We had arrived on ‘St Petersburg Day’, so yesterday, Saturday 26 May, we spent the day with the people of the city, celebrating. We had arranged with the hotel last night for an English speaking guide to take us on a tour of the Hermitage. At 10.30am Victoria arrived, a 24 year old who spoke excellent English with her driver. We were driven down to the Hermitage and spent the next three hours looking through this magnificent building filled with incredible artworks. Pip paid an extra 100 rubles ($5.00AUD) so she could take photographs.
The Hermitage was Catherine the Great’s winter palace. Dick had visited the Heritage in 1966 and had always commented that if you took all of the three million objects and art works out of the building, the building itself would still be a magnificent museum experience.
Our tour covered a tiny percentage of the 1,000 rooms with literally thousands of other tourists and somehow we all fitted in. Many groups had guides speaking in different languages. We viewed paintings by Raphael, Titan, Rembrandt, Leonard Da Vinci and a sculpture by Michelangelo.
There were many paintings by the French Impressionists, Cezanne, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso. Pip remembered many of them from her studies of History of Art at school. We were even allowed to take photos of them if we didn’t use a flash.
After this extraordinary tour we walked outside the Hermitage which is located next to the Neva River and went on a one hour boat cruise.
We cruised passed the Aurora, the ship that allegedly fired the first shot of the Russian revolution.
We had seen the ship from the road as we drove into St Petersburg the day before. As we cruised through the canals, we saw the magnificent buildings of the Summer Palace and many other historic buildings along the Neva River.
We passed the Peter and Paul Fortress and even a jet-ski hire outfit with suntanned Russians screaming around a circuit on the jet skis.
Occasionally a modern fibreglass speedboat raced past us, probably owned by one of the recently wealthy Russians.
The boat tour dropped us back at the Hermitage Wharf just as the St Petersburg Day parade was starting.
Thousands of people lined the main street, Nevsky Prospekt. The people were dressed in very modern and colourful clothes and we noticed that many of the young girls were beautifully dressed in tight mid-rift jeans with high heels and lots of make up. Sadly many of the young people were smoking madly.
The parade started with a monster group of Harley Davidson bike riders – can you believe it!
Many middle class Russians can now buy Harley Davidson bikes from America and there must have been over one hundred of them with a few Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha bikes. The Harley’s were beautifully polished and appeared to be the most expensive you could buy.
The main street was so crowded that as we walked the one and a half kilometres or so back to our Hotel, we were quite concerned about our safety from being crushed.
We decided to walk along a back street and just before the rain fell we found a small Japannese Restaurant. It was spotlessly clean and very modern. We were lucky to find a table just before the crowds arrived.
That evening we went to see the Chinese Circus which was fantastic. The young acrobats were amazing and Pip managed to take a few photos. We had to walk back to our Hotel in the rain.