Awoke to rough, blustery conditions. There were white-caps inside the harbour and seven cruise ships now bobbed at the pier. We later found it to be so windy, that there were even white-caps in the narrow canals. Spent an hour waiting to get on our bus (after clearing passport control), sat in the bus for an hour waiting to depart. Arrived finally at the Hermitage on time, to find a 1-km long line of people waiting outside in the rain to get tickets. You’re thinking Royal Caribbean no doubt called ahead and reserved tickets. Nope. Stood in what soon became a monsoon, for 45 minutes while more bus-loads arrived and queued-up behind us. Our guide, a vertically-challenged lady who thought she was communicating with us via our intermittent radio headsets, would periodically excite us by disappearing and calling out “Over here!” without specifying where. Eventually we got so fed up that we began to chant “Bring back the bus!”. To no avail. She disappeared one last time to get tickets and left half of us wandering the wet street in front.
Reg decided she had gone inside and bullied our way through the throng. No sign of the guide except the occasional distant noise on the radio. Another guide phoned her and we were told to wait by the ATMs, which we did for 20 minutes. Then we went to the museum’s help desk who paged the guide in PA-distorted Russian. She never responded, but ten minutes later, Paul’s extra height allowed him to spot her disappearing down a nearby corridor and we tore off in pursuit.
Thirty-thousand people a day visit the Hermitage. They all have to enter through one door and exit through one door and buy tickets at one desk. On Monday, Royal Caribbean had been told that the museum was closed for the day, so they rescheduled all the Monday tours to Tuesday in addition to the ones already scheduled. Now 30,000 impatient, angry, wet people crowded the halls, plus seven cruise ships worth of tourists, each struggling to follow their guides through the mob. Our guide continued to hold the paddle with our tour number at knee height, so one of the taller tour members volunteered to hold it up so we might have a shot at seeing it in the scrum. Paul took up a position halfway back in the group and kept his silly, wet, white, Tilley hat on so the back half of the group could key on him. He was tall enough to see the first volunteer and relay direction changes to the rest. In this way, order was restored.
We were then treated to a high-speed trot through some of the museums 400 open rooms (there are over 1,000 rooms in the palace) and glimpsed some of the treasures in passing while striving not to lose contact with our peripatetic guide and her lousy radio. In sum, it is very Versailles-like and helps drive home why there was a Russian Revolution. Come in winter when you can spend a few days in peace and quiet to truly appreciate it.
Huddled masses lining up to get into the Hermitage. We can't even see the entrance from here.
Bust of Catherine
One of many magnificent rooms
Romanov throne room
One of many sculpture galleries.
All in all, the day was pretty horrible, salvaged only partially when Paul snagged a mickey of Kalashnikov vodka in the duty-free shop.
We may or may not sail for Helsinki tonight, weather permitting. The port of St. Pete's is shallow and dangerous in high winds (currently down to 40 knots).