Please clear up my confusion about the best way to expedite getting into the Hermitage. I've read to buy tickets online to avoid lines waiting to get in. Apparently tourists don't all buy beforehand? If everyone had purchased tickets beforehand, wouldn't there be lines for this group? I have also read that being with a guide gets you in front of the line. I mistakenly thought that at the Vatican musueum in Rome, and although with a guide, waited in a long line under a hot sun for 2 hours along with everyone else.
The Hermitage is so vast, I know it's not possible to see everything! The guidebooks I've been reading have detailed descriptions and maps of the various rooms. Is it sufficient to have this info(as well as check out the Hermitage's website before going to get a better idea of what there is and where to find it), or is it a good idea to have a guide? Accompanying friends believe that they will see "special" things not normally available or open if we're with a guide.
Thanks for your help!