After spending four months in Russia, upon returning home every family member and friend raised only two questions: „do you speak Russian already and how could you survive the winter in Russia?” The first question will be discussed in another article, so it is time to get lost in that hard winter and rugged wind.
I took my warmest clothes possible, preparing for the worst climate I may ever experience. For my biggest surprise I could walk in a single T-shirt in late September and in the middle of October a sweater was more than enough. That lovely weather was interrupted by a cold front at the end of October, cooling the +15C weather down to -15C in ONE day! Suddenly people wore heavy scarfs, ushankas and furcoats on the streets; and inside the dormitory I was wearing two sweaters and turned on all the hotplates in the kitchen as an additional form of heating. In 2-3 days my body adjusted to the steep temperature change, thus a warm coat designed for the „European weather” and a thicker shoe with fur sole inside were sufficient. It is not a good idea to leave the house unprepared, in the winter it could happen that there is a one hour waiting time between buses, turning your legs into icicles (when it’s below -25C).
In the middle of December it was -28C with exceptionally harsh and constant wind. When I was walking to the bus stop in the morning, I was crying in a way that my teardrops did not even touch my face – the wind just pulled the tears out of my eyes. Also in December I took a walk downtown with one of my friends: after 20 minutes of sightseeing I threw away my chewing gum, because my jaw was paralyzed from the cold, it was painful even to chew, let alone that I felt like I was walking on ice barefoot. A fifty centimeter snowfall during one night is not big news, accordingly, heavy snow cleaning machines appeared in a convoy and they made sure that no one got stuck on the roads. The first time I noticed the 2-3 meter long icicles that were formed on the edges of most of the five-storey buildings, I decided to take extra caution, however the street was cordoned off by the city to keep people away from the danger zones. Unfortunately at winter the days are shorter and those were the lucky days when I could see the sun without clouds (and it was much colder without clouds, so I wished there had been clouds). In January the temperature often went below -15, which felt like -25 due to the always high humidity and strong wind.
To be honest, that extreme cold that people expect (based on the stereotypes) happened rarely, maybe there were 4-5 days when I truly wished to be on the Caribbean-sea. In my opinion the key is in the layer of clothes you put on and you will need a pair of shoes that tolerates the tons of salt they scatter on the ice. All things considered there is nothing unbearable in the Russian winter. It is rather a great time for ice-fishing, trying a traditional Russian banya and visiting loads of museums and temporary exhibitions in the cultural capital of Russia.
Sometimes the spring season is missing, and the weather is a little winter-like till April with occasional snowfalls and a great amount of slush. Usually from May it is warm outside and an umbrella becomes a required accessory. For checking the weather „gismeteo” is a great site, its forecast for the next 24 hours rarely – if ever – disappointed me. And finally summer had come, everyone was ready for some sightseeing tours, having picnics, running, skating, biking, hiking, swimming – the city woke up from its winter sleep. From the middle of May till the middle of August we could observe and absorb the spectacular White Nights and backpack tours in the neighbor cities became much more comfortable. I also noticed that my skin preserved the tan longer after sunbathing in Saint-Petersburg compared to a tan from the Greek sun.
Travelers love variety and Saint-Petersburg will indulge them: one must come at least twice (or spend there six months) to see the green summer and the white winter. In the summer we were busy with rooftop tours, grilling meat with friends, walking and swimming in fountains, while in the winter we went to traditional Russian banyas and made snow angels outside right after – I assure that you will never forget your first snow angel – your friends will be there laughing and taking pictures of you.
I believe I had to see both faces of Saint-Petersburg to really appreciate the city and experience a full immersion in the Russian culture. It does not matter when you come, from January till July, from August till December or for the whole year, Petersburg will give you all the kind of treats you could ever wish!
Find more details about Living in Saint-Petersburg.
Attila Mucsi (visit Attila's FaceBook page)