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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Concerts, Costumes and a Little Abuse

ST. PETERSBURG -- Thousands of people took to the streets this weekend to enjoy concerts, costumes and a little abuse of the governor as St. Petersburg kicked off its 300th birthday bash.

Governor Vladimir Yakovlev welcomed guests gathered inside the huge round hall of the Ice Palace on Friday with a shout of "Happy birthday, St. Petersburg!"

The city "appeared contrary to all logic, like a phantom, a dream city, but when Peter the Great built it he managed to change the whole path of Russia's development," Yakovlev said ahead of a two-hour smorgasbord of ballet, opera and children's performances.

The show was one of 2,700 events scheduled between now and June 1 -- 10 days of festivities that will peak on May 30-31 when St. Petersburg hosts summits of the European Union and Commonwealth of Independent States.

The highlight of the weekend came Sunday as scores of costumed Peter the Greats marched down the city's main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt, with clowns, floats, music and an eclectic mix of vehicles, from fire trucks to horse-drawn carriages.

The carnival parade, replete with balloons, flags and sparkling antennae, reached its culmination at Palace Square near the Hermitage Museum, where the governor subjected himself to the humbling annual tradition of getting his tie snipped off. A crowd of pint-sized attackers flung themselves at Yakovlev to the salvos of a fake Aurora, the cruiser whose famous blank shot in November 1917 marked the start of the country's seven decades of Communist rule. In the comic ceremony, along with his tie, the governor symbolically gives up his powers for a day and lets the carnival take over.

With many streets closed off to traffic and crowds of visitors swarming the city, Russian press reports have hyped the inconveniences -- and indignation -- experienced by local residents.

Some agree that the city's birthday party hasn't made them feel too welcome.

"My husband and I were planning to go to the countryside for the weekend, but the roads are all blocked," said Natalya Rakhmanova, 70, a native Petersburger who lives near Nevsky Prospekt. "Now we'll go to the cemetery instead. If the road there is still open, that is."

But others welcomed the burst of excitement. "It's fun!" said Olga, 20, who came to watch the parade with two friends from their residential neighborhood on the outskirts of town. "This is our city. We love it. And now the whole world will get to see how wonderful it is."

The city's celebrations include a wealth of entertainment -- water and laser shows, ice cream and beer festivals, concerts, parades, balls and the unveiling of new monuments and railroad stations.

More somber events, including religious services and processions, will also be held this week.

Conceived as Russia's "window to Europe," the former tsarist capital has spent the past several years swathed in scaffolding as officials hurried to repair its overlooked and decrepit landmarks in preparation for the celebrations. The federal government has poured some 40 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) into the preparations.

Staff Writer Irina Titova contributed to this report.