It’s all about the holy grail of the Hermitage.
The Hermitage has always been on my top five list (along with Louvre, Metropolitan, National, Prado) but seemed daunting and out of reach because of the politics, the rigors of the journey to get there, and the climate.
I’d looked at it and backed away more than once in the last ten years. I’d peek at the visa requirements, or signs in Cyrillic, and shake my head. The fact I was raised in the cold war days when the USSR was the definition of the enemy played into it too. I had about decided to let it drop off my list, the way I’ve dropped Asia and Australia. Too much for me to handle. Then a couple of things happened.
- I visited a dear friend, my auxiliary mother, on Mother’s Day at her assisted living facility. Brought her a picnic. We talked a little about Madrid, and she said, ‘I hope you are planning to visit the Hermitage, dear.’ That’s all she said, but it was enough.
- .I followed up by looking to see what Rick Steves had to say. He’s a pretty straight shooter. Here’s a quote – “St. Petersburg is Russia’s most accessible and most tourist-worthy city…. Two of the world’s greatest art museums and some sumptuous Orthodox churches top it off. While this place can be exasperating, it is worth grappling with. Beyond its brick-and-mortar sights, St. Petersburg gives first-timers a perfect peek into the enigmatic Russian culture.” Steves does regular guided tours there. And all those cruise ships. Even my Great Aunt Bunny has been to the Hermitage on a cruise ship.
- They have UBER. I kid you not. I feel like I can tackle anyplace armed with my trusty UBER app.
- I have Google Maps and Google Translate. I can hold up my phone over a Cyrillic sign or menu and bam! read it. It couldn’t be worse than my non-existent Spanish.
- Yea, the visa thing is crazy, but there are hundreds of companies that will do it for you. The hard part was narrowing it down to a trustworthy, fairly priced one. By asking around on FB, I got three seasoned traveler’s recs, one of them close by.
- My nephew who lives in Florence (introducing American brands, specifically Frye Boots, to Europe) is very enthusiastic. He’s been many times. He says the Hermitage was made for me, it’s an experience I must not miss. His emails of encouragement, and tips on where to stay, etc, have gone a long way to getting my spouse on board.
- The Hermitage has a Friends of the Hermitage deal that is almost exactly like the one at the Louvre. That’s right, for a paltry fee I can join and then visit as often as I like, waltzing to the head of all the lines.
- The dollar is very strong compared to the ruble.
Until this all started falling into place, Rome was my next destination, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I truly yearned to go to the Hermitage. When I decided to give it one last push, one door after another opened. Looking at this list, I realize the development of the iphone as a major traveling tool, plus my success figuring out the Paris and Madrid trips were game changers for me.
When to Go – Apparently St Petersburg is either freezing or sweltering. II wanted to dodge the season when cruise ships disgorge 40,000 people a day and it tops 80 degrees. That would be June, July, August.
March is unremitting ice and snow. April is still cold as a welldigger’s shoes, but toward the second half of the month is more slush than ice. May is nippy and rains. After some hesitation, I picked late April. I may still need long johns, though I hear the museums are toasty, but I prefer warm clothes to mosquito repellent. Seriously, better nippy than sweaty.
Where to stay – My nephew wants me to stay at the Astoria. After a week comparing hotel websites, I decided not to stay in the center of town (um, remember Madrid?) and to go for the #1 TA pick for guesthouse, Alexander House. I love how rooms have themes but are not fussy, the space and light. It’s an amazing world when you can send an inquiry via email, get a response in minutes and, after a few more emails to firm up cost and perks, have your new Russian bestie Ekaterina confirm your reservation. Using Siri to respond while you drive to the gym. Just sayin’.
I was on the fence about staying at the .Astoria. Honestly, any place that assures me that they will unpack my luggage and press my evening wear the day I arrive really isn’t the place for me. But I also think I ought to split where I stay in case there is a problem – like heinous noise at night. And by staying in different areas of the city, you get a different experience of the city. So I booked the last six days of my trip at the Astoria.
What to do – The Hermitage. It’s huge. I won’t wear it out.