YOUNG Russians armed with hang drums make music along the banks of St Petersburg’s Neva River in Russia, which is packed with tourists admiring the amazing sights.
On a Saturday night, people just stroll along Neva River while couples lounge on the granite embankments that line the waterway to enjoy the romantic atmosphere.
Visiting St Petersburg at this time was a wonderful experience as it is the season of the famous White Nights, a curious phenomenon caused by the city’s northerly geographical location.
From late May to early July, the nights are bright as the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark. In fact, night becomes curiously indistinguishable from day, so much so that the authorities never need to turn on the city’s streetlights.
In the 1980s, I read and saw beautiful photos of St Petersburg in magazines – an incredible city designed by Peter the Great to become Russia’s window to the West.
Recently, I visited St Petersburg, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
No other major European city can rival the atmosphere on the streets of St Petersburg during summer – lively, friendly, romantic and bustling with people throughout the night as well as day.
On the weekends, everyone is out having fun as people celebrate 80 days of sunshine.
As a visitor, on a five-day working trip to St. Petersburg, I sacrificed sleep to walk along the Neva River that is an essential part of the city’s charm and struck up conversations with the locals. I was completely enchanted by long late evening walks along the river with my new-found friend Maria Vova.
I continued to stroll along the embankments, as Maria pointed out the bridges and marvellous architecture.
Most people were out on the weekend to celebrate Russia’s comfortable 2-0 win over New Zealand in the FIFA Confederation Cup 2017 opener at the Krestovsky Stadium.
Russians Denis Glushakov and Fedor Smolov scored the winning goals.
The Confederations Cup was held across four Russian cities – Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan, and Sochi – until July 2. It was the first time Russia hosted the Tourna-ment of Champions, and it is seen as a precursor to next year’s World Cup, which will also be held there.
Earlier in the evening, I watched the Russia vs New Zealand match at the stadium with fellow Malaysians Abdul Halim Abd Majid and his wife Noor Farizah Abd Malik, who won the Naza Kia Lucky Drive to Russia.
Abdul Halim, 44, and Noor Farizah, 43, and I were seated at the top half of the grandstand; a great vantage point where we could truly appreciate the action unfolding on the pitch.
Abdul Halim and I rooted for Russia to win, which was a feat that even some Russians believed would not happen.
For both of us, it was an inspirational victory.
Football is not for the faint- hearted as cheering on your team is a roller coaster ride of feelings.
Halim had bottomless energy as he shouted “tackle him! tackle him!”, “shoot the ball!” and “goal!” throughout the game.
The father of four said he won the trip to St Petersburg in a lucky draw which he qualified for after purchasing a Kia Grand Carnival, an eight-seater MPV that he said was ideal for his family of six.
“In April, I bought the car after Noor Farizah gave the thumbs up on seeing the spaciousness of the MPV.
“In the first week of May, we were told we had won a trip to St Petersburg to watch the FIFA Confederation Cup 2017 opening match. Certainly, Naza Kia Motors has the power to surprise,” he said.
Halim added that he chose the Kia Grand Carnival for its safety features such as its six airbags.
Winners of the Kia Lucky Drive to Russia were treated to a nine-hour tour that included visits to Peterhof Palace, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan and a bus tour around the city.
Peterhof Palace is a beautiful 121-ha French-style garden that was the former tsar’s summer residence on the shore of the Finnish Gulf, dotted with spectacular fountains that is fed by gravity.
The Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood had jaw-dropping architecture. As we walked up to the church, our group could see the onion-shaped domes on top of the cupolas covered in golden enamel and mosaics.
Large crowds were inside the cathedral, but the massive walls could easily be seen, with over 300 people from the Bible depicted on mosaics on the walls.
We had lunch at the open terrace rooftop of the Terrassa Restaurant, a unique dining spot that overlooks the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. It is built to an enormous scale and boasts an impressive stone colonnade, encircling a small garden and central fountain.
Our tour around the town was punctuated with Statues of Lions, said to be from the west and began to proliferate in St Petersburg in the first third of the 19th century.
It is believed there are about 1,000 Statues of Lions in St Petersburg. Maria said if I rubbed the head of the lion, I would return to this lovely, charming city called St Petersburg. Rub, I did.