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(Note: Part of a series of entries from my handwritten travel journal.)

Friday, 2 August 2013

We got an early start this morning for the Hermitage, we had an arranged early entrance to the museum so that we could enjoy the art and treasures an hour before the rest of the hoards arrived. (Russia has a shorter tourist season than many other European destinations, so they pack all their visitors into the short summer months because nobody wants to visit when General Frost is in town.) The Hermitage is overwhelmingly decadent and opulent, and that's just the building.

1 at hermitage

hermitage front

We were, indeed, the first ones there. Well, us and the janitor. For some reason I really enjoy the juxtaposition of magnificent entry hall with vacuum.

1 first at hermitage

The art collection is one of the best in the whole world. Where other museums might have a single Van Gogh or Picasso, the Hermitage has, respectively, 4 Van Goghs and two rooms-full of Picassos. And that's just what's on display. We were told that if you looked at every item in the collection at the Hermitage for just one minute, it would take you 11 years (no mention of whether you are doing it 24/7 or only standard business hours and days, though. Hey, these things matter!), so only a very small percentage of what they have is on display at any one time, and surely we only scratched the surface of that. Here are is a small taste of some of the images that resonated for me. There's a whole lot more where these came from!

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And the Peacock Clock, an 18th century automaton! I loves me an automaton, especially a peacock one!
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Oh, let me tell you about the Nyet-Nyet Ladies. These are ladies who sit on a chair in the corner of every room in the museum giving you the hairy eyeball the whole time you're in their room, and tell you what you aren't allowed to do. If you lean too close - "Nyet!" If you touch the wall in the wrong spot - "Nyet!" If you want to know if pictures are allowed in the specific room that you are in (there are different rules for different exhibits) simply raise your camera and if it's not allowed the Nyet-Nyet Lady will definitely let you know. I do know that there are other things on the prohibited list, however I couldn't tell you what they are because I don't speak Russian and they are firm believers that if they just say it more loudly and more firmly you will eventually understand them and stop doing that thing!

After several hours there we walked across the street and got on a hydrofoil to skim across the Gulf of Finland to Peterhof, Peter the Great's complex of palaces built to rival Versailles and sometimes referred to as the Russian Versailles. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A hydrofoil is a boat that, at high speeds, pops up on little legs attached to skis which allows it to skim across the water. In concept and appearance it is essentially Baba Yaga's boat, running over the water on little chicken legs!

Peter the Great spared no expense building his palace and when I walk in and around at Peterhof I cannot help but think that the Revolution, maybe just a little bit, might possibly have been justified. Holy moly the decadence!

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No pictures were allowed inside, although I'm sure you could find some images if you googled it. It was just as wildly decadent as the outside. Many times I would find myself surprised to see Cyrillic script on something because I had actually forgotten that I was in Russia, so much of what we saw today felt so very French and Italian, and so different from everything else we've seen in Russia. St. Petersburg is definitely a different kind of place to the rest of the country.

Riding back to the boat for our last night before going home, I mused on the juxtapositions - you sometimes come upon a gorgeous little church in the middle of a city or suburb that is otherwise an endless line of crumbling, decaying apartment buildings. So many apartments...

surprise church

apartments

And then we packed it up and came home. The St. Petersburg airport is kind of a hellhole, where the Moscow airport was quite efficient and streamlined, but we made it through and here we are, ready to pick and plan our next great adventure!
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