Last time we were in Russia, we went to St. Petersburg when Christopher was two (in 1997). We enjoyed our stay with a local professional couple, a computer scientist who worked for the defense department on old PC’s, and a chemical engineer who had written several books. Neither had been paid in several months and were relying on money from us and from their children, one of whom lived in the US, to help them. What a difficult time for them. At the end of the day we were all covered with grime from head to foot, and had seen more drunk, bleeding, staggering men on the street than we had ever seen at home (except maybe at the end of a Rumsky beer pong party, ha!).
This time, we were headed to Siberia. We spent about $500 total on the required letters of invitations and visas (plus assistance from a local agency in Istanbul) to spend just two full days passing through Russia en route to Mongolia. What a gorgeous little stretch it was! We were surrounded by beautiful mountains, quaint houses including small summer homes where the locals were growing huge gardens of produce, and supermarkets overflowing with goods. We found mustard, caviar, real coffee, and other delicacies that we hadn’t seen in months. Too bad we couldn’t have stayed longer; it definitely made me want to go back to Russia, maybe do the trans-Siberian express next time.