Tuesday 8th: St Petersburg is proving to be a stunning city, crowded with splendid palaces, impressive historical monuments, wide boulevards and beautiful bridges. It is magnificent by day and magical by night. It is also renowned as the Ballet Capital of the World. The Hermitage Museum, the former Winter Palace of the Tsars, was our first port of call today. This is one of the largest museums in the world and houses the royal art collection of over three million works. An early entry was arranged for our group and we moved straight to the second floor via the great Jordan staircase. We had to hurry through the first few rooms to get to the famous Peacock Clock by 10am. The special treat was that the clock keeper set the mechanism to work for us at that hour - the owl spun around in its cage, the dragonfly danced, the rooster crowed and the peacock slowly spread its tail feathers - amazing!
Next we were guided through the large collection of Rembrandt works held by the museum, then some of the Dutch and Flemish collections and the famed collection of Italian art. As well as the artworks themselves, the rooms were magnificently decorated with valuable stone (such as in the malachite room) carvings, gilding, etc. It was impossible to take it all in and keep up with the group in our two hour visit.
Reluctantly we left for an excellent lunch at The Tsars Restaurant which we enjoyed with Beth and Bob. Next our guide took us to St Isaac’s Cathedral, a huge church directly opposite our hotel. Like many of the churches since the Soviet era, St Isaac’s is a showpiece more than a functioning church but still beautiful and interesting. In its basements many of the treasures of the Hermitage were stored and protected during the war.
At Beth’s request, we were given the option of visiting the private Faberge Museum where the largest collection of 11 of the original Faberge Easter eggs are housed. The palace itself has been restored to its former opulence. In addition, there were several galleries crammed with the most exquisite articles of personal use, silver and cloisonné ware and valuable icons.
Thoroughly saturated with magnificence and beauty, we had final drinks with Barb and Irene. Five of the group including Irene went to the ballet Sparticus while we had a quiet buffet dinner with Barb and an early night.