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Trip Report If Big Brother was Watching, This is What he Saw: Russia, 1984 (a really late trip report)

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(I've been putting my first European trip imto my computer and thought somebody might be interested in an account of 1984 USSR {through the eyes of a naive 19 year old, granted!} I'm transcribing directly, in order to keep it authentic, albeit some of it makes me cringe a bit now. Anyway, let me know if I should continue!)

'Like Home, without the K-Marts, or, My Travels in the USSR'

Moscow is a city of grey and red, especially during the autumn season, when rain falls seemingly some part of most days. The plane entered Moscow in a mist of grey, and the futuristic metallic airport gave no indication or color or light: the lights were dim, the departure area deserted, and the décor more awesome than welcoming. To complete the illusion of going through the Iron Curtain, we were met by a member of the military and sent through a complete passport inspection and a cursory baggage detection. Passports were taken by another military man (or boy'he didn't look to be much over sixteen) who gave us a thorough 'look' which would make a principal jealous. When it was my turn, he decided he had to make a phone call. I was a bit apprehensive at that point, because I was NOT about to get on that lousy airplane for an eight hour trip home. But Mr. Military just grinned and handed me back my passport after keeping me waiting a suitable time, and I was officially in Moscow.

Our tour group reunited in a downstairs room, which was quite crowded in contrast to the entrance; when everyone got together, we were introduced to our Russian guide, Natasha, who remained with us for the rest of our stay. We were now in the hands of Intourist, the official Soviet travel agency, and they took good care of us. Although our trip was arranged through an American company, all visitors to CCCP are guided by the Russsian agency: it assigns hotels, makes arrangements for tours, meals, and a guide, and just generally promotes tourism.

Our first tour perk was the bus that was waiting for us--#15; we kept that number but switched busses and drivers during our Moscow stay. Unfortunate, in some instances. Back to the bus itself: you will notice no adjectives in front of bus, because it was'just a bus. A bus is a bus is'well, actually, some were much better than others; the lack on uniformity in the transportation system was a bit disconcerting. But we gladly settled into #15 without a thought to whys and wherefores. Our big questions were, 'Where are we going, will somebody PLEASE take these passports, and when do we eat?' Natasha answered our questions in a prim but prettily accented voice and gave us our itinerary for the next day. At the time, it sounded a tad overwhelming; it is quite true that Natasha did not skimp on her duty to educate us concerning the city, and we got our first dose of facts that very evening.

First in the hearts of my countrymen and women, however, was the hotel. We had not been told and therefore couldn't read up on our temporary abode, but we were promised a 'good' hotel'and that turned out to be an understatement. The Hotel Cosmos was simply magnificent; built in 1980 for 'those' Olympics, it could house 3,500 people'and must have been nearly full even in the off-season of October. However, it was about a half hour ride from the airport, and there was a lot to see in the meanwhile, although we were riding in darkness. The many buildings we passed had brightly lighted or neon signs around the top, which added a whimsical touch to what otherwise would have been merely industrial waste. There were some not-quite-but-almost shopping centers, and there was also our first view of a rather special part of Russian cities: the trees. Moscow is quite big and sprawly, and it was built with trees and parks in mind.

We arrived at the hotel in complete dark coldness and wandered around the immense lobby until our rooms were assigned. There seemed to be representatives of almost any ethnic group talking, laughing, and shouting in their respective languages for their respective luggages. We were given our room cards and keys with a warning: Don't depend on the elevators! The room was at the end of a long curving corridor; it was very dim inside, as it seemed to be inside most buildings. There is a 'floor lady' (who takes charge of keys and generally supervises) in each corridor'she wasn't very talkative, but that could be due to her sparse English and our much sparser Russian. Our room seemed a haven, though it didn't have enough hangers, and we hurried to get our stuff and ourselves straightened up a bit before going down to a late dinner.

The food was delicious that first night; however, it quickly became monotonous. We were given meat in a tomatoey sauce and fried potatoes for our main course; the appetizer was a chickenish salad with PICKLES and the dessert a nondescript but good pastry, decorated with a pink and chartreuse rose. Mineral water and tap water were provided for our drinking; the Moscow tap water resembles Schuylkill punch so I managed with that quite well. (Mineral water tastes like the aftereffects of getting a cavity filled.) We first became acquainted with the omnipresent bread-n-butter here: the bread was on the table every time we sat down to a meal, and traveled with us to Leningrad. It was, I believe, a species of pumpernickel; there were two varieties, light and dark, but that's all the variety Moscow bread had. Tea or coffee were also continually offered, meal by meal, but usually only at the end of the meal. Some of the American diners were desolate at not having perpetual coffee, but it was served rather often considering its rumored scarcity. Enough of food, for the time. This wasn't exactly the gourmet tour, except perhaps, for the caviar, and I never want to get myself gourmeted enough to eat that. It was yucko.

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    Alas, I was only back in 1989, while it was still the Soviet Union. (Although those five years made a difference, believe me...) I did go to Lithuania this summer, though, so technically, yes!

    To continue:
    When we woke on Saturday morning to the sound of the antiquated alarm, the view from our window gave promise of a pretty day, which it was; mellow golden light, about 50 degrees during the day. After breakfast we had our first tour: a general overview of Moscow, stuffed with factual info but still enjoyable. We stopped at a convent, where an artist who looked like a refugee from the Hippie Era offered paintings for sale; however, he couldn’t legally accept foreign money and we didn’t have the requisite rubles. The money situation was rather interesting: Russia money (rubles and kopecks) is not exchangeable in other countries; therefore, the Russian government prefers to get foreign money from hotels, souvenir shops, and some restaurants. The money is used for purchasing power in other countries. But to return to the convent: it had been built by Peter the Great, an advanced but not too kindhearted czar, in order to get rid of his mother-in-law. However, the domes and golden crosses and ancient cemetery were peaceful and timelessly dignified.

    Our next stop was across the Mockva River from the Kremlin—a fairy tale view of the city’s heart. On this day we saw only the outside wall of the Kremlin; Kremlin is an old word for “fort” and the numerous buildings that comprise the compound are encircled by a wall of brick and by two towers topped with red stars—glowing red stars. Fascinating…and one quick jump ahead: the compound contains five cathedrals.

    We saw the Sports Stadium, University, and stopped for the final time at LeninHills in the university area; there is a broad platform giving a tremendous view of the city. Lenis Hills is THE place for wedding photographs; we saw many small wedding parties coming and going in flower decked cars. Almost all were small groupings; the bride usually had a white gown, quite like what American brides would wear, but the attendants (usuallyu only one male and one female) were conspicuous only by the red sashes they wore. As it was a windy day, many of the new brides were wearing their husband’s suit jacket. Sweet.

    After lunch in the hotel, we boarded old #15 to got o a park of wooden architecture somewhat in the suburbs of the city. It held examples of wooden buildings from many of the provinces; Peter the Great’s hunting lodge was there, looking rather primitive. It was here that we first met the “bubble goom” kids. These kids were obviously used to American tourists having a full supply of Wrigley’s Double Bubble. They didn’t speak much other English, but “Bubble goom?? Bubble goom??” they knew. There were about five of them in a group; I didn’t see evidence of parents, which seemed strange as most of the children we saw were accompanied by doting parents. Since most parents work and the children are in day care centers, the weekends are a big family time.

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    Amy- I hope there is more!!

    My first trip to Russia was in 1992 (age 14) and have been many times since... we stayed at the KOCMOC then, and strangely enough again with a group of students this past year- I think you'd be disappointed to see what the hotel has become. The breakfasts are incredible though!

    I hope you will continue, and I hope you will return to Russia! I think you'd be amazed at the changes.

    %%-

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    (I do really want to go back...so many places, so little time...Russia is the "mother country" for my grandfather, although he was only about 5 when he came over, so that's why it was my first ever trip abroad.)
    Now back to being 19 again:

    Evening was a decided contrast to the pastoral scenes of the morning; it was terrific fun, too. We took the “Mepto” (subway) to Red Square. And though it may not be everybody’s idea of a rip-roarin’ good time to hang around a mausoleum outside the Kremlin wall, it was a great lark. The subway was 50’s era, clean but not too modern, noisy, crowded, and subway-like. The “regulars” were staring at us a bit, but then, I was staring at some of my fellow tourists, too: those dear suburban old ladies had probably never been on a sub, and they were giggling away. The trains and stations were immaculate, although it wasn’t the smoothest ride. The tracks were much further underground than in Philadelphia; the land wasn’t solid enough to support the system above that level. To reach the palatial stations, we took a long—and fast—escalator ride. As we got accustomed to the escalators through continued use they became a little less exhilarating but they were fascinating still, because the rid was long enough to see all kinds of lovely things: tender young couples with te guy expertly riding and stepping off backwards, busy workers running (instead of riding) in the passing lane, parents hanging onto their children in the time-honored manner of perturbed parents everywhere. The fare was miniscule—five kopeks or so—and we could have switched onto quite a few other lines. We didn’t, though, and we arrived at the enchanting moonlit Square, shivering just a little with the cold night air and a lot more with excitement.

    Red Square in the sunlight is stately and beautiful; at night it is magic. The words “red” and “beautiful” were the same in early Russian language, when the Square was named, and beautiful it is: not pretty, not cute, but beautiful.

    The Square itself is grey cobblestones which rather look as if they grew there; there are markings (somewhat like street markings) which are actually guidelines for the parades held there and a small elevation where countless speeches have been made, but otherwise it is simply a large open square suitable for markets, processions, proclamations, revolutions and so forth in the manner of squares anywhere. But the perimeters of the Square!! To start with perhaps the least significant, GUM comprises most of one side; GUM, of course, is the “large, state-run department store” that practically any economics book will pointedly mention. It’s visually pleasing, a well-detailed grey building, but it is, nonetheless, a department store.

    If GUM is on the left side, from one’s point of observation, the Kremlin is on the right and the KGB building is in the back. The KGB building is another old building and, like GUM, appeals to the aesthetic senses. Our attention was not particularly drawn to it by Natasha, but then, there was a great deal more to draw our attention. The Kremlin wall is long stretch of red brick, flanked by two round towers at either corner. These towers are topped by glowing red stars, rather whimsical and giving the impression of a faery tale castle rather than a grim government complex.

    The mausoleum of Lenin is at this wall; the embalmed body of this supreme Soviet is visited by hundreds of citizens daily. There is a guard walking in solemn attendance, the people in the long line are quiet, and altogether there is a sense of timelessness and dignity in that section of the square.

    Timeless, but not dignified, St. Basil’s cathedral grows in the front of the Square. Grows, not because it gets larger, but because it is almost alive; it seems to have come up through the large cobblestones as the result of a superior happiness, a national smile or some such. Of course, history does not have it that way. It was built for Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century; according to legend, after it was completed he had the architect’s eyes put out so that they could not repeat the design or make another more beautiful. St. Basil’s, however, would have been difficult to better and impossible to reproduce; its surroundings add to its delightfulness. The main structure looks somewhat as if it were made of gingerbread; there are onion domed towers of varying heights and varying riotous colors forming the rood. It looks, all in all, like a fairy tale come true. Have I gotten over-enthusiastic? Perhaps that is because there are so few buildings that make me want to pick them up and take them home with me.

    We finally reboarded the Metro for out trip back to the hotel…but two of our tour members were missing. In-the-very-shadow-of-the –Kremlin they were picked up by two Russian ladies. However, it appeared to be a -uh- “platonic cultural interchange”.

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    Sunday, the next day, was raw, cold, drizzly, and quite, quite informative. We visited TA-DAH! The Park of Economic Achievements. That’s a rather stuffy name for a gorgeous showcase of Soviet superlatives. It’s huge, of course, as a Soviet showplace should be, and very informative and educational and historical and all that good stuff, but somehow it manages to be the social center of the city, judging by the throngs throughout the parks and pavilions. The pavilions, all however many of them, house different segments: farming, culture, space, science-- of Soviet showing off. Sort’ve a primitive Epcot with trams. (Perhaps primitive isn’t quite the right word…maybe it’s…less consumer conscious?) We only got to visit two of the pavilion buildings. The Space pavilion is actually tremendously vain-glorious, filled with models and prototypes of inexplicable spacecraft. The entry is dominated by the omnipresent Vladimir Ilyich, and the opposite end of the building is a shrine to Yure Gagarin, the first cosmonaut. Gagarin was the man responsible for frightening the American space program into action by being
    the first into outer space. He was a tremendous hero to the Soviets; he was highly trained, of course, and technically proficient. But why was he chosen to represent Soviet supremacy in space? He had a cute grin, that’s why. Honest to goodness.

    The Cultural Pavilion is a less-trumpeted and more aesthetically appealing building; it houses costumes from different provinces and eras; it also has a collection of films and books. Among the enlarged book covers on the wall of a small auditorium, one made me pause. It looked to be a children’s book with a vibrant primary color picture, but somehow something didn’t quite fit. Then I realized that the title was in English. (*It was called “The Hunchback Horse, I believe.)

    Although the weather was raw and drizzly we wandered around the park a bit after the
    Cultural Pavilion; quite a few tourists and locals had the same idea. In fact, it must be the place to visit and just hang out generally. (We heard a dramatic prop-piece on the radio in English which had the hero and heroine meeting in the Park of Economic Achievements and falling in love. We didn’t hear much after that because we were rolling. I think we’d been playing with our alarm clock which was connected and which we never did get to work properly.)

    But back in the park: we found an ice cream stand and tried Russian ice cream for the first, but definitely not the last, time. It was delicious; somewhat like frozen vanilla fudge. Yum—but it didn’t help the chilling process of us. The fountains’ spray didn’t help much, either, but they were lovely to look at. The “Friendship of the Peoples” (didn’t I say this was a Soviet park?) fountain dominated the entrance with its gold statues of an appropriately costumed member of each of the republics. We were intrigued by a group of sailors snapping pictures of each other in front of it; later we found out they were from Leningrad, a city as full of sailors as Moscow is of soldiers. We walked back to the hotel, finally, frozen through and ready for lunch. Ice cream of any nationality isn’t too filling.

    It was raining earnestly as we got onto the tour bus after a rather unmemorable lunch (with curry and caviar.) Our destination this time was the Tretyakov Art Gallery; either the rest of Moscow was there or they all went from the Park to the Gallery. Anyway, the queue to get in was quite long and rather uncomfortable in the cold drizzle. After a few minutes of waiting, however, we were made much more uncomfortable by being taken in as a tour group ahead of quite a lot of people. I don’t know if the special treatment was due to our touristness or our groupishness, but anyhow in we trooped to a crowded collection of icons and Renaissance and a bit of everything else dark and heavy in painting. Natasha was our guide in here, and had a bit of explaining to do about the “legends” of Christ, as most of the paintings were religious in content. It was rather sad to hear that word while seeing such proofs of the early Russian religion. However, religion is growing again in Russia (according to Anna, but that’s going ahead to Leningrad, as she was our guide there.) The nicest part of Tretyakov was the outside: bright red and yellow and charming gardens. The lines seemed quite as long when we got back outside as they had been earlier.

    Folk dancing was our evening entertainment. The costumes were gorgeous, the dancing cute or funny or fierce or moving, and the theater itself was nifty, though small, with gray burlap-y walls and curtains trimmed with (natch) red and gold and gold plush seats. It still had rather a barn atmosphere, though, but that was easily forgotten in watching the dances. Most of the dancing focused on the universal boy meets girl themes; the dances were graceful and the dancers seemed to be quite enjoying themselves. However, the last dance seemed quite pointed: a choreographed peace march with girls in skirts of flags of different nations danced unity, a nuclear war, and then a uniting with the workers of the world. Rather unsubtle, although not much more so than your average Reader’s Digest.
    Another interesting point: upon exiting the 500 seat theater we saw about ten tour buses (or however many tour buses are required for 500 people.) Nothing like pre-packaged cultural events.


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    Amy-
    This is really interesting to me. BDNKh (the "Park of Achievements") is still a popular destination for Moscovites, not as glamorous as it once was, though. Quick walk from the Kosmos!

    I love the Tretyakov Gallery as well- once again, I think you would enjoy a return trip! Someday...

    :)
    %%-

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    Amy I can't believe this was 1984! Its almost the same as our trip to Moscow in 2000! We were with Intourist and stayed in the Hotel Cosmos! Had an age to wait before being asssigned a room and we wondered if we would ever see our passports again when they took them. The hotel was shabby and the lifts were a bit scary. It didnt stop on the level - you had to step down or up to get out! The breakfast was the worst we have experienced...We had to get our own dinner. Hated the food so ate a few times at Macdonalds!
    So nothing much changed in 16 yrs. Anyone been there lately?

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    VDNKh, formerly known as the Exhibition of Economic Achievements, is now mostly shops eg fur shops/electrical goods etc. Everytime I've been there lately there have not been many people. One of the pavilions is a small museum. The architecture is still beautiful.

    I first stayed at the Cosmos in Jan 1986 on my first trip to Russia (the only time I have been there with a tour group), yes it was a bit rough around the edges but had a great time, went to the Bolshoi, circus, various restaurants eg Uzbek which is still there. I have been going to Russia every year-18months and yes, it changes everytime I go.

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    (My pardon for the typos, folks; I tried to catch 'em, but...) I do so want to go back! I'd be in shock, though, I'm sure; no more riding the Metro at midnight (like we could do in '89.)

    The next morning, the tour may have been pre-packaged, but no modern company could have pre-packaged its contents: the Kremlin, the city within the fortress. The old and new buildings glowed luminously in the misty rain, and the landscaped parks and gardens throughout added to the peacefulness and dignity of the setting. No one building was outstanding, but the complex together was aesthetically and architecturally satisfying. The newest building, quite modern in design, was The Palace of Congress, where window washers were busy cleaning the multitude of windows. I wondered why they didn’t do the Hotel Cosmos, too, but perhaps by the time they finished the Congressional windows it was time to start again.

    In the afternoon we toured a “tremendous achievement” of the current breed of Kremlinites: the Moscow subway, and almost absurd juxtaposition of art and technology. The palatial stations are tiled, stained glassed, painted, lit…all in different themes, all clean, all much further below ground than Philadelphia’s ditto. The escalator ride down to them is slightly terrifying at first, because it is long, steep, and fast, but it’s rather exhilarating.

    Also exhilarating was the reappearance of our Ioway tour member who had gotten “lost” in Red Square the 2nd night. He was just uplifted; he’d visited the girl’s family and talked and eaten and made plans for future visits. (I hoped everything turned out happily ever after.) He said that the apartments were real dumps, or words to that effect: crowded, broken down, poorly constructed. However he’d had a wonderful time and kept marveling over the girl’s steadfast pride in her country.

    (Probably due to this example, a serious young Washington/Virginia semi-executive type spent quite a lot of time wandering the streets in Leningrad in search of “real Russians”. However, this is not necessary. You can’t keep from meeting real Russians and you miss a lot of education in understanding by not going on tours…but getting into Leningrad now is a bit premature; we have an eight hour train ride before we get there.)

    Our last night in Moscow was spent walking around our hotel area; we circled the Sputnik monument with its titanium arc, walked through parks and pathways back to the bright and still busy stores on the large streets and were stopped a different times for directions, generally asked in highly accented English or sign language. (“Sorry {shrug} we’re lost ourselves”.) Basically a nice chilly damp way to spend our last night—of that year—in Moscow.

    Our last morning, ditto, was a bit different: we spent it in what would generally be termed a mall…Bourse architecture, Pennsauken Mart merchandise. This was GUM, the biggest department store in Russia. There’s actually quite a few separate shops, selling fabric, clunky shoes, food, more clunky shoes, jogging suits—or something that passed for jogging suits—and clunkier shoes yet. The only significant line appeared to be in front of the jogging suits. Lines or not, I was glad not to be shopping, as the building itself was much more interesting. It was divided into three arch-roofed sections, each a different color blend: blues, greens, and rust and peach. Ornate and bright, though shabby, a fountain in the middle section, it seemed more geared toward observation than consumerism. Fortunately for us, we were geared that way, too.

    Exiting GUM, we had the (somewhat melancholy) task of saying goodbye to Moscow…goodbye to Red Square…goodbye to St. Basil’s. Goodbye, but not forever.

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    Down to the looooonnnng platform, grab your luggage (oof!) your hotel lunch bag (urk!) and your sense of adventure (yay!) Eight hour train trip from Moscow to Leningrad:

    Board the old/new train or the new/old one
    Past little hamlets, basking in the sun
    Past big cities, far off in the fog,
    Stop at a station, feed your lunch to the dog.
    Graceful sentries: white birch trees
    Porter with a bunch of keys
    Long expanse of grey-blue sea
    Pack of candy tossed to me
    Towering forests seen afar…
    Old ladies sloshed in dining car.
    Walk through cars for recreation
    Platform (non?) communication.
    Watch the blend of earth and sky
    Some cars’ doors locked—I wonder why?
    Neat, beat farms with workers striving;
    Conductor’s drunk: Hey, sir, who’s driving?
    Night has fallen, deep deep blue
    The wooden lav smells like a zoo.
    Through Mother Russia on a train
    To Leningrad and late night rain.

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    I finally got to type the (much shorter) Leningrad portion of the trip, so here it is for those who'd like to read; remember, it's me at 19, so my impressions now would be a bit different! (although I still have a sensuous nose.)

    The trip to Leningrad could definitely fill several pages: the white birches, the ladies getting sloshed in the dining car, the communications (or lack thereof) in the between-cars spaces used for smoking as I went walking through the train, the little farmhouses, the candyman tossing me a free bag, an actress who chanced into our car…all have great stories (or boring ones.) Suffice to say, I like train travel if you can walk between cars.

    It was quite cold and rainy as we rode down Nevsky Prospekt (more about which later) in Leningrad, but—perhaps psychologically—the city seemed “nicer” than Moscow. Perhaps our reception by English speaking con artists looking to trade rubles for dollars made me feel at home. We landed in the Hotel Pribaltyskaya, probably misspelled but CLEAN!! thank goodness. Very nice; Swedish made. We have a suite with a great view of the sea or river (Note/10/18/84: The Gulf of Finland!) and comfortable beds…hee hee. Goodnight. Maybe I’ll catch up on sleep by next trip, but I want to learn Russian so I don’t know if I’ll have time. It’s highly frustrating not to be able to express yourself or to know what others are saying.

    October 10: Bus tour of the city in the rain: palaces and Nevsky Prospekt. Ethnic museum in the afternoon; I felt a sense of belonging in the Lithuanian section, although we learned that “girls had to start at the age of five to knit mittens, socks, {or weave or embroider or whatever} in order to have at least 200 gifts ready for her husband’s family when she marries. Also, the Lithuanian people greet visitors with cheese and beer, while the usual Russian way is with bread and salt.

    In the evening we caught a cab down to Nevsky Prospekt, (after a dinner at which I broke down and bought a 70 kopeck Pepsi because I couldn’t stand the dentisty-tasting mineral water and Leningrad tap isn’t safe.) We walked up and back approximately ¾ of the whole thing making a semi-circle from the mall. We had ice cream (twice); I thought I lost my traveler’s checks, and I did lose myself…well, my aunt and sister got lost too. We got on the #7 trolley instead of bus and ended up at some sailor station. We had a darling busdriver with great eyebrowns and dimples who showed us (took us to) a bridge to get another bus; we got another cab. (We were going to get a bus into town, but waited about a half hour and none showed.)

    The next day was physically and emotionally exhausting, but glorious. Hermitage in the AM; I was interested but not thrilled until the French Impressionists (3rd floor, servants’ quarters) and Claude Monet. Those pictures you can live in. (There was also a gentleman in an early Picasso that I would like to have met.)

    In the afternoon we went to the memorial cemetery (Piskarevskoye) which has the 196 common graves of 500,000 Leningrad citizens who died in the 900 day siege. There were flowers on each grave marker; I walked from the eternal flame to the statue of Mother Russia, past many large grass covered mounds, with music throughout the park and the autumn trees offset by the birch bark. Sublime; I was very near crying nearly the whole time.

    Right after returning we took a cab into town; I wanted to find the flower shop (I didn’t) and we had more shopping to do. I asked a babushka looking lady next to the ice cream cart lady where the shop was; she called over two soldiers who couldn’t help either (note: Soldiers serve for two years; they are all young men who couldn’t make it into the universities) and then, loudly explaining, took us all down the street, stopping twice at trolley stops and once crossing underground, gesturing all the way. We still couldn’t find it. The cap had taken us to a berioska shop, where I got two spoons and two pins; in another section of it I got a book of poems by Sergei Esinin in both Russian and English; I’d love to be able to read the Russian side as the translations seem rather tacky.

    We went back to tea from the big samovar in the 10th floor pastry place at the hotel and some pretty good pastries. Meals haven’t been particularly memorable, with the inevitable coleslaw and the plate of brown and white bread that followed us everywhere, so the pastries were dinner, in fact.

    Rainy morning; we had a walking tour of Peter and Paul fortress. It was interesting, but not highly moving, Anya (our guide) didn’t evoke too much of the Decembrists who were imprisoned there; she was more into the beach of the fortress which, I believe, allows nude or semi-nude bathing.

    The afternoon was “Saintizek’s” Cathedral…St. Isaac’s, if you will. It was sublime, with an incredible attention to detail and mosaics that paralleled paintings in term of shading and colors. (Speaking of mosaics: green malachite is never solid; it is always applied in mosaic form as it is fragile. We learned that at the Hermitage.) The stained glass picture of Jesus was truly beautiful.

    After the cathedral, we had some time in Nevsky Prospekt; I waited in line at a flower shop and got little purple mums, cyclamen flowers, and two salmon pink carnations. The flowers were in pretty poor condition. There were some flowering plants in the pale aqua painted store, but most of the plants were planted in the window; it smelled a bit jungly. Flowers are important in Russia; they are taken for almost any occasion.

    Friday night was the opera: the Barber of Seville. It was good, it was funny, but I would have liked to know what was happening. It was sung in Russian, but it may as well have been Italian—all fat tenors sound alike in my book. (This evening was made more memorable by the attentions of one of my fellow tour members who wanted me to sit with him…perhaps so he could avoid sitting with the charming, always late, elderly Edith. He had already told me that I had a “sensuous nose.” It was flattering, but also rather hilarious.)

    The next day was the flight home: the vegetables on the Finnair plates were like manna. Customs was laughable in both countries (We were like, “What? Is that IT?”) We rode home in a school-bus like limo and collapsed into bed about 26 hours after we had gotten up. “A good time was had by all”.


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    amy..read your report with interest..there in the late 60's, 70's, again in '85 and again in '08...major difference in food avalable, past and more recent...we also went off to Uzbek SSR,, as well as the Golden Triangle (Vladimir, Suzdal and Yaroslavl)... ....the Cosmos, and the Pribaltskaya were also our lodgings...compared to Uzbek hotels, they were 5-star. I jogged in the massive hallways of the Cosmos when it was too cold to go out..the floor lady was flabbergasted, muttered a derogatory "duroc' under her breath, not knowing I understood a fair amount of Russian...so I finally gave her a word of endearment which mad eher blush under her babushka! Fine report.
    stu

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    Hi Amy.

    Fascinating reading your account of Moscow 27 years. How prescient of you to record and now publish. Thanks so much.

    My sister visited Moscow in the 1970s and I keep trying to jog her memory ! But unfortunately unlike you she didn’t keep a contemporaneous account.

    We were in Moscow for a week this May and in St Petersburg in June 2010. We thoroughly enjoyed both cities and found Moscow astonishing.

    In 1984 was Intourist concerned when your fellow tourist went temporarily AWOL ? How strict was the supervision, e.g. could you go off on your own, for walks or otherwise ?

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    Interesting report. It brought back a lot of memories.

    I visited the Soviet Union in October 1987 and also stayed at the Cosmos (KOCMOC) in Moscow and the Pribaltskaya in Leningrad (as it was known at the time). I had forgotten about those "key ladies" on every floor of the hotels, till Amy jogged my memory.
    We also visited the republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijian. It was a fascinating trip.

    In Moscow we saw many brides and grooms at some of the famous sites, as it is customary for them to visit on their wedding day. They all happily posed for pictures.

    There were always long lines for Lenin's tomb in Red Square. We were told that foreigners could go to the head of the line, but we declined. It didn't seem right that locals should be made to wait while we didn't have to. So I never got to see Lenin's tomb.

    The food in Moscow and Leningrad was awful, with only heavy starchy vegetables. I don't think we saw a green vegetable the whole time we were there. We used to see trucks on the street with vegetables and long lines of people waiting to purchase them. Up close, the vegetables looked old and not very fresh or appetizing. The food in the southern republics was much better, both in taste and quality.

    We were there for the 70th anniversary of the revolution, towards the end of our trip, and in every city there were nightly rehearsals for the large military parades to be held that day - I think it was Nov. 7th?. That was our entertainment on most evenings, as all of our hotels were situated on the main square of the town, usually named "Lenin Square". There were also huge posters of Lenin's face set up all around the squares.

    We went to a circus in Georgia and the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad - saw "Giselle". And we shopped at the beriozki stores, which were reserved for foreigners. I purchased a few lacquered boxes and some nesting dolls, which I still have.

    At one of the beriozki stores in Baku, Azerbaijian, a few locals tried to enter the store with our group and make some purchases. They were spotted by the shopkeeper, who called the police and they were arrested. It was very upsetting to all of us, and we all left the store without making any purchases.

    We were in Baku on the day of the celebration and we were forbidden to watch the parades from our balconies. In fact they came around and hid the room keys while we were out. I found mine and disobeyed the orders and went outside on the balcony to watch. Eventually, someone in a uniform in the square below angrily waved me inside. So I went down to the square to watch with some of my travel mates.

    In Yerevan, Armenia, there was a wonderful, large indoor produce market, where vegetables, fruits, nuts, candies, etc., were sold. The vendors were friendly and generous with little gifts of their merchandise, and loved posing for pictures. In return, we gave them ball point pens, or lipsticks for the women, which they appreciated very much.

    We had been told before we left that monetary tips were not permitted and that we should bring things like pens, pantyhose and makeup to leave for chambermaids, etc., which I did, as did others. I had so much unused makeup from those "free gifts with purchase" and I packed it all in a big plastic bag and used to put little bundles together for the maids, along with packages of pantyhose. They were thrilled.

    I had always dreamed of seeing Russia in the winter, but October was as late as we could go. I had hoped to see Red Square in the snow, which did not happen, but we did have several inches in Leningrad. We visited the Summer Palace outside of Leningrad in the snow, which was quite beautiful.

    I thought Leningrad was a beautiful city and deserving of its nickname, "Paris on the Neva".

    Permia, to answer your question, even tho' it was not addressed to me, we were not strictly supervised at all within each city. If someone wanted to travel alone to another city - as one of our group did - a lot of red tape was involved. He had to get a special permit, which he did with the help of our Intouris guide, and was given strict time limits. But within each city we went off on our own all the time.

    The very first night of our arrival in Moscow, around 11 p.m., I couldn't go to sleep without seeing Red Square. I recruited two other brave souls and we ventured out on to the subway, and with the help of some lovely Russian people we met on the trains, we found our way to Red Square. It was late and the square was practically empty, but still illuminated, and we watched the changing of the guard at Lenin's tomb. I'm glad we got to see it that way, because, the following night when we went, the rehearsals for the parade had started and it was filled with tanks and military vehicles.

    These are just some random recollections. It was fun recalling that trip. I'd love to go back and see the changes.

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    Amy, for some reason I originaly missed reading your trip report and so did so now while having my morning coffee. Thank you for the report, it is fabulous, and thanks for posting about it in the Lounge. You sure had an exciting trip when you were 19 years old!

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    Thanks!

    Permia, sorry I missed your question about the fellow tourist wandering off before. They didn't seem overly concerned about him; he was treated more as a moron than as a spy. (Major eye-roll material when you "meet and fall in love".) We were on our own without a problem; one of my favorite memories is that beautiful Leningrad bus driver who drove us to catch a taxi when we ended up at the navy school instead of our hotel. And they let me back in the country five years later without a problem! :)

    I really, really want to go back; so many places, so little time...

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    Amy,

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. My first trip to Moscow was a business trip in September 1989. I remember arriving at the massive Sheremetyevo airport with that misty grey covering the city. Stayed at the Intourist Hotel on Tverskaya Street (which was still Gorky St at the time). The hotel was a drafty, dingy rathole, and had the requisite surly key lady on each floor. I remember a slight bit of panic when they took my US passport upon check-in and told me I would get it back when I departed - I thought I'd never see it again! The hotel also had a particular odor that to this day reminds me of Moscow, and which you can occasionally still find somewhere in that city or airport -- must be some kind of acrid Soviet-era disinfectant.

    I remember going out for a late dinner the night I arrived, and there was a massive, hour-long fireworks show going on over the Kremlin. This was late September and I still don't know what they were celebrating -- it was a bit too early for the October Revolution events. I did manage to get some good photos of fireworks over an illuminated St. Basil's Cathedral which I still have somewhere.

    I wandered up Gorky St to Pushkin Square, marveling at the sight of the Tass "News" Agency, which spewed out such inventive US-bashing propaganda for 70 years, and ironically came upon Russia's first McDonald's, which had recently opened. As I was a little intimidated by navigating a Russian restaurant menu that first night, I got in the long, long queue for McDonald's -- it stretched out of the restaurant and wound around Pushkin Square, at least 200 people in line, mostly teenagers and young adults. Much to my surprise and embarrassment, the others in line virtually insisted I went to the front of the line, because I was a foreigner. In this land of often brutal contrasts, I never forgot that strange bit of Russian etiquette.

    Even in the twilight of the Soviet empire, some of the old tips came in handy. I didn't bring any spare jeans to barter, but I did bring a bunch of rock music cassette tapes, as well as a few cartons of Marlboro cigarettes. These were efficiently swapped for some cool Soviet military watches, medals, etc. -- some of which you still see in markets or Russian memorabilia shops in western Europe, but some which I've never seen again. I still had a carton of Marlboros in my checked luggage when I flew to St. Petersburg. As was typical, my bag was opened and pilfered. The thoughtful airport employee/thief took the carton, but left two packs in my bag, maybe thinking I was a smoker and he didn't want my anger exacerbated by a nicotine fit!

    I have made many visits since then, practically living there in 1992-93, then visiting at least a few times per year on business ever since. You wouldn't believe the place now; the changes wrought by the end of the USSR and the 1990s Wild-West privatization orgy (as wealth-non-distributing as it was) are hard to reconcile with the place I first saw in 1989, even with perestroika already well underway. The hulking Hotel Rossiya next to St. Basil's - gone. The dreary interior of GUM, where I bought the fur hat I still use for Moscow winter trips - and where of course they had dozens of hats but only one slightly too-small size -- now is a luxury goods paradise for the comely young wives and girlfriends of the oligarchs. Wall to wall Prada, Gucci and the like. The Soviet-standard Intourist Hotel, with that horrible post-war modernist architecture that still survives, shabbily and age-stained, in many parts of London? Now a swanky Ritz Carlton that will set you back well over a grand a night.

    But you can still wander into Red Square at night, when GUM and the Kremlin walls and the historical museum (with its appropriately symbolic blood-red brick hue) and, most magnificently, the architectural riot of St. Basil's are all bathed in light -- it is hard to imagine a more stunning vista created by man. For all of the hassles and headaches, it is one fascinating place to visit.

    Thanks for your recollections!

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