Museums, Saint Petersburg
Our experience as solo travelers in St. Petersburg (and Moscow) was that we were among the minority ~ we saw many tour groups (Russian, Italian, Spanish, were prominent), but ran into few individuals.
Favouritism was definitely shown to groups ~ if a group came into a room, we were sometimes ushered out (this happened about three or four times at different locations). Despite this, being on our own had distinct advantages ~ your time and schedule is your own and you have better chance to interact with people outside your group. Besides. . .who really needs 15 other people to admire a painting. . . :-)
In most Russian museums, palaces and cathedrals, you can take pictures or make videotapes, but you have to pay an additional fee when you get your ticket. If you take pictures without the permit, you might get a fine. Pay the extra fee - it's worth it!
May 18, 2007 is National Museum Day where entrance to many state museums in Russia is free.
May 19, 2007 is Museum Night in St. Petersburg in honoro of the long days and coming of White Nights. Many activities take place at Peter and Paul Fortress between 7-11 pm.
The St. Isaac Collonade, where you can get a panoramic fiew of the central city, is open until 11 pm and costs 150 rubles. It is a long spiral staircase, then metal catwalk up to the columns, but a great view!
The date will change slightly each year, watch for it!
Women are not allowed to wear high heel shoes in some museums, especially in Hermitage. These destroy the floor material and create quite a noise with the echo of big exhibitions halls. Those with high heels are enabled a kind of shoe cover.
They keep you off-balance from the beginning: you don't enter from the 'front' but rather from the side facing the Neva. You will pay for the privilege of being a tourist: Russians pay 60¢; we pay $10. (This is not a complaint, given the paucity of available government support.)
STUDY YOUR GUIDEBOOKS
If yours doesn't describe the museum in much detail, find one that does. Mine helpfully listed what is in each room. I drew up a battle plan--the smartest move I could have made. And I still proceeded, over and again, to get stymied. Rooms may simply be closed. Or, given the immensity of the place, you may lose your sense of direction, even with a map. It is very easy to get exhausted with walking and walking and more walking. Miles and miles. There are, someone has determined, over six miles of corridors and halls. I'm astonished at the number, but only that it is so small! If you don't know before you go what you want to see, don't bother going. You could easily spend a week here, so a plan is absolutely essential.
Photo courtesy of http://www.origin360.com/travel/stpetersburg_01.html
Visit the Hermitage - the Winter Palace - but take your time as it is vast and needs more that one day to see everything.
Also remember it is usual to leave your coat in the garderobe before entering any museum.
Russians are proud of their literature. Try to read, for example, Pushkin's poems. You can visit Pushkin's home museum (Moika's Enbankment 12). This statue is near the State Russian Museum.
You can learn much about St.Petersburg from Puskin's novel 'Jevgeny Onegin' and 'Bronze Horseman'.
My friend Val told me this was a very important painting to Russia. "Oh, really?" I replied as I looked at the plain, black square. She explained that the painting symbolized an icon missing the saint's portrait, and how the former communist dictatorships tried to eliminate religion from the Russian people's lives. You can see this painting at the Russian Art Museum.
Hardly a cultural tip; but try to have someone who speaks Russian with you, otherwise you'll pay ticket for Hermitage 20 times more!
Photo: Winter Palace; within is famous Hermitage
Winter Palace - sometime a synonym for St. Petersburg - the place where the history has been made is a must.
The Hermitage, the biggest museum in the world can take all your time while in St. Petersburg. Believe me, it is more than worthwhile.
Don't forget to visit the Hermitage! They only show a fraction of their collection, so don't forget to visit it every time you are in town...