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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Whiling Away the White Nights of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG -- "The sky was so starry, so clear was the sky, that looking at it, you could not help asking yourself: How can all sorts of cross and crotchety people live beneath a sky like this?" It could be that little has changed in St. Petersburg since Dostoevsky wrote these lines a century ago about the White Nights in this Venice of the North. Certainly the disgruntled shop assistants, waitresses and bus drivers seem uninspired by the arrival of the city's season of virtually endless daylight, centered on June 21, the longest day of the year. But for most this is a time of year cherished by the romantic Russian soul. The city's main street, Nevsky Prospect, is in perpetual motion. Lovers idly gaze at ships passing between the raised bridge spans over the Neva River as they sip champagne, munch on chocolates and clutch red roses. It is a time of year when the city takes on an eerie, almost ethereal appearance -- a time when spring turns to summer, marking the beginning of the tourist season. St. Petersburg, or at least the parts most visible to the eye, is being restored in time for an invasion of visitors for the Goodwill Games next month. Around the city, groups of tourists can be seen marveling at the fa?ades of the palaces, cathedrals and churches that line the streets and canals. Above all, the White Nights are for party-goers and music-lovers. The White Nights International Cultural Festival, which ends Sunday, has brought top bands and singers such as A-Ha, Run-DMC, Falco and Whitesnake to the city. A classical music festival is being held as well. For those looking for an endurance test, there is the White Nights marathon on Saturday. The route starts and finishes in Palace Square in front of the Winter Palace and winds its way around the city. Runners set off at 7 P.M. in the 42- kilometer, 385-yard race. The fittest are expected to cross the finish line in about 2 1/2 hours. Expatriates from Britain, the United States, France and the Netherlands have been known to join in this sporting event in recent years, giving it a multinational touch. Nearly 2,000 participants are expected this year. If that is too daunting, there is a shorter race of 10 kilometers. The city's cinemas also offer special, seasonal alternatives to the run-of-the-mill cheap, violent movies usually on show. The Fourth International Film Festival, titled the "Message to Man," will start Sunday and continue for a week. Organizers say a total of 230 short films, documentaries and animated films will be shown from 24 countries, including Holland, Germany, Spain, Estonia, Cambodia and Ukraine. A competition titled "Russia in the Eyes of Her Friends" is also on the program. It consists of 32 films from 10 foreign directors who provide their cinematographic impressions of Russia. The big excitement during the "Festival of Festivals," another international event for cinema aficionados, was supposed to be a visit by director Steven Spielberg for the Petersburg premiere of his Academy Award-winning film, "Schindler's List." Spielberg canceled this week and the showing of the movie has been delayed, but the festival will go ahead, starting Thursday and continuing until June 29. If all this is too much, a simple stroll along the beaches overlooking the Finnish Gulf offers respite for those in search of a little peace and quiet under a starry sky. The only thing you will not be able to do during the White Nights is sleep.