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10 Tips on How to Survive the Russian Summer
July 31, 2012 14:09

+32C in the shade (Moscow, Tverskaya St.) (Photo credit: Julie Delvaux, 2011)

Article first published as Summer in Moscow: Residential Observations on Blogcritics on 22 July, 2011. 

If you want to see and possibly understand Russia as it really is, then you must visit the country in summer. While the Russian snows are well-known, the Russian heat is much less so.

Being the capital, Moscow is the best example of a modern megalopolis in the throes of extreme weather conditions. Imagine a multitude of people crowding into a tiny bus or a tube carriage where they breathe heavily and wipe their faces with handkerchiefs. Picture those occasional tourists and migrant workers with sacks and suitcases who drag their belongings up and down stairs and escalators, also wiping sweat off their faces. Cue in cloudless sky, the broil, the ice-cream and soft drinks stalls, and an occasional thunderbolt, sometimes followed by a brief shower. Ah yes, and the temperature is something between 29 and 35 degrees Celcius (84 to 95 Fahrenheit). Voila, this is the Moscow summer - and, believe me, most of the country will be more or less resemblant of it in this season. 

So, what can you do to survive this merciless period? Here are some tips to bear in mind. 

1. In weather like this everyone is swearing by an air conditioner. However, there are some lucky office workers, whose air conditioners do not work. We used to do this, too. The window view is lovely, there is little noise from the outside, and having fresh air coming in is definitely not bad.
Air conditioning has been one of the main advertising articles every summer. Instead of promoting the discounts, the shop-keepers merely place a piece of paper on the door that says "Air conditioner is on". Predictably or not, the ad seems to work.
What can you do if you have to walk in the street or to ride public transport? In 2012, battery-powered fans have eventually been advertised, and failing that, there is an enormous choice of paper and wooden-carved fans. They come in all sizes, colours and designs, so if you are fashion-savvy, this may become just one of your best summer accessories.

2. Ice-cream trade is in full bloom. In 2011, I personally ate more ice-creams between late April and late July than I had in all 7 years in England. Moscow boasts special ice-cream kiosks many of which date back to Soviet times. There you can find over 20 different kinds of ice-creams, from icicles to large ice-cream containers. Prices range from 10RUB ($0.30) to over 200RUB ($70).

3. Picnics and barbecues (shashlyki). Just like in Britain, there is a tradition of having food outside, from open-air barbecues, accompanied by a couple of pints of beer, to pretty picnics on the river bank. The Russian much-loved barbecues are pieces of meat on skewers that are cooked over an open fire, usually somewhere by the water. Sadly for barbecue fans, by 2013 they will not be able to enjoy a pint in the forest. The recent law now only allows to consume beer in a bar, a restaurant, or one's own house. They have a year and a half to adjust to the new rules, in which time they will undoubtedly be fined by the police if they get caught drinking beer in broad daylight.

4. Walking in the shade. Leafy alleys and parks abound in Moscow and other Russian cities, so if you live or work not far from one such park, you can always take a walk there during the hot weather. There are streets, however, especially in the city centre, that will be totally open to the dazzling sun, with no tree to stand under. If you happen to walk in any such street, make sure you cover your head at least with a piece of paper, to protect against the heatwave.

5. Swimming. If air conditioning, ice-creams, cold beer, or a leafy park are not enough to save you from feeling hot, there is always the favourite option: jumping into a fountain. In Moscow, for instance, there are beautiful fountains, as well as fairly large pools that normally grace some open spaces in front of the buidings; the pool often also incorporates a few small fountains. The pools are favoured by kids; the fountains are used by adults. You do not even have to undress: merely getting into the water is enough as an act of bravura, especially if you use a fountain in front of the Bolshoi Theatre, for example.

6. Wearing light clothes and headwear. "Light" means both texture and colour. If you can help it, opt for a linen or calico shirts and skirts, do not shun away from shorts and T-shirts, and DO wear a hat. A straw hat, a baseball hat, a cap - anything goes, as long as it is light and covers your head. 

7. Drinking water. One has to rescue themselves from dehydration, so drinking is a must. However, be aware that in this weather the more you drink, the more you sweat. Carry a bottle of water with you at all times, but only drink when you feel really thirsty. If you want to have a hot drink, choose a green tea: it is well-known for refreshing qualities, and Russian menus abound with different varieties. 

8. Sleeping in one's Adam's (or Eve's) suit. When the thermometer reaches +35C in the shade during the day and only falls to about +28C at night, forget about decency (especially if you are travelling or living in Russia alone or with your spouse). Incidentally, you can also forget about covers - chances are, you will not need them at night. 

9. Relaxing. Russian cities do not (yet) have anything like Spanish siesta. Office workers do have lunch breaks, but there it normally ends. Trade is on, eateries and street stalls are working, so a lie-down is usually out of question. And yet... make sure you do not overextend yourself. Opt for slow walking, preferably in the shady street, and avoid crowds. 

10. Leave the city. This is easier said than done, however try to make a point of going out from the city at weekends. Native Russians do this regularly, and some of them even leave their work to spend 3 months in the country. A wooden country house is usually a perfect place to chill out, and there you can also have a barbecue (#3 on this list). Unlike the British, for instance, Russians usually have a flat in the city to spend their working time there and a country house to rest after labours. But even if you did not yet build yourself a country house, leaving the city for a suburbal area during weekend is a great way to forget about hustle and bustle of the urban life.
Surely, these facts alone demonstrate both how hot is the Russian summer, and how you can adapt the Russian experience of coping with heat to your own country. In fact, a year ago the journalists from the Russian daily newspaper, METRO, decided to experiment and went out into the street wearing nothing but swimming costumes. The man was only wearing boxer shorts, and the girl in bikini tied a light shawl around her waist. Bizarrely, they were not questioned by the police or met with disdain by other pedestrians. And while they could not say they felt comfortable walking little dressed in the street, the experiment confirmed: in the extremely hot weather everything goes - nakedness included.

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Author: Julia Shuvalova

Tags: Russian tourism Russian weather Russia Travel Tips   

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