St. Petersburg, the Hermitage and Odd Breakfasts

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Andrey & Sasha's Homestay

Flag of Russia  ,
Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Leningrad blockade saw around one million deaths through shelling, starvation and disease at the hands of the Germans during World War II. The seige lasted almost three years and is often referred to as "The 900 days". To draw a comparison, the United Kingdom and USA suffered combined losses of around 700,000 in the entire Second World War.

Ellen had been hounding me to death when we arrived St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) about concealing the fact that we are tourists.

"They'll take advantage of us. Even the police are known to rip off tourists in Russia," she said.

Unfortunately, looking like a local takes more than hiding your foreign clothes. Ellen gets by just fine with her Slavic features. When encounters occur, the Russkies start conversing with her in Russian. With me, it's entirely different. I'd need at the very least cheekbone implants to fit in. Where Ellen gets "zdrastvuyte" (hello), "dobra eutre" (good morning), or "spasiba" (thank you), I simply get "hello", "good morning" and "thank you. They can spot me a mile away, but they've all been friendly and courteous with not one rip-off as yet.

We are staying at an apartment in downtown St. Petersburg. Overlooking the canal, our oversized bedroom has a fireplace and personal stereo system. The soft sounds of American jazz played over and the reflection of the canal shining in through our bedroom windows and bouncing off the ceiling combine in lulling us to sleep at night. Yesterday, our hosts Andrey and Sasha prepared us a breakfast of crepes with caviar, vodka and lattes before pointing us off on a walking tour that led us to the Hermitage museum.

Playing war, Robin Hood, and the Knights of the Round Table are the things I did as a child. Learning how to dress myself and my horse in full armour before going to battle was important to me when I was ten. Since then museums have lost their appeal. But the Hermitage is different. There are three floors in this Tsars' former Winter Palace. The length of the Hermitage must run close to a kilometre.

"Have you had enough? We've been here almost five hours,"Ellen asked as a beautiful cool breeze blew through one of the many open windows of the third floor.

I didn't care much for the beloved armour and bludgeoning weapons of my childhood; or for the paintings, pottery, old spoons or forks that are housed in this remarkable museum. But I have to admit that I was impressed by the ancient sculptures and often simply by the light that shines upon them through the Hermitage's windows. Actually, just walking about in the Hermitage, looking at the ceiling frescoes, staircases and occasionally out the windows at the Neva River was plenty enough for me.

"No, let's stay a while longer," I said.
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