This is not your father's Russia
When most people think of Russia, they think of the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow. They may conjure up symbols that existed during the Soviet era.
But things have changed.
Western influence is everywhere. McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts restaurants are easy to find to Moscow. There is a high end shopping center near the Kremlin.
Reminders of the country's communist past are here, but you have to look closely. There is one major statue of former communist leader Vladimir Lenin in Moscow. Busts of other Soviet leaders have been collected and stored in one place near a local museum.
"It's impossible to erase history from our heads, like a part of history," said our tour guide in Moscow. "Moscow has ghosts, spirits and memories of the past. It's often said the only old thing in Moscow is the land."
If you want to really step back into time, wander through a flea market outside St. Petersburg.
"It's just something which will take you as if on a magic carpet back to the Soviet times. You will come across unusual, weird characters, strange people that you usually can't see in the center of the city," said our tour guide.
Those who lived through the communist era are here selling their possessions. Nostalgia is for sale.
"Welcome to USSR, because many people have a lot of money from USSR and clothes from USSR. People like USSR in this place. If you want to find USSR, you come to this place," said our tour guide. "You can find clothing, shoes, or postcards, soldier stuff, maybe plates. Guns, coins, everything."
At another outdoor market near the Church of the Savior on Blood cathedral in St. Petersburg, there are dozens of vendors selling items from the past, including one man who sells goggles from Russian pilots and busts featuring former leaders.
"This is Mr. Lenin. I have Stalin. I have (Leon) Trotsky," said a Russian vendor. "I have medals. People are interested. It's a good memory of Russia and Soviet. Many people like it. Old people like it, young people don't. It's communist people. I have Soviet coins and before-Revolution coins. It's bronze. People buy Soviet money. Young people wonder, 'What is this?' and make a collection. I have submarine clocks. I have pocket watches. I have Soviet hand watch. Soviet military watches are much better. Because in the Soviet times, it was good quality."
Many of the people we met during our Russian trip talked candidly about their country's political history.
"Seems in the years where Stalin ruled, people were hypnotized as if Stalin were just controlling their minds," said our tour guide in St. Petersburg. "Most of the population was not aware of what was going on in the country, that it was all crazy. Absolutely crazy. So many people died in camps and prison and my family suffered as well. My great grandfather was arrested, accused of betrayal, though he was absolutely innocent. We know that 100%. After imprisonment, he was shot. Nobody let his family know about that. And only after the break-up of the USSR in 1991, we learned the place where he was buried."
Chernobyl in the Ukraine is another place where visitors feel like they have been transported back in time. At the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, there are signs of the USSR and its leaders.
"Soviet Union is still here, the spirit of the Soviet Union," said our tour guide.
There may be places frozen in time. Areas where you can find reminders of an era gone by. But it seems as though this country is changing.
This is no longer your father's Russia.