This is an incredibly huge museum. We had heard that it was the place to spend the whole day if it was raining, but to spend more than 2 hours there would be a sin on a day like this. The entrance fee wasn't bad, ~15 USD equivalent in rubles for entrance and a photo pass. If you have a student ID it's much cheaper, but it needs a start and end date on it, which most US student IDs don't have (luckily Mike sweet-talked our way past that one). Cash only, but an ATM is in the lobby, complete with strange old men staring at you as you type in your PIN. Nevertheless we felt very safe overall. Security was visible everywhere.
The museum was set up in several sections, and even with a map and a good sense of direction you can still find yourself a lot further from an exit than you want to be. There are some kiosks along the way where you can buy maps and souvenirs at American prices of course.
The historical significance of some of the artwork was pretty incredible. I'm no expert in art - but the glimpse at what it was like to live as royalty hundreds of years ago had us all in awe - and wondering how people like us would have lived.
I was a little surprised at how many people were there. Many school groups, families, and couples, were bustling around the lobby, posing for pictures with 50 of their closest friends walking around behind them, and actually hurrying to see what they had probably studied for years, back wherever they lived. One artist was actually set up next to a painting, entranced in the music on his walkman, generating an exact replica of what stood before him (picture below). This was indeed a mecca for many historians and artists, and it was sometimes more interesting to watch their reactions to what they saw. I certainly didn't appreciate the exhibits' significance as much as they did.
The sculptures were my favorite. The blazing sun coming in at that low, "St. Petersburg at noon" angle made all of the stone walls, pillars, and sculptures come to life. OK - so we did spend over 2 hours there, and enjoyed it a lot. Stomachs were grumbling for lunch at that point however, and we made our way slowly to the middle of the building where we thought the exit was, passing the same great hall three times, and finally making it to the streets below.