This was our final day in Saint-Petersburg and we were planning to set our own itinerary and despite the alarmist stories of ten kilometre long queues at the Hermitage this was where we were going to start first. Rather surprisingly the museum doesn’t open until ten-thirty but I suppose that with over three million exhibits there is quite a lot of dusting to do each day so this is quite understandable. We had a leisurely breakfast, collected up all the complimentary shampoos and bath gels and then checked out of our room before returning to the city for the last time.
We weren’t too concerned about the queues and approached the Winter Palace in a relaxed and casual way because to be honest we were a little bit ambivalent about whether we visited or not. We wanted to go inside of course but we weren’t going to let it spoil our day if we found it too much of a chore to get in and we just go and find somewhere else to visit instead.
There were no queues in the Palace Square snaking through the gates as we feared and no shuffling lines of weary people in the Palace courtyard either and once inside we joined a line of no more than ten people and we were inside in under a minute for just £8 each compared with the inflated cost of £41 of the organised tour which made us feel even better!
Although we felt rather smug, one thing that we didn’t have was the benefit of a guide to help us get our bearings and this place is so huge then this would have been helpful. We couldn’t possibly hope to see more than a fraction of the exhibits and because Kim doesn’t really like much more than a couple of hours or so in a museum it was important to be very selective.
On account of this we skipped the entire ground floor full of pre-history and ancient artifacts and made our way up the glittering Grand Staircase to the galleries laid out mostly by country and/or period on the first and second floors. We were confused at first as we wandered aimlessly through the old State rooms of the Royal Palace admiring the finery and the opulence that matched what we had seen the previous day at Peterhof because as I mentioned before the Romanov Tsars were so fabulously wealthy that they could have two Grand Palaces, one for the Summer and one for the Winter.
Eventually we established our location and started to move through the rooms and cross them off one by one. We started at the Italian Renaissance and saw some works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (as you do every day of course) and then through an art timeline of France, Germany and the Low Countries where there were some particularly fine pieces from Rembrandt which was good because back in March in Amsterdam we had missed the Rembrandt House Museum because of lack of enthusiasm by some in our party for visiting museums.
After an hour or so we only completed about a quarter of the first floor but mindful of not exhausting Kim’s patience it seemed that now was about the right time to find the French Impressionists on the second. It is not only Kim I have to say because I too can grow weary of room after room of lifeless exhibits. I like to visit these places for what they represent as history and not necessarily for the artefacts that they now display and I personally was trying to come to terms with being in a place that had played such a pivotal role in modern European history – the fall and abdication of the Romanovs in February 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution in October of the same year. This is where the drama was played out and I was walking through the very rooms where it all took place.
So we made our way to the top floor to the French Impressionist section and walked through rooms of Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Matisse, Seurat and Van Gogh and next to the Impressionists there were a couple of rooms dedicated to Picasso. Wonderful but just to put things into perspective, however good they are the fact is that they are not exactly the best pieces of work from any of them because if you want to see the best of Van Gogh then you have to go to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, if you want to see the best of Picasso then you have to go to the Picasso museum in Barcelona and so on and so on. I am not saying that what is in the Hermitage isn’t good it’s just that there is better elsewhere.
Anyway I am no art expert, as you can probably tell, and some of the Impressionist paintings never look that good to me wherever they are, a bit like a piece of work my children used to bring home from school – I’d say encouraging things about how wonderful they were and when they had gone to bed pin them up on a kitchen cupboard door – that’s inside a kitchen cupboard door by the way!
After the Impressionists Kim skillfully steered me towards the stairs and back at the first floor because it seemed rude not to, she agreed to see the Russian rooms but made this our last part of the visit and then made for the exit.