Tourism central

by

St Petersburg

After a breakfast of black coffee and pishki (donuts) we visited the Hermitage. We joined what seemed to us a long queue at the entrance for visitors with the foresight to buy tickets online and thereby avoid queuing. Once the doors opened our non-queue moved fairly quickly and we were in. The place was already thronging! It became clear during the morning that the purchase of online tickets is well worth the small additional expense as the huge queues in Palace Square were glacial throughout the morning.

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Cannibal Tours at the Hermitage

An early, fortuitous decision to turn left when everybody else turned right put us in the almost deserted Art Deco wing. It was brilliant with extensive, artfully presented prints, magazine covers and dismembered books including Russian translations of Homer and Kipling. This was the best presented and most overlooked section we saw – delightful.

Rejoining the masses we were overwhelmed by the marble statues, Dutch masters, throne rooms, furniture, peacock clock, parquetry, ceilings and crowds. The salon-hung Rubens room was stunning. Bacchus is more than Rubenesque.

The presentation of all these riches does not do them justice with the emphasis being on the quantity of treasures more than the specialness of any or each of them. Lighting is often patchy and glary and even poor Napoleon’s face is in shade.

Climate control in the building was certainly struggling either due to the unseasonably hot summer that is drawing to a close or the tens of thousands of warm bodies wandering around. Unfiltered sunlight streams in onto irreplaceable paintings and furniture and windows are wedged open for fresh air.

Unfortunately, the palace was designed for the genteel elite and not the lumpen masses and crowd flow is difficult with many choke points and cross currents. There were a few brave souls in wheelchairs doing it tough and spending a fair bit of time waiting at the scarce lifts.

The queue for the women’s toilets was epic while men strolled directly to vacant urinals or stalls. (Sorry for the graphic details but this worldwide problem isn’t going to be fixed until we can talk about it plainly.)

The third floor was dedicated to a 20th century Italian Arte Povera exhibition. The works were presented dismissively and warranted more care and attention.

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‘I just haven’t got a thing to wear’, says Venus.

We had a quiet afternoon and then braved peak hour traffic to see the Smolny Cathedral. The blue and white church dominates quite an austere, institutional part of the city near the great Neva River.

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Good parking!

We returned to our hotel via the Neva embankment, Lenin Square, many bridges, a few canals, one bicycle lane and lots of crazy traffic.

We enjoyed a Georgian aperitif to keep us going until our dinner date with Vlad & Sasha at 10:30. Leaving our bikes at the hotel, we took the Metro from Spasskaya to Markovskaya. The escalators are vertiginous, taking us way down below street and river-bed level. With memories of the seige of Leningrad, the subways are extra deep to serve as bomb shelters.

The Metro is spotless, beautiful, fast and heavily-used. Neo-classical and art deco themes vye for attention. We will explore the Metro more thoroughly before we leave. When a terrorist bombing near Spasskaya in 2017 discouraged residents from using the Metro for a few days the city came to a standstill.

From Markovskaya we walked down Nevsky Prospect to the Caffe Italia. My initial ambivalent impressions of this famous street were totally revised. It is beautiful in the evening and away from the tourist ground zero. It’s necessary to walk to appreciate it. Even cycling is too fast and the traffic too distracting to see into the narrow shopfronts and appreciate the many eye-catching things.

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Moscovskyy Vokzal – railway station

We had a very pleasant time with our new St Petersburg friends. Rosalie ate pasta with petrushka – not Stravinsky’s ballet – petrushka means parsley. We shared a taxi home as the Metro was mostly closed after midnight. The taxi driver was quite adventurous in the almost empty streets.

And so to bed way past our bedtime.

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