6 Ways to tell Summer has come to the Venice of the North
- The topols start flying! The first really hot day in St. Petersburg, I noticed small white balls of fluff floating through the air all over the place. At first I thought it was coming off of some construction site or truck or someone's clothing, but they were all over the city! Turns out, it's just some tree sex. The seeds of the poplar (тополь) tree are generally released in June or July, but this summer is unusually hot unusually soon.
- The tourists come out. I live right next to the Russian Museum and "Arts Square" with several theaters. Everyday there are dozens of tour buses parked out front releasing hundreds of eager tourists in tennis shoes, high socks, and khaki shorts. Just from a visual and auditory scan, most seem to be Chinese, Korean, British, or Scandinavian/Baltic.
Pushkin Statue in Arts Square surrounded by poplars
- Food carts everywhere. After working at a food truck for my first year and a half at UVA, I have developed a deep appreciation for meals on wheels. While I haven't yet tried a хот-дог (hot dog) from a cart, I have enjoyed several ice cream treats! I especially enjoy watching the parade of vendors rolling their carts down the streets in the evening at closing time.
- Black people appear. Going along the lines of #2, with the influx of tourists, students, and seasonal workers, diversity goes up! During the winter months there is the occasional black person, but they are generally few and far between here in St. P. In January I probably saw one black person every 2 or 3 days and now I'm seeing 3 or 4 each day! (I use the word "black" here to denote people of probable African descent, not in the way Russians use it to refer to people from the Caucasus and Central Asia).
- Skin is revealed. If you come to Russia in the winter or spring, it is easily to be think that Russian women are quite modest in comparison to America. Although it is not unusual to see mini skirts and tights on even the coldest winter day, it is rare to see exposed breasts or shoulders. Until the day the mercury hit 30 degrees Celsius, women were largely wearing light coats and long sleeved shirts. I got intensely stared at for showing my shoulders in April even though the weather was nice that day! I was starting to get scared that women never show their upper half here, but then...BAM Russian women left and right are barely clothed! Of course not everyone dresses revealingly, but shorts shorter than my hand are not uncommon and tank tops abound. I guess the key is waiting until the heat builds to an unbearable level, as close to June 1st as you can push it, and then watch the crowd- you can't be the first one to shed your winter modesty, but once the tide starts it is powerful.
- White Nights. Probably the most iconic sign of St. Petersburg summers, white nights is the period of the year from about the end of May to the beginning of July where the sun doesn't or barely sets. Yes, that's right. 2 am and it still looks like 5 pm. There are wonderful things that happen during white nights- crazy all night parties, dozens of festivals and concerts, and a special joy that Russians rarely express. It also makes it really hard to sleep...instead of the sun regulating your body clock and daily routine, you suddenly find it to be 11 pm and you haven't even thought of dinner yet!
A bridge opening during white nights
If you're visiting St. Petersburg in the summer, check out this Lonely Planet article about what to do to have the quintessential SpB summer experience!