Greg Tepper and Stella Bayley put together a marvelous custom trip to Russia for my wife Anne-Lise and me earlier this month, September 2019. We enjoy being independent, and their skill organizing many components added up to an excellent experience in a new destination with an unfamiliar language. We were impressed with how smoothly everything went. Our first step was to secure frequent flyer tickets as soon as available most of a year in advance. We then worked with Stella to select preferences for guides, interests, transportation, hotels, and restaurants, with plenty of time to fill out our itinerary. The plan was for 3 nights in Moscow (Ararat Park Hyatt), 2 nights in Suzdal, one of the historic towns in the Golden Circle to the east (Pushkarskaya Sloboda Hotel), and 4 nights in St Petersburg (The Lotte Hotel), before heading west to Helsinki and family in Oslo.
We appreciated the knowledge and experience of our guides, Gennady in Moscow and Suzdal, and Luda in St Petersburg, both of whom were great travelling companions with decades of experience with Greg. Luda was particularly adept at maneuvering us through the unexpected hordes of tour groups at some of St Petersburg’s primary attractions. Being independent travelers, and probably due to deserved Russian pride and cultural background, it was difficult for our guides to cut back on “seeing everything.” A recommendation – set up a couple of half days with guide and driver in the morning, and then do your own thing in the afternoon; this allowed Anne-Lise to shop or rest after much walking, and me (an architect) to return to a location or two for more intense photography. All our drivers were excellent, the cars immaculate, and we took advantage of the highspeed bullet trains from Moscow to Vladimir (Suzdal), St Petersburg, and Helsinki.
The hotels/service and restaurants/food were impressive. The one restaurant reservation that did not measure up to expectations was Mam Gochi in Moscow – it was almost empty on Saturday evening, and we ordered from a menu of photographs. Gennady’s suggested lunch at the Vogue Café, a short block from the Ararat Park Hyatt, was elegant and this would have made for a classy dinner. Our favorite dinners were at Dom and Cococo in St Petersburg. Our guides joined us for lunch at excellent local restaurants when we were on the go. Imported premium wines were extremely expensive, as warned, but we were able to find a few southern European and South American wines by the glass or bottle on most any wine list at prices close to those at home. Remember that tipping is expected everywhere like in the US, and cash is preferred to get to the right person. US dollars, Euros and local currency are welcomed, and I filled up a secure wallet with crisp $5, $10 and $20 bills before leaving home.
We came away with a very favorable impression of this part of contemporary Russia. Everyone was extremely helpful, and we never felt unsafe. The reconstruction that has taken place following the Nazi destruction is mind-boggling, and streets and public places are clean and extremely well maintained. Our private visit to the “Amber Room” workshop at Catherine Palace outside St Petersburg and the classical concert for an audience of 50 at Grand Duke Vladimir Palace in the city were special. Challenge Greg and Stella with a special interest request. They arranged for me to meet up again with Father Roman in Moscow at the Danilov Monastery; he was our Russian bell expert who came to Harvard University a decade ago and advise us on the exchange of 18 new bells to replace the originals that were rescued from Moscow during the Stalin era; the originals returned home to Danilov Monastery. Greg’s contact got in touch with Father Roman and we ended up chasing him up the tower where he played the bells in the weekly Sunday ringing; a wonderful reunion.
I am certain Greg and his team will put together a great trip for anyone travelling independently or interested in a small group.
Overall, it was an amazing trip! Two things that really set our trip to St. Petersburg apart:
(1) Eugenia, the guide they arranged, was AMAZING. She is a wonderful person and was a delight to our three pre-teen/teenage boys. We learned all about her fascinating family. As she learned what our family already knew about Russian history (the kids LOVE history), she adjusted to make her content much deeper. Eugenia’s grandfather was the official photographer at the Hermitage, and she knows the museum like her own home. We spent 7 magical hours there with her, and I’d gladly spend another 7 magical days! She adjusted our plans on the fly so we could fit in the Faberge Museum. She helped us know what to look for in the ballet Giselle before we went. After a couple days, it was like traveling with a (deeply knowledgeable) good friend!
(2) the itinerary was very thoughtful given our interests. For example, the Peterhof tour included the grottos (where we went from massive crowds to serenity in seconds!) and Mon Plaisir, but not the crowded main house. For us, this was perfect. Also, the Museum of Political History was fascinating given our interests, and we understand it doesn’t get included in many shorter itineraries. The built-in flexibility in the Hermitage day was also ideal.
Travel specialists were great. Standouts were ability to get us intimate tours inside the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and inside the world famous Marinsky school in St. Petersburg as well as a superb opera in each city. Our 18 year old granddaughter is a dancer so this was important.
Also important were the dinners that Greg lined up for us. I asked that they be a good mix of intimate small places, unique to Russia, as well as excellent top line places. I also wanted him to tell us at what hour we should eat in each place. So many tour guides or concierges just give us a long list with lots of descriptions. Greg was willing to listen to me give a detailed picture of what I preferred then select a specific list for each night or day. And the result was perfect.
The guides in both cities were very good and we saw the best stuff and skipped most of the long lines.
I am very picky and appreciate the good work.
Our 18 day trip to Berlin, Moscow and St. Petersburg in May was fantastic. We even squeezed in an overnight to Suzdal and Vladimir which gave us a glimpse into Russia’s distant past and proved to be a delightful change from the beautifully restored cities. It also gave us the opportunity to enjoy dinner at the home of a Russian family in Suzdal. Enlightening and fun.
As a travel group of four adults, it was very helpful to sort out our priorities per your questionnaire and then road test our ideas with Greg & Scott. Their experience, questions and suggestions paid big dividends in planning our itinerary and throughout the trip which included well appointed hotels, good restaurant recommendations and a mix of planned and “free” time that reflected our interests in history, art and music. That said, ‘free time” didn’t mean “down” time. Too much to explore and enjoy. A lovely surprise -lilacs and tulips in bloom everywhere.
Berlin: On our first full day, it was great fun walking up through the glass dome of the Reichstag and looking out at the city. City highlights included a private tour of the Boros Collection, Nefertiti at the Neues Museum and three incredible classical music venues and performances. We especially enjoyed Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven Sonatas in the Pierre Boulez Saale.
Moscow: Highlights included visits to the Armory Museum, Diamond Vaults, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center and a private tour of the Bolshoi Theatre (a truly amazing facility).
St. Petersburg: Highlights included a private curated tour of the Hermitage, a moving visit to the Siege Museum and a private visit to the bells and ancient clock mechanisms within the steeple of the Peter Paul Cathedral. Great views and well worth the climb!
In addition to trip planning, Greg has an excellent team of local guides who enriched our experience immeasurably with their professional knowledge, responsiveness and willingness to share their personal experiences as residents of these amazing cities: Martin in Berlin, Elena in Moscow and Anya in St. Petersburg.
We had a very good trip, although the transfer from Moscow airport could have been better. We had to wait for at least 20 mins outside the airport arrival terminal for our car to pick us up. Although the transfer assistant and the driver did otherwise provide excellent service. Also the transfer to the Sapsang station could have been better…provide baggage trolleys so that luggage can be carried from the drop-off to the train. Other than these….excellent transfer assistants and guides…
Response from Greg Tepper:
I’m thrilled to hear that Fran enjoyed our guides and transfer assistants. Unfortunately, in Russian airports, our drivers must wait outside the central part of the airport and in a place similar to our “cell phone lots” here in the US. When you walk out of customs and into the care of our transfer assistant, the assistant immediately calls the driver and he starts making his way to you in the arrival area. I’m sure Fran noticed the problems Moscow has with traffic, and this certainly applies to traffic even within the airport. It truly can take 20 minutes for a car to get to you, even if the driver is waiting in the official waiting zone of the airport. I’m so sorry that this wait was noticeable to Fran.
As for Russian train stations, I wish they had free trolleys too! It would make life so much easier for us all. There are a few porters at the train stations, but they charge considerably for their services and normally assist only groups boarding the train. It does sound like Fran enjoyed Russia, and I hope she comes back.
The highlight for me was standing on the apron of the Bolshoi stage. I know you can buy private tours of the Bolshoi, I know you can stand in line for group tours. But we spent well over an hour, possibly two hours, I was so in heaven I lost track with the director of public relations. She didn’t just show us the theatre, we sat in a couple of the boxes and swapped stories about performances we’d seen, when we’d both seen Nureyev, experiences wed shared, just at different points on life’s timeline. And then to just relax and hear her stories from her amazing career at both the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, so special, this is not what happens in a tour available on Viatour. The cherry on top was when we followed her to the stage. No performance that day as they were changing sets, so she led us to the apron. I caught my breath for that one minute.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Russia thanks to Greg Tepper. Greg knows Russia and his in-depth knowledge enabled him to tailor our trip to meet our needs with visits to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky museums. Our Trip was 10 days with the majority of the time spent in Moscow and St. Petersburg. We were particularly impressed with our early entry into the Hermitage thereby avoiding the long lines. The same was true for access to Catherine Palace through the front main gates. Our Russian guides were very adept at getting us around and through our venues with great efficiency. The bullet train from the Golden Ring to Moscow was fantastic and the private boat tour of canals and the Neva river in St. Petersburg provided amazing views of the city.
Our Russian adventure was wonderful. We will never forget our time in Moscow and St.Petersburg.
Our trip to Russia was one of the best trips we have taken (and we travel a lot). No detail was overlooked, Our guides were fabulous. Their English was great and their knowledge was impressive. The “extra ordinary” experiences arranged for us added another level to our trip. We definitely recommend Greg to anybody considering a trip to Russia.
Visiting St. Petersburg has been a long-standing item on our bucket list. We decided that we would use an ocean cruise as the means of traveling there and picked a cruise that included a two-night port stay, giving us three full days to enjoy the city. Even so, we were concerned that reliance on the excursions offered by the ship would not give us the experience we were looking for. Being a part of a group of 20 to 40 people working to a fixed schedule did not appeal to us. We decided to contact Greg Tepper for help.
Greg’s team worked with us to plan a visit that covered all the traditional highlights, while adding in elements that are simply not available to large tours. For example, our visit to Peterhof not only included a walk through the famed gardens and fountains, but also incorporated stops at the grottoes and a thoroughly delightful exploration of the little-visited “bathhouse”. It was those two additions that made the visit memorable.
Likewise, the highlight of any visit to Catherine Palace is the Amber Room. Unfortunately, ropes keep you far enough away from the walls to make it difficult to appreciate the artistry of the room, and photographs are strictly forbidden. Our visit, however, included a lengthy stop at the Amber Workshop, where all the amber displayed in the Palace was created. This is something that is simply not possible to do with a large tour. Here we were able to talk one-on-one with the Amber Workshop guide and actually handle the raw materials, examine pieces in detail, and take all the photographs we wanted.
We also delighted in being able to have lunch at small cafes, such as The Idiot (with its Bohemian décor mimicking the style of one of Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg flats). It was these kinds of experiences that affirmed the wisdom of selecting Greg’s team to plan our visit.
In addition to putting together an excellent plan, the execution was perfect. Little details were carefully thought out, such as making sure that we started our day only after the regular ship excursions had time to complete the lengthy passport control process.
Finally, we enjoyed the services of a wonderful guide for our 28 hours of touring. Luda has 20 years of experience working as a guide, and it all shows. Her knowledge of St. Petersburg is encyclopedic, but she only shared what we showed an interest in hearing. She was attentive to our moods and interests and frequently made adjustments to the plan, both small and large, to better accommodate our needs. We could not have asked for a better guide.
From start to finish, I have never felt so well cared for by any other Travel Specialist.
Every detail of the trip was carefully considered and worked into the planning…not just selecting the sightseeing options, but also taking into consideration the local holidays, traffic, opening hours, travel distances, neighborhoods, etc. Only their level of expertise and familiarity with this region could allow them to provide this type of pre-planning.
We had to work around 2 holiday situations while we were in Russia and both were handled very smoothly and effectively by pre-planning and by our local guides who were prepared to deal with any possible inconveniences.
We worked primarily with Gregg’s representative, Jody. Both Gregg and Jody understood immediately what I was looking for in my trip and planned accordingly. Very importantly, Jody answered ALL my many many questions PROMPTLY AND COURTEOUSLY. I had a lot of questions regarding local customs and etiquette in Russia. But Jody unlocked many of the mysteries of Russia for me.
The guides in St. Petersburg and Moscow were top notch….brilliant and charming with excellent English.
The hotels were excellent with great staff taking wonderful care of us. Gregg and Jody’s restaurant suggestions were super and they took care of all the reservations.
We were kindly and expertly escorted everywhere by Gregg’s representatives….airports, train stations, and back to our hotel at the end of the day.
This was such a very special trip for us. We are deeply appreciative of all the kind care and attention we received.
Greg’s team planned a wonderful itinerary for us. The accommodations were superb, the guides excellent, and our drivers were just great. We truly felt that we really saw the Baltic capitals; we learned so much and came away with a better understanding of the Baltic people, their past and their future.
I worked with Greg Tepper and his right hand, Gwen Kozlowski, in planning our September 2018 trip to Moscow and Budapest. In Moscow, the Metro stations, the churches with golden domes, and the Kremlin were all great. But our favorite experiences were (1) the Museum of Tolerance, where the complete honesty and openness of the museum’s required private guide demonstrated how Russia has changed, and the State Museum of Contemporary Russia, where the note in one exhibit that the “reunification of the Crimea with Russia…was the result of universal free expression of the will of the Crimean people” demonstrated how Russia has not changed; (2) two performances of the Bolshoi Ballet, with tickets secured for us by Exeter; and (3) the GUM store near the Kremlin. By the way, in Moscow, we had no problems with personal safety and were treated very well by everyone we came into contact with.
In Budapest, highlights were (1) morning shopping with the chef of Gundel restaurant and a specially prepared lunch by the chef in a private room, with Gundel’s sommelier overseeing the very good wines we were offered, including a 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu; (2) a new, special exhibit at the Dohany Street Synagogue on the Hungarian ghettos late in WWII after Hitler invaded Hungary; and (3) music events at Liszt Academy and Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, with tickets secured for us by Exeter. Of course, we enjoyed Buda with its views of the Danube and other sights. The Club Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton was great and so valuable for us because it gave us flexibility in eating breakfast (I could easily get carry-out coffee and a roll while my wife was still in bed, and return later with her for more breakfast), plus on the two nights when we went to 7:30 pm music concerts, my wife and I could have a light, quick dinner in the lounge before we went to the concert hall.
Only my initial conversation was with Greg. Most of my contact was with Gwen, who was simply wonderful to work with, both technically and personally. I could not have been more satisfied.
Working with Greg and our primary contact person, Jody, was fantastic! We did 3 full days of touring- packed.
One of the best moves, early in planning, was when Jody got our list of what we want to see and do, she gently let us know that our expectations of what we could accomplish in 3 days, during the high season were unrealistic. So working with the two couples she helped us prioritize our objectives based on our passions and must do’s. The special perk of doing Catherine’s Palace was to get a chance to go to the amber workroom and learn about Amber, what can be done with it and how they went about reconstruction a replica of the first Amber room, lost in WWII. She also strongly recommended the private entrance to the palace, not inexpensive, but seeing the 4-6 hour regular admittance line made us believers. Also, it felt like we were royalty as we were whisked in!
Our guide, Anya, was a delight- Very knowledgeable and well versed on many topics. All in all, a very successful 3 days in St Petersberg. I will say, that after experiencing the tremendous crowds present throughout the Baltic, I am only further convinced that if you can take the weather during offseason, it would be the better time to travel to popular destinations
Before we contacted Greg and Natasha, we did research on sites, restaurants, and experiences we did and didn’t want. Our son is very knowledged in WWII history, tanks, and aircraft, so we wanted extensive coverage of these topics. Besides the tank museum at Kublinka the largest in the world and aircraft museum at Monino, Greg and Natasha suggested other sites— Stalin’s bunker, the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, and a Cold War nuclear bunker in which we turned the keys to launch ICBMs. Our guide, Tatianna, met us daily and took us and translated for our private guides at each site. One of our favorites was a night at the circus. We had reserved restaurants beforehand so our stay in Moscow was wonderful. We took the Sandan bullet train to St. Petersburg which was the only disappointment as we thought we were booked in 1st and instead were in a cramped car without foot room and roaming children. Ted, our guide in St. Petersburg, was like Tatianna, a gem. Like in Moscow we dispensed with the churches and visited Peterhof, Catherines Palace where the famous Amber Room is with a special appointment in the amber workshop, the Cruiser Aurora, the Naval Museum, and the Artillery Museum, where my son took apart an AK-74 and put it back together. Ted and I wandered the Hermitage and the annex for Impressionist paintings. All of our needs were carefully thought out with Greg and Natasha before our plane left the ground, and now I wouldn’t do it any other way. Impressive!
Moscow and St. Petersburg
Leigh in Greg’s office was my agent and from the beginning, I was impressed with her professionalism. We had no concerns or issues during our trip. Our guides were very knowledgeable and polite. Thank you!
Our St Petersburg guide, Luda, was very knowledgeable in leading us through all the main sites. St Petersburg is a beautiful city with lots and lots of museums and palaces to see. During the middle of our stay we decided to add a visit to the siege museum which was well worth the time and we would recommend everyone considering it.
The trip was planned with precision and everything flowed smoothly. Both guides were excellent and the hotels were beautiful. When we did not have snow, a lunch alternative to the troika was booked and when the Russian museum was closed, we were able to go to the Faberge museum, which was a very good experience. We were given a diverse itinerary and received a good tour of the both Moscow and St. Petersburg. We really feel that we now have in-depth knowledge of some Russian history, which is something we take back with us. In addition, the restaurants suggested were all excellent.
Greg and Leigh on his team were very responsive to our requests concerning specific things we wanted to do while in Russia, though we could not do everything we wanted (for instance, a backstage tour of one of the theatres…but, theatre season had not yet begun). The special experiences they offered were excellent: for example, seeing the storage facility of the Hermitage collection and having a private time in the amber workshop where the process of recreating the Amber Room was explained, before we saw the room in the Catherine Palace. We spent 4 days in Moscow with a private guide and 5 days in St. Petersburg with our own guide…much better than the two or three days offered on most tours, and even then not really enough. In between, we spent 6 days on the Volga Dream, and that, too, was a good experience.
St. Petersburg — 3 days in city — four of us were accompanied by a guide and a driver. We were able to discuss overall planning with Greg, then detailed planning with his staff, and they helped us design an itinerary to ensure we were able to visit all the places we felt were important. Our guide was wonderful – very knowledgeable about the area, the places we visited, and the history, as well as giving us an idea of what its like to live there today. The drivers were excellent, and the timing , never rigid, was very comfortable to meet all of our goals. We highly recommend Greg.
We recently took our 2nd custom trip to Eastern Europe with Greg — a 2 week trip to St Petersburg, Moscow, and Volgograd Russia. Like our first trip 2 years ago to Poland, everything was handled beautifully, from planning to visas, travel insurance, internal Russia flights, ballet and opera tickets, restaurant recommendations and hotels. But of course, most important, were the guides. And just as we experienced in Poland, our guides in Russia were outstanding. All 3 were terrific matches for us – about the same age (so that we could talk about the same events of our lifetimes), perfect English, energetic, willing to talk openly about any topics, full of recommendations, willing to modify our itinerary for highlights we hadn’t considered, and sensitive to our needs and interests. Everything worked smoothly – every time we were to be met, they were there; everyone was always on time; cars and drivers were polite and helpful. Custom trips with Greg are expensive, but he delivers — we look at them as “travel investments” because we learn so much during these trips and every moment is memorable (with no time wasted and no mistakes that I’d make if I planned them myself). We’re already thinking about our next trip to Eastern Europe with Greg and his team.
Our trip to St. Petersburg was one of the most extraordinary travel experiences of my life. Our guide, Anya, and our travel planner, Dasha who works for Greg, were the primary reasons for this amazing trip. The planning and execution of the trip were flawless. Anya’s knowledge and insight as a local were the most wonderful part of the trip. Our children (and their parents!) learned more about Russia and St. Petersburg in several days than they could ever have from outside sources. I highly recommend Greg and his team and hope to use them again for another trip to Russia. We traveled to St. Petersburg from Helsinki by train in August 2015.
We used Greg and his team at Exeter to book a trip to St. Petersburg, Krakow and Prague. They were terrific. We wanted them to handle logistics so we could focus on our vacation. We told them what kind of hotels we wanted, and through them got a guided orientation to each city and airport pickup and drop off.
The hotels were perfect, centrally located, excellent quality, boutique offerings. The guides were great. We spent a full day with a guide in St. Petersburg, which was invaluable, especially for the early admission to the Hermitage, which would have been overwhelming without assistance. They were helpful, knowledgeable, and willing to mark up our maps so we could then navigate on our own. Drivers all spoke English, and were on time or early.
If you can afford the service, I highly recommend this organization. They couldn’t have been better and made our trip easy and delightful.