One of the reasons, I’ve always wanted to visit St. Petersburg, apart from the beautiful buildings, the palaces and of course the vast history, was the Hermitage museum and this was the day, I would make my dream come true.
Full of excitement, we walked in the rain and the slight cold of our first morning in St. Petersburg, all the way to the entrance of the Hermitage. Our receptionist advised us to take the metro as it was a long walk, but previous bad experiences with the means of public transport in foreign countries and our desire to see as much as possible of the new place were enough to make us trust only our feet.
Upon arrival at the museum, we were faced with long queues, to which luckily we didn’t have to be an addition, as we had already purchased our tickets online, prior to leaving for St. Petersburg. We were directed immediately to the VIP door and yeayyy, within minutes we were indoors. Bye, bye rain for now.
In there, however, unlike to what anyone would have expected for a museum of the caliber of the Hermitage, the situation was chaotic. The first thing that came to my mind was the chaos of public sector oragnisations in Greece. Nevermind! So despite the fact that we didn’t have to queue outside we had to do that at the main reception. No, it’s not because our e-ticket wasn’t good enough, but because it wasn’t a ticket, but a voucher which had to be exchanged for the physical ticket. The English speaking receptionist, took our printed papers and after writing something on them directed us to the right, to counter number 5. On the right, there were indeed counters, but only 1,2,3,4,9,10 and our precious number 5 was nowhere to be seen. A little bit annoyed, we returned to the main desk, where our English speaking receptionist was replaced by a non-speaking one, who not only ignored us but clearly couldn’t give us any further info. A Russian man volunteered to help us and this was highly appreciated as by then we had realised that helping tourists was not a Russian (or at least not in St. Petersburg) quality. After talking with the receptionist, he asked us to follow him and directed us again on the right to counter number 9. Another long queue was residing there to which we soon became members. When finally our turn came, the lady at the counter told us annoyed that she wouldn’t give us any tickets as we were at the wrong counter. We asked her to point us to the direction of the mysterious counter 5 at which she replied with the same answer we were given before: ‘on the right’ ‘Broken record player?’ I couldn’t help but wonder.
Back to the main desk, having lost my patience and my faith in ever finding that elusive counter 5 our receptionist has returned to her post. I ask her once more, less politely admittedly, the whereabouts of the counter in question. This time she says: ‘On the right,’ and she adds, ‘upstairs.’ What a big difference a tiny little word can make! We got there with the speed of light, took our tickets and in we were ready to be amazed by the exhibits themselves. You smile in Russia? There’s bound to be something to stop that expression of happiness appearing on your face. This time was the next installment of chaos inside the Hermitage. People, people, there were people everywhere and guided tours stopping in front of paintings for ages, explaining what every little hair of Matisse’s brush did, making the whole art appreciation experience a little bit unpleasant.
And it wasn’t only them. Russian babushkas in the flesh stood on every corner inspecting the actions of every tourist, ‘No flash, no flash,’ they would run towards you like battering rams and stay there until you had taken off the flash of your camera. Fortunately, this was only in one room. On another though, a newly emerged babushka told me off for leaving my bag on a normal window pane, while I was trying to get a picture of the Palace Square outside. Big Brother is watching you!!!
Of course not all was bad. There was some beautiful exhibits, impressive rooms and the building itself deserves nothing but admiration.
It’s worth the trouble and it’s not to be missed.