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Hermitage Museum


mrlevin
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Both Hermitage Museum and Small Group Hermitage Museum tours state that you have 2.5 hours in the Hermitage.  Is this docent led or are you allowed to tour on your own?  Is the entrance ticket time limited or can you tell the guide you're quitting the tour and spend additional time in the Hermitage (assuming that we have Russian visas)?

 

thanks,

 

Marc

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Marc, I went to the Hermitage with a private guide and it was outstanding. Our St Petersburg guide worked at the Hermitage and we got in early before it opened and it was fantastic. We spent 4 hours there and only saw the highlights. Personally, I wouldn’t want to venture around the city on my own so I would suggest a private guide if the Hermitage is something on your bucket list. We were in St Petersburg for 3 days and had this private guide all 3 days and it was one of the most memorable ports we have ever visited. I can’t imagine being on a large group tour for this fantastic city. There is so much to see and most cruise ships only spend 2 days in port. 

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Eh--

 

Given the current situation(s) as to health and dicey political environment between the "Great Powers":  Do NOT venture on your own away from either a sanctioned guided tour with an accredited local Guide; or one authorized by, and overseen during a visit with about 30 of your new  "comrades" on the bus from whatever ship to Hermitage; then right-back on that bus to the ship.

 

Been there four times, beginning way-back in 1995.  That was on a Holland America cruise.  Sort-of a rushed 2.5 hour run-through.

 

Totally different when aboard Silversea in 1997.  This was a unique (at that time) experience when in a 12-person group escorted by a competent Russian Guide sanctioned by Silversea.  Five hours,  basically in our little "bubble bunch".  It was also of great  benefit that I had sufficient command of the Russian language (Thank-you, U.S. Army) to understand what was going on.  That tour included a very-special (at that time) access to a restricted room containing some of the greatest paintings in Western history.  Those were paintings the Russians "acquired" (seized as War Reparations) from Nazi Germany during  the later stages of WWII during the Red Army's overrunning Poland and eastern Germany--all the way to Berlin.  Priceless paintings the Nazis had earlier looted in the War--usually from Jewish families, art galleries, and private collections in Occupied France,  Poland, and Belgium.  NO Pictures allowed in that room.  No talking.  We simply had the opportunity to spend 1.5  hours in that historical room soaking in the reality.  What I remembered from that experience with my wife and our young daughter was:  Silence and awe.

 

Back again to St. Pete with Regent subsequent to 1997.  One of these was Hermitage. Again, very-well choreographed semi-private tour.  Competent  Russian Guide. About four hours.   Goodness  sake:  one could spend a week  at Hermitage, if one could set-up shop from a local hotel.  It would also help being able to converse with locals in their language.  

 

Last St. Pete trip was via Explorer, September, 2019.  Wife and self decided to eschew  Hermitage.  We were (are) at this point  in life when taking part in a five+ hour walking tour up and down stairs (however beautiful and surrounded by gold-laced wallpaper) is just  not  realistic.  Did attend a spectacular full-performance of Swan Lake ballet on a Sunday evening in downtown St Pete; then next-day's four hour visit  to "Fabulous" Faberge Museum.  We could take pictures!   Got all of those eggs for future view. 

 

IF, and I repeat  given the current  situations, you are allowed to travel to St. Pete--Do Faberge. 

 

Bottom line.  Be prudent.  Stay with your assigned group.  Do NOT wander away.  And, this is serious:  you must consider being  under constant surveillance  by local authorities.  They do not tolerate  deviation(s)  of any kind.   That was drummed into me  constantly when spouse and I traveled in  "the olden days"  in East Germany on a sanctioned visit before the Wall fell; and much later throughout China.  "Stuff" does happen when on foreign travel.  Just do not put yourself in a situation of possible problems.

 

Let me know if I can be of further assistance on this aspect.  

 

GOARMY!

 

 

     

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2 hours ago, pappy1022 said:

We were in St Petersburg for 3 days and had this private guide all 3 days and it was one of the most memorable ports we have ever visited. I can’t imagine being on a large group tour for this fantastic city.

 

We had a similar experience with 3 days in St Petersburg.  A private guide is the only way to go.  Wherever we went, including the Hermitage lines were not an issue.  Out guide took us to the front of the line and to areas where we visited that others could not or did not go or see.

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Agree with GoArmy, would not venture out on our own. The tours are usually quite decent, and having a tour guide and sanctioned tour gets you into the Hermitage faster. You have a tour guide and based on his/her quality, you get a decent overview of the museum. I found it overwhelming though, not just the amount of art and treasures, but also the amount of people. There was never a time when we were not surrounded by 100s of people. You can look at things, you can listen to your guide, but it's just...overwhelming. Next time I go to the Hermitage, I will get a private guide...

Lines everywhere...including the bathrooms 

It's like the Vatican Museum, in 2008 it was fun to go, in 2018, it was a disaster....you get shuffled through with another 1000 people, the noise and people just doesn't make it pleasant. 

 

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If you are considering getting a VISA you might want to look into hiring a guide. There are several reputable tour companies that offer drivers and vans and their service includes a blanket VISA and it really doesn’t cost much more than what a US citizen has to pay for a VISA for Russia.

 

 

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I agree with all that has been said thus far.  However, I was appalled at the way the paintings were displayed in the Hermitage.  I recall the room with the Rembrandt’s.  Natural light was shining on the paintings and temperature and humidity did not seem to be controlled at all.  That, and thousands of people trooping through, will take its toll on the art for sure.  
 

Many people are very impressed with St. Petersburg.  I was not.  I found it dreary and the palaces garish.  We were there in 2015 and there was virtually no street life, no landscaping in front of buildings, no cafes, etc..   We also had a guide who barked orders at us which didn’t help.  St. Petersburg is often compared with Paris.  I’ll take Paris any day.  

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With our private guide, we got into the Hermitage before it got crowded and in many rooms we were the only people in them (my wife, our guide and me). She took us to the most visited rooms first and since she was also a guide at the Hermitage, she gave us great insight into what we were seeing. We also had a driver in addition to the guide, so she could give us her full attention on what we were seeing as we moved around the city and surrounding areas. We went to a public market, travelled a little bit on the subway, saw all the major sites, ate at a cafe, and even had a private boat ride through the canal system. The guide spoke perfect English. We saw a lot, learned a lot and felt safe at all times. And to top if off, it really wasn’t that expensive relative to other private tours I’ve been on especially since we had a driver and a guide. Many times they are one in the same. I don’t think we would have seen 1/3 of what we saw had we gone on a large group tour or even the so called “small group” tours offered by the cruise lines because the major sites are spread out and the logistics of moving people, feeding people, etc. take time. It was by far the most value we ever got from a private tour. Since we tend not to do cruises to the same ports twice it was our one chance to see St Petersburg and I felt as if we made the most of it in 3 days. If you are interested, I can look up what tour company we used or you can read the reviews on the port cruise critic board. That’s where I found our guide. Not sure that the company or the guide are still in business since it’s been a few years but there are several reputable guide agencies.

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Thanks for all the reports.  We were in St Petersburg for three days on Voyager in 2009; the first year of included excursions; we did six excursions in the three days including Hermitage with Gold Room. So, this time we want to be more focused.  Sounds like two to four hours is norm for Hermitage so we need to decide whether to take Regent tour or private guide for the day.  We also want to see Faberge Museum as we didn't go there last time.

 

Go Army, I know your concerns about traveling in certain countries.  When I worked in Brussels we would take four day weekends to various cities in Europe.  We took a four day trip to Moscow where we had private driver and guide but there were times where we rode Metro or train (to airport) by ourselves.  We have also travelled extensively in China on our own.  None of those trips seemed to raise any issues when updating my SF86.

 

Pappy, did you use Red October?

 

Again, thanks for all the input!

 

Marc

Edited by mrlevin
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Not Red October, although they seem to get great reviews. I will try and find out who we used. Since you are focused on the Hermitage, I would definitely try to find a guide that also works at the museum because they do get special privileges and they also can add to the experience because of their knowledge. That way you don’t just get a cookie cutter experience. We did not go to the Faberge museum so I have no input on that.

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10 hours ago, GOARMY said:

Bottom line.  Be prudent.  Stay with your assigned group.  Do NOT wander away.  And, this is serious:  you must consider being  under constant surveillance  by local authorities.  They do not tolerate  deviation(s)  of any kind.   That was drummed into me  constantly when spouse and I traveled in  "the olden days"  in East Germany on a sanctioned visit before the Wall fell; and much later throughout China.  "Stuff" does happen when on foreign travel.  Just do not put yourself in a situation of possible problems.     

 

Sounds like Marc is already aware of potential problems (including what needs to be reported on the SF-86--for non-former Feds or USG contractors, that is the form one needs to fill out for a security clearance), but just to add one item for general consumption.  Do not take any personal electronic devices (smart phones, tablets, anything that connects to the internet wirelessly) ashore unless you don't care what data is on them.  If you want a phone for security, buy a new, pay-as-you-go one that will work overseas.  Program emergency numbers into it--the local embassy, the overall citizen consular number (the U.S. Department of State has one and I think the UK FCO has one as well, likely the Canadians, Aussies, and NZ also), etc.  Use it only in Russia, China, etc. and only for emergencies.

 

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Marc,

We used a company called Anastasia travel (Anastasia.travel). It’s a small tour guide company that at the time, got great reviews for the tours and let us customize to our content. I looked at the guide list and don’t see our specific guide. You will need to do some research to see if they still get great reviews because it was several years ago that we took our Baltic cruise. The owner is the same person and she was very responsive to my inquiries and helped me decide on a specific guide based on my interests. Good luck. You are much more adventuresome than me. I would never try to travel in St Petersburg on my own but it sounds like you know what it takes. 

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Marc:

Mary and I took the Hermitage tours with both Regent and Viking River - yes, just OK, BUT also took a small group tour with Viking of the Hermitage warehouses for about 4 hours - FANTASTIC. Don't know if that is still available with a private guide.

 

We rate our Faberge visit (during a stay on our own) the BEST of our experiences (and they were many enjoyable ones) in St Petersburg.

 

Last visit with Regent, we were docked a good ways from town and traffic was horrendous - so I wouldn't do a city on my own now.

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We've been to St. Petersburg twice, both times on two night, two full day visits.

 

Our first visit we went on a third party small group tour both days.  It seems like most of the group tours there are divided up into small groups using mini buses.  They are more nibble in the crazy SPB traffic, and it's easier for the guide to manage a smaller group when touring the very crowded venues.

 

On our second trip, we again engaged a third party guide for a private tour (shared with another couple), and we did the amazing day trip to Moscow via train on one of the days.  Longest day-tour excursion we'd ever experienced, but definitely worth it.

 

I personally would not bother with the true visa, and simply use the tour agency's 'blanket' visa.  Agree with others as well, I would not recommend striking out on our own.  The city is very hectic during peak travel season.

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Have been to St Petersburg twice ...first time was with a Red October tour and 6 if us and an itinery we chose our guide was truly excellent ...Hermitage is mostly Old Masters and theres only so much of them some people can take ...the Gold Room is an add on but its fantastic and theres another objects Gallery in Hermitage i would love to have spent more time in 

I loved Catherines Palace and Peterhoff and was incredulous at the Malachite columns etc in Church if Spilled Blood or was it Cathedral ?    I cannot wait to return and be able to go to the Faberge Museum that would be my No 1 choice instead of Hermitage 

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23 hours ago, mrlevin said:

Thanks for all the reports.  We were in St Petersburg for three days on Voyager in 2009; the first year of included excursions; we did six excursions in the three days including Hermitage with Gold Room. So, this time we want to be more focused.  Sounds like two to four hours is norm for Hermitage so we need to decide whether to take Regent tour or private guide for the day.  We also want to see Faberge Museum as we didn't go there last time.

 

Go Army, I know your concerns about traveling in certain countries.  When I worked in Brussels we would take four day weekends to various cities in Europe.  We took a four day trip to Moscow where we had private driver and guide but there were times where we rode Metro or train (to airport) by ourselves.  We have also travelled extensively in China on our own.  None of those trips seemed to raise any issues when updating my SF86.

 

Pappy, did you use Red October?

 

Again, thanks for all the input!

 

Marc

Marc, trust me - Russia today is very different to what it was in 2009. It is very different to what it was even 5 years ago. In the gone by days of the USSR people in general were in awe of foreigners and although shadowed by KGB - foreigners were reasonably safe. Nowadays, many people hate Americans, Police and special forces are corrupt and have no regard to foreigners. People are easily caught on a wrong side of the street. The bottom line - do not do it on your own. The Hermitage - a private guide is the best option. Everywhere else - stay close with your RSSC group. IMHO (and experience)

 

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1 hour ago, phillipahain said:

was incredulous at the Malachite columns etc in Church if Spilled Blood or was it Cathedral ?  

It is in the St Isaac's Cathedral (note - the photo is not mine, mighty Google)

 

Russia - Saint Isaac's Cathedral | Cathedral, Place of worship, Church

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If you want to consider private tours then a good place for info is the Baltic forum on CC. There are regular discussions on tour companies.

we chose Red Sun Tours on the basis of competitiveness, flexibility (we listened to their advice but ultimately we chose the three day itinerary) and customer service including no upfront payments needed. All our correspondence with Elena suggested 100% professional competence being thorough, prompt and friendly.

For the Hermitage in particular we had a six hour tour that had detailed itinerary including which specific rooms and palaces (there are six of them I believe) we would see, all at our choosing. This included priority access in advance of the main opening and pre-arranged lunch break in the main cafe.

It would have been a fortnight from today

Edited by Belfast Taxman
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2 hours ago, Belfast Taxman said:

If you want to consider private tours then a good place for info is the Baltic forum on CC. There are regular discussions on tour companies.

we chose Red Sun Tours on the basis of competitiveness, flexibility (we listened to their advice but ultimately we chose the three day itinerary) and customer service including no upfront payments needed. All our correspondence with Elena suggested 100% professional competence being thorough, prompt and friendly.

For the Hermitage in particular we had a six hour tour that had detailed itinerary including which specific rooms and palaces (there are six of them I believe) we would see, all at our choosing. This included priority access in advance of the main opening and pre-arranged lunch break in the main cafe.

It would have been a fortnight from today

 

This is very good advice, check out the Baltic forum here.

 

Prior to our two trips, I spent a lot of time checking out all the reviews and recommendations.  After a bit of research, you will find that the various tour operators are really more the same than different.  And, it is not often that you read a negative review.  They all seem to understand it is important to provide a quality experience, or otherwise they might see some negative comments posted on social media.

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4 hours ago, Kiwifromkiev said:

Marc, trust me - ...In the gone by days <...> Nowadays <...>  The bottom line - <...>. IMHO (and experience)

 

I'm sorry, but this take doesn't align with my experience, except to the extent that gone-by days and nowadays are indeed very different.

 

Also agree with Kiwi's bottom line: the tour programs (and the whole visa waiver arrangement in the first place) are designed to cater to the expectations of a typical cruise-goer and quickly move as many people through as many "must-sees" as is physically possible. The tour system that is currently in place is very efficient in achieving those design goals. So yes, in the most general case, it makes sense to reap the benefits of the system. For everything else outside the cookie cutter  experience there is a 3-year visa, land tours, and/or independent travel.

 

Not to say one couldn't, while visiting Spb on a cruise, hire a private guide for a 2-day overview tour of all the buildings of the State Hermitage, or all the landmarks associated with the Siege of Leningrad, or visiting the Top-100 bars and nightclubs... It's all doable, it's just not what the cruise tour industry offering is designed to achieve.

 

 

 

 

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Another thing - pre-covid the best time for a full-day tour of the two main buildings of the Hermitage complex was on Wednesdays. One could start the morning with the General Staff building, which is far less crowded than the main palace, and then, after lunch, move to the main building. Most crowds are gone by 5 or 6, and all the organized groups are typically corralled to the Peacock Clock room to see the clock go live at 7. If you skip the clock experience, you pretty much have the whole building to yourself.

 

Currently it's not an option, as the schedule of the Hermitage has been altered to address social distancing requirements, but one would hope it'd revert to normal by the time cruises resume.

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6 hours ago, napoxoguk said:

I'm sorry, but this take doesn't align with my experience, except to the extent that gone-by days and nowadays are indeed very different.

looking at your handle, you might have some experience with Russian language or heritage ties... I think that, by default, SP is a friendlier place than Moscow or many other cities. Nevertheless, things have changed a lot. I am not talking about tour guides - hence recommendation of a private tour in the Hermitage. However wondering the streets is a different story altogether - and I am sure you understand that in 9/10 times a foreigner can be easily picked up in Russia (and discriminated or prayed upon). It is better be safe than sorry.

Edited by Kiwifromkiev
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We spent five days in St Petersburg during April 2016, travelling independently with our son and his fiance.  It was our fourth visit and we were ready to go it alone, which we did.  We had an incredible stay at the Four Seasons Lion Palace, right by St Isaacs, had the Hermitage almost to ourselves by choosing the time of our visit and enjoyed every moment of the trip. We walked our feet off exploring the city and never once felt threatened or watched - which is the reason for my post.  No-one bothered us at all and though we took the same, sensible precautions we would adopt in any large city, we relaxed and simply loved just "being there". Probably the biggest adventure was getting our visas...but that's another story 😉

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We've been to Russia twice, once in 2010 and again in 2017.  I can honestly say that the 'feel' of the country was much more laid back in 2017 than it was before.  Customs officials actually smiled, Kremlin guards would ham it up for photos, more signs and ads in English, and the biggest difference - tours actually let you out to wander on your own.  In both StP and Moscow, we were given a meeting point and turned loose.  That's something that NEVER would have happened in 2010.  

 

I also agree with the previous poster who recommended the Faberge museum - spectacular!

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We have been to the Hermitage twice.  The first time, and this was a private tour with an otherwise fantastic guide, was not good.  The place was packed with people (definitely pre-covid), so much so that you couldn't really see the paintings.  The windows were open.  The guide seemed to want us to see only Russian stuff which is not what we were interested in.  It was a total waste.

 

The second time was better, on a Regent tour which included the Gold Room.  Not nearly as crowded as we got early entrance. We still were forced to stick right with the guide, and if you even sort of ventured too far away, she was all over you. 

 

I really wanted to go to the Fabrege  museum, but it was closed when we were there the 2nd time.  I don't think I knew about it the first time.

 

I definitely would not go wandering around St Petersburg by myself.  For one thing, unless you are docked in town, which seems rare these days, it would be very hard to get from the port to anywhere worth seeing.  There were no taxis at all at the port, and it is in a not so nice part of town. 

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