Daily Archives: July 4, 2012

Lost in Russia II

Today I went to visit the Hermitage Museum (the main museum here). I caught the Metro, I popped out at  Neski Prospect and met Igor as arranged. The Hermitage opens at 10.30 so we got there at 10am, even so the queue was over an hour. Igor says it can be up to 3 hours sometimes. There were so many people, an endless sea of swarming tour groups clearly trying to see the place in an hour as they barge through stopping for 30 seconds at the pictures. I spent 5 hours there, it was fantastic but also overwhelming. There are 4 floors including the ground with one corridor on each but the rooms mostly flow into each other. The ground floor has 90 rooms, the 1st floor has 189, the 2nd floor has 303 and the 3rd has 85.

The Main Staircase of the New Hermitage (from The Hermitage)

What a place! It used to be a palace and one wing is still set up like when the Tsars lived there , glorious ballrooms, reception rooms, gold and marble columns marble floors with 12 types of wood inlaid.

There was a wing of Italian painters, a wing of Dutch, rooms filled with Rembrandt, Reuben, Leonardo de Vinci and other famous artists, and many priceless ornaments. On the ground floor were artefacts from Egypt – a room full of stuff from 4 BC !!! There were rooms full of Greek statues. It was unbelievable and well worth the visit.

Art of Ancient Rome of the 1st century BC – 4th century AD (from The Hermitage)

I had wanted to go to the 3rd floor, but Igor left to go to work after we had seen the other floors and I went to the cafe for a much needed break. And then to the great surprise of all who know and love me I could not find the 3rd floor!  I went over the Museum backwards and forwards, I asked directions at least 10 times and ended up in various parts of the Museum. Once I thought I was getting it finally but no, I ended up in the cloakroom (which of course I could not find without a few attempts when I went to leave). So after visiting the rest of the Museum – some of it multiple times – the Russian roomminders that I had asked for directions starting talking fast and jabbing their fingers mostly back to the way I had come. So I decided with the swarms of people to call it a day (then of course searched for awhile to re-find the cloakroom).

I then went and sat in the sun by the canal and had a cold beer. It was $20 – but a very enjoyable setting. I sat there reflecting that there is nothing I have to do for the rest of the day, nowhere to be, no one expecting me, the time is totally mine.

Observations of the day

  • I am really bad at walking on the wrong side of the pavement. Good practice for when I bike. I am ok when concentrating but start to drift once I start looking at the sites.
  • Russian supermarkets are called Cynermarkets and they are like our 4 Squares.
  • At the rivers and canals you see students painting and sketching the amazing buildings.

Tomorrow I am meeting Igor at the Neski Prospect Metro stop again, at 10am. I am not sure where we are going, he did tell me while we were at the Museum but I did not want to tell him that not only do I get lost, not really know any of the Russian poets, writers or paintings, but I am also fairly deaf, and very deaf in background noise. So tomorrow will be a surprise.

I have not yet seen any of the other bikers yet, I have been keeping an eye out and have not seen anyone who looks likely. They should start arriving from now onwards. Mind you, I guess I probably don’t look like someone who is going to bike over 6,000 kilometres either. For all I know could have sat next to a fellow biker at breakfast already.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Today started with good news and bad news

Good news: I found the (previously lost) instructions to make phone calls with the travel sim, so I can now do that
Bad news: The charger for phone has gone on holiday as well, and refuses to work.

Note to self: always bring two. I was confident that Igor would be able to help me find another, however it is disconcerting to not be able to find out the time, I spent the first 1/2 of the day twisting my neck at angles to see people’s wrist watches.

Today I set out to catch the Metro to town to go to the The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Russian Art Museum and then meet Igor at the palace square at 3.30. Well, much to my surprise, and anyone who knows me, I did so without a hitch 😉

The cathedral is amazing, all mosaic panels on the inside and spectacular on the outside. It was very badly damaged in the second world war, and work was only started to restore it in 1972, it was open to public in 1980 but the restoration it is still ongoing.

Church of the Saviour on Blood (photo from FanPop)

Next I went to the Russian Art Museum, it was full of Russian art work, there were paintings dating back to the 12th century, unbelievable. One artist Valentin Serov died when he was 46 but has 5 large rooms of his art in this museum, and that’s only what’s in the ownership of this museum.

At the museum, and every other attraction, in every room is a Russian women employed to ensure you do not touch any of the walls or art. They have a chair and sit all day watching you.

I met Igor at 3pm and we went to a phone shop and I got a charger. It cost NZ$200 but at least I will now have the time and a phone again.

After getting the phone we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress built in 1703 by Peter the Great. Amazing views from the top of the battlements and interesting to see some of the places I have visited from the other side of the river.

Peter and Paul Fortress (from In Your Pocket)

A few observations of the city:

The St Petersburg traffic of course is on the opposite side of the road as what I am used to so I have to be careful. I also have to be careful as although the speed is meant to be 40km through the city, the cars are going much faster. I certainly would not recommend trying to duck across the road in between traffic like we do at home.

Smoking is very common here and people smoke every where – the restaurants, in hotel lobbies, taxis, even the ambulance crews drive around smoking.

It’s funny the things you miss when you are in another country and often not what you would expect: I miss being able to drink tea at the hotel, there are no jugs in the room or tea making facilities. So by breakfast I hit the restaurant like an addict looking for a fix. The cups are tiny so I gulp down 3 to 4 before even thinking about eating. Today I saw people using the porridge bowls as cups so they can get a decent size cup.

The Metros are amazing, they were built just before the second world war. You go down a very deep escalator to get to them, and they go under the river. There are 5 lines and they run constantly every 3-5 mins in the busy period and I asked Igor how often they ran off peak – he said every 10 minutes, unbelievable.
Also unbelievable is that on the way down the escalator all the Russians stand in single file so that if people are in a rush they can get past with no problem (such a rush they can’t wait the couple of minutes to the next train?).   I had not appreciated this system at first but after being nearly bowled twice I quickly learnt. The ride is very cheap, the equivalence of 10c (the only cheap thing I have found in St Petersburg but more on that later). Also the teenagers stand up to let the old women sit down. No, not me, I said old.

The weather is about 18 to 19 degrees, but although the weather report said it would be fine when I checked it before I left, so far each day there has been a couple of hours of very heavy rain. Unfortunately due to the weight restrictions with my luggage, the only water jacket I have is my riding jacket, which is a vivid yellow reflective jacket, which happens to be the very same style and color as worn by the street cleaners. So if I get rubbish that needs seeping pointed out to me I will know why.

The average wage in St Petersburg is equivalent to 6000 euro a year but it is a very expensive city, you could easily go through that in a fortnight. I have managed to spend $1500 in 3 days (this includes a trip to Pushkin to the Amber room, the 8th wonder of the world on Thursday). To give you an idea, a hamburger and chips cost NZ $40 at the hotel! Luckily for the bank balance this rate of spending will cease when the bike trip starts.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments