If you want to see and possibly understand Russia as it really is, then you must visit the country in summer. While the Russian snows are well-known, the Russian heat is much less so.
As I am a Muscovite, I can only speak for one city. Being the capital, however, Moscow must be the best example of a modern megalopolis in the throes of extreme weather conditions. Imagine a multitude of people crowding into a tiny bus or a tube carriage where they breathe heavily and wipe their faces with handkerchiefs. Picture those occasional tourists and migrant workers with sacks and suitcases who drag their belongings up and down stairs and escalators, also wiping sweat off their faces. Cue in cloudless sky, the broil, the ice-cream and soft drinks stalls, and an occasional thunderbolt, sometimes followed by a brief shower. Ah yes, and the temperature is something between 29 and 35 degrees Celcius (84 to 95 Fahrenheit). Voila, this is the Moscow summer.
Needless to say, in weather like this everyone is swearing by an air conditioner. I and my colleagues are the lucky ones: the air conditioner in our room is not working, so we keep our windows open all day long. The window view is lovely, there is little noise from the outside, and having fresh air coming in is definitely not bad.
Air conditioning has been one of the main advertising articles this summer. Instead of promoting the discounts, the shop-keepers merely place a piece of paper on the door that says "Air conditioner is working". Predictably or not, the ad seems to work.
Ice-cream trade is in full bloom: I personally have eaten more ice-creams between late April and now that I had in all 7 years in England. Moscow boasts special ice-cream kiosks many of which date back to Soviet times. There you can find over 20 different kinds of ice-creams, from icicles to large ice-cream containers. Prices range from 10RUB ($0.30) to over 200RUB ($70).
Just like in Britain, there is a tradition of having open-air barbecues, accompanied by a couple of pints of beer. The Russian much-loved barbecues are pieces of meat on skewers that are cooked over an open fire, usually somewhere by the water. Sadly for barbecue fans, by 2013 they will not be able to enjoy a pint in the forest. The recent law now only allows to consume beer in a bar, a restaurant, or one's own house. They have a year and a half to adjust to the new rules, in which time they will undoubtedly be fined by the police if they get caught drinking beer in broad daylight.