Today we have a BIG day. We need to be ready to go at 8 AM for the lengthy process of getting off the boat and through immigration into Russia. The humorless border agents take a long time looking at each person’s passport and giving out provisional visas. However, after about an hour of rigamarole we are on our bus and heading into downtown St. Petersburg for our tour of the Hermitage.
Even though the museum does not open until 10:30 and it is 9:30, there are scads of people waiting on line in the huge Palace Square.
Palace Square with Alexander Column topped by an angel with a cross and surrounding Hermitage buildings
ALERT! I went to a lot of trouble putting in Cyrillic characters in this next section and now I see they have come out as question marks. I am not taking out my original text.
Nothing to do while waiting in interminable lines to get into the Hermitage? Why not have a ??? ????That’s hot dog to you non-Cyrillic readers. (At last a use for my three years of college Russian!)
??? ??? (hot dog) stand offering ????? ??? (French dog) or even a ??????? ??? ??? (Bolshoi hot dog)
We have tickets that let us in early. But lots of people also have these tickets and we are shuttled from one line to the next.
Early admittance lines
Inside the interior courtyard waiting in another line
It is now 10 AM but even this half hour head start means that there will be fewer people angling for a look at the masterpieces. As someone who has been here when there is no advantage, it is much less crowded.
So we have about an hour and forty-five minutes to look with time out for bathroom breaks. Our guide tells us that if you went to the Hermitage every day and looked at each piece of art for one minute during opening hours it would take eight years to look at everything. So you get an idea of how few items we can look at for less than a minute. It is a little frustrating.
Here are some things that we see –
First we walk down a hall full of czars and czarinas and wives of czars. Then there is a hall with famous generals. Next are fancy reception and throne rooms. One room has a gold peacock clock which has mechanical movement and opens its tail (but not today.) You can click through for bigger renditions if czars are your thing.
Wife of a czar
Czar Nicholas II
Peter the Great
Duke of Wellington and a bunch of generals
Little throne room
Big throne room
Peacock mechanical clock
We are hurried through the medieval and early Renaissance paintings because we must get to the da Vinci paintings. I am sad that we cannot tarry at the art that I love. The Madonna and Child Enthroned reminds me of the Maesta at the Uffizi. I take a quick detour and snap a few pictures.
Madonna and Child Enthroned, Sienese artist, 1320-1325
The Annunciation by Filippino Lippi
The two da Vinci paintings are lovely Madonna and Child works. The early one has the BVM looking barely old enough to have a child. It is very crowded and the light from the windows reflects off the glass covering the paintings. Our guide says we should not try to take pictures and just get the image from the internet later but there is something about taking your own pictures.
Madonna Benois (Madonna and Child with Flowers) Leonardo da Vinci
Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna Litta, 1490
Next we hurry by a Michelangelo sculpture, The Crouching Boy, 1530-1534. Perhaps my picture should be titled Boy Crouching While Americans Don’t Look at Him.
Crouching Boy, Michelangelo, 1530-1534
Now if we can just wait another ten minutes until the bathroom break we can see a Caravaggio and then the Rembrandts.
Caravaggio, The Lute Player, 1596
The Hermitage has a fabulous collection of Rembrandts. While the guide talks I walk around looking for a couple of my favorites.
Rembrandt’s painting of his wife as the goddess, Flora, 1634
It is around noon and after our promised bathroom break we walk across Palace Square to the new section of the Hermitage holding Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. People are beginning to ask when we will have a little sit down and lunch. Not until 2 PM says our guide.
I ask John if he is having trouble with allergies because he has been sneezing a lot. No, he says, I have a cold. DANGER! DANGER! Not only do I not want John to be sick but I got pneumonia on a Viking River Cruise. I do not dare get sick. Right now, though, it is just my knee that is troubling me. It has been hurting since I fell in Oslo. We have been going up and down a lot of stairs today. I am having trouble bending it.
Nevertheless we soldier on. The Hermitage has a large collection of Impressionist paintings. There were two citizens of Imperial Russia that had large collections starting from the beginning of the movement. When the Revolution came in 1917 the Soviet government kindly expropriated the collections and put them in the Hermitage. So most of the art they have was created before 1917.
Here are a few I liked –
Claude Monet, Seine at Asnieres,1873
Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre in Paris, 1897
Table in a Cafe, Pablo Picasso, 1912
Dance, Henri Matisse, 1910
So now it is 1:30 PM and we finally get back on the bus to ride to the Storage Facility for the Hermitage. Only about 10% of the entire collection is in the display rooms of the Hermitage the rest of it is in this state-of-the-art storage and restoration facility. But first we have lunch in the canteen.
At this point my phone punks out because it has been surreptitiously updating itself and I cannot get back to taking photos until I go through some protocol that needs WiFi. So I cannot show you our delicious (sarcasm) lunch which was done in color-blocking that Mondrian would be proud of. We had dark red borscht, a plate of white meat chicken in a white sauce with white rice, and a dark brown chocolate muffin with chocolate chips. It was the reddest, brownest, whitest meal I have ever had.
We are not allowed to take pictures at the facility so let it suffice for me to say that we saw some old frescoes, fabulous antique clothing, a bunch of old furniture, and restored royal carriages.
Imperial carriages in the storage facility (photo from internet)
We are pretty tired out by the time we get off the bus, go through immigration again, and head up to our room. We decide on room service and an early bed time tonight.