20 December 2011
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
I have been to many castles in my life, being a Rhinelander and all, but the Winter Palace tops them all,
hands down. (I have yet to visit Versailles, the verdict is still out on that one.) Not only is it stunning and
detailed and beautiful, but it is also quite homey somehow, which is such a funny thing to say of a
castle/museum. I think what makes the difference is that you can just walk around, with a map in hand,
at your own pace. All other castles I've been to, you had to be part of a guided tour, weren't allowed to
linger, etc. At the Hermitage, we stayed and looked at the Monets and Van Goghs forever, and you are
so close to the paintings and statues that you almost get to touch them. The golden door handles have
had their gold rubbed off by all the people who've handled them over the years. The benches, too. It's
quite lovely, and special, and really makes you appreciate architecture and art in a new way, when you
get to be a part of its history like that. I wish we could have stayed longer! (But after 4 hours, the girls
did not care whether this was a real princess castle or not, they wanted to go!)
Good thing they had horse carriages waiting for them outside. Ha! :)
It was raining and snowing almost the entire time, which means I didn't get to take any pictures of the
rest of St. Petersburg, which is too bad, because it certainly is a sight to behold. It's kind of like Western
Europe, in terms of how it looks on a very general scale, but then it isn't Western Europe, at all, but
something entirely foreign and wonderful. Finns are always really proud of their downtown Helsinki,
with its three pretty buildings and the President's Palace, but St. Petersburg is made up of a thousand
President's Palace-like buildings, golden domes, and general Orthodox whimsicality. The difference is
that the buildings aren't well-maintained, at all. Except for the Hermitage, the veneer is coming off on
all buildings, pipes have come undone, etc.
It really is the perfect symbol for a country whose facade is
trying really hard to hide the bits and pieces falling apart and coming undone underneath. It's very charming.
There are changes happening there, once again, and you can feel it in the people and the infrastructure
when you go. It's energizing.
Aaand in other news, I got to eat borscht and draniki, with lots of sour cream, at this little restaurant we
happened upon by the river, as we were walking aimlessly around town. It was such a wonderful trip.
And now I have a soar throat and a fever, from all that running around in the rain. Oh well, a price I'll
PS I might come back later and edit this blurt of a text, but for now, I'm too tired and will jump into my
bed. Night night.