Our overnight train journey from Vilnius to St Petersburg was good fun because we shared our compartment with two lovely Russian women. They were heading back to St Petersburg after a holiday in Lithuania and were very happy to help us learn some Russian words and suggest some places to visit. They spoke really good English and shared with us some very nice cognac.
For me the highlight of our stay in St Petersburg, without a doubt, was the Hermitage. I could have gone there everyday for a week, at least. First of all the palace itself is absolutely gorgeous. I watched a film a few years ago, at the Hyde Park cinema in Leeds, a completely silent film, set inside the building. I think the film was just called The Hermitage. Anyway, I was thinking of it as I was walking around the gold room, the red room and the very extravagant staircase, all built during the reign of Catherine the Great.
Luckily for me I stumbled across the Rembrandt room and spent a few hours there. I think they were the most beautiful and most moving paintings I’ve ever seen. I kind of wish I’d stayed in that room all day but after a break for some overpriced pizza and a cup of tea I went upstairs to a room of Picasso, two rooms of Matisse and a room full of Gaugin paintings. I was especially delighted to see the Gaugin paintings. I read a book about his amazing life a few years back.
The next day I was tempted to go back, but instead went to a museum dedicated to the poet Anna Akhmatova. There are lots of museums in St Petersburg dedicated to writers – Pushkin, Dostoyevsky… all men except for Anna, so I chose her (Pete went to the Pushkin museum).
The Anna Akhmatova museum was in her old apartment, where she lived for 30 years. She had lots of interesting artist and author friends but they all had very hard lives. Many of her friends and family were sent to Siberia. I read a little bit of her poetry at the museum and will read more. beautiful stuff.
I’ve really enjoyed all the painting a poetry and really hope I can get back to the Hermitage again sometime, even if I have to wait until I’m 80.
When we first arrived in St Petersburg it was cold and wet and we hadn’t had much sleep. My first impressions were that it was a miserable place…
I used to think London could be a miserable place but that day I started to think wistfully of London as a kind of a never ending summer afternoon party where everybody knows everybody and the only problem you could ever run into is that there’s too many people who want to buy you a drink. By comparison, St Petersburg seemed like the kind of a place where you needed to keep your head down and not smile… not at anyone.
I’m being silly of course. I’ve had some great times in London and we ended up having a great time in St Petersburg too. Maybe people don’t smile quite as much as I’m used to but when someone does smile at you it sure does feel like you’ve earned it.
The walking tour we did was probably a highlight for me – it introduced us to the idea that St Petersburg (or the parts that we saw at least) is made up of really big building blocks that hide lovely and quiet courtyards. This enabled us to make our way around away from a lot of the noise and bustle of the city and traffic.
The Hermitage was great as well of course but I tire very quickly in museums and art galleries. I think it’s a learned response. The Hermitage is REALLY big and my tiredness grew in proportion to its size but it was still fantastic to be there.