If you look at any guidebook, or tourist information pamphlet about Saint Petersburg, there will be one attraction that will always be at the top of the list – the Hermitage Museum. Fully understanding the popularity of this palace, we waited until mid-week for the chance to see it with the fewest fellow tourists as possible. Turns out that the weather was almost perfect for a day spent in a museum, too.
We’d previously walked past the exterior walls of the enormous, pastel green building. It didn’t look like a palace then, and it still didn’t now, even with all the opulence that you could throw at a building. Thinking hard about why I felt this way, I can only assume it was due to the sheer size and scale, as I couldn’t imagine it being a residence, even of an extremely wealthy royal dynasty.
We took the advice of most of the tourist guides and pre-purchased our tickets online. When we finally crossed the enormous Palace Square and walked through the outer gates, we found the queue of all the other like-minded people collecting the pre-purchased tickets. For a while I thought that maybe it would have been quicker to have ignored that advice, and just purchase tickets like the regular masses. With Risa holding our place in line, I did some quick reconnaissance and saw the queues for those without pre-purchased tickets, and while we still had to wait 10-15 minutes, their queue was much, much longer.
Walking past the miserable masses and into the museum, we firstly dropped our baggage off at the baggage check station. I had to think carefully about what I was going to bring with me this time after the mistakes I made visiting the Moscow Kremlin.
It was busy, reasonably crowded and I could only imagine what it would be like on a weekend. Of course, we expected this, and couldn’t really expect to have the place to ourselves. Our guidebook suggested to start with the downstairs museums, featuring ancient Egyptian and other collections. We decided to give that a miss as we’d bought a two-day pass, and thought we could come back tomorrow to have a look at that.
Our first real taste of the opulence of the palace was ascending the slightly ridiculous Jordan Staircase, with untold amounts of marble and golden gilding. It was a good indication of what we were to expect upstairs.
And, those expectations certainly came true, with room after room each attempting to out-do each other in size, scale and luxury. The ceilings were enormous, and ornate, and you could spend hours staring up at all the details. The floors and the walls were also works of art, which was a little more comfortable for your neck.
A lot of the rooms were designed by different architects, and under orders from different members of royalty, so there was a kind of disconnected feeling walking around the wings of this giant palace. Some had a sense of restraint, with muted colours and sparing use of gilding, while others were red, and blue, and white, and gold, and timber, and all clashing and competing for attention with the artworks that hung from those very walls.
And, speaking of artwork, the collection here is vast. Entire wings of the palace are devoted to different styles and locations, including Italian renaissance, Spanish, Dutch, Russian. Sadly, most of the artwork didn’t do much for me, as I prefer much more modern works. I could see the mastery of light and colour, but I just didn’t find it interesting. The Rembrandt room, with the enormous collection of equally enormous paintings was probably my favourite, and it caught my attention enough to spare a good fifteen minutes closely enjoying the masterful details, and incredible light.
One of the biggest problems was a fight between rooms for your attention, as there was an absolute glut of paintings and pieces of art to see, and there was no way to fully enjoy it fully. We’d been in the museum for three hours, and we were already starting to fade in both enthusiasm and energy.
After several hours of walking around fantastical rooms, filled with classic pieces of art, we believed that we’d been to most of the rooms at least once, and had seen, at least briefly, all the works of art. There was another level of more contemporary art on the third floor, and as we still had an hour or so before the museum closed, and the tiniest skerrick of energy and motivation left, we headed upstairs to check it out. The rooms were a start contrast to the opulence of the second floor, with regular height ceilings, plain walls, and bare fluorescent lighting. The artwork however was much more interesting to me, especially the works by Dali – whose museum we were set to visit in Spain very soon.
This building was unquestionably the most luxurious and opulent place either of us had ever set eyes on. It was also like a maze, with seemingly endless rooms, with doorways in all directions. There were multiple times we had to try and remember if we’d visited rooms before, as sometimes just entering from a different door way, and faced with a different aspect was enough to confuse things. As we were on our way out, we discovered an entire wing that we’d overlooked earlier, including a few smaller rooms that were furnished as they were originally. Even still, the lifestyle that these people lived is so foreign to me, that I couldn’t easily conceive their use.
We returned to the hostel for a quick rest, as it was quite a demanding day. We needed the rest as we were going to see a ballet performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty in the beautiful Mikailovsky Theatre. The exterior of the building didn’t really impress nor standout, however once we’d made our way to our seats, and took in the view from the terrace, we were both quite impressed. Our seats cost 2750r ($70) each, which wasn’t the cheapest, however they were certainly in the cheaper end of the spectrum. We had a reasonable view, however I had a head in front of me that I had to occasionally shift to see around. It’s not something that I would have spent money on, but Risa absolutely loves ballet, and I’d promised her we’d go as a birthday treat.
The costumes and lighting were fantastic, however it was the dancing and the orchestra that were the standouts. This was my first time at the ballet, and while I found it hard to really understand much about the story (without reading the programme), I found the dancing to be entertaining enough on its own. It probably helped that I was already familiar with the story thanks to Disney.