I woke up this morning filled with giddy expectation; we are going to what I have heard from so many of our friends who have traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia was a must see; the Heritage Museum.
Not only that, but we were signed up for the tour called the ‘Exclusive Hermitage Museum and Gold Room”. From what we understood from friends, it is a room we had to see that included archeological finds including Scythian and Greek gold, royal gifts and beautiful jewelry from noted jewelers of the time.
Evidently, this room was only opened to visitors who pre-arranged the tour; it is not open to the public. So, we were up very early today to grab a quick breakfast and make our way down to the pier to catch our bus at 8:40am.
When we arrived the street in front of the museum was already teeming with tourists, tourist buses, vendors; it was incredible. However, the museum hours for other than pre-arranged visitors did not start until 10:30am. Security is very tight at the museum not allowing large bags, umbrellas and heavy coats. These must all be checked before entering the museum.
We began our tour climbing Winter Palace’s a beautiful, white marble main staircase. The white walls were backdrop to an abundance of gild, mirrors, granite columns and painted ceilings. The climb was breathtaking.
Our first stop in the museum was the Gold Room. This area of the museum is not very large but is filled with some of the most beautiful jewels, jewel cases, knives with jeweled hilts and more covered with every color of the rainbow gem stones and diamonds.
In the display case containing archaeological finds there were some incredibly delicate gold earrings. And, much to the pleasure of everyone there was a magnifying glass just in front of the earrings so you could see just how delicate the intricate the work was on the pieces. There were several pieces on display in this manner. I thought that was wonderful.
We were only permitted in this room for 30 minutes. Randy and I could have stayed there for hours admiring each beautiful piece but another group was coming in so we had to move on. We were a little disappointed because we were not allowed to take any pictures in this section of the museum.
As we walked along our guide told us many facts about the Hermitage. For instance, Catherine II traveled around Europe in 1764 and acquired over 225 paintings that started the collection. Today, the museum is the home to about three million exhibits housed in five buildings.
From there we moved on to one room after another that filled your eyes with incredibly beautiful and opulent bejeweled watches, boxes, knives, necklaces, earrings, pins, tiaras, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, stained glass and more.
The Winter Palace was a treasure trove of beautiful sights from the beautiful reception halls, the Small Throne Room, the Armorial Hall and the Grand Throne Hall.
We were treated to wonderful works of art as Leonardo da Vinci’s The Madonna Litta, Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, El Greco’s The Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Titian’s Penitent Magdalene and so much more. It was dizzying to take it all in. On to the New Hermitage to enjoy 16th – 18th century Italian artworks as well as a world class collection the Dutch masters.
Room after room was the same. In some rooms we would see beautiful paintings and sculptures. In others we would see beautiful tapestries. And it went on and on and on. Everywhere you looked was beauty.
I found as time went on that I was spending as much time looking up at the ceilings, down at the floors and at the exquisite doors as I was concentrating on the pieces of artwork that our guide pointed out.
As we made our way to the museum shop and cafe we, once again, passed through the hall of Roman statuary and the Egyptian Room.
On our way back to the ship I asked Randy what he thought of our visit to the Hermitage.
“Whenever I talk to anyone I will be sure to tell them to not just look at the paintings and sculptures but to make sure they look up at the ceiling, look down at the floors and all the beautiful carved wooden doors. This place is wonderful. This is a must see destination for anyone visiting St. Petersburg,” he replied.
After a little thought he added, “Everything about this museum is wonderful except for the stoic guards in each room saying, “No Flash” as you pass by”.
He was right, there was a museum guard in each room sitting on a small folding chair. They never greeted anyone, never smiled, it was a little sad, I think.
It had been a long, wonderful morning but we were both anxious to get back to the ship. A little rest then off to cocktails and dinner. We met Steve and LuAnn in the lounge and had a wonderful time talking about our excursions. Dinner was good too, especially as one of my very favorite dishes; Mozzarella Salad with arugula and tomato-basil salsa was on the menu.
The ship made arrangements to have a Military Russian Folkloric Group to come aboard and entertain the passengers. We were tired and decided to bypass this evening’s entertainment and catch it another day on the ship’s TV channel. Instead we returned to read a bit, watch a little TV and get a good night’s sleep.
Tomorrow we are back in St. Petersburg to visit the Peter and Paul Fortress.