For our second day in St. Petersburg we made sure to get up in time to be at the city’s crown jewel when it opened- The Hermitage. The fact that even getting there early, with internet tickets already bought, we had to still wait in line for 45 minutes attests to how popular it is. A quick tip on that front- go buy your ticket from the automated machines on the left side of the courtyard. It’s much faster, and the only downside is that you can’t buy a photo credential there, but nobody bothers to check it when you’re taking pictures inside anyway, so save the money.
The Hermitage is contained in Peter the Great’s expanded Winter Palace, and the beautiful architecture and gorgeous baroque interiors is almost worth the visit alone- it’s like the Versailles Palace was also full of priceless works of art. And what a collection of art it is- spanning from Egyptian statuary to Cubist paintings, and featuring masterpieces from an eclectic group including Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Michelangelo, and pretty much every notable Impressionist, especially Manet, Renoir, Gaugain, and Van Gogh. The highlight of the museum (especially for Jeonghee), though, was the unparalleled Matisse collection.
You easily could spend all day in the museum, but after five hours on our feet Jeonghee and I opted to grab a quick beer and schwarma, rest our feet, then head over to see the beautiful Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. This church is now a de-sanctified museum, but its spectacularly-rendered interiors give an idea of what an 18th Century Russian nobleman would have seen every Sunday. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here.
After this gorgeous cathedral experience, we hopped a quick metro ride to a much more sedate location- Dostoevsky’s last apartment, where he wrote his magnum opus The Brothers Karamazov Yes, it’s even better than Crime and Punishment. Unlike that book, though, Dostoevsky had found fame and decent fortune, but his chambers were still quite simple and utilitarian, maybe due to how often he changed apartments for one reason or another. The highlight, of course, was his study, where his final masterpiece was penned.
Our last stop on the day was the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, home to the tombs of many prominent Russians, including Dostoevsky and Nevsky himself, an essential historical figure in the formation of Russia. The Monastery has a pretty canal-side setting, but was in surprisingly bad shape in a few places. This was actually interesting in comparison to the glossy restoration of every other church we saw, and hopefully our mandatory foreigner “donation” goes to good use.
The inside of the main chapel was decorated much like all the other Russian churches we’d seen, but of particular interest was the long winding line of people along its far side. Usually when we see a line like this in an Orthodox Church, it’s to pray to an icon of Mary and/or Jesus. Here though, people were praying directly to a sarcophagus, I believe of Nevsky himself. After that somewhat bizarre sight, it was time once again for Jeonghee and I to head to the hostel, crack open a few well-earned beers, and rest our weary feet.