ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — We have Indian Summer and Russians enjoy Golden Autumn, a glorious week or two of unseasonably warm weather that arrives just as the leaves change colour, creating beautiful scenes and a happy atmosphere around town. This week, St. Petersburg has enjoyed temperatures in the mid- to high teens, topping out at 17 degrees on Thursday. There’ll be a few more days above 10 degrees before winter blows in, so people are packing in as much outdoor activity as they can.
On Nevskiy Prospect, the city’s main street that’s loaded with 18th-century architectural gems and historic cathedrals, the crowds are out until early in the morning. On the small beach outside of the Peter and Paul Fortress on Petrograd island, sunbathers took in some rays in bikinis and unfortunate Speedos. At the Moika Kempinski Hotel, one of Europe’s great places to stay, the week’s dinner menu at the wonderful Bellevue Brasserie celebrates autumn with several dishes featuring mushrooms, including a steak with a mushroom ragout that was perfect. In Pushkin, a suburb named after Russia’s most loved poet and playwright, the exquisite Catherine Palace welcomed a large number of visitors who came to see its mesmerizing gold and amber walls. From St. Petersburg, it’s about an hour trek to Pushkin along quaint countryside that’s similar to what we’d find in the Ottawa Valley.
Another popular spot outside of the city is Peterhof, the 1,500-acre summer home of Peter the Great that was built in the 1720s. It’s probably the best spot in the area to enjoy Golden Autumn. Peterhof, or “Peter’s court”, was fashioned after the Versailles palace, and it has 150 fountains that spout water fed from a lake 22 kilometres away. The fountains, many of them representing Greek heroes and heroines, are marvels. The immaculate grounds at Peterhof glistened on Friday with orange, yellow, red, green and brown as the leaves around the palace clung to branches. The best way to reach Peterhof is by boat. It costs 800 rubles (about $27) for a round-trip ticket from just outside the Hermitage to Peterhof. The comfortable ride takes 30 minutes and you can easily spend four or five hours enjoying the grounds and the cafés and restaurants on it. A real special spot.
WHO SAYS RUSSIANS LOVE HOCKEY?
Maybe it’s because their national team has underwhelmed at the Olympics in recent years, but Russians just don’t seem so into the start of the NHL season. Every Russian I’ve spoken to prefers soccer and St. Petersburg is building a new 80,000-seat stadium that it hopes will help the nation secure the 2018 World Cup. English translator and tour guide Alexander Sergaev says he’s a fan of hockey, but he follows the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He went to Monday’s exhibition game, which SKA St. Petersburg won 5-3 over the Carolina Hurricanes, and says he recently ordered the DVD of the 1972 Summit Series. Still, the start of the NHL season didn’t excite him as much as the KHL.
You’d think an Irish bar would be a place where the NHL would be big. St. Petersburg native Nikolai Firtich introduced me to O’Hooligans, which is just off of Nevskiy Prospect, about a 20-minute walk from the Hermitage. Nikolai said O’Hooligans would have the game, and they did, but we had to ask for it to be put on and then I waited for someone else to show interest in it. No one did. The game was in Helsinki, just across th Gulf of Finland, and at primetime here, but the Hurricanes went on to beat the Wild 4-3 with most of St. Petersburg apathetic.
“People like football more,” says Nikolai, who teaches Russian studies at Vassar University, an Ivy League school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He’s in his hometown with a group of his students who are studying here for a semester.
You’ll read more about Nikolai, his students, and the Hermitage and more of St. Petersburg’s amazing sites in the coming weeks in Star Travel.