Early start today for our day traipsing thru one of the largest art galleries in the world, the Hermitage. The Hermitage is built within the old Romanov Winter Palace and occupies the entirety of the palace and the New Hermitage (which was built by Catherine the Great after the Winter Palace was completed to house her art collection).
Its almost a case of are you there to see the art or see the palace? In fact for me the palace itself probably outshone the art! The Hermitage's collection is impressive- Da Vinci is the head line act but the Hermitage also boasts; Raffael, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Monet, Picasso, Carravagio, CeZanne, Van Gogh, and Matisse to name only a handful of the 100s of artists on display. But for me the highlight was easily the grandeur of the Winter Palace.
I arrived at the musuem at 11am and left after 5pm and still only saw really 1 of the 3 floors! The Hermitage is enormous!! The Hermitage is also super duper popular.. Holy smokes, thousands and thousands of people would have traipsed thru the museum today.. And no I'm not exaggerating. Every room you entered you would be sharing it with minimum 50 other people.. In fact getting close to the Da Vinci's (there are two) took me at least three quarters of an hour! I have never seen so many people in one tourist attraction ever.. (I guess I'd better get used to considering we are now in high season!!)
In fact there were that many people (and particularly flag raised tour groups) that I've created a new acronym for travelling.. ABTG (Another Bloody Tourist Group).. The funniest thing happened to me today when I had finally elbowed my way to stand in front of one of the Da Vinci's. I was standing in front of the painting listening to my audio guide tell me all about the painting's hidden meanings etc when I was very strongly poked on the shoulder and spoken at in rapid Russian (with strong gestures) to get out of the way by one of the tour guides. By this time I'd been at the Hermitage for many hours and was hot and tired and rudely answered "No" and refused to move. Just hilarious, because the tour guide then got quite huffy and spoke really loudly (in my ear) to her group in Russian until they eventually moved on to the next painting. I mean, I know the tour groups don't have all day to stand around in the Hermitage admiring paintings, but really, if you aren't on a group you are continually poked, elbowed and pushed out of the way by the 50+ sheep who are following each of those god damn flags/ umbrellas/ fake flowers and some nosey annoying chick.. Has anyone else noticed that predominantly all tour guides seem to be chicks?
Anyway, that is really the only blight on an otherwise incredible day. Not only did I spend my day learning more about classical paintings (and artists) but I got to do it in one of the most amazingly dazzling palaces in the world. The grand stair case alone is enough for me! It really is a debate whether the headline act at the Hermitage is the art or the palace!!
By the time 5pm had come around my feet were SUPER sore, my neck and shoulders felt on fire so I decided to return to the hotel. This evening was our final night all together so we went out for a final farewell dinner at a Georgian restaurant. Unfortunately the dinner wasn't fantastic and was really expensive.. Another funny thing occurred this evening.. So we all went to this Georgian restaurant. The restaurant not only served food but had live music (some Russian crooner style singer). To put it bluntly the music was loud, was in Russian and wasn’t that good.. So we were talking pretty loudly just so that we could hear each other talk! Half way thru the meal a lady (sitting at a nearby table) gets up and starts abusing us. Yelling at us in Russian, gesturing wildly (you get the picture).. It was so out of the blue and really funny because of course none of us (except our guide) spoke Russian so we had no idea what she was getting so overly worked up about! It turned out that it was her b'day and she'd come to this restaurant especially to hear this dude sing!! Just funny!!
Believe it or not our day still wasn't over! After dinner we had already booked to go on a "white night" boat tour of St Pb at 1am! Yep that's right, if you want to see St Pb at night in the summer you have to go out at 1am (it doesn't get dark til about 12.30pm and the it starts to get light again about 2pm-- actually it is really twilighty the whole time so it doesn't really get black dark like it does at home). The boat tour is maybe the highlight of my trip in St Pb (although the Hermitage today was pretty good......). The lights from all of the palaces along the River Neva are just amazing! Every building is illuminated and so the show of the buildings is just great. The highlight of the tour is watching the bridges on the Neva open up for cargo ships! For me it wasn't a highlight at all (and in fact I was really quite incredulous that this was the whole reason for the trip).. Watching bridges open isn't that exciting! But for St Pb-ers it is a moment that shouldn't be missed!! And let me tell you that there would have been thousands out watching the bridges.. think NYE Sydney Harbour and then think of maybe a tenth of that number and you might be close to the numbers out watching the bridges open.. What's more amazing is that this is a nightly occurrence! It’s not like it happens once a year and so everyone goes to see.. it happens every night that the Neva is navigable (in winter its frozen). Apparently the numbers are big every weekend night (it’s a Sat today) but still I was blown away.
After an absolutely brilliant day it is time for me to go to bed at 3am!