I spent pretty much the whole of yesterday inside the wonderful State Hermitage Museum, admiring the treasures and the buildings themselves. It is overwhelming to see so many works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Picasso, Matisse etc etc. In addition, there's a superb collection of ancient Egyptian and Roman pieces.
I'd followed the advice of a guidebook and pre-purchased a ticket online. The print out meant I could bypass the long queue and exchange my voucher for a ticket, getting me straight in.
My time in St Petersburg has been made so easy by Margarita and Julia at the English Speaking Union. I'd been put in touch with them through my friend, Joyce, in Wellington. My presumption had been that I would go to meet them for tea and cakes or some lunch. They have gone out of their way to arrange things for me. I've had English speaking Russian students to accompany me on two days, and another member of their organisation to show me around the extensive and elaborate gardens of Peterhof. I was my own guide in the Hermitage, although I did have some copied pages from the guidebook to help me around.
So, tomorrow I will go to Moscow. I've bought two face masks as a precaution. For the past two days, however, the air has been clear and firefighting efforts have made a lot of headway. Forecasts say smoke could waft back to the city intermittently over the coming days, and the heatwave will continue into next week.
If the worst comes to the worst, I will heed the health advice and stay indoors. My host there has been taken ill, however, and I hope she will recover soon. Instead, I've been placed with another family. Their apartment is a couple of metro stops closer to the centre, which is a bonus. That metro station is, however, one of the ones that was targetted by suicide bombers earlier this year.