Insider's guide to: St Petersburg

What's the weather like now?

What's the weather like now?

Summer's been a meteorological rollercoaster ride. Cold and rain alternate with warm sun several times each day. Last week, however, had the best weather yet, with temperatures around 20-25C. Still, bring a sweater. Nights can be chilly, especially on boat rides on the canals.

What are the locals complaining about?

Up until this week, the cold and wet weather. And always the mutant mosquitos which can be found in even the best hotels and bite all night. To sleep soundly, buy a "fumigator", as locals call it.

Who's the talk of the town?

Vladimir Putin, the city's now favourite native son. Never mind that he's bombing Chechnya or clamping down on the press. After 80 years of Moscow domination, the St Pete team has finally stormed and taken the Russian political Olympus. Locals rejoice, with no shortage of people now boasting to have been his best friend, or studied or worked with him. Rumours circulate that the capital is moving back to St Petersburg, and comedians joke it will eventually be renamed Putinburg.

What's the cool drink to order?

Check out the new bar and club, Brazilia (Kazanskaya Street 24), and ask for a Mokhito. In line with the times, the recipe is secret, but the bartender does admit to spicing it up with mint leaves. Also try the club's other drinks - Capperissimo and Brazilia.

What are people eating?

For fine Russian cuisine and the city's chicest interior design, check out Restoran (Tamozheny Pereulok, across from the Kunstkamera Museum), which is merely the Russian word for restaurant. The fare is basically Russian peasant but well executed, and served with crisp, clear vodka, delicious with home-made cranberry juice. If you're short on time, step into a small eatery and grab a shashlyk - kebabs made of lamb, pork, beef or chicken.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?

The late-night show, Pro Eto ("About That"), is an eye-opener in which participants strive to shock, telling all about their sex lives - from group sex to prostitution.

Where won't the locals dream of going?

Grand Hotel Europe. A beautiful and comfy place, but it's for tourists who are afraid to venture far.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?

The Armenian restaurant and jazz club in one, Mukha Tsukhatuka (Solyanoi Pereulok). If that's a mouthful, it's also called the Neo Jazz Club.

Where is the chic shopping?

Most goods are imported, and the only best buys are in jewellery made locally. Try the many jewellery stores on the city's main drag, Nevsky Prospect. Bargains can be found of jewellery made of amber or featuring semi-precious stones.

What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend?

The beaches on the Gulf of Finland and the dachas of the wooded Kareleskaya Peresheika (Karelian Isthmus), both to the north of St Petersburg. Just follow the line of Mercedes and BMWs.

* John Varoli is a contributing writer to 'Insight Guide to Russia'.

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