It’s a short season, however: throughout St. Petersburg’s seven-month winter, both the Neva and its tributaries are covered by a solid sheet of ice, and the waterways often don’t thaw entirely until the beginning of April.
The energetic scene on the plaza — illuminated bridges, teeming crowds, stands selling ice cream and American-style hot dogs, the pungent smell of diesel fuel, the hypnotic drumbeating, riverboats fighting for space on the wide Neva — reminded me a bit of the scene alongside the Nile in Cairo, with a similar sense of energy and controlled chaos.
If you have time midweek, go to the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, where I have waited in line on the sidewalk to get in on weekends but prefer the quieter weekdays. The Garage is one of my favorite places in Moscow, a vast space designed in 1926 by Konstantin Melnikov, a constructivist architect who was making a bus garage, but a beautiful one, where the buses could swan in and out without having to back out.
Daria Zhukova, girlfriend of the fabulously wealthy oligarch Roman Abramovich, opened it as a cultural center in 2008, and I found myself spending a good part of a recent day there, and half the night, fortified by a marvelous blue cheese and pesto pizza from the up-to-the-minute Garage Cafe. (This in a town where slices of pork fat are more traditional.) The Garage was open all night that Saturday so that fans of Christian Marclay’s video “The Clock” could indulge their addiction for 24 hours.