Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Russia - Day 3

Mein Fuss tut Weh! However, as a famous philosopher once said “Turismus muss Weh tun”, and today was the best example of such simple law of nature. Indeed, we spent all day walking inthe halls of one the great museums of the world: The Ermitage.

We arrived shortly before 10:30 am, the opening time, and entertained ourselves trying furry hats hawked by a street vendor (I did buy myself a replica of a Soviet Army furry hat :) in the big esplanade known as Alexander Square. The main museum is housed in the palace known as Winter Palace, to which two large wings have been added (respectively known as the Little Ermitage and the New Ermitage. The whole complex houses the art collection started by Catherine the Great in the early 1800’s. Today the Ermitage is the peer of Le Louvre, ElPrado, and the British Museum in terms of being one of the four great art collections in Europe.
The museum had evolved into an overwhelming accumulation of paintings, displayed three or four high on the walls of the imperial palaces, as shown in old photographs of the rooms.

Nowadays, however, the museum has been modernized under the philosophy that less is more, so walking through its halls is a real treat to the visitor. I was particularly impressed by the sculptures, my favorite pieces being August Rodin’s“The Eternal Spring”, a statue of Moliere as an old man (which masterfully depicts the wit and skepticism of the old philosopher), anEgyptian statue of a woman wearing the thinnest of veils around her body, and many 17 and 18th century reproductions of Greek and Roman statues.

We rejoined as a group in the cafeteria around 1 pm, took a half hour break, and then bravely jumped into the fray to keep visiting the museum.

Among the paintings I particularly enjoyed works by Da Vinci, Rafael, Tizziano, El Greco, Matisse, Monet, and Picasso, as well as The Lady in the Black Hat (I don’t remember the name of the artist, but this piece intrigued me enough that I had to come back and see the paintingat least a couple of times). I really should have bought a souvenir book, because otherwise is hard to remember all the beautiful pieces I saw :(

By 5 pm we were dead and wisely decided to say goodbye to this wonderful museum and go for a well deserved meal. Chrissy’s tourist guide recommended a restaurant specializing in traditional Russian cuisine at 88 Nievsky prospekt. Gustav and Anna wanted to take a taxi, but I found that ridiculous: “Nievsky prospekt is just around the corner. We must walk.” Gustav argued unsuccessfully that number 88 was too far, a notion I poo-pooed. “The street starts here, a couple of blocks and we will be at 88”. Famous last words! Each block had only two to four buildings, of a rather imperial size, so we had to walkabout 20 blocks to get to the restaurant. Needless to say, Anna andGustav were not happy pups.

Dinner was OK, but I am getting the feeling that there is not much to traditional Russian “cuisine”. The borsch (beet soup) and fish soup were tasty, but the “Peasant steak” was a very simple fried pork steak with broccoli (and we all know how I feel about broccoli), and the“steaks” were thin cuts of beef served with French fries. We had a good time joking with the waitresses, who didn’t speak any English but were most helpful and imaginative when we attempted to order our meal by playing charades. They must have had this strange feeling about foreigners, however, who seemed unable to order a full meal in one go.

I was overruled on walking back home, and a short taxi ride brought us home in perfect time for another killer game of Rumme Cap. This time I actually won one of the rounds!

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