It has been a long time, I admit, since I visited Russia — almost 20 years since the collapse of the USSR left Russia a bit drab, rather dusty, sullen and sad. I am a bit nostalgic for the mafia, the cheap government food shops, my room in Hotel #2 overlooking the Neva. I don’t miss the freight train passage of Japanese tourists through the Hermitage, but is this any better?
In Russia today there are cars everywhere. Prices are European, which means higher than in the U.S.A. for most things. Only vodka is cheap – $5 a fifth. Even staying at a lower end hotel, one used by Russian families, cost $115 a night. On the up side, there are lots of hotels now, and lots more eating choices, even a vegetarian restaurant or two. And although sales personnel still sulk at the far end of the room sometimes — this was worst at Burger King! — the people on the street and in train stations were kind and helpful.