SAINT PETERSBURG.- Saint Petersburg has long been a tourist favourite, but if this band of young Russian thrill-seekers is to be believed, the best way to see the country's imperial capital is by hopping roof to roof.
Perched atop an officers' barracks in the heart of the city are Edik, 20, Alyona, 18, Dima, 28, and Nikolai, 35.
They chat breezily, laugh, smoke and take photos from their roost, dozens of metres (yards) above the street.
To get there they had to break into a nearby attic and hop across several roofs -- nothing terribly complicated for experienced "roofers" such as themselves.
"The roofs, they are for those who want to see another Saint Petersburg, to see how beautiful it is," says Edik, who has been roofing since he was 14.
The pastel palaces and golden-domed churches of Russia's former royal city have become the roofers' elevated playground. Locked attics don't stand in their way.
The prize for those who scale rain gutters and pipes is an unsurpassed panorama of the city of the tsars -- and the chance to post a trophy photo on favourite social media sites.
Daniel Netorte, 23, is a highly experienced roofer who rattles off Saint Petersburg landmarks like a mountain climber listing the peaks he has bagged: the golden spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, a cupola of Church of the Saint Saviour on Spilled Blood located on the picturesque Griboyedova Canal, the Winter Palace of the tsars where the Hermitage Museum is now located, even the local headquarters of the FSB, the successor to the KGB security service.
Roofing "is for me a way to explore the city, to have a bit of adventure, to test myself," says Daniel, a medical student at the University of Saint Petersburg.
"This appears closed," he says in front of a gate which leads to the courtyard of a six-storey building in the city centre. Daniel reaches into his backpack and out comes a ring of keys. An instant later the gate swings open and the same trick works for the door.
"Don't make any noise to disturb the neighbours who could call the police," Daniel whispers at the bottom of the stairs.
The last obstacle, a lock on the attic door, also cedes to Daniel's collection of keys. A moment later, he is on the roof.
A cat and mouse game with the police is often part of the programme.
"Buildings like the Hermitage or historical monuments are, of course, under surveillance and the police will arrive within minutes of an alarm going off," says Daniel, more with an air of inconvenience than concern.
Experienced roofers know that they will likely spend only an hour in a police station before paying a fine of 300 rubles ($8, 6 euros) and walking free.
Some exploits land roofers in a bit more trouble.
"The police came for me at four o'clock in the morning the night I climbed the roof of the FSB building," says Edik.
"We did that and posted pics on social networking sites, and there you go," he explains.
"We catch youths climbing onto roofs quite regularly," said one Saint Petersburg police officer on condition of anonymity.
Two months ago they nabbed three people on top of the National Library, said the police officer.
But roofers don't seem too preoccupied by the risks they run.
Edik recounts the tale of a roofer who fell to his death several years ago. "Of course accidents happen, but we know what we are doing," he says.
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