December 7 is free day at The Hermitage aka The Winter Palace! Each year this grand museum–one of the biggest and the most famous in all the world and also the official home of the Russian royal family from 1732 to 1917–invites everyone in free of charge to honor the collection’s founding by Catherine the Great way back in 1736 and also the Russian Orthodox Saint Catherine’s Day. Though some back in the day may have poo-poo’d Catherine II’s collecting style as eclectic, haphazard or even quantity over quality, there’s no denying that the objects (3 million+) and the opulence (check out those chandeliers!) contained within these seemingly endless rooms are both impressive and overwhelming.
What then to focus on? Forget about the throne room (large or small) and that golden peacock clock. Here are my top 3:
1. Duchesses, dresses & dogs. Preferably all in the same painting.
2. The War Gallery of 1812. A truly wild hair era!
3. Gallery guards. The real superstars of any museum.
Afterwards, you can leave the crowds behind and stroll over to the Singer Cafe above The House Of Books for some nice raspberry-thyme tea and slice of foxberry cake to fortify yourself for the chilly walk home…