A long, long trip through the Sovjet Union

In May 1982 I first set foot in the then called Soviet Union. In Vyborg near the Finnish border. It was a shock. Many staring people, everything about me seems to arouse their interest. Especially my Adidas sneakers, they really wanted them. Furthermore, empty shop windows and strange vehicles that, in the distance, looked like our cars. Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, was a surprise. So monumental, huge, wide and above all empty. It looked a little bit of Venice and Paris at the same time. From the moment I got off at the train station, I was owned by Intourist, the Russian State Travel Agency. They could also have called it KGB Travel. The assigned hotel was the Astoria, a large, old, worn-out, empty Victorian building. A huge suite with an incredible amount of antiques turned out to be for me. I thought I hadn't paid that much, but that didn't seem to matter. The food at the time was a different story. Menu cards with 82 pages where you could pick out the most delicious things but where the waiter later pointed out just three things that could be ordered, which were always tomato, potato and beet. Sometimes a pork chop or a trout, but then you had to be lucky. The taste was the same for all ingredients. But the most striking was the desire for Western clothing and music. People constantly asked me what my jeans, my sneakers or my denim jacket should cost. You had to change money at Intourist again, which you could only exchange with proof of purchase. There was virtually nothing for sale that was worth it, so you didn't need a lot of money. Yet the profit that you could make sounded far too attractive. Eventually (the official exchange rate four rubles for one guilder) my jacket went for 900 guilders, my jeans for 800 and my sneakers for 1200. Suddenly I was Ruble Rich! That later worked out well on the Transsiberia. There was hardly anything decent to eat, especially at breakfast there was a big shortage but there was plenty of Russian champagne and caviar. In Nachodka on the Pacific coast, on the way to the boat to Japan, there was an old woman with four not too good apples in her apron. There was still a good deal of rubles in my pocket. I chose the worst apple from her apron basket and paid with the bundle of rubles. They were worthless in five minutes so it wasn't such a good deed. The woman was startled, rustled through the notes and started crying. A little later a Russian sailor from the ship to Yokohama told me that I had just given her at least five years of retirement money as a gift. A nice end to a memorable journey through the still communist Soviet Union of 1982.

Sovjet Union, Trans Siberian, May-June 1982

De Transsiberië Express is een avontuur, niet spannend, niet vermoeiend, niet spectaculair van landschap maar toch een geweldige kick. Van tevoren bang gemaakt door vrienden dat het stomvervelend zou ...
Read more

Sovjet Union, Moscou, May 1982

Geland in het Metropole Hotel in Moskou, weer zo’n bombastisch en luxueus bedoeld hotel. Mijn eerste indruk van Moskou is anders dan de voorstelling die ik ervan gemaakt had. Vreemd zuidelijk en kleur...
Read more

Sovjet Union, Leningrad, May 1982

De trein van Finland naar Rusland was een belevenis. Strenge maar snelle controles bij de grens in Vyborg en een korte eerste wandeling op Russische bodem daar. Leningrad was regenachtig en de mijn vo...
Read more