st. petersburg is the answer to an interesting question - what would life be like if no one needed a bungalow and a white picket fence. in the time that i was there i did not see a single single family dwelling, just blocks of flats as far as the eye could see. st. pete is not a small city either, it has a population of almost 5 million, but they're densely packed into a small area because everyone lives in a high rise of 4 to 30 floors. this allows for very good public transportation, with a metro that goes almost everywhere and thousands of little busses to fill in the gaps. good public transportation in turn means a lot less cars (about 1/10th the number of a comparable american city by my own pull-it-out-of-my-ass estimate), and a lot less cars means that everyone walks a good deal more, which in turn means that the percentage of nice asses is remarkably high. seriously, you can get on any random metro train and see at least 3 girls that look like they're on their way to a playboy photoshoot. 6' hotties grow like weeds in russia, a fact that it's best not to remark upon when you're traveling with your girlfriend, even if she's one of them.
they're all dressed well too. i remember looking at russian footage a few years ago and thinking that the country was still stuck in the bad hair, bad poofy blouse 80s but being there now it was a fashionable place. oh sure, you can still find the russian guy with the ludicrously high-waisted jeans or the girl with the white leather christina applegate boots but those are not the norm. i did find it weird that no one there has caught on to the fact that when the temperature is above 25C/80F shorts are a good idea. literally not one person was wearing shorts despite the warm temperatures. i wasn't rebel enough to go against the grain so i sweated it out in my jeans the whole time.
another thing that is striking about st. petersburg is that construction cranes are as thick as trees. the russian economy must be booming because new buildings are sprouting up in every empty corner of the city and a good percentage of the old buildings are behind scaffolding getting a face lift. another economic data point is that most things cost at least as much in russia as they do in the states, from the big macs to clothes to electronics to cars to appliances. there are some things that you can get a deal on, like some groceries and vodka and bus tickets, but it's not a cheap place to go for a tourist. apparently they've caught on to the whole capitalism thing and gone whole hog for it. you can tell from the tv programs too, which are similar to american ones, right down to the commercials, which i have to say was more than a little disheartening.
i'm sure that russians don't spend as much time actually watching tv though, they need to reserve some time to walk around bus stops drinking beer in the afternoons. i didn't really get why drinking beer on street corners was a good idea, maybe most of them still live with their parents and want to get out, maybe they just didn't want to be stuck inside when the weather was so beautiful, or maybe there just aren't a lot of good pubs around. plus it doesn't get dark that far north until about 11pm so you might as well make use of the light. anyway, drinking beer on the sidewalk is so de rigueur that a whole industry of sidewalk beer gardens has sprung up to sell the beer, which just further proves that the market economy has found a home in russia.