Long Nights/White Nights

It’s the first time we have visited St Petersburg so late in the year and we experienced the city’s legendary White Nights, where it never really gets dark.  The raising of the bridges is another spectacle … scheduled each night during the early hours a taxi driver warned us not to expect that the timetable would be stuck to – they would raise the bridges as and when they fancied and if we were on the wrong side of the bridge we’d be a bit stuck!

During this time St P becomes the city that never sleeps – here is a video of some of the action on the busy streets at 3am.  The approach road to our apartment was Caravan Street, so named because the first permanent circus in Russia was at the end of the street, and so a caravan of animals used to travel down from Nevsky Prospect to get to the circus.  Even so, coming across a horse on the pavement at silly o’clock was still a surprise!

Because we often didn’t get in until after 10pm from studio visits it was good that everyone else was on the same page of trying to cram as much into the day as possible.  As Dimar said ‘No one sleeps during the White Nights, but in winter we are like bears – we can sleep for 20 hours a day!’. 

We’d thought that there wouldn’t be much time for eating or sleeping, and that proved correct! Luckily Nettie had packed two lots of marmite rice cakes in her bag so each night we had a very strange supper of rice cakes and whatever else we’d managed to lay our hands on during the day. 

The main preoccupation however was trying to track down a bottle of tonic to go with the gin we’d bought in Duty Free.  We tried neat, Lucy was daring and tried it with a lurid green grass drink called Tarhun and regretted it for most of the next day.  In every supermarket we found vodka, vodka everywhere and not a drop to drink. Finally our friend Olga Kettounen saved the day, pointing us in the direction of the Land Tunnel that was near the apartment and the supermarket equivalent of Fortnum and Mason – we had walked past it each day and had no idea it was there!  As an architect she had been at the opening of this space carved under the monumental blocks of Nevsky Prospect.  We had been trying all week to find a spot of time that we could catch up with her, as she usually lives in Hamburg but was visiting St P the same week … it may not have been quantity time that we finally had, but definitely quality time and the successful purchase of tonic water!

Evening’s were full of hilarity … some may have called it hysteria, but we had to master the whole concept of Russian drinking culture in such a short space of time. Here is Vineta explaining the important three finger message which means ‘do you want to go for a drink?’ It’s from a classic film … everything should be much clearer if you watch the video below … or maybe not.

Francis IlesComment