“You’re going to Saint Petersburg? Oh, you HAVE to go to the Hermitage!”
“Ohhhhhh, definitely go to the Hermitage when you’re in Saint Petersburg. It’s magnificent!”
“We loved the Hermitage. It’s the best thing to see in Saint Petersburg. We just absolutely loved it!”
“You’re only spending a day in Saint Petersburg? But you need at least a day to do the Hermitage!”
Every time someone said something like that before this trip, I nodded. “Oh, of course,” I said, matter of factly. “We are definitely going to the Hermitage.”
I had no idea what the Hermitage was.
But it had a funny sounding name, like it should be some kind of industrial unit for hermit crabs and recluses or perhaps a reliquary for herms of Hermes so I could stare at them intently and say, “Herrrrrm. A fine specimen, that” (and whether I’d be stroking my chin like an old professorial type or the prominently erect genitalia those herms of Hermes are known for is best left to your imagination), so that seemed promising.
Yeah, no. It’s an art museum. It’s a very big art museum. Okay, it’s a gigantic, enormous, grandiose art museum of epic proportions because this is Russia and Texas ain’t got nothin’ on bigness here. But it’s still an art museum.
Here is a secret. I dislike museums. This is sacrilegious coming from a self-professed nerd, I know, but they’re too quiet and too faintly lit to keep my attention for long, no matter how interesting the subject matter (although I haven’t yet been to India’s Museum of Toilets, so perhaps this opinion could change someday). Unfortunately, art museums rank towards the bottom of my list in terms of attention span. The best part about art museum field trips in high school (and bloody hell, there were a lot of them, as is bound to happen when one lives close to Philadelphia) was not the destination, but rather getting out of the usual routine of school for the day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate art. I am actually quite fond of Monet. It’s just that all the paintings start to look the same after a while and the combination of that with the quiet tapping of footsteps through dim, cavernous galleries induces one of those Pavlov reactions where before I know it, my eyelids are drooping.
But as everyone was getting their rocks off to the Hermitage, I was open to seeing what all the fuss was about. I was even a bit concerned that we only had the space of a morning to see it—and even less time after making a wrong turn on our way there, during which we briefly got our hopes up when we spotted another Happylon sign outside a mall, but it was a false alarm—when everyone said we needed to allot at least a day for it. At least.
We did it in an hour and half.
Not that I could have anticipated that as we walked towards it.
The Herm-Herm-Hermitage is one of the oldest museums in the world, founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and eventually becoming a public museum in 1852. All told, there are some three million or so items in its collection; this building is the Winter Palace and is one of six that houses them.
The Winter Palace contains over 1500 rooms and halls. There are 1786 doors, as the tsars were world renowned Scooby Dooby Doors players back in the day.
Alright, so it’s big. I began to feel a bit wistful that we’d only planned to devote the morning here. Had everyone else been right?
Of course they were. Obviously you need at least a day for this place when you spend half of it waiting in line just to walk through the door.
Seriously, this photo only represents a fraction of the actual line. I don’t know what on earth would possess people to wait in what had to be at least a two hour line for an art museum. It’s kind of like those weirdos who wait two hours for a roller coaster. Whack jobs, all of them.
Luckily for us, we’d pre-purchased tickets online and were able to breeze past all these suckers. As we did so, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be reaching down to schedule the next ride into my QBot.
(In India, there are Hindu temples that allow you to bypass the twelve-hour long lines of devotees for a small fee. I find this incredibly amusing.)
So, now that we’ve Flash Passed our way into here, what’s all the fuss about?
A multilingual cacophony echoed throughout the wide entry hall from dozens of tour groups as we stepped inside. We didn’t escape queues entirely, as we had to withstand the slow shuffle of a slapdash security check. After that there wasn’t any clear direction on where to go. There was nothing we could really do except make a gradual zigzag, punctuated by the irritatingly incessant pausing that comes with being confined within throngs of slow walkers, toward the general direction in which they seemed to be heading, which brought us to this staircase.
I was done with this place already.
The first room we came to at the top contained this. Just this. A whole room just for this. Uh huh. Right. Moving on.
This room was described as “The Decoration of the Russian Interior in the 19th-20th centuries.” Yes, because I’m sure everyone had a room like this so they could invite their friends over to sit in a line of hard-backed chairs while one of them strummed a harp.
I’m sure everyone’s ceiling looked like this, too. What Russian Revolution?
Herrrm, now this looks totally comfortable. Functional, too.
It was hard to really put my finger on this place. What was it? Museum? Recreated ridiculously opulent residence? Was there supposed to artwork somewhere? Was it normal to be less impressed at the gilded ceilings around me than at the outrageously laborious task it must be to remove cobwebs from said ceilings?
Where was the sleazy porno music that should have been playing in this room and wasn’t?
Why are there so many flying saucers in this room?
In all seriousness, how the hell do they get to all the nooks and crannies up there to clean and polish them? How…oh God, what if there’s a spider up there? Or worse yet, one of these things?
I couldn’t live here. It’s far too confusing and potentially terrifying.
And this library is not nearly as awesome as this one.
So yeah, nope.
To be fair, the architecture in here was impressive. Quite stunning, really. At least it was for the first half hour.
But how many gilded ceilings can one have?
Now this looks more museum-ey, although I’m a little concerned those chandeliers might not be bright enough. Remember, I don’t like dimly lit museums.
We next wandered around a set of rooms with literally hundreds of paintings cluttering the walls. It sort of reminded me of those homes the electric company salivates for every Christmas—light strands everywhere, junky inflatables strewn about the lawn, animated reindeer and trains—basically every inch of available real estate decorated with something just for the sake of decorating it with something. It was overwhelming. Some of the paintings in these rooms were so high off the ground that it would have been impossible even for Shaquille O’Neal to admire their detail.
You know, herms of Hermes were often made with the head situated atop a rectangular pillar that bore no carvings—except for a set of male genitals at what was deemed an appropriate height because Hermes was associated with fertility. It was believed that stroking Hermes’s junk brought luck in the baby making department (so if you guessed that I’d be stroking that as I muttered “Hermmm,” you are wrong. Pffft, how could you think that? I’m not ready for children yet). There was gratuitous nudity in the Hermitage in both paintings and sculptures, but no herms like that, at least from what I saw.
So I’ll just use these phallic columns to compensate.
We wandered through a few more rooms but it was obvious without us even saying a word to each other that we were done with the place.
The Hermitage is the most popular tourist site in Russia and on the one hand, I can see why. It’s massive and holds a lot of stuff. There are many more areas that we didn’t get to, such as an ancient Egypt area and a section containing prehistoric artifacts. For someone with more refined interests than weighing the pros and cons of Intamin restraints, it is a must-see.
On the other hand, for someone who is neither a fan of art galleries, nor a huge fan of museums in general, it’s not something I could even remotely consider devoting an entire day to experience. An hour and a half was more than enough. My favorite aspect of the museum was the architecture we saw in the beginning, but even that all began to blend together after a while. I will say I’m glad we went because it abated my curiosity—otherwise I’d still be wondering what the huge deal was, not to mention I’m sure I’d have grown increasingly annoyed at getting chastised for not going (not that I’ll be totally spared given we “only” spent ninety minutes there)—but to me, it’s an art museum no different from other art museums apart from the fact that it just so happens to be rather large.
But to each their own. I guess it’s no different than going all the way to Saint Petersburg to ride roller coasters that have identical models elsewhere, is it? It’s not the most illogical thing, I suppose. I mean, let’s look at shopping. It amazes me that there are people who get excited to visit outlet malls on vacation. Can’t you shop at Abercrombie & No Fat Chicks at home? Furthermore, who considers retail stores a fun vacation destination? Gee, let me go spend my vacation basking in my own cheap consumerist culture buying shit I don’t need instead of experiencing something new!
Herrrrm, I just don’t get it.
Speaking of shit no one needs…