Crowds of people line the embankment wall overlooking the river; children are lifted onto shoulders. What looks like an ice cream van is doing a roaring trade, though as I get nearer I see that the two smiling chaps inside are selling plastic beakers of beer. Behind me, on the vast square that lies to the side of the Palace, a very-much-in-love couple pirouette on their roller-skates, while above them swifts race through the air, tumbling, diving, enacting what look like avian dogfights.
On my first night in St Petersburg, it was well past my bedtime but I had no intention of heading back to the hotel yet. After all, it was June and the city of Peter the Great was in the midst of its famous White Nights, when no one seemed to sleep.