Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Art report / Russia 4
Some people who have heard about my disappointment at the Hermitage have wondered why we got stuck in that bad situation. Here's more info, which you might keep in mind if you're planning a trip to Russia.
There are two kinds of tourist visas to Russia: a regular visa, which allows you to wander about as you wish, and a 72-hour-tourist visa, available for people who come on cruise ships. The regular visa costs about $160, so tour operators don't want to buy it for a day stop. The cruise ship visa comes with the requirement that people must take the official tour offered by the cruise ship, set up as part of the package when the ship arranges its docking. So you get the tour provided by the official tourist people, visa price included.
Our guide was a former schoolteacher and had good English -- during a longish bus ride he entertained us by reciting poetry in both Russian and English -- and our own tour leader was able to negotiate a few minor changes in the itinerary (we didn't have to stop in the souvenir shop) but we were pretty much stuck with the official plan of two museums, one church inside, one church outside, lunch, and driving around and around St. Petersburg. That didn't leave much time for any one attraction.
Our "church inside" was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built over the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The inside surfaces are entirely paved with elaborate mosaics; the outside features an array of colorful onion domes. It was our favorite site of the entire tour and we could easily have spent a lot more time there.