August 7, 2012

St Petersburg – Museums and Canals

On the agenda today – State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, boat tour of the canals around St Petersburg, meet the rest of the people doing the tour with us.

State Hermitage Museum tips: Visit with a tour group or prebook your tickets online. #2 Make sure you’re in the right line before spending hours in line.

The lines to get into this museum are huge. The museum is huge. Thankfully we didn’t make mistake number 2, we jumped in a line, but sent somebody up the front to make sure we were in the right one. The first mistake though – we made. The box to collect your tickets ordered online was outside the area where you queued up, then you had an express line right to the front. We waited an hour to get tickets to get into the museum, to be greeted by another Russian who looked like he’d prefer to be anywhere but here. Thankfully he let us in before he shut the window and vanished for a while. To get into the Hermitage was like getting on to an aeroplane – we had to empty, or leave behind, our water bottles. Grab a map when you’re looking at the Hermitage and work out what you want to see before you go. That would be time well spent. There’s so much to see, paintings, sculptures, furniture and of course even the building itself was extremely opulent and lavish. I often wonder how back in those times people could live in luxury and opulence like that, but then more than likely have people living as third or fourth class citizens just outside.

One of the highlights of the museum was a room we found that echoed. I’m sure a few did, but we’d been told this one in particular did. We had to wait til it cleared out and we had it to ourselves, but when we did, we started clicking our fingers to hear the echo. Echo heard, we moved on. Many of the displays and notes about the displays were in Russian – not much english at all, so most of the museum was done fairly quickly. We still missed a fair bit of it though. Another interesting thing was a whole outdoor garden at the second floor level. Not sure how that worked, but we were definitely on the second floor (Russian floor numbers start at 1, not ground like us) and it was definitely a “floor level” garden. Weird. Around lunch time we saw some of the workers out having a game of volleyball in the gardens. Kinda weird being in a state museum and seeing the guys playing some volleyball. After a few hours at the museum, we were done – boat canal tour to do, but we could have spent more time there, we didn’t see it all.

Odd highlight of the museum: Visiting the unmanned post office. Even another person who worked there came looking for the attendant, never found them and just gave up, despite all the customers waiting. Eventually I gave up, and when I came back a bit later on, the post cards I’d picked were still there, so I grabbed them and posted a couple of postcards. I can confirm that they did arrive a few weeks later, so thankfully the slack service didn’t extend to the postal service.

Thanks to the boat tour guide for showing us this little 24hr supermarket tucked away downstairs, just down the road. Picked up some lunch and water and enjoyed some (very late) lunch (pizza and ice cream!) while cruising the canals of St Petersburg. Our guide spoke english, and he was fairly knowledgeable about the buildings we were passing as we cruised the canals. Can’t remember much of what he said though… Although he did say there was an old city and a newer city and to get into the old city you had to pay with large blocks of stone. Explains why there’s so much built out of stone. But, good to see St Petersburg from a different angle, many more canals than I thought there was and we even had canal traffic lights in a few places. Totally different to any Australian cities where the closest we have is a river through the city.

Later on that night we had our initial tour meeting and headed out to a restaurant close by. Unfortunately the restaurant wasn’t really set up for a group of 16, so my meal never really came out – they finally asked if I wanted something different. I didn’t, but if I didn’t say yes, I doubt I would’ve eaten that night… What I had was good except for all the mushrooms in it… which was half the meal… (I’m not a mushroom fan).


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