Those glorious September days in Russia

The “Indian Summer” is also a wonderful time in the Russian Far East, with daytime temperatures hovering around 23 degrees for most of the month. Source: PhotoXpress

The “Indian Summer” is also a wonderful time in the Russian Far East, with daytime temperatures hovering around 23 degrees for most of the month. Source: PhotoXpress

With warm and pleasant days that welcome the beautiful autumn foliage, September is one of the best months to spend in Russia.

Temperatures tend to fall in a hurry in Moscow in September, but many other parts of the country enjoy the wonderful бабье лето (bа́bye léto) or “Indian Summer” throughout the month when pleasant days make way for cool nights. This is the time when leaves slowly start to change colour and there is the freshest of fragrances in the forests.

I always preferred to travel across Russia in September, when everyone else was back home from vacation and tourist sites were practically empty. It also helped that airfares and hotel prices dropped with the temperatures! Lake Baikal is at its best in September when its banks reflect the golden colour of the autumn leaves. The water is still a few degrees above zero and adrenaline-seekers would be well advised to jump in at the warmest part of the day.

The “Indian Summer” is also a wonderful time in the Russian Far East, with daytime temperatures hovering around 23 degrees for most of the month. If April is the month to visit Paris and May, the month for St Petersburg, Khabarovsk is at its best in September.  As I mentioned here, very few sites in the enormous Eurasian landmass of Russia compare to the beauty of an autumn full moon over the majestic Amur River, reflecting on the golden domes of a nearby cathedral.

A lot of people get grumpy in Russia, knowing that the cold snowy winter is only a couple of months away and when I tried to convince them to enjoy the beauty of the glorious September days, I was told that I always had a warm tropical country to go back to, whenever I got sick of the cold.  My retort would be that September has been justifiably celebrated for ages in Russia. 

I quote the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin:

“People have harsh words for these days of autumn,

but, reader, they are dear to me, I love

their unassuming light, their quiet beauty.

Autumn attracts me like a neglected girl

among her sisters. And, to be quite honest,

she is the only one that warms my heart.

She has her good points; whimsically dreaming

and free from vanity, I find her charms appealing.”

Russia is indeed a wonderful place for a romantic sojourn in September but there are many who dread the thought of the month. Take for instance, school-children, who have to wait 9 months before summer vacation. For most children, the New Year break in January is not as much fun as the summer by any stretch of the imagination.

University students have a slightly better attitude towards September since most Russian regions have stopped forcing them to help farmers harvest potatoes! As a part-time Russian-language student, I seemed to be the only one enjoying the few days on a field harvesting potatoes. “Only foreigners can enjoy working in a dacha (summer cottage) or plucking potatoes,” an irritated student-friend would tell me once. Many oil company executives and expats working on shelf projects on Sakhalin Island would find “dacha-work” very mentally relaxing and a way of being in harmony with nature. University students, on the other hand, felt they had better things to do with their time.

Other young people dreaded the thought of the autumn army draft. Late-summer would be the best time to enjoy intimate moments with girlfriends before reporting for army duty. One has to wonder whether the large number of injuries from extreme sports in the end of August had anything to do with the fact that an army medical and fitness exam was just around the corner!

For those adults who don’t have to worry about army duty, September is indeed a happy and wonderful month. As the “Indian Summer” gives way to the real autumn, the Russian landscape virtually turns into an Isaac Levitan painting. It’s time to take fresh walks in the aromatic forest, go for long jogs on cool and sunny weekend mornings, harvest fresh vegetables and to gather mushrooms and blueberries. 

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