Let me start with the good stuff - today we spent more of time exploring the city. We visited the world famous Winter Palace ... AKA the Hermitage.
The winter palace used to be the winter residence of the Russian Tsars however from what I was told it was far to big and so mostly used for formal occasions with the Ruling families living in smaller cosier palaces close by. It has now been turned into a large art gallery and even if you are not into art it is well worth a visit as the building itself is mind blowing. The excess and the details gives you some idea just how rich these ruling families were.
Next it was a visit to the Church of the Spilled Blood. Almost a Russian icon itself and recognised around the world seeing this in real life, the snow softly drifting around you is almost magical. The story behind this particular church is quite interesting, Nicholas the first, second last Tsar of Russia was travelling home when a terrorist threw a bomb at the carriage. This bomb didn't actually harm the Tsar but it all went wrong when he got out of the carriage to help the innocent passers by. While he was out of the safety of the carriage a second terrorist ran out of the crowd with another bomb and killed him. The church was erected on the very spot where this tragedy occurred and the cobble stones from this time are still visible.
Inside was even better with every surface covered with colour and stories. Paintings just don't survive in the harshness of this climate so all the art in both churches we visited today are actually mosaics. These tiny little pieces of precious stone bring more life to the space than any painting could! The building itself is almost 3 storeys tall but the space extremely narrow forcing you to crane your neck to see all the images higher up. I really could have spent hours wandering around this quiet peaceful space.
Finally St Isaac's Cathedral - Totally different in style to the Church of the Spilled Blood it seems to be a more formal church, a much larger space it has a sense of grandness to it and you get an overall feeling of your insignificance. I must admit I much preferred the other church but this was still lovely to see.
Now onto my one little gripe. Over the past few days our guide has dropped a few hints and comments that give us both the feeling she feels superior to both Mr V and I. This morning it went to a new and entertaining level with her asking Mr V why he doesn't try to better himself. She explained that in order to better himself he needs to engage in more academic pursuits. We tried to explain that although Mr V does not have a university degree his job is highly technical and I personally felt he is actually smarter in many ways than a lot of people I know. I wasn't saying this just to defend him, I truly believe that there are more ways to "bettering" yourself or "educating" yourself than just books or university, however our guide just couldn't comprehend this idea at all and throughout the day continued to push books or ideas on poor Mr V.
Another lovely comment that really made me grit my teeth was to imply that young people could not afford to travel to Russia as it was far to expensive and that the only reason we could afford to come was because we were travelling in the off season. Oh yes, she is extremely happy passing on her well thought out, well educated opinions without even considering our circumstances or our thoughts on being judged so harshly.
While in preliminary discussions about the Hermitage I stressed that neither hubby or I are particularly interested in art and our primary interest in visiting was the architecture and the building itself. She however felt it was her duty to educate us in art and although we interrupted a few times explaining that while we are sure the art is beautiful we are much more interested in the rooms itself, she continued to drag us from one masterpiece to another desperately trying to impress us with her knowledge of the art world. 2 hours later poor Mr V was at his wits end and practically dragged us to the exit.
While it would be very easy to take the guides careless comments to heart we have decided to take it with a pinch of humour finding her sometimes misguided opinions hilarious as opposed to insulting. Tomorrow is our last day with this particular guide and while to be honest we are not particularly fond of her we are seeing, learning and experiencing much more than we would if exploring on our own.