Today was our final usable day in Saint Petersburg, and also the last in Russia. We’d walked down the main street towards the Hermitage many times, and every time we’d walked past the beautiful shopfront of the Eliseyev Emporium. Inside were all manner of baked delicacies, and we were very literally like kids in a candy store. We’d decided to hold out for just a little while longer, and then we’d treat ourselves to a snack here later this evening.
Since starting at work at T2 last year, Risa has had her love of tea ware stoked in a big way. When she found out that our multi-day ticket to The Hermitage Museum also included entry to the Imperial Porcelain Museum, well, it was a forgone conclusion that we were going to visit. It’s a little out of town, requiring two metro lines, and a small walk. We descended into the earth in central Saint Petersburg, where the buildings and people were glamorous. Where we stepped out, things couldn’t be more different. The buildings were utilitarian and drab, the parks were run down, and the busy market next to the station had all sorts of less affluent characters. We had a quick look at the markets, but there really wasn’t anything there to tempt us.
The museum would have been easily mistake for a new office building if it weren’t for the small English sign stating that it was a museum, and that same feeling carried on inside. We passed through security, showed our tickets, checked our baggage and climbed up to the top floor. At first glance it was little more than a mid-sized room with various pieces of porcelain, and I really questioned the decision to come out here – but decided to give it a chance before judging it.
There was a large collection of various plates and tea ware, but the thing that caught my attention were the porcelain statues of different ethnic groups of the area, with a special interest in the native Hokkaido Ainu, and the Mongolian Buryat people. It had become less of a porcelain museum, and more of a anthropological one, albeit in a miniature scale. It took us only a short time to carefully see all the items in their glass cabinets, and we were now both questioning our visit here.
As we were leaving, we noticed that there was actually another small room, so of course, leaving no stone unturned, we went and had a look at that, too. This room turned out to be far more interesting, but probably not for the reasons intended. There were collections of crockery from the past century, and it was the style of pieces that caught our attention. We could follow the progression in art styles, as well as the propaganda of the Communist Party. Thankfully, some of the text on the pieces were translated into English, with amazing slogans on some of the plates stating, ‘those who work, eat’, among other things.
However, as to be expected, it didn’t take very long view them all – even with the level of scrutiny that we were applying to them.
All that looking at empty plates stoked our appetites, so we stopped at the first stolvaya (cafeteria) that we came across. For the first time in a little over three weeks, we had serving staff making jokes (in Russian, so it could have been at our expense) and smiling as they served us. I think this atmosphere actually made the food taste better, as I really enjoyed my chicken parmigiana-like dish.
We had two things left we wanted to see/do in town, and that was to visit Saint Isaacs Cathedral and finish with the downstairs section of The Hermitage, which was convenient, since they were both close to each other.
From up here you could see most of the major sights of Saint Petersburg, including the tall and thing Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and of course, The Hermitage Museum, which was impressive as the viewing area wasn’t all that high, and really showed just how uniform the height of the buildings were. With the wind blowing the way that it was, it certainly made it feel a lot higher than it looked from the ground.
As planned, we made it back to The Hermitage to finish off the ground-floor exhibits. We started with the Ancient Egypt room, which was filled with all sorts of loot and plunder, including hieroglyph rich tablets, sarcophagi, and of course, mummies. It felt a little out of place having these exhibits in this building. They were interesting, however I wouldn’t have been too sad if we’d missed it, and definitely feel that skipping it yesterday was the correct decision.
There was still a little time left before the doors shut, so we wondered back upstairs again (we were truthfully trying to get to the post office, which was at a different exit, and required us to go back upstairs). We entered the Pavilion Hall again and found it a crush of people. Our fear of missing out (FOMO) made us join the crowds to find out what was set to take place. My initial hunch proved to be correct – the Peacock Clock was running today. It has become a rare once-in-a-month event where it is wound enough to stop it from seizing, but not so much that it causes wear. This clock is hard to explain, and since I wasn’t able to take a clear photo, I’ll have to do my best with words. The centrepiece of this clock is a large brass peacock that crows and performs a small dance on the hour. There is also a sequence of bells that chime, and some small dragonflies that beat their wings. Like the rest of this palace, it’s incredibly over the top and unnecessary, but seeing the movement of this seemingly inanimate sculpture crane its neck and beat its golden wings was honestly a thing of beauty. Sadly, the show lasted for only ten or fifteen seconds before returning to the usual rigid state.
We returned to Eliseyev Emporium for a pre-dinner desert snack, as a sort of special treat for our last evening in Russia – though truth be told, it wasn’t so expensive that we needed to have waited or made it a special event. We both chose small and simple cakes, which was exceptionally difficult to choose only one. Of course, we could have quite easily eaten more than the one, but that’s being gluttonous.
I wanted to give pizza one last try, so we went to a small Italian restaurant near the hotel. For reasons that we couldn’t really understand (and with the usual insurmountable language barrier, we would never understand), when we went to pay for our pizzas, they were all much, much cheaper than the already low prices on the menu. Our only guess was a discount for take-away, plus some sort of happy hour deal. Either way, we ended up with a delicious large pizza for about 100r ($2.50).
We became nostalgic and a little morose as we realised that our time in Russia was at an end. It was a hard country to really bond with, but we’d grown very fond of it nonetheless. We packed our bags and consoled ourselves that Russia is only a short flight away from London, and that if we wanted, we could be back.