Bathed in mid-morning sunlight that accents its colorful mint-green, white and gilded facade, the impressive Winter Palace takes center stage in the heart of historic St. Petersburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The official residence of the once all-powerful Romanov Tsars, stretching from the banks of the Neva River across to Palace Square, the Winter Palace houses the city’s most popular tourist attraction: the State Hermitage Museum.

Together with 21 other like-minded travelers and Gulya, our effervescent local guide, Orna O’Reilly and I, guest photojournalists invited by Insight Vacations to sample its Easy Pace Russia journey, weather a very long queue — despite pre-booked tickets with an assigned entry time — and finally cross over the threshold and enter into one of the most impressive collections of priceless art, culture and interior design found anywhere on the planet.

“When asked about its status,” intones Gulya, “the current director of the Hermitage replied: ‘I can’t say it is the number one museum in the world, but it’s certainly not number two.'”

Up the imperial Jordan Staircase we go, elbow-to-elbow with the masses, to take in as much of the history, beauty and riches that adorn the hallways, rooms, walls and ceilings in the short amount of time we’re allotted.

One of the oldest museums in the world, the Hermitage was founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great. A true patron of the arts, the Empress of Russia relentlessly acquired artwork en masse from European aristocrats, and the museum continued to grow under the watchful eyes and deep pockets of her successors, and was massively enriched by Bolshevik confiscations during the Revolution and Red Army seizures from a defeated Germany during World War II.

With over 3 million pieces of art at its disposal, of which only a small portion is on permanent display to the public, the Hermitage collection, incredibly varied, spans the history books. Bookended by artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia and post-impressionist masterpieces by Matisse and Picasso, there’s a venerable who’s who from the annals of the art world — Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Velasquez to name but a few — sandwiched in between.

Spread throughout 360 rooms located inside five connecting buildings — The Winter Palace, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Small Hermitage and the Hermitage Theatre — the State Hermitage Museum dazzles the eyes with its lavishly decorated state rooms and spacious halls, all testaments to the incredible wealth, extravagant tastes and lifestyle of the Romanov Tsars.

As we near the end of our three-hour, whirlwind tour, Gulya remarks, “One estimate has it that you would need eleven years to view each exhibit on display for just one minute.” Well, that leaves me with just 10 years, 11 months, 30 days and 21 hours to fully appreciate the State Hermitage Museum.

For complete information on Insight’s three itineraries to Russia, as well as more than 100 other premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

It took three empresses to build a village, Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar’s Village), on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Join me tomorrow morning at 9:00 and we’ll view it together.

Do svidaniya!

©ThePalladianTraveler

Borsalino w/ props SMALL | ©Tom Palladio Images

Note: The Palladian Traveler’s participation in this journey was supported by Insight Vacations, which did not review or approve this article before publication.

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

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