Palace square is big, I mean really, really big*, on the monumental scale it’s close to titanic. So in the middle of winter with only a few people in the square you feel ant like walking across the centre of the square, all of which may have been the intent. The Hermitage, an imperial palace damaged by fire then rebuilt, a treasure trove of art, the sight of the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1905, yes that Sergei Eisenstein film, then later the headquarters of the Kerensky government after the Tsar’s abdication, yes this is the government building that the Red Army stormed during the glorious October revolution of 1917**.
This is a huge museum, a collection that outstrips the Louvre in scale, and exceeds it in curation. You could spend a week solid here, hell a month, and still not see everything. The Hermitage is also a palace, it was Catherine the Great’s home and she clearly wanted it to show off her Imperial majesty, so unlike most other museum this one breathes opulence at every turn, sort of like a mashup of the Louvre with Versaille, but with excellent conservation values. The Hermitage is also one of Galina’s favourite places, back in the day when her family visited St Petersburg she’d spend days exploring the exhibition, revisiting her favourites again and again.
Tip for visitors if you’re a foreigner then tickets cost more, so if you can go with a Russian friend, or better yet visit on the first thursday of every month when it’s free (expect crowds). If you like Impressionists then the Hermitage’s collection is a must see, the Matisse and Van Gogh collections alone are worth the visit. In fact everything is worth a visit and the regret is that we didn’t have time to see it all.