The flight from Frankfurt, Germany arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia right on time and there was an hour to spare before the opening reception of the Business Leadership Forum at The State Hermitage Museum. I couldn’t resist a walk to "St. Petersburg’s Most Beautiful", a virtual geocache. A virtual cache is a cache that exists in the form of the location itself. There is no Tupperware container with a treasure to retrieve or log book to sign. In order to record a virtual find at geocaching.com, you must go to the cache coordinates and typically answer a question to validate that you were actually there. In this case the question was how many "onions" can be seen on the Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood. It was a good walk to get to the cache location and when I turned the final corner the onion domes and sheer beauty made my mouth drop open. See pictures in the gallery.
The Church was just the first of many incredible sights that I would see before the day was over. This was my third visit to Russia and second time to visit St. Petersburg (see travel section of blog for more on this). One could go there every year for many years and not see a fraction of what the great city has to offer. Tsar Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 as a "window to Europe" and it served as the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years. With 11 time zones and 140 ethnic groups, Russia is a really big and interesting place. Much more history about St. Petersburg can be found here.
Got back to the Astoria Hotel in a nick of time to get ready for the reception in the courtyard of The State Hermitage Museum along with four hundred colleagues from business, government, and academia. It was really great to see many old friends and to make many new acquaintances. We were greeted by Sam Palmisano and Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the museum. Dinner was followed by a private "White Nights Tour" of arguably the most impressive museum in the world. It certainly rivaled the reception and dinner at the Vatican at last year’s BLF. From late May to early July the nights are bright in St. Petersburg — it doesn’t get dark. It was a strange phenomenon to leave the tour at midnight and walk outside and find it still light. St. Petersburg’s is at 59 degrees latitude, about the same as Oslo, Norway (see Norway 2007).
The State Hermitage Museum is another of those things that you have to see to believe. There are more than three million pieces of art including original works by Leonardo: Madonna with a Flower (The Benois Madonna, 1478) and Madonna Litta (1490-1491). We breezed through a number of the 500 rooms of the museum where there were over twenty works by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, one of the greatest artists in the history of the world. We saw works by Cezanne, van Gogh, and Picasso, just to name a few. Words can not do justice to what we saw but the Hermitage web site does a really good job of sharing the beauty and expanse.
After a short sleep it was time to get to business at the Business Leadership Forum. A post about the next two days will follow shortly.