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The Neva River in St. Petersburg

The Neva River in St. Petersburg

The journey home required precisely 24 hours. We arrived at our Portland doorstep at midnight Thursday and fell into bed, where we’ve pretty much remained for two days.

Travel is exhausting.

Not too exhausting, however, to prohibit a few reflections on Saint Petersburg—our concluding destination, where we stayed four days—before we conclude our comments on Russia:

  • This is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve seen, period. The opulence of Vienna, the canals of Venice, and the romance of Paris all flourish here. The city’s beauty may have come at the cost of repression for the common people, but the beauty remains and the repression does not—not visibly at least.
  • The cost of living here is a fraction of what it is in Moscow (or Portland). A nice, one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city can be had for a thousand dollars a month. A three-course dinner in a very nice restaurant, complete with a bottle of champagne, cost us $51. We tip 10% for good service, which is considered generous.
  • St. Petersburg traffic is monumental. Russia is much like the US in the 1950s: private automobiles are suddenly available to all, as is the wherewithal required to buy them. Consequently, people would rather drive their cars—even in standstill, rush-hour traffic—than take mass transit.
  • All Russians wear jeans, men and women, to the exclusion of everything else. I wore khakis and Louise could always spot me in a crowd.
  • There are no bicycles, no scooters, and very few motorcycles on the road. Just cars, of all brands. Russians drive far more brands—French, Russian, and Czech in addition to German, Japanese, and American—than we do in the US. (Yes, there are plenty of Fords and Chevys on Russian roads.)
  • Pedestrians have the right-of-way at marked crosswalks and all drivers honor it. Hardly anyone jaywalks. (Compare with Mexico.)
  • In the cities, coffee (and coffee shops) rule. Tea is available, but it’s no longer the national beverage it used to be. All coffee shops have WiFi; as they are in the US, most coffee-shop patrons’ faces are focused on Facebook screens.
  • The trick to the Russian language is to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Once you know how to pronounce a word, you’re halfway there.

(Click any image to enlarge)

During our final day in St. Petersburg, we both voiced a desire to return. We’d like to be there in winter when the rivers are frozen and snow blankets the city; and we’d like to be there in the summer when the parks are in bloom. We’ve added it to our ever-growing list of places we’d like to revisit, but there are so many others to see…

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