Baltic Cruise St Petersburg The Hermitage

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.


Date: 12th September 2009


The Jewel in the Baltic Crown. This was, for me, the highlight of the cruise and I was not to be disappointed.  St. Petersburg, the Hermitage, Catherine the Great's Palace and the Amber Room, surpassed expectation. 

I purposely left my Credit Card on the Arcadia when we went on our tours.  I love Amber and did not want to be tempted.  There is so much Amber everywhere that one becomes a bit blasé about it - however in the Gift Shop at the Hermitage my eyes flew to one piece which I asked to view and hold.  It happened to be a designer piece (don't ask me the name of the designer and I wouldn't be able to spell it even if I remembered it) and was stunning - quite unlike any piece I've ever seen before and it had one great lump of White Amber (white and black being the most precious) offset on a chain of differently cut Amber pieces.  In the days when I was working full time, I would have purchased it and thought about the cost afterwards but nowadays I can't afford to be foolish.  It was lovely to see and touch and I felt virtuous in not being able to buy it.  My lovely son said 'Mother, if I had the wherewithal, I'd buy it for you' and I know he would have done. (Isn't Fashion interesting - 30 or more years ago, I interviewed one of the very few people who was interested in Amber and purchased a few pieces from her - at the time Amber was considered passe and Old fashioned.  Now it's all turned around and Amber has become a 'must - have'.  If only I'd stocked up on it when it was 'going for a song'!  What I love about semi precious minerals and Amber is their antiquity.   I think of the resin running down a tree and trapping an insect or a water platelet which is there frozen forever -- and find the whole story of Amber a very romantic one.

I had worried slightly about crowds in the Hermitage and the Catherine Palace but we were very fortunate in that our tours were organized to take place before the doors were opened to the public and that really was a blessing.  There were, naturally, many many coaches of people wishing to see the magnificent collections in the Hermitage and the Catherine Palace and the tour was organised so that we were broken up into smallish groups and set off one after the other so that we could enjoy the rooms and the treasures without too many others being around.

The collections in the Hermitage are simply mindblowing.  We were told that there are some three and a half million artefacts and that if one were to stand for a minute in front of each one - with no toilet break or a break for sleep - it would take 13 years to view the lot.  (Jonathan did some maths and decided this was a bit of an exaggeration but even he worked it out to around 7 years!!)  The Tsars were very acquisitive - Catherine the Great being one of the worst - and they purchased or were given great works of art from around the world.  Thank Heaven the communists didn't destroy the lot.

I couldn't even begin to describe what we saw - suffice to say that whereas in most Museums and Art Galleries there might be one or two treasured works by a particularly Great Artist, in the Hermitage there are whole rooms full - rooms full of Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt just to mention a few.  And I spied Five Rodins - five!!!!! 

Many years ago I started an Arts Foundation Course with the Open University and we went to Florence for a few days visiting the Uffizi, the Academia and countless churches.  I got quite Frescoed out and couldn't distinguish one from the other in the end.  But one artist remained in my memory and that was Luca della Robbia who developed a particularly hard wearing glaze for his sculptures.  He often sculpted the Madonna.  As we were walking quickly through a corridor, I spied what I was sure was a della Robbia - and I was correct.  There it was on a side wall and the guide didn't even mention it.  There are so many treasures that I suppose one by an Italian Sculptor was unimportant.

There was a smallish unfinished Michaelangelo and a Ball Room where they'd used 40 kilograms of Gold in the Gilding of the pillars and decorative swags.

Trying to choose one photo to accompany this little piece is an absolute impossibility - we saw so much.  So I've decided to show you my 'find' which everyone else walked past  - a work by the Italian Luca della Robbia


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