Enormous / Day 35 of 64 / 13 June
I left the hostel at 9.15am to go get some breakfast. I ate at Teremok again: it’s just too good. After breakfast, I made a beeline for The State Hermitage Museum [Государственный Эрмитаж, Gosudarstvennyj Ermitaz]. I had read online that the queue for admission into the museum borders on the ridiculous, with queues snaking OUTSIDE the building. True enough, when I arrived at the museum at 10.15am, there was already a long queue: and the ticket counters hadn’t even opened yet. Tickets for the museum complex cost 700 RUB/14 SGD, and give you access to five different museums: the main Winter Palace Complex, the General Staff Building, the Menshikov Palace, and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Apparently, to beat the long queues, you can buy tickets in advance online from the museum website.
The State Hermitage Museum and Palace Square.
In the queue, I met an Argentine man and his elderly father. They were in Russia to watch the World Cup, and tomorrow they would be headed to Moscow. We were both amazed at how big the museum was. The building used to be a winter palace for Russian emperors, and I joked how the emperor might’ve been able to sleep in a new room every night of the year.
I asked the man if it was just him and his father in Russia. He said he wanted this trip to be a special bonding time for father and son. Although they both had their own wives and children, he wanted this trip to the World Cup to be for just the both of them. It was like rediscovering his father all over again, he said. After many years, he and his father were no longer the same people: and what better way to rediscover this new dynamic than by bonding over football.
The ticket counters finally opened at 10am, but I only managed to get my ticket at around 11.15am. In the queue to enter the museum, I met a family from Singapore. The moment I heard them speak, I turned around and asked if they were from Singapore. We were wondering where we could get our hands on a museum map, so I asked the British couple in front of us where they had gotten their map from. I ran over to the map stand and got myself and the family a map. Not long after, we parted ways and I disappeared into the labyrinth of a museum.
If I had to describe the Hermitage Museum in one word, it would be: overwhelming. Everything is too much. The buildings are huge. The number of exhibits and artefacts is seemingly infinite. Visitors stroll through an unending series of rooms. Every imaginable artefact from any period in time from any civilisation that has ever existed can be found in the museum. Egyptian sarcophaguses are displayed in the same building as ancient Japanese art. Roman busts and statues are located just two floors below cutting edge avant-garde contemporary pieces.
There’s a reason why this museum is often known as the “most complete”. Almost every record of human expression or creativity has its place in this complex, and you can’t help but feel lost in trying to explore it all. It is said that attempting to thoroughly explore every artefact in the museum is futile: such a feat would take at least six years. A day pass simply doesn’t do this museum justice. If you’re in Saint Petersburg, be prepared to spend a good portion of the day exploring this place. You won’t be able to investigate every exhibit, but just the feeling of being in awe of this huge collection is reward enough.
After the main museum complex, I headed to one of its branches: the General Staff Building. Situated on the opposite end of Palace Square, the General Staff Building used to house many Russian and Soviet ministries and government offices. Today, it is a branch of the Hermitage Museum that exhibits contemporary art and historical artefacts of former Russian and Soviet government departments. Unlike its bigger brother’s focus on history, the General Staff Building focuses on contemporary movements. The museum serves as a nice modern counterweight to the main complex’s historical heavyweights.
The architecture of the General Staff Building is simultaneously impressive and imposing. I guess it’s rather apt that the building used to serve as government and ministerial offices. The entire building feels “bureaucratic”: with long and seemingly endless corridors, flanked by large window-less wooden doors. The ceilings are high so sound echoes quite a bit inside. I can imagine a superior officer slamming his office door in anger, and the resulting sound echoing down the corridor, notifying his underlings of their bosses current temperament. The building is a physical manifestation of the darkest parts of the bureaucratic machine: isolating, disorienting, and opaque.
My final stop for the day was New Holland Island. I reached the island at around 4pm. The island has been redeveloped and now serves as an art and culture space. Typical of most such spaces, there are cafes and plenty of open spaces for people to relax in. There was even an artificial beach, complete with beach chairs and parasols. I sat down on one of the beach chairs and enjoyed the strong summer sun for almost an hour.
After that, I had some dinner before heading back to the hostel. Back at the hostel, I found out that 4K was from the same unit as me in the Air Force, 18DA. What are the chances, for me to bump into someone from the same small unit as me, all the way out here in Saint Petersburg? Distance can seem so irrelevant sometimes.
I got around Saint Petersburg by walking. It’s a great way to admire its sights.