You never run out of Museums in St. Petersburg!

You’d think after seeing the big 2 – we’d be museum’ed out! And true – the big hitters are vast beyond belief. The Hermitage collection would take years to see if you only spent 1 minute checking out each item on display, and the equally vast but less visited Russian Museum is pretty amazing. But the Intrepid Traveler and I stay longer to see more – and St. Petersburg in no exception.

Today we’ve got 3 on the list – St. Issac’s Cathederal, the Rumyantsev Mansion, which contains among it’s state rooms a museum on the defense of Leningrad during World War II, and the Erarta Museum. The last sounds the best to me – but it’s off the easy travelled path, and to get there we’ll have to metro, bus and walk! But being the sports that we are – it’s tally ho!

We arrive at St. Issac’s by foot – and immediately realize that it doesn’t open at 10:00 – it opens at 10:30. Sigh. So it’s line up – realize you are standing in front of a non-opening window – move, line up again. Get cut off by a larger guy intent on being in front of you, wait patiently, eventually get your ticket. Then it’s the mandatory 2nd line-up to enter. All this to see the inside of a church that isn’t even really a church – it’s a museum. Lots of amazing marble work, largest Dome built at it’s time – and some impressive icons. Quick in, Quicker out. We’re on to the Museum on the defense of Leningrad during WWII.

This museum is truly cool. Like almost all the other museums in St. Petersburg – it’s in a former palace that was taken away from it’s owners during the revolution. Some of the rooms have been refurshed (I love the ball room), but most are just painted bare walls used to display the entirely too intriguing exhibts. I didn’t realize how fast the German’s turned on their allies, the Russians. On day one they were friends, on day two – bitter enemies. Apparently Stalin was so amazed that the Germans attacked – he had the first messanger shot.

Such a nice guy, eh? Talk about killing the messenger.

The Germans – fresh off their astounding victories in France, the Netherlands and Belgium, could see no problem. I think Hilter should have read up on Napoleon! He effectively ran into the same problem that Napoleon did. It’s easy going at first – but by 3 or 4 weeks in – the Russians fall back into delaying actions that kill off men, without a clear stopping point. And then the weather takes care of the rest of the attacking army.

German plan? Dash into Russia, defeat the country in 3 to 4 months – Max – and Europe is ours.

It takes the Germans only about 3 months to get to St. Petersburg (Leningrad at that time) – but at the natural city walls (rivers and canals mostly), they run into serious resistance. They can’t conquor the city – so they lay seige and try to bomb and starve it into submission. The problem – the population of St Petersburg (aka Leningrad) just don’t give up. And the Germans keep pounding away.

According to the display – the Russians were able to get some supplies to the city during the very long, very hard first winter by bringing stuff across the frozen water to the West. But thousands and thousands of people straved – there are huge cemetaries built in their honor to the North of the city. Tough Times.

Anyway – it took 4 long years for the seige to resolve itself. And for a good while it wasn’t obvious who was doing it to whom. But having this unresolved thorn kept the Germans occupied, the Russians encouraged to fight on elsewhere, and removed some of the pressure from Great Britian. The Intrepid Traveller – who knows far more history than I, says that the seige was really a turning point – albeit a very slow, long drawn out one. It took the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour to get the Americans involved – had St. Petersburg fallen – there might have been no Europe for the US to save.

The exhibits in the museum are mostly from the point of view of the people of St. Petersburg – air raid shelters, life in a communal flat at the time, that kind of thing. Really facinating. And well documented in English.

I keep thinking – we’d never think to document our museums in Russian – never.

We finish our tour and decide to head to the Erarta Museum. I still haven’t figured out the bus routes in the city – so we decide to walk to the metro stop that links by bus to the museum. That means walking across another of the bridges that link parts of the city. Tied up near the bridge is one of those giant cruise ships – the SeaBourne Queen. It towers – towers – over the city scape. Historic St. Pete’s has a max height of maybe 5 stories – no elevators – remember – so having a 6 to 7 story high cruise ship tied up right at the historic heart – it’s like having a rose in a bouquet of lilies. Can you say – sore thumb?

After admiring, if you can call it that, the cruise ship – and the 3 other cruise ships tied up further down the Neva, we continue walking towards the metro until my nose does one of those hard rights! This time it’s a local little restaurant – with a 199 ruple ($5) lunch special. Cranberry/Strawberry drink, bowl of borsht with sour cream, salad, and a main course of what we’re finding to be the extremely traditional mystery meat roll with rice. Completely yummy.

Refreshed – we continue our hike. Metro located, Bus found, Museum discovered – we explore the Erarta – St. Petersburg’s Museum of Contempory Russian Art.

Nothing in St. Petersburg is small – so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the Erarta is huge. 5 floors – countless rooms – including 3 floors of ‘special exhibits’, and complete bonus – a 35 piece collection of Vaserily’s. There’s an audio guide (natch) – and it patiently explains a great deal about at least half of the collection. There are 2 ‘media’ rooms – one of which is showing an hysterical cartoon series entiled “The Adventures of the Black Square”. I think it’s available on NetFlicks – and it’s incredibly funny. This family interacts with famous paintings that magically come alive. My favorite has to be “The Scream” – at one point they tape the mouth shut!

Another favorite – a 3-D life sized version of the last supper – covered completely in burlap. The idea – it’s obvious what it is – but then you wonder – is it really them? You are supposed to start considering your reaction to known art. Intriguing.

I also liked the huge metal worm – shades of ‘Dune’ – that occupied about 3/4 of a room. Art my size is always interesting!

We visited the ‘for sale’ area – I see a lovely small sculpture – just $1000. Right, I’ll buy two of those. Anyway – we leave the museum intrigued, but without the sculpture and head back to the city.

Dinner is going to be at the Hostel (Roast Chicken again – this time with Veggies – and another bottle of wine) – and turns out to be a lot of fun. A new group of guests have arrived, 2 women and their 9 year old sons. We swap pictures, share histories, and just enjoy the company.

Everyone Russian that we have met has a back-story that sooner or later they share with us. Generally hard times overcome – they are making the best of things, life is getting better, they finally live on their own, have their own flat, etc. It’s not that they are upbeat – it’s more that they can see that there’s a better future out there – and they want their piece of the pie.

I say – let’s all share – certainly there’s enough pie for everyone to enjoy.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

The Magnificent Russian State Art Museum is definitely not to be missed!

Lonely Planet suggests seeing the Russian Museum on the afternoon of Day 4 in St. Petersburg – after you’ve spent the morning at Catherine’s Place in Pushkin.

Are they NUTS?

This huge monster of a drop dead fabulous art museum should never be squeezed into a space on Day 4. It’s right up there with every other top museum I’ve ever seen – glorious art, and amazingly beautiful rooms that in fact once functioned as rooms. And it is huge. The collection is so massive – that there are at least 4 other Palaces used to display bits and pieces, and probably a collection twice the size of what is on view put away in storage.

To say that we found it fascinating would be an understatement. And unlike the Hermitage (aka Winter Palace) – it’s not mobbed. In fact, it’s actually a bit hard to find the entrance. It’s an understated wooden door – quite near the Church of the Spilled Blood. So it was obvious to combine the two on the same day.

We left the hostel after a light breakfast, and walked the short distance to the Church of the Spilled Blood. This church is famous for being built over the exact spot where Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, for having over 7000 sq. meters of mosiacs, and for going 1 million ruples (a huge sum at the time) over budget. And it is well worth the visit.

We opted for the audio tour – which not only described the assassination in great detail, it also drew our attention to many of the intricacies of the mosaics that we would have otherwise missed.

Upon existing the church – we were quite literally at the door step of the Russian Museum – our next stop. Inside the museum and directly across from the entrance was a rather lovely cafe where we enjoyed a quick lunch before we braved the intricacies of Russian Art.

Wow – who knew that Russian Art was so amazing. I particularly loved the art from 1900 onwards – as Russia went thru it’s revolutions, wars, and hid behind the iron curtain, its artists were producing amazingly beautiful pieces of art – and who knew? The art from Russia that I saw as a child was what the then Russian government wanted me to see – but it was hardly representative of what was actually happening. Cubism and Surealism had found their way East – and quite the impression they made too.

But there was more – so much more! In addition to wonderful art, there are the rooms of the justifiably impressive Mikhailovsky Palace. We ran short of time – We had originally thought to do an English language boat tour tonight – that’s going to have to wait – but we also have reservations for a Geogian Restaurant – and that’s going to have to happen!
We quick march back to the entrance to the Russian Museum, gather our back-packs – and head out on our way to dinner. We walk past the front of the Palace – ya know, I think that might be the main entrance… – past the Mikhailosky Theatre (we’ll be back) – and to our restaurant of choice – the Aragvi. We’d ventured in the day before to check it out – tiny, cozy, priced ok – and it looked yummy.

We were welcomed graciously – and seated at a lovely table with a view over the canal. Based on my husband’s experience in Russia – I ordered a jug of Geogian Wine – and the very knowledgeable waiter proceeded to explain the menu to us. He recommended two starter dishes – a ‘fried’ chicken in a prune and spice sauce, and a dish described as dough stuffed with cheese.

Not sure about the portion sizes, we opted to have the wine and these 2 starters – and decide on the rest of dinner later.

Great plan! The 2nd dish was a huge huge pizza shaped dough stuffed with delicious cheese. By the time we’d drunk the wine and eaten the 2 starters – we were full! Stuffed even. So we opted to skip the main course and go to dessert. We shared one dessert among the 3 of us – a sampler of Georgian dry pastries that was also excellent.

Rolling out around 10:30 – meals take time in Russia apparently – we walk back home.

Nice dinner, nice day – great company. I’m begining to really like St. Petes.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and her travel buds – MP and IT