As we began our walk down the long dim cobblestone path along the Neva River, the lights from sidewalk restaurant tables glowed and the conversations from its many inhabitants hung in the air.
It seemed it was a popular time to be out with friends, even if it was already three in the morning.
Although I have heard wonderful stories of winter in St. Petersburg, it is no doubt a relief when the mounds of snow finally melt away. It’s a time when days get longer and schools and work take month-long vacations.
Some Russian city dwellers escape to the countryside, while villagers visit the city. But no matter where you are in Russia, the summer means more time outdoors.
While six in the evening during the winter may feel like the middle of the night, during the summer 10 p.m. normally feels like noon. So it is not only during the day when people come out to sit on benches and listen to buskers or walk along the Neva, but long into the early hours of the morning.
Since arriving in St. Petersburg almost two weeks ago, I have spent many an evening walking around the city with group members. Although these walks began simply as a way to burn off some extra energy before falling asleep, they have helped me understand the city’s night life.
Take a week ago, when me and five others in my program watched the raising of the bridges.
It is an experience that I had read about a hundred times. They raise the bridges at 1:30 a.m. and lower them back down about four hours later. It is supposed to be a simple, yet breathtaking experience.
Although I knew this is very popular, I figured that on a Monday night, since this same thing happens everyday, there wouldn’t be many people. Boy, was I wrong.
There were such large crowds watching our bridge go up (one of four main ones in the city) that it reminded me of going out to see the fireworks on New Year’s Eve back home. An interesting mix of high-spirited people.
To avoid the crowds we walked down a small staircase to the bank of the river. Our feet hung over the side and were so close to the water that at times waves splashed our shoes.
When the bridge began rising the six of us started snapping pictures. Many around us were doing the same thing, but some were just laughing with their friends or simply staring into the eerie reflection of the bridge’s lights on the river.
It wasn’t until after 2 a.m. when we finally decided to begin our hour-long walk back to the dorm. As we turned away from the bridge, I could still see huge crowds gathered.
While long and tiring, our trip back to the dorm at 2 a.m. was safe, despite what you might hear in the U.S. I felt just as safe, probably even more safe, than if I had done the same in my hometown of Seattle.
Not only were the streets still lit from the lights of open restaurants and bars; they were filled with people of all ages – from the elderly to adolescents. Each appeared to be savoring the preciously few warm and light days of White Russia.