I’m so glad we checked out the Baltic countries. They were all great. I think Ashley and I both liked Estonia the most, but it’s hard to say since we spent the most time there. It would have been great to have a car and be able to explore the area outside of the city a little more.
Overall impression of the Baltics is that they are on the up and up. Their economies are growing. They have a strong national identity, but definitely align themselves with the rest of Europe more than with the country that borders them on the east.
It was an easy and safe area to travel. Very beautiful. Lots to see and experience.
We hopped a bus on Wednesday bound for Russia and six and a half hours later, we made it.
This is a whole different experience. And it is fantastic!
Russia is a hard place to be a foreign traveler. You need a visa to get in from nearly all countries. The visa has to be obtained in advance and takes a fair amount of work and expense. Relatively few people here speak English and it’s not easy to navigate the city without speaking at least some Russian.
But, to be honest, I’m glad it’s that way. If it were easier to get here, the place would be packed with tourists. St Petersburg is an amazing city.
It’s big and busy–feels a little like new York. There are 5 million people in St Petersburg. In contrast, the total population for all the Baltic countries together is only about 6 million.
It’s historic and beautiful. In the historic areas of St Petersburg there is way more Art Nouveau architecture than even in Riga. The architecture is every bit as beautiful. But instead of a sequestered area in the city paved with cobblestones and reserved for tourism, St Petersburg’s streets have four lanes and thousands of honking vehicles.
The number and scope of museums and other cultural sites is crazy. I’ll post about them as we visit those places.
Today, we hit the Hermitage. I really don’t think I’d heard of the Hermitage until I visited it when I spent a day in St Petersburg 17 years ago. I had heard of the Louvre of course, and the Met, but not the Hermitage. But the Hermitage easily rivals those museums. It is second only to the Louvre in size (as art museums go), with the Louvre being 10% larger. But while the Louvre has 38,000 pieces, the Hermitage has over 3 million!!! So many pieces that the vast majority aren’t on display.
All this for just over $10 a person. And kids get in free. As do students.
The display pieces start with 300,000 year old stone tools and progress through Egyptian art, Greek art, Roman art, all the way to fairly contemporary pieces.
It was ambitious to drag 3 kids through the Hermitage, but we did it. I’m sure we only saw a very small fraction of what the museum holds, but here are some highlights.