Summer has well and truly arrived. I know I have purveyed similar sentiments in the past, but this time it’s true. The weather has consistently been above 20 or so degrees, and I have been overcome with the heat. However, St Petersburg, being a city that doesn’t want its inhabitants to overheat, has decided that now is the perfect time for its yearly turning-off of hot water. Considerate. This is a ritual of sorts in St Petersburg and many other large Russian cities as most heating and hot water is run by a state-controlled system. This means that in the winter, the system goes into overdrive heating houses 24 hours a day and ensuring that hot water is readily available at all times of the day to combat the up to minus 40 temperatures. This, unsurprisingly, takes rather a toll on the heating and hot water systems which then require some maintenance in the summer. This maintenance requires turning off whole districts of hot water for several weeks at a time. For those staying in hotels, or for those who live here full time and have a little cash in their pocket, boiler systems are available to maintain the hot water in individual houses or buildings. However, for the vast majority of inhabitants, this period is a somewhat romantic reminder of times they have lived through, especially in St Petersburg where the Nazi-siege rendered life almost impossible and certainly didn’t allow for a steady supply of hot water.
This reminder of the harshness of life, allows the people to appreciate the ready availability of hot water and other luxuries and be grateful for such modern amenities. Not only does this lack of hot water incite a certain gratefulness for the comforts of modern life, but it also recreates one of the best parts of Soviet life, the camaraderie and sociability. People with boilers reach out to their fellow man and invite friends, family and neighbours over for “Shower parties” which are less inappropriate than they sound. This usually involves people coming to the aforementioned person’s house armed with vodka, towels, soap and tea to enjoy the precious hot water and bond over the mutual grievance of having no water. Those who don’t know anyone with a working shower go to a place of extreme cultural significance in Russia, the Banya (or baths). Here, again, people come together to enjoy the warmth of the baths and saunas and escape the icy showers that would otherwise await them. However, being a somewhat impoverished student and not knowing anyone in the city with their own boiler, I am left to fend for myself in these chilly Soviet-esque times.
Though I had been made aware that this was an annual occurrence, I had been assured that it took place in July or August, and thus I should be safe of having to deal with the icy water. However, I have just been visiting friends in Moscow and returned to St Petersburg to find that the water is, in fact, turned off in May or June in St Petersburg. It was not the best news to come back home to discover. Nevertheless, we are coping and I will now continue with the originally planned content of this post, Moscow.
We headed to Moscow as rather a last minute decision. We slightly realised that our time here was coming to an end and we had yet to visit the capital city. So we booked flights and headed off for a long weekend in Moscow. Having friends there was incredibly helpful and we were told what to do and where to go at any given time as well as having an insight into the extensive list of restaurants in Moscow. We visited all that we could squeeze in and I won’t bore you with the details but I will leave you with some thoughts and recommendations:
The Kremlin in spring/summer is absolutely stunning. The white marble gold-domed churches look sharply majestic against the stark blue sky. The view from the complex through the blossoms over the city is something that I will not soon forget.
The Jewish History Museum and Tolerance Center was an extremely interesting look into the fluctuating views of Russian society about the Jewish faith and followers of it. However, I will warn anyone planning on going there that it is somewhat biased in favour of the Russian State and thus the hall you leave through is a film showing that life now in Russia is wonderful as all religion (Judaism included) and diversity is embraced in this brave new Russian Federation.
The New Tretyakov Gallery houses some of the most stunning modern art I have ever seen. Its pieces from the Soviet Period were both entertaining and absolutely heart-breaking as they showed the harshness of life under Stalin as well as the hardships of the second world war alongside cartoons of political leaders.
Finally ВДНХ, or the All-Russian Exhibition centre. A huge complex that was built during the Soviet era to house and display all the Russian accomplishments including trips to space and advances in Science and technology. It houses a huge rocket-shaped sundial and the eternally famous statue of the Worker and the Kokholznitsa among many other museums and pavilions dedicated to all facets and ethnicities that made up the USSR. This complex is certainly worth a visit and allows one to see the brave new world the communists had in mind with the foundation of the USSR.
While there are many other things I visited that I can certainly highly recommend as well as hundreds of other things I could say about the city itself I don’t want to give everything away, and instead encourage anyone with the means to visit it. My time there was exceedingly interesting and the city itself is a highly interesting combination of stark Soviet blocks and gold-domed churches that fight to dominate the astonishingly diverse city skyline. That being said, I have to admit, even with the lack of hot water, I was very pleased to return home to my little corner of St Petersburg and settle myself back into life here.