Haven't had a chance to write in weeks, and the World Cup has been in progress for a few weeks already. It's so cool being a host city! I've never been to the Olympics or any other large-scale sports competitions, so this is kind of a new experience.
|World Cup welcome sign...|
too crowded to take many photos
Although thousands of tourists hit St. Petersburg at this time of year, the demographic is totally different, of course. Instead of wealthy retirees or others simply on vacation, there are sports fans of all ages... not just from European/northern countries, but lots from the Middle East and Latin America, too. As you can imagine, that shakes up the cultural atmosphere just a little! It's so warm and friendly here. I love Russian culture, and have a cultural post coming up when I have the time. But all the people walking around smiling makes such a difference. Even the locals are admitting that despite the congestion and longer commute, the celebratory mood is contagious. It's hard not to smile when Brazilians and Egyptians are wandering around wrapped in their countries' flags. Hard to explain, but it's different from just the local soccer fans running around on a game night.
The city completed (or at least undertook) lots of various construction projects in preparation for this year's festivities. This year was also St. Petersburg's 315th anniversary. Public transportation is decked out in World Cup decor, there are banners everywhere, certain buildings have been restored, and two new metro stations have opened recently, with close proximity to the soccer stadium.
It's a great time of year to be in St. Petersburg: White Nights, soccer fans, and last Saturday was the annual "Scarlet Sails" celebration to honor high school graduates. Look it up to learn more! I've never attended, but various parts of downtown such as Palace Square are closed off to the public, and those with tickets get to attend a concert and gather on the bank of the Neva to see fireworks and the actual scarlet sails along the river. No alcohol is sold on that night...though I'm sure some people plan ahead!
Of course, there is always a downside to large events.
Probably the one unsettling thing that is noticeable is the heavy police presence. Being downtown makes me a little nervous even with heightened security. Even in our residential neighborhood, there are officers patrolling regularly at the moment. Public transportation gets a little crowded at times and when I happened to be going home from downtown last Saturday several hours before Scarlet Sails began, the metro station was closed. I had to wade through the crowds for several blocks to get to another metro station. So far everything seems peaceful; we'll hope it stays that way.
These are a few other local news tidbits that I found interesting.
-"Scarlet Sails" set a new attendance record: a reported 1,200,000 people
-more new metro stations will open soon
-residents born in certain years (including my birth year) can undergo complete free medical screening in 2018 (including physical, electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, mammogram, ultrasound, bloodwork, urinalysis, and any subsequent visits to a specialist)...not sure about the lines, but an interesting opportunity, available every 3 years.
-the Russian govt is defending its plan for raising the pension age (from 60 to 65 for men and 55-63 for women)...pretty close to the average national life expectancy! :/
-one local reporter wrote about the inadequacies of NYC cabbies on a recent trip: apparently if you don't tip them, they get mad and say mean things...hmmmm.....