|« Пух||В гости »|
The second important phrase in Russian that deals with visiting is «в гостях». It is a location phrase, which means it is used with location verbs, not motion verbs. In Russian when you are at someone's home or office, you express that idea with the preposition у followed by the genitive case. Thus:
|В понедельник я был в гостях у дяди.||On Monday I visited my uncle.|
|Мы завтра будем в гостях у Натальи.||Tomorrow we will visit Natalya.|
|Когда я была в гостях у друзей, мы каждый день парились в бане.||When I was visiting my friends, we used the sauna every day.|
Of course you can add other phrases that specify where the person was located when you visited them:
|На прошлой неделе я был в гостях у дяди в Новгороде.||Last week I visited my uncle in Novgorod.|
|Летом у нас в гостях в деревне были племянники из города. Мы научили их, как доить корову.||In the summer our nephews from the city were visiting us in the village. We taught them how to milk the cow.|
|— Не поверишь, но в августе я была в гостях у друга в Пуэрто-Рико, и у меня была возможность спеть дуэт с Рики Мартином.
— Ты права, не верю.
|“You're not going to believe this, but in August I was visiting a friend in Puerto Rico, and I had the opportunity to sing a duet with Ricky Martin.”
“You're right. I'm not going to believe that.”
В понедельник я ездил в гости к тёте. On Monday I went to visit my aunt.
looking over your examples for гости/гостях, I'm not able to detect any difference at all in how they come out in English. I understand the location/movement distinction, but they only situation I can imagine in English where that distinction would be important would be if one was talking about an event that happened "on the way" to visit someone versus one that happened during a visit.
I suppose my question is: do Russians view these two expressions as effectively synonymous?
Don responds: Yes, the meanings are effectively synonymous; they merely use different grammatical constructions. We have a parallel situation in English. If someone asks “Where were you yesterday?”, then we can answer either “I was at the doctor's” or “I went to the doctor's.” The information conveyed by both sentences is essentially the same, but due to motion/location distinctions we cannot say “I was to the doctor's” or “I went at the doctor's.”
For other details on the to/at/from distinctions, see this web handout.