July 16th, 2006 - White Nights in St. Petersburg

Enjoying a boat ride along the canals of St. Petersburg

I am calling you on a bright summer morning from St Petersburg Russia.  I am here on Nvesky Prospect, “The Main Street” of Modern Russia.  Out the widow of my hotel room I am watching people begin to walk about preparing to enjoy a lovely summer Sunday in St. Petersburg.  Here at 60 degrees north there is no shortage of daylight this time of year.  It seems that the energy level of St Petersburgers rises to meet the opportunities that long days bring in June and July.  Past 11:00 PM is still light each evening and the streets are full of locals walking and enjoying the warm summer nights – “White Nights” as they are called here due to the long hours of sunlight.

Stacey with her new BAI hat at the welcome dinner at Nevsky PalaceAs I am sure you know the G-8 summit is being held here in St. Petersburg at this time.  There are basically two groups staying at out hotel, The Chinese Delegation to the G-8 summit and The BAI 2006 Elbrus Expedition. 

Most of our team has been in town for a few days, enjoying the sights, the culture, history, architecture and the people watching in this great city.  Claire arrived first, and has been staying at a hotel a few blocks from here by St Isaac’s Cathedral. 

Rob, Line, Steve, Rosemary, Adam and David all arrived on July 13th.  We met Lina, BAI’s St Petersburg city tour guide the following morning and have been walking to some of the city’s attractions since.  One of my favorite times was when a few of us took a boat ride through the canals and waterways of St. Petersburg.  The day was perfectly clear and one person who lived here told us that on average this city only has 64 days each year of complete sunshine.  We felt lucky as we sat in our open boat soaking up the rays.

Every time I am here in the center of St. Petersburg in the summer I see numerous wedding parties.  St. Petersburgers love to come out in the streets dressed up to celebrate this time of year and we see several happy couples and their families and friends enjoying the weather.

Adam, Line, David and Rob pose in front of the winter palaceOn Thursday night, Steve, Rosemary, David, Adam and Line went to a Ballet performance at Marinsky Theater.  Friday evening Yael and Stacy, the final team members to join us, flew into Pulokova International Airport.  By the time they arrived, U.S. Air Force One was rather conspicuously parked on the runway there.  A sure sign that, here in Vladimir Putin’s home town, the world’s leaders had convened and were getting down to business.  Stacy’s flight came in from London after 11:00 PM and was almost certainly the last commercial flight that landed before the airport was closed beginning at midnight for the duration of the G-8 summit meeting. 

I am struck however at how well this historic city of 5 million swallows the G-8 summit.  Most people go about their business with little concern for the meetings that the rest of the world is so aware of. We have to be aware about closures at some of the city’s attractions, it turns out that if some delegates want to see something they get a private tour, but by being within walking distance we are able to stay flexible.  Yesterday Lina took some of our group on a tour inside the Hermitage and they found this fabulous museum far less crowded that it often is.  As always, our group complimented me on Lina’s amazing depth of knowledge of art history and culture and her excellent English and her poise. 

Tonight when we leave on the “Midnight Train for Moscow” we will no doubt have many things in mind that we would like to do when we return to this great city at the end of our adventures in Russia.  But we have Moscow, a flight to a completely different part of Russia, the Caucasus, and a mountain to climb – Mt. Elbrus – first!

Stay tuned here for our reports.  Our adventures are just beginning!

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Above: Comet Hale-Bopp over Mt. Elbrus from Pik Terskol, Caucasus, April '97. ©"Observers", AlltheSky.com