I am not a night person. When midnight strikes, I like to be in my pajamas (well, okay, let’s be honest—I’d live in my pajamas if that were socially acceptable) and on my way to bed. I’ve always been a person who requires a good night’s sleep, and I seem to have been born without the ability to truly sleep in, so this generally means that I don’t party into the wee hours of the morning. Jeff, much more of a night owl than me, has learned not to expect much out of me once the moon rises, so I guess it’s only reasonable that he thought I was joking when on our first night in St. Petersburg I suggested that we stay up to watch St. Petersburg raise the bridges.
But I wasn’t. I did in fact want to go out at 1:30 a.m. to look at bridges.
With 42 islands and 60 rivers and canals, St. Petersburg is a city of islands connected by bridges. These bridges are all rather lovely, coming in a variety of shapes and sizes with all types of statues and lamp poles and other such decoration adorning them but sharing one main feature—they’re not high enough for serious river traffic to pass under. Thus every night beginning at 1:25 a.m. the bridges are raised drawbridge-style in successive order from the Gulf of Finland inwards, so that large barges and other necessary boat traffic can pass through the city. They then stay open until 4:30 a.m., allowing all the boats through (and trapping all the cars).
I’d heard that watching the bridges be raised was a popular event, and I decided that we should see it. And being the thinker that I am, I decided we really needed to see it the first night because the two-hour time difference between Stockholm and St. Petersburg meant that it didn’t really feel that late to me. (I hadn’t miraculously become a late night lover.) Though Jeff laughed and refused to believe I was serious at first, he eventually got with the program, and we went out.
I’m glad we did.
St. Petersburg is a beautiful city, but by night, it is an enchanted city. The tsarist buildings that define St. Petersburg are lit, glowing ethereally under a dark sky. The ever-crowded daytime sidewalks have been mercifully thinned to just a smattering of people. The winds have all died, and the September air, while crisp, is not cold.
In the Palace Square outside the Hermitage a musician played haunting songs that lingered in the air before being swallowed by the river. On the river, crowds did congregate. A few rowdy souls swigged beer and vodka, but most people were quiet, almost reverential as the bridges broke in the middle and slowly lifted until each half stood at attention. Large barges, apparently waiting for this moment, chugged through minutes later, one followed closely by another, and small cruise boats maneuvered in-between shuttling tourists down the river to witness the spectacle at bridge after bridge. It’s a bit funny to think about or try to relate—literally hundreds of people gathering to watch a bridge go up seems a bit odd at face value—but it really was a neat experience, and as we walked down the magical streets back towards our hotel well after 2 a.m., the tourist propaganda claiming this to be a “romantic” experience seemed somehow to be a little bit true (even to a girl who could very well claim the least romantic person in the world award…if Jeff didn’t beat me out of it).