The State Hermitage Museum. Somewhere around 3 million pieces of art spread across more than 1.000 rooms, the second largest collection in the world after The Louvre. The National Museum of China; The Met; and the Vatican Museums round out the top five, in case you wondered.

As part of my planning I attempted to use the Hermitage Museum’s online trip planner that plotted a route based on one’s galleries of interest. At first it was awesome; I was able to establish “My Route” and add numerous galleries to the plan. And then I could never log back in to finish the path. Sounds about right.

The Hermitage website is a disastrous planning tool otherwise; the app was generally useful when in the museum, but really, it all came down to the deskwork of researching each of the gallery categories in order to tailor the tour to our interests. “Antiquities from Siberia” won over Michelangelo’s Crouching David. Any piece deemed a “Highlight” had a guide-led horde surrounding it, only to be replaced by overly made up Russian girls taking numerous selfies in front of said “Highlight.”

Antiquities from Siberia, including a preserved and tattooed man, spectacularly-preserved carpets, and blinged-out horse tack.

From our planning we determined the only ticket option that would work for us was the same-day ticket, which, as might be inferred, can only be used on the day of purchase. Conveniently there are ticket kiosks in the palace courtyard that accept paper money as well as plastic, and for all of the ticket options. Easy-peasy, right?

We approached the Hermitage 15 minutes before opening, cleverly thinking we would purchase our tickets at the machine and then be ready to walk in when the museum opened. Except, no. Even the machines did not become operational until the museum opened! In the interim I had queued with everyone else as a backup while Tony held his spot at the machine. (Naturally a snow squall and gusty wind had begun blowing about while I queued.)

 Within a couple of moments after opening Tony had our tickets and we walked right in, leaving the queue to stand in the gusty snow. Why would people queue when they could easily purchase the tickets from the machine? we asked ourselves.

The Hermitage, we discovered, is much like IKEA. One must travel through galleries and rooms that aren’t necessarily of interest to reach the ones that are. The night before we had reviewed our plan to avoid unnecessary walking through said galleries, but in the end we could not help backtracking because of dead ends and lack of staircases in areas.

Shall we begin? The Jordan Staircase, so named because, “on the Feast of the Epiphany the Tsar descended this imperial staircase in state for the ceremony of the “Blessing of the Waters” of the Neva River, a celebration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River.”

“Staircases”  could be its own collection in the Hermitage.

Large and gilded rooms need large and gilded Tchotchke to fill them.

Random Tchotchke, Random Rooms.

The Imperial Armory Room. The silver piece is a wine bowl.

The Gold and Blue Drawing Room. Heavy on the Gold. Light on the Blue.

Throne rooms, in the plural. This is the Principle Throne.

Vases. Lots of vases. But not The Great Vase.

This is The Great Vase. It weighs 19 tonnes.

3km in, and there’s no place to sit for a moment.

Granite-columned rooms.

Another columned room, this one being the salon that opened into (one of) the gardens.

This was also the room wherein perched the “Must See” Peacock Clock, a gilded–surprise!–timepiece. Except, there are two other birds who also sing the time of the day on certain occasions. As one who loves birds I was engrossed by the piece, and I admired the automation that made it a novelty in its day.

The Raphael Loggia.

About two hours in we circled back to the lone cafeteria for a quick refueling. In addition to having a plan, one must approach the Hermitage nourished and well-hydrated, for even bottled water is not permitted outside the cafeteria.  The no-food rules are strictly enforced; the docents have eyes in the back of their heads and snapped at me for handing Tony a mint. Accepting our fate with cafeteria food we were pleasantly surprised with the fresh Caesar salad; a “Club Sandwich” and an apple pie slice that we shared. We just did not look at the prices.

Of course there must be a gilded chapel.

The one piece I did want to see, Titian’s Danaë.


About 6 hours later we emerged from The Hermitage, art-ed out but still wanting to see the Impressionism pieces in the General Staff Building across the square, along with a little Kandinsky (I am fond of Kandinsky) and Matisse. An entrance queue continued through the courtyard as we departed The Hermitage. And then we heard, “The Hermitage is closed to further visitors at this moment.” At this late hour in the afternoon, more than likely none of the persons queued would be admitted. Why would people queue when they could easily purchase the tickets from the machine? we asked ourselves.

The galleries of the General Staff Building were peaceful and void of selfie-takers and tour groups; the docents, happy to help point the way toward a particular painting or two, and even adding a few English words in with their dozen Russian sentences of explanation. An altogether pleasant ending to our Hermitage Day.

Like the Saint Petersburgers, we sat for an early (1730) dinner at Kazan Mangal, a new-ish restaurant near the hotel serving Uzbeki, Georgian, and Russian cuisine. Khinkali, the pleated Georgian dumplings filled with lamb and broth began our dinner; we broke protocol and ate the pleats because we were famished (tradition holds that the pleats are left uneaten to prove how many dumplings you have consumed). An Uzbek pilaf arrived next, similar to a Biryani but with Caucasus spices, which we appointed as the side to our two Shashliks, lamb and chicken. The Shashliks were served upon pillowy soft Uzbek flatbread, and nary a stray morsel remained. We opted for a Georgian white, of course.

The snow gone and the sun setting in a big and glorious Russian way…

…we returned to the hotel for a much needed sleep.