Winter Palace after dark
It’s just after Midsummer night in Russia, at the height of the White Nights when the sun sets for only a couple of hours, and I’m one of the lucky Silversea passengers going after hours to a private tour of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It’s been cool and rainy – not unexpected at this time of year – but the clouds have lifted and the sun came out by 7 this evening when we left the ship.
The Silversea staff arranged an early dinner for the hundred or so of us taking advantage of this shore experience, and we board buses with our guides and travel through the streets along the canals of the city with the sun about the height you’d expect at 3 in the afternoon at home.
Approaching the Winter Palace without crowds is astonishing. There are people walking and skateboarding in the squares and streets, but nothing like the throngs that make it difficult to move during the day. We are warned that we must stay with the guides, since the doors of each gallery will be closed and locked as we leave it.
It’s really uncanny to walk through the enormous spaces with nobody else around, but we quickly lose that feeling as we pass through the brilliant colors and tiny figures of Flemish paintings, gorgeous and funny Faience ceramics and poignant Rembrandts, from his popular formal portraits and mythological paintings to the wonderful images of the poor he lived among when he went out of fashion.
The guide had trouble getting the group out of one of Catherine the Great’s private salons where she kept a gorgeous man-size peacock clock, which when wound up would spread its tail and cock its head. The prospect of a concert in another room finally gathered us all together and the group gave a standing ovation to the Hermitage’s chamber orchestra after the music. A quick glass of champagne and we left the building into the still glowing light, heard the door slam definitively behind us.\