We got up, showered and dressed, then joined several of our fellow guests in the kitchen for breakfast. We had yogurt, eggs, muesli, toast, juice and tea, a fortifying start to our day. After discussing registration, payment and airport transfer options with our hostess, we finally headed to the Hermitage a bit later than we'd hoped.
The ticket line at the Hermitage was long and hectic, with tons of people cutting, but we were good and waited our turn. It moved pretty quickly, and we were soon inside the museum with the throngs of other visitors. The museum is immense, and we were only able to hit a few highlights of its collection. We were quite taken with the Roman cameo and intaglio collection (which we viewed instead of the Treasure Chamber, as we discovered that it can only be visited on a guided tour), as well as the army of Roman marble busts and statuary. We breezed through the Egyptian rooms, which had excellent mummies and several cute cat statues. We then headed upstairs to join the tour groups in viewing the European masters - we saw a da Vinci, some Raphaels, a Caravaggio, a bunch of Rubens (with plump women), some Van Dykes (with funny beards), a Goya, an El Greco (Jess found it a bit dreary), and many, many more. We quite liked one painting of a drowned saint, as the scene was lit only by his glowing halo. Then we headed upstairs to the French impressionists and post-impressionists, which made Jess very happy. As usual, she liked the Monets the best, but there were other impressionists she didn't remember seeing before. There were also a number of Van Goghs and a whole roomful of Picassos (some from his Blue Period, as well as Cubist ones).
The building was as much of a draw as the art it housed. Some rooms had walls made of marble or semi-precious stone, and many had gilt plaster moulding on the ceilings. Many of the rooms had inlaid floors, with the intricate wooden ones being even more impressive than the stone ones. There were two throne rooms, each with a red and gold carved throne bearing the Russian double eagle. Even the doors were impressive - many were intricately carved with gilded tracery or exquisite painted scenes, though even the plainer ones of polished burlwood were lovely.
After three and a half hours, we decided that it was time for a late lunch. As we walked toward the river, we spotted a woman leading a cute, playful bear cub on a leash. (Actually, he was more-or-less pulling her along, once she set their direction.) She was like the pied piper, with a gaggle of people behind her watching the cub stop to eat the flowers before bounding happily across the street (woman in tow) when the light changed. We followed for a bit before breaking off to head for a nearby café recommended by the guidebook, only to find that it was not there, and (it being Sunday) everything in the area was closed.
We decided to see a few more sights in the midst of our quest for food. We passed the Bronze Horseman, the famous statue of Peter the Great, where we happened upon the Changing of the Guard and saw a number of wedding parties. Then we crossed the nearby bridge to see the 15th c. BC Sphinxes, brought from Thebes in the early 19th c. AD. They're quite impressive, and of course there was another wedding party there having photos taken.
Then we wandered along looking for other restaurants mentioned in the guidebook. After a few false starts we located Restoran, an upscale but unpretentious Russian restaurant. The dining room had rough whitewashed walls and wooden tables, but was bright, airy and calm (especially at 4:30 pm, since there were only a few other patrons). Jer got the Russki Stol ("Russian Table") recommended by the guidebook, which turned out to be a selection of cold salads and pickles. (It was good, but not as fabulous as the guidebook indicated, probably due to it being off-hours - though the tomatoes and dill in sour cream and the potato salad with mushrooms were quite tasty.) He also tried kvass, a Russian drink made from fermented bread. Jess had elk pelmeni (dumplings) and her favorite Russian juice, mors - both were delicious, although not quite as good as at Café Pushkin.
Next, we wandered over to the Zoological Museum, in hopes of seeing its Siberian wooly mammoth. Sadly, it had just closed. So, we made for the Zoo instead, finding it still open and packed with Russian families. We were warned ahead of time that it was an old-school zoo with cages instead of habitats, but we were unprepared for how depressing it would be. The staff had added cut branches, pools of water and toys to many of the cages, but it was still very sad to see the animals confined in such small, uninteresting spaces. Still, it did have a number of interesting animals, including snow leopards, marals (reindeer-like Mongolian elk) and Pallas Cats (including a kitten). There were also jaguars, a tiger (we saw a keeper wash it with a hose), a pair of lions, several lynx, many types of monkeys, a pair of giraffes, a zebra, tons of birds, etc. It also had a small aquarium where Jer was fascinated by the moray eels, as one swam around the tank rather than just poking out of its hole like they typically do.
To spare our aching feet, we headed to the nearest metro station, passing what appeared to be a street fair that was wrapping up. There were vendors selling kvass, nuts, ice cream bars, etc. (We grabbed an ice cream bar with vanilla ice cream, a caramel ribbon and a chocolate coating with chopped almonds - it was very similar to the ones sold in the States.) There were also stands selling pinwheels and other silly stuff and air-filled bouncy castles (most in the process of being deflated).
We took the metro back into town and headed to Teremok, the blini restaurant. It turned out to be a fast-food restaurant, turning out crepe-style blini (not the doughy yeast-raised ones) with a huge variety of fillings. Jer had a ham and cheese one for his main, then a honey one for dessert, accompanied by a cup of tea and some somewhat watery kvass. Jess had a mushroom and cream blini for her main, with an apple and caramel one for dessert, as well as tea and a glass of somewhat watery mors. (We learned that mors isn't too bad when its watery, but kvass is!) The blini were delicious and a great bargain.
Exhausted from our wanderings and in a carb coma, we headed back to the Nevsky Inn and went straight to bed, even though it was before 11 pm and just dusk outside.