Three days in St. Petersburg is hardly getting to know Russia, but here are some observations --
The Russians we talked to (and English is not commonly spoken, even in the heart of the tourist area) want Americans to know that we have nothing to fear from Putin. They say he's a good man, a sincere man. I'm not sure if they love Putin or they simply dont want to go back to a Cold War.
There were lots of souvenir stands around, but the ones in The Hermitage plaza did not carry Putin T shirts. I feel sure they were not allowed, as their meaning could be misinterpreted as making fun instead of deeply respecting.
Of course, some people love Putin and think the western leaders are idiots. We also saw a shirt with Obama as a turd which said "Don't forget to flush."
I read often that Russians aren't friendly and seem dour (which I also read about Finns) and we saw no evidence of that. It may be that people in the hospitality industry are just very hospitable.
This is Alexi. He bent our ears for about 20 minutes about Putin, communism, propaganda and cars. He's a Chevy man, all the way. When I asked to take his picture, he insisted on putting on his sunglasses. He said he wanted to look cooler. I wonder if he wanted to be less recognizable.
The hotel, a boutique place in a good neighborhood across from the Japanese embassy, was wonderful and the food everywhere we went was excellent. I had low expectations for food, but there was much deliciousness without meat. This whole trip has been easy for me because fish is everywhere, all the time. Salmon and herring for breakfast? Yes, please, and excellent bread, rye breads everywhere. The Baltic Diet works for me, and Mark is a total omnivore, so we have eaten very well.
The restaurant of our hotel, the Pushka Inn, was where we ate breakfast each day. It was also where, about 5 years ago, a certain American did as well.
Our last meal in Russia was in a charming basement place that kept bunnies as pets. When I asked why, our waitress said they just like them and children love them. They also had a roomy alcove filled with pillows and children's books, so kids could hang out while parents lingered. How civilized.
We all enjoyed our brief visit to Russia. People were very friendly, the food was excellent, the hotel lovely. Since Russia has figured so large in my life, from the Cuban Missle crisis, the space race, the Berlin Airlift, the end of the USSR, Mark's US born Russian boss for more than 20 years, to my Dad's fascination with the place and my love of Dr. Zhivago, I wasn't quite sure of what to expect, even in a very tourist place like SPb, but I liked it a lot and wished I'd had more opportunity to talk with people.
Fare well, Big Bear.