the best russian museums

Everything You Need to Know About Russian Museums

I am probably done with Russian Museums. And we still have around two weeks left in the country. Granted much of that will be on a train or traveling, but I don’t think there are many more museums on this itinerary. That’s a good thing as I’ve got decidedly grumpy with a few things that they all have in common.

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The Cost of Russian Museums

First, let me say that the country has definitely embraced capitalism. Especially in the museum sector. That I’m a foreign visitor means that in the majority of cases my ticket is more expensive than a Russian’s. Often by a huge factor. We foreign visitors apparently subsidize Russian’s entrance to museums. This is very similar to what you’ll see in countries like India and Malaysia. If you’re a hero of the Great Patriotic War (what Russian’s call World War Two) or a variety of other designations then you get in for free < that I don’t mind

The Language in Russian Museums

All those lovely signs outside in English, detailing, “Museum” and the directions and details and even rolling audio tapes telling you why you should come in… it’s a scam! Once you get past the “you have to pay three times more to enter this museum than Russian visitors”, well there’s where it gets interesting.. because it’s only in limited cases that there’s anything in English.

What we’ve found though, is that the glass jar containing notes and coins is one of the few areas where you can find English. “Donation for the Museum”.

There are in some cases, maps. But I tend to think that in museums the map is more of an illustration of what might be in a certain location, perhaps. And I certainly wouldn’t want to navigate effectively from it.

There are also in lesser cases, audio guides, costing usually 300 rubles (although at the Armory in the Kremlin, Moscow, these are free – which considering the 700 ruble entrance fee, its a bloody good job). The audio guides are from well-spoken English or American men and provide a limited instruction on some of the highlights of the museums. You’re instructed that the audio tour only lasts a certain amount of time and you MUST NOT GO OVER TIME. Your passport or several thousand rubles are held as security in case you decide to run away with the audio tour.

Paying to take photographs

Yup that’s right. If you want to take photos, even for your own personal use – i.e. non professional – then there’s usually an extra cost for doing that. Now in the Hermitage it was 200 rubles each (on top of a 400 ruble ticket to get in), and no one specifically checked when we were taking photos. In other museums it was 100 rubles. Some museums (like all the Cathedrals in the Kremlin and the Armory) just don’t allow you to take photo’s at all.

The ladies who man the rooms

99% of the time these are older women, sitting on chairs in each room of the museum. Their job is to protect the museum. All those exhibits nicely behind glass still need to be protected from me. They don’t appear to have any other role, other than to point you in the next direction that you’re supposed to go. Or to come rushing over, or blow their whistle or snap at you if you get too close to a guide rope, or lean on a glass display unit. Actually, they seem to spend the vast majority of their time 1) sleeping 2) talking to each other 3) on their mobile phones and 4) always pointedly ignoring you.

The Bag Checks

Bag checking is pretty much universal. Bag checks are generally free in museums, but that’s not what I’m grumpy about. It’s the illogical-ness of the bag check. It seems that if you’re in a tour group, its OK. If you’re a child, its OK. If you’re a woman with a Mary Poppins sized carpet bag, it’s OK. If you’re an English tourist with an 8 litre back pack with virtually nothing in, then it must be checked.

Tour Groups

They do literally stampede through museums. Following the raised number, the flag, the bunch of plastic flowers, or the umbrella. I don’t know how much of the museum these folks see, they seem to spend more of their time just getting in everyone’s way. Mostly all wearing ear plugs and a little receiver around their neck, while the guide shouts into her microphone in whatever language – half of them wander off, and are only marginally worse than the groups of school children, who screech their way around, only in a higher pitch.

Items removed for Restoration or Closed

It was the State Apartments at the Hermitage. The Faberge eggs at the Kremlin Armory, the list goes on. I understand that restoration needs to occur, it just seems that while I’m having a grump I ought to grump about this as well and complain that if the whole reason that I wanted to go there was to see something specific, and it’s not there, should I be paying full price?

Now that I’ve grumped I definitely feel better and there was no surcharge!

These museums that we’ve seen contain from truly amazing treasures and history. I mean truly truly amazing. Artwork upon artwork in the Hermitage, the actual cabin of Peter the Great from when he first came to St Petersburg, the double throne for him and his brother, the Monomakh’s Cap of Russian Tsars, a double grave, armor, Catherine the Great’s dresses. It has been amazing to see so much history, it makes sense if you’ve read up on it before getting there, and if you don’t get your hopes up too high as to what you’re going to see.

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