Day 3 in St. Petersburg; the Hermitage

Friday, May 03, 2019
Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
---[Flat Stanley Reports] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hi Girls and Boys!   Flat Stanley here on our last day in  St. Petersburg, Russia.   We got to bed late last night because we were on a river boat trip until almost 3 in the morning.  When we got up this morning, we saw snow!  But it did not last, and our wonderful guide and driver, Masha and Valeriy, picked us up to take us on a tour of a huge place called the Hermitage.
The Hermitage used to be a big palace for Peter the Great and leaders that came after Peter.  Now it is a giant museum of art, sculptures, pottery, and other valuable objects.  And it was really crowded!  The Russian people really like to visit museums and expect kids in school to learn about the great artists and creators of the objects in the museums.  Have you studied about any artists, sculptors, potters, or creators of special objects? 
We’ll be leaving Russia later this afternoon and saying goodbye to Masha and Valeriy.  We’ll miss them!
See you later!
This day was really a continuation of yesterday since we started the boat ride on the Neva River a little before midnight.   But check out the details for our midnight to 3am activities in yesterday’s blog.   We “officially” started today with about four hours sleep.  Although we had been blessed with sunshine earlier in the week, we were not today.  The cold, rainy winds had continued from last night, only now the rain was snow!  We bundled into layers of fleece and down, grabbed hats, and gloves and were off to meet Masha at 9:30 for a Hermitage tour scheduled for 10:15 am which was only fifteen minutes before the museum opened to the public.
The Hermitage began as a home and workplace for the Imperial family and is sometimes referred to as the Winter Palace. It also served as an extravagant showplace for Russian relics and displays of wealth.  Many events such as grand receptions and ceremonies for state and government officials took place here.  The building was initially named the Hermitage, meaning a dwelling of a hermit or recluse. Because of its exclusivity in its early days, only a very few people were allowed to visit.   Over time more and more buildings joined the complex surrounding the Palace Square. Empress Catherine the Great began the art museum by purchasing a collection of paintings from a Berlin merchant in 1764.  Each time she purchased a collection, a new hall or building was added to the complex.  Today the museum comprises over three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world.
Our tour began with a tour of the Winter Palace.  The floors of this palace are sealed to prevent damage and we were able to avoid the shoe covers, but we were still required to check jackets and bags.  This time we held our place in line while Masha checked jackets.  There were throngs of people in line and we are shoulder to shoulder with a large contingent of Chinese tourists even though the palace has not officially opened.  Again, Masha pulls us ahead of other groups in line and into the entrance hall to the Winter Palace which boasts a grand staircase of marble, granite, and gold.  After viewing several of the first floor rooms, we moved to Room 214 which contained the 18th century works Madonna Benois and Madonna Litta by Leonardo Da Vinci.  Next we visited Michelangelo’s sculpture, Crouching Boy or Squatting Child (Room 230), and two works by Raphael.  In addition on the first floor, we saw a spectacular collection of Flemish and Dutch art with works by Van Dyck, including portraits made in England by the chamber painter Charles I, over 40 Rubens paintings (Room 247) and an equally impressive number of Rembrandt paintings ( Room 254). One could spend days examining the many beautiful objects including some amazing vases made in Russia that we examined on our way out. 
As the rooms became more crowded we decided we had seen enough and tried to find our way out.  The Hermitage limits visitors to 7111 persons inside the main complex at any one time so that it can be safely evacuated in 10 minutes in case of emergency.  Masha was sure that many people were standing outside and would wait at least three hours to enter the building.  She explained to us that the arts are very important to the Russian people.  School groups start from a very young age visiting museums.  Very small children are seated on the floor in front of paintings and they are helped to understand the painting and the skill of the artist.  The Russian people take great pride in the museums and the population insists on the restoration and upkeep of the many historic buildings. The halls seemed completely blocked to the coat check, so Masha sent us out one exit and she fought her way to our coats and then found us outside.
Leaving the Hermitage Plaza we walked down Nevsky Prospect and visited the Yeliseev emporium.  Yeliseev is an institution in St. Petersburg that is a chic place to shop for Russian and international food specialties, such as Russian cherries, caviar, and bottled sauces.  In the center is a round couch that is part of a small coffee and tea shop with parades of cakes and cookies coming from the kitchen. Floating above you is a massive ceiling, historic frescoes, and amazing works of art.  Needless, to say, Larry didn’t let Rox linger long.
Ready for lunch after the busy morning, Masha suggested a late lunch.  We suggested that we would be happy to visit a Russian pie shop again.  She said there was a local ‘sister’ shop to the one we had visited earlier.  It was a bit more crowded, but the pies were just as good!  This time Larry chose beef pies and we thoroughly enjoyed them.  Masha suggested a few other stops, but we told her we were showing signs of fading fast and would prefer heading back to the ship before the last afternoon departure.
Rox requested a final stop for souvenirs and Masha said she knew just the place.  The gift store had an unimaginable display of Matryoshka, or Russian nesting, dolls.  Some dolls were hand-painted by (a) master painter(s) of dolls that were priced in the hundreds of dollars.  Dolls painted by students for priced in tens of dollars. We bought Father Christmas sets for the grandsons and a little nesting doll with a kitten for Anna Claire.   We also purchased cat dolls and strawberry dolls for friends.  Rox chose a hand-painted little girl in blue holding a pie to help us remember the great Russian pies we had eaten.  Larry choose a beautifully decorated egg for our Christmas tree.
Saying our good-byes to Masha and Valeriy was difficult as we felt like we were leaving friends of the past three days.  Masha is one of the most-informed guides who we’ve ever had the privilege of guiding us.  The extent of her knowledge of her homeland and its history is remarkable and her ability to relate that information to us was exceptional as is her command of the English language.  Our driver, Valeriy, is a true professional behind the wheel and someone we came to trust.  To Masha and Valeriy, we extend our sincere thanks for your services and extend our best wishes for your future.
They dropped us off at the ship terminal and with hugs all around, we headed back to the ship.  Rox just couldn’t resist a couple of final stops in the gift stores in the cruise terminal to spend the rest of our Russian rubles.  She bought nesting Christmas trees for the girls and Russian pencils for the second graders from St. Mary’s School who were following along with Flat Stanley.
We were so tired upon our return that we simply crawled in bed for a nap to prepare for another reservation for somewhat-late dinner at the on-board Italian restaurant called “Manfredi’s”.  Tomorrow would be a whole day at sea and we planned to just rest up.
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