St. Petersburg 2000      Last Updated: 10-May-03

The train for St. Petersburg left Tallinn around midnight and arrived in St. Petersburg in the early morning. We only stayed one day, and took the next night train back (on a similar schedule). Rosi and I shared a sleeper compartment, and were only disturbed on the border going each way.

Our main reason to visit this town - which was intended to rival Paris by Peter the Great - was to view the collection in the Hermitage which was truly a wonderful experience. I discovered many new paintings of favorite painters and enjoyed the openess and space of the museum. The building itself is magnificent and the sheer volume of art pieces is overwhelming. I recommend to leave at least 2 days for that and add at least one more day for other sights. Overall I found St. Petersburg to be an architectural treasure, if somewhat in disrepair. The town is large, seems mostly intact after wars, but could certainly use some tender loving care.

We arrived early in the morning and, since we had no rubel and did not want to be taken advantage off too badly, we walked into the center of town. It was a very nice and sunny day. Were we relieved when we saw a night club that seved breakfast AND took VISA! It was a very fancy place, and in stark contrast to the surroundings. Shortly thereafter we found a bank and changed some US$ to rubel. By that time we were getting close to downtown, and continued to stroll along the sights.

Many of our interactions with Russians were quite disturbing. That one pays foreigner prices for key attractions like the museum is fairly accepted, and typically made very clear in most developing countries. However, the difference at the Hermitage seemed extraordinary high and the museum was in extremely poor shape. So one has to wonder where that money goes. We also encountered one taxi driver that wanted to charge us the equivalent of about 1000 US$ to drive us ~ 4 km to the train station. This may have been driven by the fact, that he was the only taxi around and - although he was waiting in the pick-up zone - had a great time talking with another guy.

On the way back, we knew the customs officer had some issues when he asked me if the rolled up poster of a van Gogh painting - which I got at the Hermitage - was an original. But it got even better. The customs officer had a scam going, where he took pretty much 1/5 of all foreign currency he was shown. Later we found that this is fairly well known, illegal, and still happens a lot. It goes something like this: Fill out this form about all your foreign currency. We did not add any, so said NONE. Then he asked us to show our wallet, threatened with jail and supervisor, and "ASKED" for 60 US$ when I finally asked him how we are going to get this resolved. It was especially nerve wrecking, since it all happens at ~ 2 in the morning, and all we wanted to do was sleep. Of course it makes no difference if you list any currency up front. You should have heard the Spanish journalist in the next compartment. If I ever get into the situation of having to declare currency going out of Russia again, my easy solution to this problem is, stash your money outside your wallet, list a small amount and show that to him. Or better yet, bring as little money as you can - credit cards do work, and they have their own path of problem resolution.

We arrived at the Tallinn train station at 10 pm. Since the days are so long, it was still fairly light 
The train left shortly before midnight  We arrived around 6 am at the Baltic Station (one of four main trainstations) in St. Petersburg 
After breakfast and getting local currency we passed St. Isaac's Cathedral  Detail 
Next we passed the Admirality  Detail 
Later in the day on a stroll we passed what I believe is the Church of the Bleeding Savior   It was extremely colorful  Detail 
We also visited the Peter and Paul Fortress which is the oldest military installation in the area and on it's own island  Detail of Fortress 
Square in front of Hermitage 
Hermitage from the river side 
Room in Hermitage. There are almost no barricades and one is free to roam as one wants  Staircase in Hermitage  Raphael's Loggia, just like in the Vatican, commissioned by Catherine the Great 
Computer Lab at the Hermitage  Raised gardens in a courtyard of the Hermitage 
Copy in progress  Floor mosaic, one of the few closed of areas 
Visitors admiring one of  Leonardo da Vinci's paintings  The Benois Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci  The Litta Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci 
Antonio Canova  Renoir  Breugel - Detail 
van Gogh  van Gogh 
The Lilac Bush by van Gogh - My newly found favorite painting  Detail from the Lilac Bush 
The Musicians by Matisse, the lesser known counter piece to the Dancers (which is also owned by the Hermitage, but was on loan in Italy) We encountered this painting turning a corner after walking upstairs. It was quite a surprise. How wonderful it must be to see both of the series at the same time  Composition VI - The only Kandinsky I found. That was surprising since he was Russian 
Picasso  Picasso  Picasso  Picasso 
Lunch at the Hermitage  Second Lunch outside the Hermitage 

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