Friday, June 28, 2013

June 21, 2013

As much as I had tried to stay on top of one of the ridges of the air mattress, I ended up sliding to the center and waking up in the process. Fed up with that, I got up early to have my coffee and had a couple pieces of pastry before Willoughby was ready to depart for our visit to the Hermitage Museum.

The morning was sunny and cool as we waited for the marshrutka across the street. When it came by at 8:00, it was crowded with commuters and while Willoughby got someone to yield their seat to her, I rode standing next to metal bar protecting the driver, but jabbing at my hip at every stop and turn he took.

The walk to the metro station seemed to take forever as hundreds of commuters competed for space on the sidewalk. There was also a long queue to buy the tokens as well. At the metro station corresponding to the Hermitage Museum they must have built the longest escalator in the world, the one where from the middle you can’t see either its beginning or its end. Exhausting.

Once at street level, we found a McDonald’s and Willoughby asked to go in a get a rest before starting the touring of the museum. We had Wi-Fi access and found a message from Lingua still insisting on Peace Corps volunteers to get together to organize a plan to entertain the attendees at CATEC. I didn’t bother replying since I was officially on vacation.

Across from the Hermitage Museum, a naval cadet graduation ceremony seemed to be taking place with lots of relatives dressed to the nines and bearing bouquets of flowers while patiently waiting behind the lines. I got into another line to pay the admission fee, 400 rubles or $12.50, while Willoughby sat nearby. To my dismay, the initial fee was only for one portion of the museum, so they had a full menu of options for access to the other areas.

The administrators had not designed a particular way for people to get to the window once they come into the building, so everyone just crowded in front of the first window they found. Once again, no signs in English, no maps or guides unless you brought your own, which many people had done, of course.

People were swarming around like flies; angling to get the best shots for their favorite pieces in the museum and in the everybody else’s way in the process. The flashes kept getting into my eyes and maneuvering around them became simply maddening. I wondered just for a minute what madness had come into me to convince me that it was worth the time and money to come to this place so I could be surrounded by people.

We headed straight for the 19th and early 20th century area where entire rooms had been devoted to the paintings of such masters as Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet and other famous ones. We toured some of the rooms where the Romanoff family had lived before their execution, but after a while felt that it was too much to take in at once.

I asked for a rest and the chance to drink some real coffee. The museum coffee shop had been an afterthought placed along a corridor with just a few narrow tables and chairs as they could fit in. They only sold coffee, pastries and cold sandwiches as you’d find at a gas station in the U.S. With no place available to sit, I wasn’t about to pay good money to drink my coffee standing up.

I told Willoughby I rather see only the collection of Faberge eggs I’d read so much about and then leave the museum for good. When I inquired as to the location of the eggs, I was told, of course, that they were located in a separate building with its own entrance fee of 300 rubles or about ten dollars.

I was willing to pay fee considering that I might never have a chance to see those precious items again, but when the clerk told me I had to go back outside into the queue again to obtain my ticket, I said forget it. We left the museum, went across the street on the port side and inquired about getting to the Peterhof Fountains the next day. No one spoke English, but prices were on display and ranged from 600, about $20.00, to 1,150.

I went back to the same place as the day before for lunch, but this time the food was awful and the place overcrowded. Just a few feet away, we boarded the boat that would take us on a ride through the three rivers that join the city together through numerous canals. It was the best part of the our trip as for only 600 rubles, we got to see many of the sights from a different angle and others we hadn’t had a chance to see at all. I used my table to take numerous shots.

Once done with the ride, I wanted to take some photos around the park and Willoughby decided it was time for another visit to Baskin and Robbins, so I left her there with my belongings and roamed around the area looking for a collection of statues mentioned in my guidebook, but never found them. Someone must have spirited them away completely. 

On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at the convenience store right in front and I bought flat bread, salami and beer from a woman dressed like a Tajik or Uzbek person and sporting a gold grille on her teeth. I grilled the salami in the saucepan and then the flat bread and had that with my beer. Willoughby had purchased another sandwich from a different vendor and was glad when I toasted it for her.

I went to bed at nine while Willoughby stayed up reading from her Kindle.

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