On the first Thursday of the month, admission to the State Hermitage Museum is free. As luck would have it, we visited the Hermitage on Thursday August 1st. I’m not sure whether that was good or bad – the queues to get in were long, and even longer by the time we left, but at this time of the year there would always be a long queue, free tickets or not. At some of the popular exhibits (Da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, and some of the Rembrandts), we had to wait till the crowd thinned to see the painting. But the museum’s crowd control was pretty good – they are obviously used to getting a lot of people through as quickly as possible.
The Hermitage Museum is huge, opulent, impressive, bewildering at times, easy to get lost in and a fine tribute to the excesses of Tsarist Russia. I couldn’t help thinking of how many of Russia’s poorer classes would have paid for those artworks with their blood, their sweat and their lives. The collections are displayed throughout the Museum, which itself comprises the Winter Palace, the New Hermitage and a couple of other buildings. In addition to the main exhibits, it is possible to buy tickets to see other collections including the Porcelain, Gold and Diamond rooms. We only saw a small sample of the main collection, and apparently what is on display in the museum is about 1/20th of the whole collection.
It took us about an hour to get into the museum and while we waited we watched some workmen replacing cobblestones around the edge of part of the Winter Palace. Well, 2 were working and 3 were supervising. We got our free tickets, took our bags to the cloakroom, went through metal detectors and headed straight to the Egyptian Room which has a great display of sarcophagi, jewellery, assorted artifacts and a mummy. Unfortunately there were no English translations for any of the display headers, so we couldn’t really work out what, when or where the exhibits were.
Then we headed up the magnificent Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace to the Imperial staterooms and apartments, many of which had photos showing how the rooms were furnished during the last Tsar’s rule. We were following our Lonely Planet Guide which had a suggested half-day tour plan, although their map wasn’t all that easy to follow. We wanted to see the Da Vinci, the Monets and the Van Goghs, all of which we saw – a room full of Monet paintings, 2 rooms of Picassos plus one of Rembrandts. I know, all very mainstream, but the vast range of what was on display was pretty overwhelming for non-museum goers like us.
After the Picasso rooms we decided we’d seen enough – by then we had probably walked through at least 150 rooms spread across 5 buildings and 3 storeys, so we went to find a late lunch and a trolley bus back to the hotel.