Today we woke up to yet more miserable weather in Piter, but it didn’t really matter as this morning and early afternoon had been earmarked for ‘The Hermitage’, the world famous Russian museum, situated a mere stone’s throw (providing that a Trebuchet was doing the throwing) from our hostel. After hearing of mile-long queues I made sure that we we arrived a good 25 minutes before the doors opened, to the delight of certain memebrs of our fraternity, especially when the queue turned out to be seven elderly couples. Eventually we navigated past the masses and entered inside, where my out-of-date Japanese student ID seemed to cause enough confusion so as to nab me a free student entry (R400 for adults, and R200 for the right to take pictures). The musuem itself was stunning, set on three floors of the old Imperial residence (the Winter Palace), the rooms in which the innumerable artworks were displayed was often as (and sometimes more) impressive as what was on display. Personal highlights for me included the Ancient Egyptian mummy and a series of intricate wood whittlings, which were hidden away in an effusive dresser down some random side corridor on the second floor. After almost four hours we had pretty much traipsed through every room, and were quite burnt out, and so beat a hasty retreat back to the hostel. The Hermitage had certainly lived up to any expectations that I may have had for it, ranking very highly in terms of the most impressive museums that I have ever visited, and had I actually the first inclination of what constituted fine art (rather than my ‘I like what I like and that’s what I like’ approach to artisitic apraisal) I am sure that I would have been even more bowled over than I was.
This afternoon I attempted a solo expedition to see Smolny Cathedral, as whilst we had seen ‘quite a bloody lot of similiar looking cathedrals and churches’, ‘Lonely Planet’ told me that I must go, and so off I set, relying on my newly aquired skill of ‘heading out without a map in a direction which seemed vaguely appropriate’ for navigation. The ‘quick 25-minute jaunt’ rapidly turned into a ’50-minute power walk’, but eventually I reached my destination, where despite the by now heavy rains and gale-force winds I managed to convince myself that the ‘blue-and-white Baroque spires rising majestically above the banks of the Neva River’ justified my now bedraggled state. For the journey back to the hostel I decided that walking along the river would be quicker and easier than my previous route; sadly neither would prove to be correct. As well as adding a good 3 km onto (at times I thought I was en route to Finland), the proximity of the river ensured that I was soaked and battered in equal measure. Fearing that I would be walking for ever I soon adopted a run, which had the dual benefit of leaving me feeling damp & cold, whilst attracting a lot of unwanted attention from passing locals. Eventaully I made it back to the hostel; soaked and panting heavily, but with a new-found love of Baroque architecture.