Wednesday, May 7, 2008

From Russia With Love

Hey all, it's been awhile, but despite a day (split between Mon & Tues) in Helsinki, I'm not Finnish yet. And that came after an overnight cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki. I had stuff to say about both the boat and the 'sinki, but it doesn't seem all that important anymore. The cruise wasn't anything spectacular. Tons of teenagers, a two-table casino that I didn't bother with, some bad cover tunes in a night club, but it got me to Helsinki no worse for wear. Helsinki was fine, but I think I saw all I needed to in my limited time there and that was with some naps and abundant meandering.

Last night, after a 6 hour train ride (spent mostly reading my second Jack Reacher thriller -- by Lee Child -- of the trip) I arrived in St. Petersburg around 10:30pm. And though the "White Nights" aren't yet in full effect, it was still pretty light out (though eventually the sky darkened).

Today, I did a bit of walking around and photoing, but spent from 1:00pm to 6:00 at the Hermitage, an art museum in the old Winter Palace. And it was pretty damn incredible; definitely the highlight of the trip so far, at least from a tangible attraction point of view.

Initially, I thought it might be the greatest art experience of my life -- and this from someone who's been to the Prado, Met, Louvre, Orsay, Rijksmuseum, MOMA, Vatican, Uffizi and hundreds of others -- due to the combination of breathtaking palace interiors and stupefying loads of great art. They had rooms full of Rubens and Rembrandts, two da Vincis and Raphaels, other great Renaissance stuff, some excellent Spanish art, a strong collection of Impressionists (4 Van Goghs) and about 20 each of Picasso and Matisse.

But after a wonderful 5 hours of schlepping and taking hundreds of photos of palace interiors and artworks, I've decided that while this is definitely one of the world's great museums, and one of the few upper-upper echelon ones to truly merge all eras, it is not the best. The palace setting was phenomenal -- but here I'm commenting on the art, not the overall experience -- and the volume of great art was gargantuan, but compared to a few other elite museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and National Gallery of London, what it lacked was a multitude of truly transcendent pieces (with a high baseline assumed). The Raphaels were great, one of the Van Goghs was spectacular, but I'm not sure there were very many works you would instantly know (unless you happen to be a heavy duty art scholar). This doesn't mean the works weren't great or even revelatory, just not gasping for breath "oh wow, that's here?" sort of illustrious. For the most part. Still phenomenal -- and I'd highly recommend it to anyone; whatever else I do in St. Pete tomorrow will be icing on the case -- just not the absolute best. Though I still haven't decided what is.

I'm off to dinner, hopefully in a restaurant across the street called da Vinci. My hotel is really nice; by far the best of the trip. Clicking here should let you see where it is.

Sorry if that was long; on my end, it felt like I was Russian through it.


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