Technically a hermitage is a place where someone could live in seclusion. After spending the day at The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, I can see how that could happen here. Even following a detailed map, I doubt I visited every room. Hundreds of rooms, many hours, and two very sore feet later, I was more than satiated. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the architecture, the grandeur, the artwork, the gardens – by everything in the palace. I wandered from room to room, staring at the ceilings, the parquet floors, the wallpaper, the furniture, the doors, and, oh, yes, the art on the walls. Surprisingly, there were only a couple of occasions when the rooms were crowded, those times when tour groups were barreling through. Most other times, I was alone, staring at artwork by familiar masters – Renoir, Michelangelo, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Matisse, Picasso, El Greco – amazed at how it all came to be housed in one place.
By lunchtime, I had covered most of the 2nd floor, the floor that exhibits former palace rooms and furniture, as well as 17th and 18th century masters – lots of Jesus and Mary; cherubs and angels; fruit and still lifes. After lunch I made my way straight to the third floor where the Impressionists and relatively more modern artwork were housed – my favorite. I savored each room devoted to an individual artist, seeing paintings in person I have read about for years. I sat on one of the many red velvet covered benches and stared, somewhat incredulous that I was seeing so much beauty in one day.
As I tried to make my way back to our group’s meeting spot, I found myself trapped in the basement/first floor, wandering through antiquities, archeological findings, and statues. I followed the map, trying to make my way back to the Grand Staircase, only to find myself met with roped off doors and hallways and exit signs (that security told me didn’t lead to exits). I asked one of the babushkas present in every room, with a Hermitage id card around her neck, how to get back to the Grand Staircase. “Stairs. Upstairs. Right. Straight. Long hallway. Down stairs.” Before I could thank her, she said, “If you must.” And then sat back down, staring into space.
On the second floor, I tried to follow her directions. And found myself in rooms I hadn’t seen before. Could one ever see all the rooms in the palace? I realized I had snapped several hundred pictures, and was fairly certain that none would capture the true grandeur of the palace.