St. Petersburg, Russian Federation – July 13, 2015
We docked at St. Petersburg, Russia this morning. At breakfast, Leslie and I commented that we would never have guessed we would ever visit Russia, but here we are!
This morning, we were part of orange group #1, our tour group for our visit to the Hermitage Museum. Before we got on the bus, we all had to go through passport control. It was not necessarily a breeze. The immigration officer looked closely at us. She even motioned to my passport photo in which I sported a goatee and then pointed at my now clean-shaven face. In addition to our passports, she also demanded to see our ship excursion tickets. Those essentially acted as our Russian visas. Ultimately, even though she seemed a little cranky, she did stamp both of our passports. We thought it was cool getting that entry stamp. Leslie, Lorraine, Arlene, and I boarded the tour bus. Leslie and I lucked out and got two of the front seats. That made it helpful for taking photos on the way. It was one of several buses lined up at the cruise depot. By 09:00, we began our journey to the museum. On the way, our guide told us St. Petersburg enjoys only about 60 days of sunshine each year. That is precisely the opposite of Colorado, which enjoys approximately 300 days of sun each year. Our day was nice. It was not until later in the day when we returned to the ship that we encountered some raindrops.
After about 30 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the museum. The Louvre in Paris, France, has long been my favorite museum, but that may be in jeopardy now. At the Hermitage, in addition to the museum, one also walks through an awe-inspiring palace. The other fact that sways me is that one of my favorite paintings is at the Hermitage, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. The only downside is the size of the exhibit area does not comfortably allow for viewing when the museum is crowded.
When we arrived, our guide shared that we were in luck. We were entering the museum about an hour before it opened to the public. That meant we had many portions of the museum virtually to ourselves. That worked out well for my photography.
The museum is just over 250 years old, founded by Catherine the Great. The palace consists of six different buildings. We walked through five of them; the Winter Palace, Small Palace, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater. The buildings total over 2.5 million square feet of space. The ornate decorations in each building and the displayed artwork are just incredible.
We entered the museum through the main Winter Palace door facing the Neva River. It took a little while to get our entire group through the turnstiles; however, once we did, we met the very ornate staircase known as the Ambassadors’ Stairs. When an ambassador visited the Tsar or Empress, they ascended the Ambassador’s Stairs. I am unclear on whether the audience took place in the Peter the Great Throne Room or the St. George Hall. Regardless, they were both stunning spaces.
Departing the upper landing of the Ambassadors Staircase, we entered the Field Marshal’s Room. While it was impressive, it may have been the least remarkable space we saw that day. One may come to that opinion simply because the decorations are quite muted, not so ornate, and over the top, as some of the other spaces in the museum.
Most notable in the Field Marshal’s Room is the massive chandeliers. They each weigh a jaw-dropping two tons; 4,000 pounds! Several members of our group stood under the lights until our guide related that the chandeliers did fall once. That was enough to get everyone to clear the space.
The Peter the Great Throne Room was a little more intimate than the vast expanse of the St. George Hall. The throne room had an intricate parquet and wood inlaid floor. The walls were a warm, but dark red. That red echoed in the throne dais carpet and the upholstery of the throne itself, displaying the double-headed imperial eagle on the back, an imposing figure. The ceiling consisted of arches and coffers with hints of gold leaf. It was elegant.
Leaving the Small Throne Room, we walked into the amazingly ornate Armorial Hall. The amount of gold in the hall defies description. There was so much gold in the room that there was a gold hue throughout.
At one part of the hall, one could see through the doorway toward the throne in the St. George Hall. It is hard to imagine the numbers of staff that must have been required to make this Winter Palace a place to live and receive guests. Had I been alive in that era and in the St. Petersburg area, I am more than confident I would have never been able to set foot in the palace.
Comparing the Winter Palace living areas to the Napoleon Apartment in the Louvre in Paris is like comparing Versailles to a studio apartment in New York City. There is just no possible comparison between the two.
Even though we could see the throne in the St. George Hall, there was yet one more room to traverse; the Military Gallery. It is a long, narrow room. It is sometimes referred to as the War Gallery of 1812. The walls have dozens of paintings, all approximately the same size, of war heroes involved in the defeat of Napoleon. The entire tour group made quick work of the visit and moved on the hall.
The St. George Hall was an immense and massive space of approximately 800 square meters. That translates to about 8,500 square feet. That is more than three times the size of the average American home. A large dais, throne, and canopy dominated the east end of the hall. The throne seemed to be an exact duplicate of the throne in the Small Throne Room, including the imperial eagle. Behind the throne hung a large red banner from the canopy with an equally large imperial eagle. The ornate white and gilded ceiling soared two-stories above the floor.
Leaving St. George Hall, our group wound through some smaller spaces, ultimately stopping in Pavilion Hall. Intimate and two-stories do not necessarily go together, but this space was genuinely intimate. Dominating this hall is the 18th-Century Gold Peacock Clock. The clock is behind a glass covering. The peacock is life-size, as well as the cockerel and the owl. With such large creatures in the clock, one might think the clock face is large too, wrong. The hidden clock face is actually in a small mushroom. The automated birds originally went through a series of movements every hour. My understanding is that the clock now moves only a few times a year. That is to keep from wearing out the mechanical parts. Even though we did not see it move, it was an impressive piece.
We ended up in the Old Dutch Masters area shortly after leaving Pavilion Hall. That is where we began seeing painters copying various paintings. They had easels, stools, and drop cloths set up. We quickly saw a dozen or more painters. Our guide shared that it was a big test for the art students through one of the local universities. I could barely take photographs of the paintings; I know there is no way I could copy one with a brush. Their talent was amazing.
Our next viewing was the Italian Renaissance area of the museum. Below are some of the works that caught my attention. In this area of the museum, we found more art students copying paintings.
Another unusual feature of the Hermitage is the Raphael Loggia. It is a relatively narrow hall, but it is around 20 feet tall. Some call the loggia Raphael’s Bible. That is because Raphael painted several stories from the Bible in this loggia.
Below, in no particular order, are some of the other sights we saw in the Hermitage Museum. The narrative continues well below the photos.
The Hermitage is just like the Louvre in one respect; there is no way one can see everything. We did see many more works of art. When we emerged from the Hermitage, we saw a sea of people waiting to enter. We were glad we went when we did. We walked across the street toward the Neva River, onto our bus, and then back to the ship.
Back on the bus, our guide greeted us all with a Russian chocolate bar. That was very nice of her.
At the cruise terminal, several gift shops were dealing in items designed to catch the eye of tourists. As usual, we found some refrigerator magnets.
After dinner that evening, we all went to a show. The entertainment was a troupe of 14 Russian dancers/singers. Seven band members accompanied them, playing authentic Russian instruments. The entire performance in Russian did not deter us from understanding what was happening. The eye-catching traditional costumes were colorful.
The following day, our canal tour was in the afternoon. After breakfast, it was the same drill through immigration and onto a bus. Our destination was close to the Hermitage Museum. It was very cloudy. The bus stopped so we could all get off. We faced about a two-block walk to the canal boat. Some of the walking was a little dicey, but we all made it safely. While walking, we saw a bride and groom stopping to take photos. Our guide told us it is normal for newlyweds to travel around the city, taking photographs at their favorite locations.
As we finished our walk, it began to drizzle. That did not stop me from taking photos. I kept clicking from under my umbrella. Shortly after the boat pulled away from the mooring, one of the workers brought us a complimentary glass of champagne, my kind of cruise!
Our boat departed its mooring on Moyka Canal. After passing the Japan Consulate, we took a quick right turn onto the canal that is on the east side of the Hermitage Museum. That canal led us to the Neva River. On the Neva, we turned to the west toward the Bolshaya Neva. I believe that means “little Neva” River. We cruised under the Dvortzovyy Most (bridge) and then under Biagoveshchenskiy Most. We made a U-turn back to the east, ultimately going under the Troitskiy Most. One right turn and we were on the Fontanka Canal. Our final right turn took us back to the Moyka Canal and our original mooring.
The bridges over the canals were extremely low. Some only had a total clearance of two meters, about six feet. If one were to stand while passing under, one would definitely lose body parts.
Just as we docked, the downpour began. It did not let up until we were back on the bus, of course. On the way back to the ship, we stopped by the Red October souvenir shop. Surprise, we bought another refrigerator magnet. Since there was still time to burn at that stop, I took a few photographs nearby.
When the bus arrived at the cruise terminal, it was about 17:00. Our seating time for dinner was 17:30. After exiting immigration, we discovered a very long line to board the ship. I think part of that was because the ship was due to depart at 17:30. We might have been a few minutes late for dinner that night, but it was no big deal.
Even though we spent a night on the ship in the port of St. Petersburg, we were only allowed off the boat if we were on a ship’s shore excursion. We wished we had been able to get off the ship and explore on our own, but it is what it is.
After dinner, I was able to stand on our balcony and take photographs of the Gulf of Finland. One of the highlights was the flood control dam. It is about 15 or 20 miles west of St. Petersburg. There are large motorized steel dams, which close in cases of flooding. At that location, a divided highway traverses under the water. The road is labeled KAO. I believe that is a ring road around the St. Petersburg area.
Just before the flood control dam, I saw a small island. There was a small humanmade harbor in the center. I found out later that this is Fort Kronshlot, built-in 1704 to fortify Russia from other Baltic states.
We watched a little TV in our room and then retired, ready to awake in Helsinki.
Lastly, below are random photographs I took as we rode around town on the bus going back and forth from the ship to our tours.