The image that you may have of Russia during the Cold War is hard to find these days when you walk the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. With an oil-rich economy pumping money into the country, Russia's biggest cities are booming. Real estate prices are booming, expensive new restaurants are springing up everywhere and BMWs are replacing Ladas on the streets.
The situation isn't that rosy in the more rural communities and smaller cities where a more traditional way of life still exists. While the big cities offer the glitz and the glamour, it is the villages that provide the most insight into Russian culture. Many of these can be seen along the way while you ride on the famous Trans-Siberian railroad.
Travel in Russia is not easy. It can be difficult to secure a visa, there are corrupt officials everywhere looking for a little "money for tea" and on the outside you may not be welcomed. But once you get to know Russia and once you get to know its people on a personal level you will be treated like an honored guest. The cities might be changing but the hospitality has not.
What to do
Moscow is a fascinating place to visit, but it's more expensive than most people expect. You've got Red Square in the heart of the city, which includes the slightly creepy Lenin's Mausoleum. St. Basil's Cathedral is that famous onion dome church you always see in Moscow photos, and it's just off Red Square. The Kremlin can also be visited and is one of the city's top sights.
St. Petersburg is actually far nicer than Moscow since more of its original architecture is in tact in what used to be the Russian capital. The Hermitage Museum is the most famous sight, but the city is loaded with historic churches and monuments as well.
To get to Moscow you can book a flight into Sheremetyevo International Airport (code: SVO), which has more international flights than the other 3 major airports in the city. Your best bet might be at one of the other airports, and on most systems you can use the airport code of MOW to check all the Moscow airports at once.
For St. Petersburg you can book a flight into Pulkovo Airport (code: LED), which has flights from within Russia and other spots in Europe as well.