to practice English.

When we stayed with Valentina, a long-term St Petersburg resident who lived just across the bridge from the center of the city, my mother and I ended up sleeping in a converted study on less-than-comfortable sofa beds, but Valentina met us every morning with a cheery cup of tea and Russian-style pancakes for breakfast.

My mother at the main entrance to our homestay apartment block

She spoke a little English, and my mother a little Russian, and between them they found out all kinds of facts about each other. Valentina had a male friend who visited a couple of times, although we weren’t formally introduced – but my mother did find her excuses to walk out to the kitchen and get a glimpse of him. (I, of course, stayed politely in our room.)

Valentina was particularly pleased when we spent some hours touring round the incredible rooms of the Hermitage. And I was jealous when she explained that she goes there every couple of months, on foot, to enjoy some paintings and see a different part of the gallery. Since I read that it would take several lifetimes to properly look at every item in their collection, even Valentina hasn’t seen everything, but she’s lucky enough to have seen more than I ever could.

Not every homestay experience I’ve had has been as fun as staying with Valentina, but none have been terrible, and I’d certainly recommend them. Heaps more exciting than a boring hotel room!

Comments

  1. The best way to experience old Russia in the city is to visit the number of churches and museums like the Hermitage Museum, Catherine Palace and
    Smolny Cathedral.

  2. Where could I get contacts of homestays, please? I think staying with them is a much better idea than with a hostel. But can your homestay host help you register your visa?

    • Ele, I used an agency (an Australian agency, actually) who booked both my train tickets (when I took the Trans-Siberian) and my homestay places along the way – and yes, the visa issue was a bit tricky – the agency “booked” us into hotels which we never stayed in (or paid for), so I really don’t know how it worked and it was obviously not exactly how it should be done!

      So, short answer – try some agencies or just googling, and I’m not sure if the visa thing is quite legal. But homestays in Russia were fantastic.

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