Visiting the city’s main Christmas Fair

The grand annual Nutcracker-themed sparkly Christmas Fair on Manezhnaya Square was at the top of my holiday must-visit list – and I think it turned out to be totally worth it. I just happened to visit it on one of the coldest days of this winter so far and also somehow before the sunset, which added to the magic. Though it isn’t part of the market, it is hard to miss the little village of stalls on Malaya Sadovaya Street with all kinds of holiday knick-knacks and treats as you approach the fair from Nevsky Prospect. It was too early for all the lights to be turned on, but the holiday tunes filling the air kept the spirits high nonetheless. 

Then, I passed the security gates to the fair and seemingly entered a whole new world: the smell of mulled wine, stalls in the shape of little snowed-in houses, glowing trees wrapped in fairy lights… It felt magical; it was very easy to fall back into that very familiar but long-forgotten feeling of excitement and anticipation we all feel close to New Year’s as children. Adding to that delight was an actual carousel (free to ride!) that met me in all its grandeur just around the corner. The day was too cold for me to stand in the line to catch a ride, but I will definitely be coming back for one later!

It’s hard to believe, but apart from the carousel, there is a free ice rink (which also hadn’t opened yet when I went there) – I bet you have to come early to get your pass and free skates, but still, what a cool opportunity! And right across from the rink are all the tasty – and hot! – foods you can get: German-style sausages, mouth-watering trdelníks with all kinds of fillings, and burgers, of course, if you are extra hungry. All in all, I’d absolutely recommend popping by, if only for a short while: you do get to feel the cheer even if ice skating and carousel-riding are not your cup of tea. – CZ

Ice skating

Credit: David_Bokuchava on Photogenica

Credit: David_Bokuchava on Photogenica

The klutzy li’l girl me, who used to despise team and winter sports – and sports in general – has somehow turned out to be a real fan of wintertime joys such as ice skating. And how can you not – with so many fun and picturesque rinks popping up in the city? My first time on the ice after a long, long time was at New Holland Island’s rink. It’s a small ice rink amidst the hip, bustling public space, where you can enjoy skating to the sounds of festive music (also: silent disco at night!).

If you’re new to ice skating or are a fellow clumsy skater, there are cute penguin-shaped skating aids you can literally lean on during your skating endeavors; you can also come with a friend so that they can hold your hand, or choose to stay closer to the boards to avoid unfortunate encounters with ice – I opted for both, just to be extra safe. Luckily for me, I managed not to fall, though I had a close call. Once I regained my confidence, I went for another skating session, this time at Sevkabel Port. Now, I was actually having fun and even the obstacles in the form of fenced trees and a wooden igloo-like patio in the middle of the rink didn’t seem like threats but rather like exciting challenges – and also the view! Though those may not be grand ice rinks, they are still a lot of fun and perfect for those who are just starting. – MB 

Finding peace out of town  

Credit: vgivanov / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Credit: vgivanov / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Since childhood, most of my holiday activities have been connected to nature, mostly because there wasn't much to do in my hometown. Busy St. Petersburg is nothing like that and I truly appreciate it, but the habit of escaping civilization has never left me. This holiday season, my to-do list includes skating, visiting a fair, and sliding, yet I started off by exploring the outdoors.

One December morning, I found myself standing at the entrance of Pulkovo Observatory. I had been wanting to visit for a long time, and finally had a valid reason – I needed to examine a building for my volunteering project there. Fortunately, the premises are open to the public, so I was able to explore freely. 

As I took my first steps, a serene silence enveloped me. Not the disturbing kind, but quite the opposite. Despite the bustling Pulkovskoe Highway behind me, I only heard the crunching of snow beneath my feet. The scenery was equally tranquil; the vast expanse of land was covered with a thick blanket of snow, which had settled on buildings, telescopes, and pieces of equipment the names of which I don't even know. It was as though the astronomers had stepped out to celebrate, leaving their offices empty. Along the way, I met families and people walking their dogs, all of them happy and joyful. 

To my surprise, during this visit I even reconnected with my inner child – as I tried to take pictures of the buildings, I found myself wading through snow piles almost up to my knees. Overall, the tranquility of the winter landscape was truly energizing. Highly recommend it! – ES