After days of lazy cruising, it was a shock to hear the intercom wake us up at 6 in the AM so that we could eat another bland breakfast before heading to our "exclusive" tour of the Hermitage. Judging by the size and makeup of the line outside the Hermitage, the exclusivity was characterized as excluding any and all non-tourists who had no interest in seeing the museum anyway. The Hermitage, which is housed in 5 separate old buildings, the main one being the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great, is impressive beyond description. It has a larger collexion than the Louvre (according to them at least), and more gallery space. It features all of the big names of Europe, from the 15th century on. Pictured below is the main view of the Winter Palace, though you actually enter it from the other side:
We then walked around looking at monuments and stuff. We had a $10, 5-course lunch at the fabled Tinkoff Brewery (fabled because Chris Hall once brought a 6-pack of Tinkoff from Bevmo on a summer house-boating trip, and it was consumed with pleasure by all), and we stopped at the "Bronze Horseman" monument presented by Catherine in memory of Peter the Great:
Russia is, above all things, a strange place. Not only did we see people walking their pet bear cubs on the city streets (honest to God), but we also saw this:
What, you say, a tall ship? That's not so strange. Every self-respecting port city in the US has a tall ship. But wait - this is no tall ship at all! It's a combination fancy restaurant (the most expensive in the city) and fancy gym, designed to look like a tall ship! Why? Who cares?
Like Venice, St. Petersburg is built on water and swamp. As such, it has a bunch of canals. And you can take boat tours, at cost. The bridges you pass under are so low that if you're standing up, you can get killed. The same imbecilic woman on our tour had to be shouted at at least 10 times because she was trying to photograph something behind the ship just as death was looming up from in front. Naturally I did not take part in the shouting. Here's a red boat and some buildings:
The obvious place to close this series on my adventures is with what the Russians refer to as the 8th Wonder of the World. First came the Pyramids at Giza, the great Colossus, and the elegant Hanging Gardens of Babylon, unfortunately lost forever to the sands of time (except the pyramids). But luckily, the Russians contributed, what, to their mind, is at least as impressive as all of those (possibly all of those put together): the AMBER ROOM.
Like most things in Russia, the amber room was far from all it was cracked up to be. It is a room about the size of the living room at 20 Ellery, and its defining feature is that instead of wall paper, the walls are covered in little bits of amber. But the problem is, it's not a big enough room, and amber isn't cool or expensive enough (the restorations after WWII, when the Nazis ganked the original amber, cost a piddling $9 million in today's dollars) to admit a comparison to the Great Pyramids.
Luckily, instead of taking "Delta" back to the US, we took a legitimate airline, Lufthansa. Frankfurt's airport has gotta be one of the biggest in the world. It took a bus and train combination 30 minutes of constant movement to get us from our landing gate to our flight to SFO. 21 hours after leaving St. Petersburg, I stepped off the the 747, back in these United States, and more appreciative than ever of the freedom and bounty that this great country provides us with every day.