Soviet Union 1976: Arrested on the Road to Where?

 

On the morning of the 11th July we walked to the Museum of the October Revolution in Leningrad and spent the afternoon, by way of a contrast, at the summer residence of the Tsars. Our plan was then to set off towards Moscow with an overnight stop at Novgorod.

As we headed out of Leningrad we got lost in amongst the crisscross roads of the older suburbs. We stopped to ask people directions. Very few people spoke English so we used the Russian travel dictionary as best we could. Some people refused to stop, hurrying past us eyes averted, afraid to be seen talking to Westerners. Others stopped and tried to help and eventually with sign language and drawings in the dust on the pavement we had a map out of the city.

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Cheese, ice cream and GUM (and a recipe!)

Shopping was a complicated business in the Soviet Union in 1976. There was very little food in the gastronoms: fresh, canned or pickled cabbage, cheese, eggs (sometimes) and a small variety of canned food. If you were lucky there was dark rye bread. All goods for sale were on display. Nothing was stored in any back rooms. Items were neatly lined up on shelves with plenty of space around them. Cans were staked in precariously balanced pyramids and glass display cabinets held a sparse collection of dairy products.

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Soviet Union 1976: Arrested on the road to where?

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On the morning of the 11th July we walked to the Museum of the October Revolution in Leningrad and spent the afternoon, by way of a contrast, at the summer residence of the Tsars. Our plan was then to set off towards Moscow with an overnight stop at Novgorod.

As we headed out of Leningrad we got lost in amongst the crisscross roads of the older suburbs. We stopped to ask people directions. Very few people spoke English so we used the Russian travel dictionary as best we could. Some people refused to stop, hurrying past us, eyes averted, afraid to be seen talking to Westerners. Others stopped and tried to help and eventually with sign language and drawings in the dust on the pavement we had a map out of the city.

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Checkpoint Vyborg: our first stop on our state sanctioned itinerary

If inly the roads had been this good. Countryside tick. Road surface - no way.
If only the roads had been this good. Countryside tick. Road surface – no way.

 

 

We were the odd ones out travelling independently in the Soviet Union in 1976. As far as I know, 1976 was only the second year that tourists were allowed to travel this way, but even then it was tightly controlled with an itinerary sanctioned by Intourist and constant monitoring.

This does not mean there weren’t many international travellers in the Soviet Union. In 1976 there were 3.9 million tourists, but the vast majority of these were from Soviet block countries, especially Poland and Finland. Only a few hundred thousand came from the West. Of these, the majority were classified as “mass tourists” who travelled on fully organised group tours, flying in to the country, moving between cites by bus or train, staying in tourist hotels, sightseeing only what was approved for them and escorted 24/7 by trained guides whose role was nothing short of indoctrination. Continue reading

Back in the USSR 1976 – Entry

The flag of the USSR

I travelled in the Soviet Union in 1976 when I was 25 years old with my then husband, Norm. We were young innocents abroad in an extraordinary country that was both captivating and frightening. This blog recounts our entry into the Soviet Union from Vaalimaa in Finland.

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