Into the depths of the Eastern Bloc.
Monday 25 August 1986 - Tuesday 2 September 1986
Please note that a lot of the names have changed since 1986. I have put the new names in where appropriate.
Monday 25 August - An early start for the drive to the USSR. The border formalities were stringent including a very thorough search of the bus by drugs dogs. We picked up an Intourist (official government tourist agency) guide, Ina, in the city of Viborg. We then drove to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) mid afternoon. Big party in restaurant in both the rouble bar and the hard currency bar. Russian champagne!! I found that I could not get back into my cabin as Peter had lost the key so I found another cabin to crash in.
Ina, our Intourist guide and minder.
Tuesday 26 August - Awoke in a strange bed. Went back to my cabin to find that Peter had been let in by a security guard. He eventually found the key in his trousers pocket! A city tour by our guide. Free afternoon wandering Nevsky Prospekt towards the Admiralty and the Winter Palace. The dinner on a floating restaurant was average but music good. Iced water only for me.
St Isaac's Cathedral.
Revolution Square (now Palace Square).
Revolution Square (now Palace Square).
The Winter Palace.
Wednesday 27 August - A culture day and there is a fair bit of it in Leningrad. We started with a guided tour of The Hermitage Museums. These are huge and contain vast treasures of both the Czars and what the Soviets looted / confiscated / took as reparations from Germany after WWII. After lunch (a mystery meat sandwich, cake and very strong black coffee for 70 kopecks), we went out to Czar Peter I's summer palace at Pavlovsk. It was very badly damaged during the war and has been beautifully restored. Another very average dinner with Armenian Folk Dancing afterwards.
A typical Soviet war memorial.
Another view of the same memorial.
A Russian orthodox cathedral.
The Admiralty Building.
The Summer Palace of Czar Paul I.
You need to wear special slippers in the palace. Peter and Barbara getting themselves kitted out.
Inside the Summer Palace.
Thursday 28 August - A very messy champagne run from Leningrad to Kalinin (now Tver). Lunch was a shambles due to a pissed cook. We met some local girls in the camp site and we talked to them about life in our respective countries. Interesting to get a local view.
Dennis buying spuds Russian style.
The champagne run to Kalinin.
The effects of the champagne!
Friday 29 August - We arrived in Red Square in Moscow before lunch and we had a free afternoon wandering around area, GUM department store etc. Peter and I were thrown out of the military hat department, no idea why. Lots of typical Soviet queuing for goods, especially fur hats. I bought some of the Matryoshka (nesting) dolls for my friends and a couple of fur hats. Another average dinner in camp restaurant. Unfortunately we were back into our tents for first time since Geiranger.
A T34 tank commemorating the war.
The GUM department store.
Inside the GUM department store.
St Basil's Cathedral.
Friday 30 August - A culture day, visiting various museums, Olympic Stadium and the Kremlin. Watched changing of guard outside Lenin's Mausoleum. A horrible meal in Rossiya Hotel. The circus in Gorky Park for afters. Lots of acrobats, animals and propaganda.
Changing the guard outside Lenin's Mausoleum.
Red Square and Lenin's Mausoleum.
The tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
The tigers at the circus.
Saturday 31 August - Continued the culture. We had a walking tour of the Kremlin (cathedrals, cannon, and bells). We had arranged a visit to see Lenin in his tomb and we had to bribe a guard to be able to get onto the back of the queue. We queued for 55 minutes for a 30 second visit. About 20 minutes in, a policeman came and stopped us and allowed a group of people to join the queue part way. They probably paid more than us. There was a line painted on the square and as soon as someone crossed over it, a policeman would come over and get stroppy and push us back. It was very quite eerie seeing Lenin preserved like that. Thirty seconds later, we came out of the back of his mausoleum past the Kremlin wall where they bury all the famous people, politicians, cosmonauts and so on. After lunch, we did a tour of some of the underground stations and Economic Achievements Park. We were back in cabins for the night as strong winds blew down all our tents during the day.
The Kremlin Tower.
The Kremlin from the other side of the Moscow River.
The Czar's Bell.
Part of the Kremlin.
The Czar's Cannon.
The queue to see Lenin's body.
Sunday 1 September - A long boring drive to Smolensk. A city tour including cathedral in afternoon.
The Smolensk Cathedral.
Monday 2 September - We visited a Soviet school in Smolensk. It was very interesting as the headmaster was very open in his answers to our questions. Drove to Minsk. Fancy dress party as last night in USSR.
Being introduced to a Soviet school.
The party in Minsk.
No passport stamp as the USSR did not stamp passports, just the loose sheet of paper with your photo and details on it. However, Dennis managed to convince the Polish Embassy in Moscow to issue our visas individually so that we had a stamp with Moscow written on it in our passports.
Shopping was an interesting experience, and not just due to the language issues. Firstly you had to queue in order to select your item. Then you took a slip of paper to a checkout operator and queue to pay for it. Then you went back to the first queue and pick up your item. Very time consuming.
The food was very poor. Lots of mystery meat, greasy rice and soggy vegetables. Not good at all. However, the beer was good and the champagne was very strong and hangover inducing.
We felt safe, but given that it was the Soviet Union you always had that feeling that someone was watching you. Probably just being us paranoid.