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Lost in the Hermitage Museum

#Lesson: “the past is history, the future is a mystery, your present is today”

With the Ukraine and Russian conflict in the news, I have been heartbroken to see the destruction of lives and the evil of war. Watching the horror has filled me with sadness and conflict about a visit my husband and I took to the Baltic Region in 2014. I am not sure how I now feel about the country in which we made memories. We were on a cruise ship that stopped in St. Petersburg, Russia for couple of days as one of our ports of call. St. Petersburg’s port is different than most, because in Russia you need permission to disembark from a cruise ship. A tour guide needs to accompany you, unless you have secured a Visa well in advance. Through our cruise ship concierge desk, we booked a tour for a visit to the Hermitage Museum.

In the months prior to taking our journey, I read a couple of books about Russian history. I especially enjoyed reading about Catherine the Great and her relatives. I was really looking forward to our visit to the Hermitage Museum as I wanted to experience what I had read about. Catherine the Great was the influencer for the establishment of the museum as she is one of the great art collectors of all time. The museum houses over three million pieces of art, artifacts, and paintings. You may recall seeing photos in your history books that show depictions of the various pieces of the collection.

Upon our arrival at the museum our prescheduled tour, I was immediately impressed with the size of the museum, as it has six large buildings that are all interconnected. Only five of them are open to the public for viewing. The museum was never intended to be a museum, as it originally a palace for emperors and czars. It is the second largest museum in Europe and upon entering it, I had a fleeting thought about whether or not you could actually get lost in the museum.

As we entered the main building, I was in awe of not only the size, but the floors, walls, ceilings and artwork dripped of gold and gold leaf. As we started the tour with our tour guide in the lead, we started galloping from room to room amongst other similar tour groups. Stopping briefly at various works to see firsthand the amazing artwork that Catherine the Great had collected.

About an hour into the tour, we landed in a room filled with impressionist paintings, from such artists as Van Gogh and Monet. It was such a pleasant surprise as I had not really pondered the possibility of seeing any of their works on this visit. My husband and I both love impressionism and had toured other museums just specifically to see their work. All the paintings displayed were ones that we had never seen on exhibit previously and would probably never see again. Our tour guide was moving so quickly through the rooms that my husband and I started to fall further and further behind the rest of the group.

I urged my husband to the point of nagging, for him to move a little quicker as I was aware of our spacing in comparison with the rest of the tour. My husband was a little annoyed with my insistence that we move a little faster and finally told me that he had traveled a great distance to see this, and he was going to take his time and look at. Feeling the pressure of expectations that take place between husband and wife, I knew that I was going to have to make a decision about keeping up with the tour or keeping my husband’s pace. From information provided about the museum, I knew that if you spent one minute looking at each piece of art it would take eleven years to see everything in the museum. We certainly did not have eleven years and we spent less than five minutes in that room. Finally, torn between the decision to stay with my husband or move with the tour, I decided to go with the tour.

At that point, the tour guide made a quick exit,she then bolted down several long hallways, taking turns left and right, continuing to travel through other exceptionally large rooms and finally came to rest in a room quite a distance from the room we had just been in. I kept looking back to see if my husband had followed us and he was nowhere in sight. Another couple had witnessed the disappearance of my husband during the transition and could see the concern on my face. They told me to go retrieve my husband and they would delay the tour for us. Trusting them, I ran quickly retracing our steps to navigate back to the room we had just left. Of course, by the time I located the room, my husband was no longer where I left him. Without hesitation, I immediately hurried back to the group I was with and thanked the couple for looking out for us.

I approached the tour guide and let her know about my husband’s plight and she stated, “the past is history, the future is a mystery, and your present is today. Please enjoy the rest of your tour”. I was quite surprised by her tone and abrupt response. On that note of dismissal, we continued the rest of the tour. My mind was racing with concerns about my husband, because he was not carrying anything with him. He had no cash, no identification, no passport, no wallet, no glasses. He had no man bag! I was carrying everything in my bag. I was worried that he would not be able to find his way back to the preassigned checkpoint by the end of the tour. Afterall, the building that were in has been calculated to have 1,786 doors, 1,945 windows, 1,500 rooms and 117 staircases.

As the tour continued, without my husband, I could not focus on anything that the tour guide was saying, my mind was a blur of thoughts about his whereabouts. I was hoping that he would be able to remember where the checkpoint was and make his way there. My next few hours were not very enjoyable as my awareness of the number of people in the museum became more apparent, as I searched the unfamiliar faces for that of my husband. From the data that I read regarding the museum; thirteen thousand people can be in the museum on any given day. It was obvious on that day that there were people from all over the world in attendance. The museum was truly magnificent, and we got an extremely limited viewing, as it was just a glimpse of what it contains.

Finally, the tour concluded, we arrived back to our starting point, and yes, I saw my husband sitting near the entrance upon our arrival. I was startled, as the entire tour group broke out into applause, It became apparent that I was not the only one concerned about his whereabouts. His disappearance actually became a running joke throughout the rest of our cruise amongst the other tour group passengers. My husband shared with me that he tagged onto other tour groups throughout the day, and he had the most enjoyable time.

To answer my own passing question about whether or not you could get lost in the museum. Yes, one can get lost in the Hermitage Museum, my advice would be to immerse yourself in the beauty and splendor of the museum by staying with the tour guide.

My hope is the Russian and Ukraine conflict will come to a halt. I have decided that I will not let the current situation ruin my memories of our travels to Russia. Our trip to Russia was enjoyable, however, it was a different time and a different place. However, I will continue to pray for peace amongst all nations and all people.

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