Service in the Hotel Europe was good; the rooms and dining rooms were clean and efficiently run. However, this was not the norm in Russia and hotels could be a frightening place to turn out the lights at night. One of the biggest complaints was dirt and vermin in hotel rooms. Bedbugs and the famous St. Petersburg flea were an endemic problem that generations of travellers to Russia had moaned about. Flea powder was a travelling necessity in 1900 and it's liberal application on bedding, the floor and even in one's bed clothes could be a nightly habit before turning in. Russians were not very sympathetic to the plight of their guests. Travellers who choose to complain to hotel staff were liable to hear - "Relax, let them bite. You'll soon not notice them at all!".
Travellers had to avoid drinking the water or eating raw fruit or vegetables. Even fruit juices could be a problem if they were watered down. Bottled water was 'de riguer' for foreign tourists in Russian hotels.
After one had decided upon the hotel one wanted to stay in the next step was negotiating a price. Bargaining in Russia was standard practice and it drove American visitors mad. It happened everywhere - even when a shop or hotel posted a sign claiming "Prix Fixe", fixed prices. No one who knew the system would be foolish enough to pay the listed price in hotels. Negotiations to conclude a price might take some time and energy to conclude successfully. Many rooms might have to be inspected, stopping in each one to haggle about the advantages and disadvantages of its' location or furnishings. Persistence paid. The tenacious negotiator - willing to walk towards the door, bags in hand ready to go somewhere else - would almost always be offered a price one third of what was originally asked - or, as an alternative - an upgrade to the best room in the hotel at the price of a budget room.
Everyone haggled over prices in stores and hotels - even Princesses! It's not surprizing the Imperial family avoided visiting stores in Russia altogether and only shopped in stores abroad. The game was well known to Russians, who took it in stride as a part of everyday life. Tourists found it to be a nerve racking experience.
The Hotel Europe stood very close to the museum of Alexander III, which housed a collection focused on Russian art. This is the next stop on the travelogue.
Next photograph: The Museum of Alexander III (Russian Museum)
For a small map of the St. Petersburg area click here.
To see a large map of the center
of St. Petersburg go here.
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