Teeing off.

It’s Mr. Manners.  He’s shaking me.  What on earth does he want?  I was so comfortable!  He points at his watch.  It must only be about five-oh, what’s that?  He points at his watch.  Right.  Ten past eight.  Time to get up, lest we want a four hour wait for The Hermitage…

The Hermitage, as Wikipedia will helpfully inform, is a museum of art and culture situated in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest[1] and oldest museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise nearly 3 million items[2], including the largest collection of paintings in the world.

It sounded like a must-see.  Free for students, it had notoriously long queues.  We were going to order priority tickets, before we found out that the $18 passes may take two to three working days to arrive, and we didn’t have that long!

Braving the queue, we set off later than expected, with Tamara and Mark (an entrant for the Tall Ships Festival taking place in St. Petersburg this year, and a fellow Crazy Duck hosteller) in tow.  The minute we joined the back of the queue, the heavens opened.  Still, we were in better moods than we had been the day previously, and put on our waterproofs – we were prepared.

During the course of our two-hour queueing session, however, I found out that my five year-old waterproof was, sadly, no longer waterproof.  The only function it had to perform was to keep me dry, and it failed spectacularly.  I was soaked to the skin.  Not even an adjoining pastry kiosk or a cup of coffee could save me from shivering like a wet puppy.  But, we were in, and we spent the next four hours in The Hermitage, admiring not only the exhibits of fine art, but also the stunning architecture, frescoes and sculptures that made up the interior of the magnificent building itself.

In no way did we feel those four hours were wasted, and the breathtaking decor of the building was more impressive with each room we entered.  Works by Matisse, Monet and Van Gogh hung on the walls, and we passed an impressive library room – a personal favourite among the gold leaf and high ceilings.

I still had one wardrobe malfunction left in me,as my belt completely snapped. I was forced to return to the hostel with my trousers being held up by my indestructible money belt – another must-have.  Personal failures aside, we felt our day was well-spent, even though we had yet to sample any of St. Petersburg’s other historic landmarks.

Dinner was a pleasant meal in a modern café, where our dishes were analysed for possible parasitic content and the bill was served inside a book.  Returning to the hostel, we met a variety of new friends: two Serbian men, two Canadian men and two American girls.  The evening was spent in true intrepid-traveller style:  drinking beer and playing cards.  We were taught a fantastic new game called ‘golf’, but I was sadly more Tony the Tiger than Tiger Woods.

Switching to the universal card-based drinking games, another day in St. Petersburg faded away.  Except, it didn’t quite fade away, because St. Petersburg gets approximately one hour of darkness between 1am and 2am during their Midsummer ‘White Nights’, but I’m sure you can afford me some artistic license…

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