Journal of the Russian Trip
Author(s): Prof Christian Kay
Copyright holder(s): Prof Christian Kay
Left Skeppsbron, Stockholm, at 18.30. Quite a shock to discover that our tickets did not include cabins for the night. However, we had quite comfortable aeroplane-type reclining seats, and I was tired enough to sleep, which was just as well as they put out all the lights at 11 o’clock. The only distraction was the drunks who spent the night wandering round the boat.
Woke about six, and had a lovely view of the dawn as we steamed in through the Finnish archipelago to the port of Abo. Changed some money there, which was the beginning of financial chaos (at one time I was operating simultaneously in dollars, pounds, finnmarks, crowns and roubles, not to mention a stray Scottish pound note, and bought a newspaper, the last for many days, as the Russians will not import the bourgeois press, even for tourists. The only subsequent contact with the outside world was through the Moscow News, and the occasional rare treat of an English Morning Star, formerly Daily Worker, which at least reported the football scores without bias. From Abo, we took the train to Helsinki. The Finnish countryside was lovely, and rather like Sweden. Lots of new snow, lakes, fir trees and wooden houses painted red and yellow. There was some marvellous modern architecture on the outskirts of Helsinki, much better than anything seen in Sweden. In Helsinki, we changed to the Russian train, which was older but quite comfortable, although we were travelling “hard” class. (It is undemocratic to have first and second class, so they have hard and soft instead.) We had our first taste of Russian tea, served in the traditional manner. After 4 hours, we got to Vanikkala, the Finnish border station, and then into Russia. There was a little barbed wire at the border, and a guard with a submachine gun, but otherwise nothing terrifying, and the customs officials were pleasant – two of the things we weren’t allowed to bring in were oranges and Bibles. The only thing they were really interested in was how much money we were taking in, so that they could check we were taking less out again, and had not been exploiting the black market. About three hours later, we had our first Russian meal at the town of Vyborg. Finally got to Leningrad about midnight, and were met by the Intourist guides. The hotel was pre-Revolution British Railways splendid. I had a single room which was bigger than my flat here, and consisted of 2 vestibules, bathroom, room and bed alcove. All very luxurious, except that things had a tendency not to work – a bathroom, but only cold water of a dubious yellow colour; seven chairs, but the legs tended to fall off when you sat on them. However, one was rather too tired to notice such things at this point, and glad to fall into any kind of bed.
Breakfast at 9, consisting of yoghourt, very good bread, cold soft-boiled eggs, and coffee, of which it was a fight to get more than one cup. Throughout, the attitude of restaurant personnel seemed to be “let the capitalists starve”. Their unhelpfulness far surpassed anything encountered even in Britain, and none of them spoke anything except Russian, even though both the hotels we stayed at were specially for tourists. It took at least an hour to get through any meal, and there was always something missing: if there was bread there was no butter, if knives, no forks etc., and when you tried to indicate this, they would blast off in Russian, and, if they felt like it, bring it twenty minutes later. The worst thing was one breakfast, when we seemed to be getting nothing but bread and water, and, after 50 minutes, when we were leaving in despair, they appeared with dishes of stone-cold congealed fried eggs. This unhelpfulness characterised everyone, except the guides, who was officially there to be of service – shop assistants who just said niet when they didn’t feel like selling you anything, theatre attendants who would let you wander round for 20 minutes and refuse to show you where your seat was. All this was a strange contrast to the niceness of ordinary people, who would often stop and talk when they heard us speaking English. Made me wonder if the others had been warned not to fraternise with the enemy; or perhaps it was just their attitude to work – even in Britain, I’ve never seen so little being achieved by so many. None of the revolutionary fervour one expected!
All this hanging around at least gave one the chance to meet the other members of the group. We were collectively known as the Danes, since the leaders were Danish, but in fact were highly international. I’ve just been counting up, and there were 15 Swedes, 13 Americans, 10 British, (3 Scottish), 5 Finns, 2 each of French, Danish, Swiss, Argentinian, and one each of German, Mexican, Ghanain and Yugoslavian, the last very useful as she had learnt Russian at school. The ages varied from several American teenagers over in Sweden on exchanges, to two middle-aged American Fulbright professorial couples. There was a division between the younger set, the bona fide students, which included most of the Swedes and Americans with an average age about 22, and the older, more miscellaneous collection of students and/or teachers averaging about 30, but on the whole we mixed very well. Needless to say, the Americans included another Mount Holyoke alumna!
The first morning, we went on a bus tour of the city, with pauses every few minutes to take pictures. There was very little one could not photograph, at least of what we saw, except railway stations and the airport. Nor did they restrict our movements at all; if one did not want to go on a tour, one could wander at will. I suppose they knew that with limited time and no means of communication, one couldn’t get very far anyway. (At times their attitude to life seemed almost Irish: for instance, there was a great distinction between “you may not take your cameras” and “you may take your cameras but you may not take any pictures.) The main, and persisting, impression was of size. Everything was enormous. Ordinary streets the size of a motorway, palaces with frontages stretching several hundred metres, huge buildings with mighty arches and columns, which turned out to be nothing more than blocks of flats. The architecture, both ancient and modern, completely dwarfed the people, who are rather small, though making up for it in girth. We saw the square (about four times the size of a rugby pitch) where the revolution started, the ship which fired the starting signal, etc. The twin gods of the city are Lenin, who is everywhere, on posters, statues, place-names, and Peter the Great, who founded the city, and apparently is far enough removed from the bad Tsars to be acceptable. In the afternoon, we went to the winter palace, which now houses a famous art collection. A beautiful baroque building with lovely staircases and chandeliers, and so many pictures from all periods that one barely had time to glance at them. They included all the well-known European artists and some lovely early Russian religious painting. The building had been beautifully restored – indeed, there was a lot of restoration going on everywhere, and one really wondered how they could justify the expense in view of their other building needs. Partly it seemed to be the feeling that all these beautiful things belonged to and had been made by them, the people, and partly patriotism because so much was destroyed by the Germans in the last war. It must have been quite a problem for them to know what to do with all the palaces after the revolution – and when one sees the wealth of the palaces, one wonders why they waited so long for the revolution – but they have found uses for most of them as museums, youth centres, even converted into flats. Churches presented a similar problem, although nowadays they are much less repressive towards religion, and we were told that there were 18 practising churches in Leningrad. They are now restoring a lot of churches which had been allowed to fall into disrepair, or lived in during the worst housing shortages. There was one magnificent baroque cathedral, St. Isaac’s, which is now a museum of itself, and another which is a museum of the history of religion and atheism. Some rather crude exhibits contrasting religious atrocities with modern marvels like spaceships. Everywhere the emphasis seemed to be on size and quantity rather than quality. Miles of hideous tables inlaid with semi-precious stones, enormous lapis lazuli vases, whole dinner services of ghastly gold plate. If I’d been a revolutionary, I think I would have kept one of each as an example and melted down the rest to build a hospital or something.
Then we went back to the hotel for dinner. As I said, the meals were slow and enormous, though not very good. Lunch was usually salad, soup and bread (the best course), meat of vague provenance and mashed potatoes, stewed fruit or icecream. The icecream was very good and Russians eat it in the street even in mid-winter; one of the Americans asked if they had got the idea from the States, as he thought that icecream was invented there, but this idea was vetoed. Dinner was similar, except that there was no soup, and to drink there was either apple juice or tea. Coffee was a rare luxury. There were cafes, but they were rather crowded and dirty, and the coffee always came with milk and sugar. As in Sweden, the potato seemed to be the only known vegetable, and the apple the only fruit. On the last day (rather naively, the food improved considerably on the last day, and the train out was far more comfortable than the train in, I suppose so that we would carry-away a good impression), we got an orange, which is a rare treat, mainly because most of the orange-growing countries are politically out of bounds. They get them mostly from Egypt. They still have a lot of food shortages, though apparently it’s better now than five years ago (two of the group had been five years ago), and several times I saw big queues for eggs and milk. We did manage to taste the luxuries too – caviare (I bought what I thought was a jam bun and the jam turned out to be caviare. Ugh.), champagne, cheap but very sweet, and vodka, including an extra strong kind rather like brandy. That evening we went to the ballet, which was really marvellous, superb dancing, music and stageing, called “The Fountain of Tears”. Like all the theatres, this one was old and highly traditional with lots of gold and red plush. It was called the little theatre, which meant that it was only about the size of the King’s. The whole expedition was quite an adventure as we had to go by bus, it being practically impossible to get a taxi, although they were very cheap when available. The buses are always crammed with people hanging on to the outside by their eyebrows, and you buy your own ticket as there are no conductors. If you are caught without a ticket, your picture is exhibited in the bus for all to see – or so they say. I never saw this, though quite a common sight in the streets was boards containing pictures of those who had done their jobs very well. At one point, I found myself sitting in the seat next the money box, and people were handing me their five kopeks while I dished out the tickets (100 kopeks = 1 rouble = 1 dollar, approx. = 5 crowns = 4 finnmarks = 8/- ....) Luckily there was an English-speaking Russian on the bus who told us when to get off. It was pouring with rain – we had very varied weather, including some snow, but it was never very cold.
Managed to change some money, a long slow process, and buy a few postcards. The only slides available were some celebrating the 50th anniversary, 20 pictures of Lenin and associates in various poses. Discovered that photographic supplies were not available either, only Russian films which must be developed in Russia. Not many of the Russian tourists (and there were many groups of wondering peasants up from the country), except soldiers, seemed to have cameras. The morning tour was to a grim island prison where early revolutionaries were imprisoned by the Tsars, and where most of them died. There was a code alphabet which they had devised for communicating by tapping on the walls. This is the earliest part of the city, and there was Peter and Paul Cathedral, with rows of identical marble sepulchres where the Tsars, including Peter, are buried, and the little wooden hut where Peter lived when he came to view the original swampy site. Like Stockholm, the city is built on islands, and some of the views were rather similar, as were the pinks and yellows of the buildings, though these were less fanciful, and, of course, ten times the size. The afternoon was spent in the cathedral built, at the expense of the death of 400 serfs, for the Tsars’ christenings. The Intourist guides were very good and full of information, though a bit suspicious of too many questions. The leading one was rather jolly but a bit of a tyrant: you got told off in no uncertain terms if you were late for a meal, and if she told you something, she expected you to remember it next day, but the one on our bus was a gentler character, and one of the few pretty Russian women we saw. They seem to consider it beneath their dignity to try to look attractive, and foundation garments seem to be unknown. Their hair is long or chopped off any old way, make-up, especially eye make-up, bourgeois and frowned upon, though again attitudes are less rigid now. There are a few hairdressers and beauty shops, and some women at least wear lipstick, though it only seems to come in two very hard red shades. After the church, we went to a department store, a huge, rather barren, grubby place. The goods were rather dull and materials poor. Bulky coats in dismal colours, old-fashioned floral dresses, clumpy shoes, except for a few rather daring pairs of pointed toe stiletto styles. One woman stopped me in the store and asked me where I had bought my hat, or so I gathered from the pantomime. Apparently, if one store gets something good, the word spreads, and there are enormous queues. Even here, there were queues everywhere, increased by the system of selling: you queued to get what you wanted, got a slip, queued at the cash desk to pay, went back and queued to collect your purchase. They seemed to sell a lot of scarves and the toy department was about the biggest in the shop. The children were also the best dressed individuals around; they seem to be very fond of children. We saw a lot of them on tour in the various museums and their behaviour was impressive compared with the behaviour of children here! As predicted, there were little boys hanging around the tourists trying to get chewing gum and ballpoint pens. Even the adults were pleased with such little gifts, though I was rather embarrassed about offering them at first. Tipping is officially forbidden, so that was a good way out. There were also people hanging round the hotels trying to buy clothes and foreign currency, which they could then use in the special foreign currency shops, where prices are much lower than in the ordinary shops, but it is a bit dangerous to dabble in this, though, I gather, some of the bold lads did. That evening we went to a Beethoven concert in another magnificent hall, with a marvellous orchestra. Most of my money went on theatre tickets, and we always had to take the best as they were reserved for tourists and were all that was available at the last minute. One curious feature of such entertainments was the interval, when people linked arms with their friends and solemnly paraded round a narrow strip of carpet in the foyer. Perhaps a throwback to aristocratic days when one did it to show off one’s clothes, but rather inappropriate now. After that, we tried to get a drink in the hotel bar, but it was full of drunken Swedish teenagers on school outings, which was far too like home, so we bought a bottle of vodka and drank it in someone’s suite (the people who were sharing had at least two huge rooms. As one Swedish boy said, he had to wait for Russia to have his first taste of western luxury). The hotels lacked any kind of gathering place except for these small, foreign currency bars, and it was quite common in the evening to see people wandering the corridors glass in hand, and hell to pay if you didn’t have the right number of glasses in your room next morning when the maid came to empty the contents of the wastepaper basket down the loo, which was all the cleaning that seemed to happen.
Morning tour to the summer palace, through rather dismal flat countryside, dismalness probably accentuated by the fact that the grass hadn’t got green again. The suburbs very like any other suburbs, with huge blocks of flats. A few modern blocks of flats, shops and cinemas. Hordes of old women everywhere.
The palace itself was even larger and more fantastically baroque that anything previously seen. Goodness knows how many hundreds of rooms, of which about two dozen had so far been exquisitely restored. Every square inch covered with carving, paintings, including a hall with paintings from floor to ceiling, inlaid panels, inlaid floors of rare wood. Three different periods, baroque and classical, represented. Lovely pinks, blues and greens in the queen’s rooms. Marvellous entrance hall of white and gold with chandeliers and red carpets. Chinese objets d’art. A curious church entirely painted royal blue. The facade covered with statues and carvings and gold domes and spires. Formal gardens, with lakes and follies (and women gardeners; we also saw women sweeping the streets and railway lines, working as builders and painters), a covered walk in classical pillared style for wet days, as if they couldn’t have walked miles indoors; a surprisingly small brick kitchen about a mile from the palace. No explanation of how they got the food there. Indeed, the guides didn’t seem very interested in how the people had lived or what the rooms were for – only in their intrinsic magnificence. They were also rather prone to statements like ‘In the Soviet Union it is the policy of the people’s government to hang pictures in chronological order and according to the painter’, as if this was something new and marvellous. The palace had been used as a barracks by the Germans, and almost blown sky high as they planted time bombs before they left, but these were luckily discovered by the Russian troops. Restoration was almost from scratch, but they seemed to have very complete plans (one of the architects was Scottish, Cameron), and some marvellous artists and historians at work. A lot of the art treasures which they hadn’t been able to remove had vanished, some recovered from Germany, including a complete floor which one Nazi officer had removed, others supposedly buried in a German town now in Poland or vice versa. The surrounding villages contained the summer palaces of other aristocrats, but most of these are now used as convalescent or children’s homes. Village associated with Pushkin. One of the most interesting things was the reaction of the Swedes. They had never seen anything so elaborate or so useless, and were quite appalled. That afternoon was free, so I just wandered around and tried to get orientated. In the evening, we went to an opera called “The Mermaid”, all about an innocent village maiden (15 stone?) and a wicked prince. The maiden ended up as a mermaid. All sung with great gusto and lots of fancy scenic effects. We were in the front row this time, so had an interesting view of the orchestra as well. Two of the flutes were having a great quarrel in between blows. Silver and orange theatre this time, ordinary chairs, very draughty. Fireworks on the way home to commemorate something to do with one of the astronauts. Asked a little boy what they were for: reply, it’s Krushchev’s birthday. Hastily nudged and corrected by another little boy. It must be hard to keep abreast!
Farewell to Leningrad. Nearly missed the plane to Moscow as I slept in and was only wakened by the porter hammering at the door to collect the semi-packed luggage. Rather an antique bumpy aircraft and airport with none of the frills, but a pleasant enough flight. Had a rather halting conversation with a Bulgarian who was studying in Moscow. Moscow hotel rather grotty, peeling plaster, no hot water, telephones in the rooms sometimes work but rarely connect with the right number, one lavatory to each floor, newspaper instead of toilet paper. Just across the river from brand-new hotel with 6000 beds for the richer tourists, terrible food, but can’t really complain at the price. Small room, but comfortable enough bed. Drive in through rather dreary suburbs with huge apartment blocks, rather like American life insurance buildings, built in the style now known as Stalin-gothic. He apparently was out to impress at any price. Afternoon bus tour round the city; again everything massive. Theatres, including the Bolshoi. Less emphasis on Lenin and the revolution. In some ways liked it better than Leningrad; not so impressive, but more of a city and less of a massive museum; also architecture more eastern and less westernised. Lots of delightful little orthodox churches, pink, green and white with gold domes. Many being restored, including four at the corners of, and utterly dwarfed by, the new hotel. But some rather pathetic neglected ones, including one obviously lived in, with television aerials attached to the domes. Saw the British embassy, old classical building, but did not call. Red Square, near the hotel, marvellous, with the red brick walls of the Kremlin, and a fantastic church, built from ten little churches put up in various parts of the country to commemorate some victory by some king (difficult to take in everything the guide said) and then amalgamated, St. Basil’s. Very cold and sad inside, as restoration has hardly begun, but some fantastic icons and decorations. Again every inch painted or carved. Snow, rather cold. Great treat, our free theatre visit, the Bolshoi Opera Company, Rimsky-Korsikoff, The Fairy Tale of the Tsar Sultan. In the congress hall of the Kremlin, which is used as a theatre when the politicians don’t need it. Absolutely enormous hall and auditorium and stage; if they are going to continue with architecture on this scale, they will need to find some way of breeding bigger people. We, of course, were at the front, but it must have been like looking through the wrong end of the telescope in the galleries, though the acoustics were good. Huge foyer, with hammer and sickle motives, mirrors everywhere to make it look bigger, civilised ladies room, the first encountered. Great fun at the intervals, since you went up to the top of the building on an escalator, and there food of all kinds, including champagne and caviare, was laid out. You could have had a regular meal if there hadn’t been so many people and the intervals had been long enough; you’d just be fighting your way up (and Russians are as good at shoving as Swedes, which is very good) when the bell would ring and the escalators go into reverse, and down you’d come again, gasping. A magnificent place spoiled by too many grubby, even smelly pushing people, which somehow made the total effect degrading rather than uplifting. The same was true of the production. The fantastic and constantly changing scenery completely dwarfed the singing, which was good (though, opposite of here, and perhaps politically apt, the chorus was better than the principals, and the chorus was about 200 strong) and the story, which was absurd even by opera standards. None of the artistic things we saw, except a few paintings, had anything to do with communism, and art seemed to be rather stagnant, though there must be revolutionary things going on elsewhere. I managed to get separated from the group in the fight for coats (it’s a rule in even the coldest museum that you must take off your coat; in some it’s even a rule that you must be helped into it again by the attendant; one got very angry when I tried to walk off with it under my arm) and missed the bus, rather exciting as I had to walk home without much clue as to where I was going. It was nice to be surrounded by Russians instead of tourists; I was glad I’d worn my old coat, as I didn’t look conspicuous in it. Eventually, by following the crowd, I struck Red Square, rather beautifully moon- and flood-lit, and thence got my bearings and home.
Never go sightseeing on Sunday. Loads of people everywhere, including literally thousands of people who would be queuing all day to see Lenin’s tomb. Many up from the provinces for the tour of a lifetime, including some Mongolian looking ones, women’s institute type groups, working men’s club outings etc. Feeling rather guilty, we were passed in to the front of the queue and only had to wait an hour, which was enough in the coldest day we had had. Religious silence in the tomb, which was heavily guarded. Hustled past supposedly embalmed Lenin, rather waxy looking corpse, small man. Masses of flowers outside. We had also seen ordinary people bringing little bunches of flowers, even single tulips, to his tomb, and that of the unknown soldier, in Leningrad. The war still seems to be very much in people’s memories, which perhaps makes them feel less hard towards us than they otherwise might. Filed past other graves let into the walls of the Kremlin, a couple of English names, rather surprising as it is a great honour to be buried there. William Heywood. Yuri Gagarin’s grave, with masses of flowers. Monuments and bigger tombs of other revolutionaries. Stalin’s grave, no memorial, no comment. His name was never mentioned during the trip. Then saw three gorgeous churches, with marvellous mosaics and icons, altar pieces, where Tsars after Ivan the Terrible were christened, crowned and buried. Apparently they had to have a special church for each event. Atmosphere rather spoiled by too many people, many smelling strongly of vodka, others just of people. After lunch, had coffee and delicious cakes (starchy products definitely the best) in a funny little shop, and looked at another church, where we met a little Russian who spoke French and told us how he had lived in France and that America was “pas bon”. On the whole, we found it paid to describe ourselves as a Swedish group. Then we went back to the Kremlin, to the armoury, where there was a fantastic collection of Tsarist treasures: weapons, amour, bibles with gold covers inlaid with precious stones and enamel work, icons, jewellery, china and gold tableware of various degrees of fantasy and ugliness, enormous silver tureens, beer mugs in quaint animal shapes, coaches, clothes worn by Catherine the Great, who was. This collection was only opened a short time ago; Lenin was so afraid of the effect its useless wealth would have on the people that he kept it a secret in the early days. Guided-tour exhaustion set in, so took the evening off, and just went for a walk, made determined efforts to find the one hot shower, which meant walking down five flights of stairs and then up again, but was worth it, tried to have some tea in the buffet but it was shut, so went thankfully to bed. The attitude to notices is also Irish. One may say Buffet open between 8 and 10, the next Buffet open between 6 and 8, but the only thing you may then be sure of is that the buffet is not open between 6 and 10. Equally three different staff will give you three different answers to the same question and they will all be wrong, nor will they give a damn.
Bad beginning with rather boring tour of hideous university; during the course of much hanging around, we saw only such non-controversial objects as the swimming pool and the museum of geology. An enormous lecture hall, and a very small student room, which apparently was one of the better ones. Often students have to live three or four in a room. They receive state grants, but very tiny ones, and there was no happy student atmosphere, only grim concentration. It is all housed in one huge building on the outskirts, not a campus, but all enclosed, which makes it rather depressing. Also smelly. Nasty smells are beginning to become an obsession; This building was the science faculty and the product of Stalin’s imagination (sorry, his name was mentioned); the arts faculties are still in the externally pleasant looking 19th century buildings in the centre of the town. Skipped the afternoon tour, which was to the palace of agricultural and industrial progress, and sounded of rather specialised interest, and instead went shopping in the cheap foreign currency shop of the new hotel. Did not buy much except a scarf, a couple of dolls and vodka, because of irritation with the queue system, but even so it took a couple of hours. Many English school groups around. Then went up to Gum, the biggest department store in the world, but did not stay long, as it was very crowded and so big that it was impossible to find what one wanted. We walked miles looking for tea mugs, but never got beyond men’s socks and curtain material. There seemed to be more on sale than in Leningrad, but not much one wanted to buy. I was with an American woman who had heard that you could get fur coats duty free for $99. This proved to be true, and they were really quite nice though short fur. I was glad I hadn’t brought enough money to be tempted. Radios, cameras, records, were also cheap to us. It proved to be rather difficult to get theatre tickets in Moscow, so that night we went to a tourist restaurant with balalaika music. Quite pleasant, though too touristy, and expensive. I had one vodka, two orange juices, and blinny, pancakes with sour cream and salmon, and it cost $5. One of the men brought along two Russian girls he had met at another more native cafe, so we talked to them and distributed more biros. They were both studying engineering, and didn’t seem afraid of being seen with us, though they didn’t know enough English to say much. When that closed at 12, we went and drank Scotch in one of the American’s rooms, and that, plus encroaching exhaustion, nearly finished me.
Last day, morning spent at an art gallery, more icons, enormous 18th-19th century scenic pictures, excellent technique but nothing very original. All Russian artists. Some very good portraits. A few modern paintings of noble workers, allegoric revolutionary scenes. Even now artists seem to be painting in the noble peasant tradition of the 30’s. Nothing abstract. Would have liked to see more modern paintings, but there was no time. It would be nice to go back to Moscow just to spend time in the museums and churches, though for no other reason except the theatre. Apart from art and the past, the total effect was oppressive and depressing, both modern buildings and modern people, and it was quite a relief to leave. Lovely portrait of Peter the Great’s grumpy elder sister. In the afternoon, walked miles in the wrong direction, but finally found a metro station, so decided to see that. Rather gorgeous stations, with white marble, chandeliers, mosaics, but did not have the courage to go far or change lines with only my elementary knowledge of the alphabet. Good dinner for a change, then the supreme theatrical experience, the Bolshoi Ballet. It was a toss up between the ballet in the Kremlin theatre or the opera in the real Bolshoi theatre, which I would have liked to see, but the ballet won, and it really was fabulous. Exquisite dancing, costumes and scenery without the almost ludicrous excess of the opera. Cinderella, Prokoviev version. Lovely ball scene, corps excellent. Lots of children obviously being taken as a special treat. Last walk home through Red Square in time to catch the bus to the station. One girl nearly left behind, couple had difficulties in getting a taxi to the station as they had stayed to the end of the opera instead of leaving early, but explained to the queue in sign language and were allowed to move to the front – example of the way in which people could be very nice. Great controversy at the station as the couchette tickets were given out Scandinavian style without any division into sexes, and some of the older Americans and Finns were horrified, though it wasn’t really their problem as they were the married ones. However, we got going. Very modern coach. Slept a bit, then stood in the corridor and watched the dawn. Some very poor looking villages of wooden huts, like those we had seen on the way in to Moscow, where there was a terrific contrast between log hovels on one side of the road and modern blocks on the other. Flat, dull country, with mixed woods. Changed at Leningrad and were mercifully given tea by very nice English-speaking car-attendant, and our bags of sandwiches from the hotel. Repeat of journey to Vyborg, where we spent our last roubles and changed them at unfavourable rates, not much passport fuss, on through Finland, where the snow had mostly melted.
To which the above from the dawn really belongs. Arrived in Helsinki on time, freezing cold. Wandered round, and came upon a huge church. Two of the girls started up the steps like conditioned creatures, the rest of us felt we had had enough of large ancient monuments and went to Marimekko dress shop. Even after only a week it was lovely to see nice things in the shops, happy-looking people in the streets, bustle – there were hardly any cars in Moscow, no motor bikes. They have some fantastic system of distributing private cars and other rare luxuries which works like some kind of lottery. Also lovely to have real coffee and food again. Then, after this two hour break, another three hour train ride to the port, but unfortunately not the ship – to get to that involved a tram ride with a change in the middle, but we decided that was the last straw after two days of humping luggage and got a taxi, though some brave or broke souls soldiered on. The ship was a new one and really lovely, if we had not been too tired and dirty to enjoy it. Magnificent lounges with Finnish furniture. Super dining room and smorgasbord, shops, cinema, bands, sauna. Must remember to go on it again sometime. As it was I just collapsed into my chair and slept until the next dawn (more dawns on this trip than in the rest of my life! Also lovely sunset while coming through Finland), which was as we were coming through the Stockholm archipelago, then civilised breakfast with loud uncivilised music, a real newspaper (absolutely nothing seemed to have happened), smooth arrival in Stockholm, taxi, got some food, blessed bath, washed clothes, hair, and slept. More truth than usual in the old cliche about nice to be home. Still faint feeling of oppression and tension 24 hours later.
All sorts of things for sale from little stalls in the streets, including ice-cream, draught beer; water machines in the streets too. No men with beards or long hair. Cleanness of actual streets compared with dirt of people, esp. in foodshops, filthy overalls, smoking etc. Same with hotel waitresses. Policemen in Dr. Zhivago coats. Amazing sight of very beefy girls going swimming in the Neva in -5 temps. Also outdoor swimming pool with hot water from springs used all year round; special entrances so that you are never in contact with the cold. On the spot shoe-mending stalls in the street. People clustered round a big American car. Seems to be only one kind of car made in Russia. No dry-cleaning, which increases the shabbiness of the people. Clothes all look as if they had been washed at home and not ironed much. Dilapidated old lorries, dirty windows, squalid courtyards and stairways. Teapot and cut-glass water decanter in all hotel rooms, though no hope of getting anything to put in either. Comedy of Soviet guide telling malcontent man who had been complaining about everything that it was nice to see him smile. Former English club, mentioned in “War and Peace”, now a museum of revolution. Historical museums known as museums of evolution. No women in slacks or smoking; still seem to keep to tradition of covered head; usually head-squares. Men often took off hats before going into a church, presumably a bourgeois superstition. Approached by a man who was talking to a policeman while I was photographing Lenin’s tomb; terrified in case I was doing something wrong, but all he wanted was for me to take a picture of them. No adding machines in shops – assistants used abaci to count, apparently with great efficiency.
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Cite this Document
Journal of the Russian Trip. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 6 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1530.
"Journal of the Russian Trip." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. 6 December 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1530.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Journal of the Russian Trip," accessed 6 December 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1530.
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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2023. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk.