We are well into our time in Saint Petersburg and walk the streets like old hands.
We want to see the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the General Staff Building, which is part of the Hermitage. But which part? We have to ask.
We arrive at the huge open space in front of the Hermitage and buy hot corn on the cob from a street stall.
Then we walk across the Square and follow the road towards the river and ask. People are very friendly and helpful. They look on the their phones and they ask their colleagues. No one knows.
Eventually we find out it is the yellow-painted, curve of a building across the Square from the Winter Palace. We smile, realising we had stood next to this building earlier when we bought the corn on the cob.
Even now we cannot find the entrance. We walk through the arch to a door but it is not the right one. We ask again. It is back around the corner on the inner curve of the building, two doors down.
Note for anyone reading this: The entrance is to the left of the archway on the inside of the curve.
The General Staff Building
The lower floors are strange, huge, (huge!) empty rooms with nothing on the walls. And they lead out onto an other-worldly space linked by a bridge.
The good stuff is on the fourth floor. It is well worth it, with beautifully hung paintings with plenty of light – and wonderful painters. There are some we know and some we do not know. This is not a place for a one-time visit. It is a place to come back to again and again. It is a fine collection.
In The Cafe
The rain sweeps across the Square between the General Staff Building and the Winter Palace. We sit in the cafe of the General Staff building. It is set low down, a bit below ground level, with windows looking onto the Square. We have a low-level view of people struggling with umbrellas across the empty space dominated by the column and the Winter Palace.
It is the only bad weather of the trip – but we are snug in this strange, foreign cafe while the rain pelts down.
We wonder what the ground of the Square was like in the days when the buildings were first built. Perhaps it was a green open space with a track for carriages, or a sea of mud on days like this.