I went to the Hermitage, Tsar Peter I’s winter palace and the last hide-out of Kerensky, the leader of the Russian provisional government before it fell to the Bolshevik uprising in October 1917. It’s massive, mainly because it’s 5 palaces connected to each other.
We took a guided tour, which was a smart idea because it was crowded and there was far too much detail to take in randomly. M. and I were the only two people on our tour, and the Russian, English-speaking guide put on sunglasses at the start and kept them on till the end. The place is ridiculously opulent, all the more when you consider that part of it was a private museum built by Catherine the Great, for Catherine the Great and no one else. We saw the mechanical peacock-rooster-owl-dragonfly brass clock, tables that looked like they were painted but the brushstrokes were actually inlaid stones, and too many paintings to remember. I appreciated Michaelangelo’s unfinished crouching figure, though it was funny to see groups of tourists come by, snap a picture and move on without stopping. Galleries are all about consuming art, not appreciating it.
I asked our tour guide at the end if I could see the Hermitage cats, kept by the museum to control the rat population. She said they know to stay outside and in the basement, but I could look in a courtyard. I didn’t see any, however, which was a disappointment.
The roads along the canal weren’t built for cars or pedestrians: both roads and sidewalks are narrow and cobbled or slabbed unevenly. But that didn’t stop massive SUVs and sports cars parking on both sides, nor Russian women in spindly high heels tottering along them.
At the end of the canal was ‘Our Saviour on the Blood Cathedral’, so named as a tribute to Tsar Alexander II, cut down in his prime by revolutionaries in 1896 (?) Churches dedicated to the old order leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth, much like the Cathedral of Mont-Martre in Paris (dedicated to the crushing of the Paris Commune), but it’s hard to deny its beauty – particularly its 1970s-like cupolas with bulging blue and yellow panels.
The Tsar’s shrine is next to the Michaelovsky gardens of the Mariinsky Palace, whose current owners don’t appreciate the Revolution on aesthetic grounds:
The palace is now the State Art Museum of Russia, by this point closed, so we resolved to go back later and ate some candied cashews from a park vendor instead.