Sydney hotel, restaurant. Company for Russia tours.

This item appears on page 4 of the February 2013 issue.


Australia has become quite expensive, and Sydney will definitely get your wallet’s attention. Hotels in the heart of downtown are very pricey, but in October ’12 my husband and I found a jewel within walking distance for considerably less money. In the Potts Point area, the Victoria Court Hotel (122 Victoria St.; phone +61 2 9357 3200, fax 9357 7606) calls itself a boutique B&B.

The building dates from 1881, and there’s no elevator, but the rooms have modern conveniences. Each room is unique, so you need to ask if you want specific features. We paid $170 per night, including tax, for a double with private sun porch and a generous Continental breakfast.

Ask for walking directions to downtown, as several sets of stairs are involved that wouldn’t show on street maps. The route takes you across Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, which is free. Signs encourage, “Please walk on the grass.”

You come out at the Opera House or Circular Quay — the heart of the downtown harbor. It’s possible to also take public transportation, as we did at day’s end.

The price of restaurant meals was also shocking. We found ourselves walking away from places after looking at the menus. If we stayed, we went the appetizer/soup route.

• We felt we paid a reasonable price for what we got at Argyle Rocks (12-18 Argyle St., The Rocks, Sydney; phone +612 9247 5500). This was a casual place (think TGI Fridays), but the food was good. We paid $40 for dinner for two. Sorry, I have no recollection of what we ate.

Donna Pyle, Boulder, CO


My husband, John, and I had been to St. Petersburg, Russia, before and toured the “big three” — the Hermitage, Catherine’s Palace and Peterhof Palace — so for a port call there on a 10-night Baltic cruise with Oceania Cruises, Aug. 23-24, 2012, we wanted a guide to give us a feel for THE CITY.

We saw an ad in ITN’s MART classified section for d (phone +7 921 324 46 40 or, in the US, 323/703-1542) and contacted Julia Ivanushkina, the owner and a wonderful guide, about eight months in advance. She asked about our interests and we worked from there, booking two full-day tours.

Dancing Bear provided paperwork (tickets and schedule) for us to show to Russian Customs after debarking ship, and, believe me, the officials looked them over. Julia and her driver (her husband) picked us up at the ship dock each day at 8:30 a.m., with return around 6.

Julia is a master in her knowledge of the arts and the history of her country, from pre-Romanov days to the present. Her itinerary was complete, even including a visit to a cemetery where many famous Russian authors, artists and statesmen are buried. After two days, we came away with a great feel for the city and its museums, history, food and secrets. A truly outstanding tour and visit!

Our tours cost a total of $800 for two people plus a tip of $100 and included the car, driver and visas. We highly recommend Dancing Bear Tours.

Judie Carpenter, Phoenix, AZ