After such a long day on our feet the day before, we were looking for a less rushed day, but with so much to see in beautiful St. Petersburg, it was not to be. Since I sprung fro the ultimately overpriced two-day ticket for The Hermitage, I felt obligated to check out the other big museum on the ticket- the Menshikov Palace.
After visiting, I was actually glad I bought that ticket, because otherwise we might have missed this interesting museum. Menshikov was one of Peter the Great’s top lieutenants, and his palace is certainly beautiful, but not nearly as ridiculously ornate as The Hermitage or Peterhof’s Palace. Menshikov’s home instead feels like somewhere people actually lived- you can almost feel how (rich, of course) people in the 18th Century spent their time. I would highly recommend this museum as an antidote to the stupefying luxury of St. Petersburg’s other palaces.
Since going to the Menshikov took us across the Neva River from The Hermitage we decided to check out the sights over there for the day. The Menshikov is really close to the museum housing Peter the Great’s collections of oddities from around the world, the Kunstkamera, but after The Hermitage the day before we decided to try something different and headed to the Cruiser Aurora, a Navy Cruiser which was instrumental in the beginning of the Revolution of 1917 when it fired blanks at the Winter Palace. The ship itself is an interesting example of turn of the century naval technology, but we skipped going aboard due to the high price. Instead we spent that money on some Asian food and got off our feet for awhile.
We did finally go to a museum that day, but it was of a different sort- the Museum of Artillery, which is more than just its namesake. It is actually a collection of weaponry and military technology spanning Russia’s history from the Middle Ages to the end of the Soviet Era. It was a really interesting experience seeing the evolution of warfare, learning about Hero of the USSR Mikhail Kalashnikov and his AK-47, which remains the most reliable automatic weapon ever made, and seeing rows upon rows of rocket launchers and artillery pieces that the CIA probably literally killed to get a glimpse of 50 years ago. The history, and the privilege of our more open time, was palpable.
Right across the small canal from the museum, and sitting right on the Neva, is the Peter & Paul Fortress, a large 18th Century fort that is more or less St. Petersburg’s version of a Kremlin. Peter the Great resisted building one because he was striving for a European city of canals and boulevards, but here this fortress sits overlooking the city, with its shining golden-peaked Cathedral (where Peter himself is buried), just as a Kremlin would.
Inside are several period buildings that were closed at this late hour, but others have been converted into small tourist-trappy “museums”, like the Museum of Medieval Torture, which trapped these two tourists. Inside was a broad range of torture paraphenalia ranging from creepy to outright horrifying, complete with gruesome wax models of course.
Our last step after that macabre diversion was almost as bizarre- a statue of Peter the Great with a head modeled off his death mask, but a body twice human size or so. I don’t know if this was an artistic statement or gaffe, but it was interesting final stop of the day nonetheless.