Of Sardines between St Petersburg and UK’s Whitby

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The week in St Petersburg was somewhat marred by a bout of intestinal hurry I suffered within minutes of entering The Hermitage Museum.  The origin  of this was perplexing as the night before we had enjoyed a terrific meal of genuine Russian fare. The borscht was part of it together with potato dumplings drowned in a rich sauce of red wine with lots of bay leaves, sage and pepper. As a side dish we had piroshkies.

Our dinner was very interesting in that, apart from the delicious food, it included a large Russian wedding party which intermittently  in between eating and imbibing copious Vodka would repeatedly shout gorko, gorko which actually means ‘bitter, bitter’ but bitter would only cease if the groom and bride would get up an make bitter sweet in a long-time kiss and more kiss. This would happen every ten minutes or so. The noise was terrific and soon the bitter vodka was made sweet. The bride looked lovely and very happy.

But back to this annoying intestinal hurry the day after and inside The Hermitage.. After asking for toilet directions they kept pointing towards the distance. Anyone who has been inside the Hermitage would know it takes about a week to walk from beginning to end. I did not have that much time so I started running through gilded room through gilded room. I lost care and interest. Monets, Manets, Gauguins were rushed past. Things were percolating madly to unbearable levels. I was in great panic. I remember the sad look on  Rembrandt’s The return of The Prodigal Son, the father’s eyes following me as I ran past. The moments of such great importance now  in total avoidance and ignorance of the world’s greatest art. Can you believe it?

Whitby? Captain Cook's cottage

Whitby? Captain Cook’s cottage

Final, triumph…the toilet is in sight. It was as huge as the rest of this museum.  The reader would know that Russian communism at that time was in flux but had as yet not changed with holding on to having full employment. A large seated lady overseeing the comings and goings in this huge toilet was part of this full employment. Ladies seated on chairs were everywhere in Russian society. The toilet I was in did not have a door or perhaps not a functioning door. I don’t know or remember if all the toilet cubicles were like that but mine was not door inclusive. I could not care less, I was so happy. Afterwards I calmly sauntered back and took some time to atone to The Prodigal Son  for my strange hurried behaviour, all was forgiven. The Monet’s looked so peaceful now too.

All good things come to past as so did my Russian trip. The time for departure to London had come. We all said goodbye and I made my way to the airport to fly back to Moscow and from there connect with a flight to London. Alas, the flight was delayed. Aeroflot was apologetic but made good with a ravishing lunch dish of freshly grilled sardines and salad. Butterflied sardines deeply grilled are my favourite. Soon after the sardines we took off and within an hour or so landed at Moscow. The connecting flight to London again was not forthcoming. I suppose with Russia in political flux or even without flux, patience gets rewarded. Soon a lunch was provided for the traveller. I was somewhat surprised to again be given the grilled sardines. They weren’t the last ones!

When we were finally put on board to London and dinner arrived soon. I had already enjoyed a couple of very fine Georgian white wines. As the food trolley slowly made its way towards my seat a familiar waft came towards me. You guess right, sardines again. I could only surmise a rich Russian oligarch  had gone long on the sardine option market and was forced to take the stock of a hundreds of tonnes of sardines at a loss. This loss was now shared by putting the whole of Russia on sardines including passengers on Aeroflot.

I arrived at Heathrow’s airport and was met by an Australian friend who took me to a house of a Lord and book-publisher at Shepherd Bush. Life can be very strange, even stranger than fiction. Who could imagine I would sleep in an English Lord’s house being full of sardines?

Robyn Hood Bay.

Robyn Hood Bay.

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27 Responses to “Of Sardines between St Petersburg and UK’s Whitby”

  1. Carrie Rubin Says:

    I was in St. Petersburg but only for two days and didn’t have a chance to go inside the Hermitage. But I saw how big it was from the outside. I feel your pain in trying to hunt for a bathroom in that monstrosity!


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The St Peterburg’s Hermitage warrants renting an apartment for a few weeks to take it all in. We had less than a day. As foreign tourists we were let in immediately while the locals had to queue up for hours which put Russia in a less attractive but more real situation.
      Thanks for sharing my pain of so may years ago. ( who could have thought)?


      • Carrie Rubin Says:

        That’s weird they let tourists in first. I would’ve felt bad walking past the locals. Then again, maybe they feel the locals have more time and can always come back.


      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Yes, it felt weird but groups of foreign tourists were let in first. Tourism was one of the best lucrative options for Russia to earn foreign exchange and capital.


  2. berlioz1935 Says:

    You always find a different angle. It is the humorous angle.

    The Hermitage is a dream destination for the cultural traveller.

    Have you seen the film “The Russian Ark”? One of the best movies of ALL times. It was filmed entirely in the Hermitage in ONE take.



  3. petspeopleandlife Says:

    It must have been agonizing to be in nerd of a toilet I begt all that peppery food and vodka was the cause or maybe it was a combination of things.

    I find your travels so interesting and the descriptions of the people are amusing. Russian women sitting around even in the bathrooms. I find some countries customs so strange.


  4. Julia Lund Says:

    You’ve recounted one of the most universally awful of human experiences – where’s the loo? – managing to make it sound funny. I love how the paintings’ faces changed pre and post toilet emergency. It doesn’t sound as though Russia is the place to go if you’re not a fish-lover, however. Sardines over and over and over. For me that would be akin to the where’s-the-loo nightmare 😦


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I have increasing angst going overseas away from WC’s. My worst nightmare being on a bus in Turkey or Afghanistan and needing a loo… and… the next worst is a loo and no toilet paper except my hanky or travel document, passport pages?
      It puts 3 lots of sardines in some kind of perspective, does it not?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. rod Says:

    ‘None of our TV worked or just flickererd a couple of images every now and then, but the Russian women sitting in chairs all had a TV perched on another chair that was ALWAYS working perfectly.’

    And that’s because the TVs in your room were watching YOU, whereas the ladies were actually watching genuyine output.


  6. Silver in the Barn Says:

    OH, Gerard, Gerard, the most reliable of laugh-givers in the blogosphere. My darling husband suffered “intestinal hurry” (what a brilliant term) his last visit to China. This his host blamed on the fact that he drank cold beer with hot food. That did not go over well with husband as you can imagine. And you know the reputation of Chinese toilets. Places of unimaginable horror.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    I visited St. Petersburg a few decades back (Gosh I am getting old) and will never forget the Eremitage and the Mariinsky Theater. I loved your post, but now I want Borscht. Hmmmm


  8. Curt Mekemson Says:

    I suspect your large Russian woman did expect a tip, Gerard. That’s always been my experience of women sitting in the doorways or men’s restrooms. 🙂 And the description, intestinal hurry, how perfect. It puts everything else into perspective. And who, among us, hasn’t been there at some time or the other. –Curt


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, but tipping in Russia was regarded as a typically western capitalistic form of keeping workers submissive.
      It would have been so depressing sitting in chair all day at a huge cavernous male toilet. Can you imagine?


  9. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Great story, we like sardines too, but where do Whitby and Robin Hood Bay come into it?


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I understand your curiosity. I jumped the gun a bit there. Whitby came about through my friend Roger who lived in Australia but English born from Yorkshire. I stayed with his mum a few days at Whitby. ( see next episode)


  10. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    My first introduction to the Heritage was through a side door beside one of the inestimable toilets. ‘Nuff said I imagine. The ubiquitous large lady sat inside waiting with a square of tissue for a coin.


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