Beyond the Iron Curtain: A 1969 Study Tour to the Soviet Union
In January 1969 I was privileged to take a 5-week study tour to the then Soviet Union. My great-great Aunt Helen paid for my trip. I was a sophomore at Gustavus Adolphus College at the time and had been studying Russian since my arrival. Gustavus was a liberal arts college on a 4-1-4 academic calendar: 4 months of fall term, 1 month for winter term, and 4 months for spring term. Gustavus was a member of an 11-college consortium of private Lutheran 4-year colleges throughout the Midwest, all on the 4-1-4 calendar program. During the 1-month winter term, a wide variety of study-abroad options were offered, including language & culture programs.
Our travel group consisted of 19 students and one faculty advisor. The group departed form Chicago, flew to Paris, then boarded a train to Moscow. We actually traveled in a Russian passenger car, complete with a built-in samovar in one corner. Two Russian porters assisted us and they reported to the train's conductor. There were six Russians also traveling on our car.
Our chartered plane departed late from Chicago as it waited for students to arrive at O'Hare, because of bad weather throughout the Midwest, causing the Russian contingent to miss its train connections in Paris. Therefore, the Russian group made an unanticipated stay overnight in Paris and departed the next day for the U.S.S.R. After arriving in Moscow, we immediately departed for what was then Leningrad (now St. Petersburg.) During our month in the Soviet Union, we visited Leningrad, Novgorod, Kiev, Moscow, Vladimir and Suzdal. We returned to Paris via the same train route and then spent a week there, before returning to Chicago.
My journey was an extraordinary opportunity. Extensive travel to the Soviet Union by Americans was not yet occurring. For many of the Russians whom we met, it was their first opportunity to meet and talk with Americans. It was also a very educational opportunity for me to experience life in a Communist state during the height of the Cold War. Our study program and travel was arranged through Sputnik travel services. Sputnik is used by Russians and student groups and is second-class service. Intourist is the other travel service in Russia and is used by individuals traveling to the Soviet Union. It is first class travel.
One of the positive arrangements for which we paid was to have Russian students travel with us so that we could become better friends with a small group of Russians and be able to speak more comfortably with individuals whom we knew. Our primary travel guide was Rita, who met us at the border into the Soviet Union and traveled with us throughout our trip. We also hired four additional students selected by the government who accompanied us: Boris, Valodia, Yuri, and Eva. In addition, a city-specific Sputnik guide met us at each of the cities and towns that we visited.
Upon my return to the States, I prepared a small photo album and travelogue that I titled "Beyond the Iron Curtain," to present to my Aunt Helen as a small token of my thanks to her. What appears below, before my actual day-by-day diary, is the introductory essay that I wrote for this album for Aunt Helen:
Introductory Essay from Thank-you Album
"Violet neon lights posted on the building side spelled out the name of Brest, one of the southern border cities of the U.S.S.R. As our train quietly sat on a side track having a wheel change, we all gawked out the windows catching our first glimpse of Russian Communists, but all we saw were bundled-up humans walking at a brisk pace because of the nipping cold. Now we were really behind the Iron Curtain.
After a two-and-a-half day train ride we nineteen students and our group leader were slowly being drained of our vim and vigor and fresh appearances. Now we were weary, somewhat stale and smelly, and anxious to reach a hotel room. We were all participants in a five-week college area study course, of which the only prerequisite was a minimum of three semesters of college Russian. Four private Midwestern schools were represented in the Russian group: Gustavus Adolphus, Macalaster, and St. Olaf of Minnesota, and Luther of Iowa. David Chandler, St. Olaf Professor of Russian, served as group leader.
Leaving Chicago late in the evening on December 28th, we arrived in Paris, France the next afternoon. The actual flying time was eight hours. Because of a late plane departure, we missed our afternoon train to Moscow; therefore, we spent an extra day-and-a-half in Paris.
Our long train trek had brought us through France, Belgium, West and East Germany, Poland, and now finally into the U.S.S.R. Also mixed in with this large number of miles covered were about ten passport controls as we left one country and entered another. At the border of the Soviet Union, our passport control checks were relatively minor, consisting of a few questions.
Following our wheel change because of the difference in the size of Soviet track, we continued on our way, spending a few early evening hours in Moscow before boarding a sleeper for an over-night train ride to Leningrad. Our itinerary was as follows: five days in Leningrad; three days in Novgorod, south of Leningrad; three days in Kiev, located in the southern part of the U.S.S.R., eight days in Moscow, and three days in Vladimir and Suzdal, east of Moscow.
Following our month-long stay, we left Moscow and the Soviet Union, saying a tearful goodbye to the five Russians who had traveled with us, serving as guides and travel companions. We returned to Paris by the same route as we had left.
Paris was quite a change from Soviet cities. Our week stay in this most-talked-about city went all too fast, but all of us were looking forward to home and also approaching a near-poverty level as far as spending money goes, so this speed wasn't looked at in a negative way.
What is contained in this album is bits and pieces of a trip which would take a month of constant talking to completely describe. It is hoped that this brief encounter with life behind the Iron Curtain will show to those who read these lines that the Soviet Union is a nation very similar to ours in many ways and also at the same time, very different. The Soviet people are a proud people and are friendly, sincere and warm-hearted. I shall never forget the many toasts that I participated in, all given in hopes of our two countries living in peace. May that hope materialize!"
My Travel Diary
NOTE: Please remember that I was quite an innocent from South Dakota when I wrote this. I've not changed any of the wording in the diary.
December 28, 1968: Chicago, Plane to Paris
Was really exciting in airport. Originally we were supposed to leave at 6:30 p.m. This was postponed to 9:30 ad finally to 10:30 because of people missing connections due to snow. What a surprise it was on the plane--the engines were ready to start and Linda Janisch, Warren Mullen, and Cindy Severance charge up to the plane (all good friends). They were among the 39 that weren't here but made it from Minneapolis via train and taxi just in time to join their various study groups.
Plane ride was unbearable in spots--probably was so overtired and excited. Anyway, nearly got sick but took a motion sickness pill and things ended up fine. Food and service on Swiss Air was fabulous. Changed the watch from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. We are nearly at Paris, 1/2 hour to go. We are going to miss our train connections (I think) because of the late plane departure.
December 29, 1968: Paris
Arrived in Paris! Fabulous! I've never been more interested in a city as I was in Paris. Streets going every which way. People are scurrying everywhere. There's really a lot of color, especially with the Christmas lights. When we arrived we took a bus to Le Roma Hotel, small, second-class but enjoyable. Took bus tour of town. What is so amazing is to see so many of the landmarks in person: Notre Dame, Sorbonne, Arch de Triumph, Eiffel Tower, Concord Square, Montmarte, Basilica Sacred Heart, Opera House, Palace of the Invalides, Maxims, College of France, and the Louvre. No planned walking tours, will be doing extensive touring when we return to Paris in a month. Had dinner at what appeared to me (being from South Dakota) a very exclusive restaurant. Crepe suzettes were bad--too milky tasting. Everything else was delicious--especially dessert, which was some kind of apple pastry. Returned to hotel. Group of us walked back up to the Basilica at Montmarte. Romanic architecture. To bed at midnight.
December 30, 1968: Paris, Train through France, Belgium, West Germany
Up at 8:00. Breakfast at hotel: French rolls and coffee. Back to the Basilica. Paid 5.5 francs for 11 of us to climb into the tower--was like a castle with round stairways. We ate at a little corner sandwich bar. The waitress spoke very broken English--really was fun when she tried to explain the kind of sandwiches offered. Left hotel at 1:30 for Gare du Nord train station. Now on way to Moscow. Three people in compartment. A little crowded. The 19th person in our group arrived (one of those who missed the plane in Chicago.)
Our German head conductor despises me. All started when the female students in the next compartment and I attempted to open the sliding door between our compartments for the day. The German had a fit. Played cards later on with 2 women and got kicked out of their room. He only hated me and evidently looked at me as some sex maniac. I was known as the guy with the blue shirt--really hilarious. To get back at him, I sat in the small aisle and played cards through the doorway, thus blocking the aisle. The Russian porters loved my protest action and brought me pillows to sit on while in the aisle.
Supper on the train was something else. About 6 courses--very good soup, smelly spaghetti with an ugly tasting topping, some kind of a meat steak, potatoes and cheese (cheese was drastic), finished with some kind of a pudding which I didn't eat. 3 cokes also. Paid for the cokes with a dollar bill and received German marks for change. After returning from supper the German conductor made us talk between the rail cars because others were trying to sleep. Met a German student age 18 who had just finished 2 years of technical school learning how to typeset. He now goes through one year of apprenticeship, after that he will work for a while, serve in the armed forces for 18 months and then maybe attend the university. He thought that we were from London. Was surprised when he found out that we were from the "States." To bed at midnight.
December 31, 1968: Train through West & East Germany, Poland, U.S.S.R.
Didn't sleep at all. We entered East Germany at 4:00 a.m. We were all awakened for passport control. It seemed like every time we would get to sleep we would arrive at another border control or passport check. Fell asleep and everyone missed the wall between East and West Berlin. It's incomprehensible to realize that we are in communist country! Poland was very beautiful with the flat plains and trees and snow. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and ham at 11:30 a.m.--was originally planned for 9:00 a.m. but we were locked out of the dining car. What a bouncy train. Ate dinner at 4:00. Meal car was about 9 cars down. Food gets progressively worse. No ice water. Trying to eat was rather wild--ever try eating soup when a train is bouncing back and forth? Bread is very good. It all tastes homemade, doesn't have that purchased texture. New Year's Eve, of course. We celebrated according to Moscow time, which brought the New Year in at 10:00 p.m. Much beer, wine, vodka, and Scotch. Everyone really enjoyed themselves--proved to be a real ice breaker. The group is truly a group--everyone is getting to know each other very well. Everyone wished everyone else Happy New Year with kisses. Russian ladies up the line treated us with sandwiches and Scotch. Missed out on the Scotch but really didn't need it. Warren passed out about 9:00 p.m., but woke up just before Polish passport control came through. Mr. Chandler, the group leader, is absolutely fabulous--joins right in with everyone else. Went to bed at 4:00 a.m.--explained later.
January 1, 1969: Train through U.S.S.R.
Arrived in Brest, U.S.S.R. at 2:00 a.m. (Moscow time). So exciting! Had our border control inspection--was absolutely nothing, didn't touch our baggage at all. Russian ladies had to leave for baggage inspection but joined us at 4:00 a.m. after the car's wheels had been changed to Soviet size tracks. Slept until 12 noon and went back to bed until 3:00. Ate our first Russian meal--blah. Carbonated water is common and it's terrible! Had some kind of soup that was indescribable. Potatoes and stroganoff were also served. Tea is the most common beverage. Drank a whole glass for the first time. Probably will be an avid tea drinker by the time I'm back. Our Russian guide met us at Brest. Very short young lady about 23. Slept most of the way from Brest to Moscow. Seems unreal that I'm here. Finally reached Moscow, and 3 other young men students joined us. Seem very nice. It's hard to converse; will probably get easier as time goes on. Went to the Hotel Tourist and got cleaned up and changed and went to supper. Fairly good wieners, bread, and an utterly delicious bread cake-like sweet thing, tea, real water, and rice with gravy that I did not like. Went out walking to a huge exhibition but was closed. Returned to hotel and went to train station. People sure do stare! Now on way to Leningrad.
January 2, 1969: Leningrad
Arrived in Leningrad at 8:00 a.m. Headed to Hotel Drooshba and checked into rooms. Warren, Rich, and I are rooming together. Private bathtub, shower, and toilet! Quite rare! Breakfast at hotel (all meals are served here) included bread, some kind of a meat like spam, omelet and tea. Am getting quite accustomed to tea. No other choice. Took a bus tour of the city. Mr. Chandler has told the guides to speak in Russian so our main guide speaks in Russian. The three others are scattered throughout the bus and aid in translation. I understand less than I don't understand. It takes about a week, Mr. Chandler has said, for us to become accustomed to speaking. It's unreal to see such old buildings. Ate dinner at hotel. Food was drastic. Ate 3 pieces of bread and a cup of tea and potatoes and some kind of breaded fish or meat. Left the beet soup, beet salad, and something like squash alone. Beets are a common vegetable. After dinner we met with students doing research in zoology. Was rather difficult at the beginning; everyone was attempting a group discussion. Split up later and talked about Peace Corps, coffee houses, religion, society. Met Irene; biochemist who has been waiting for an American group to come to the hotel since September that can also speak Russian. Very nice. We mainly spoke English. Ate supper--included rice and some kind of liver salad with pickles and other crap--was terrible. Probably will end up skin and bones--at least there's always bread. Took first bath and then Mary, Sue and I walked down the street and bought some candy and bread. Walked to subway and paid 5 kopecks and went to the next stop which was Gorky Square. We were stopped 5 different times by Russians out and about who wanted to talk to us. People seem very friendly. Came back and now hitting sack at 11:30 p.m.
January 3, 1969: Leningrad
Visited the Hermitage this morning and also parts of the Winter Palace (home of some of the tsars). Catherine the Great built the Hermitage as a place to escape and remain in solitude. It is now filled with paintings and other works of art. After the revolution, individual estates were nationalized and all valuable art objects were brought to the Hermitage. It's actually a complex of 6 different buildings that are all attached. Saw original Rembrandts (about 12), Van Goghs, Piccassos, Michelangelos, Da Vincis, etc. Ate dinner at 3:00. Afternoon was free. Went downtown via subway. Stopped at the beriozka store (dollar store for foreigners only); didn't buy anything because I don't want to have to carry everything for the next three weeks.
In the evening we went with Komsomol members to the Lenin Museum (now the Museum of the Komsomol). Broke up into small groups. I talked with Irene again about religion, philosophy, psychology, Dostoevsky, and American authors. Gave her a copy of the book Exodus and The Old Man and the Sea. Came back to the hotel. Went walking to the subway station with Val and watched the people for a while. Went to bed about 1:00 a.m.
January 4, 1969: Leningrad
Breakfast at 9:00. For breakfast we usually have some kind of a fatty piece of spam, bread and butter, tea, and maybe potatoes or rice. Very balanced meals? We now call any of the meat served us "mystery meat" because it is impossible to tell what it is. Today we drove out of town quite a distance to a small suburb called Pushkin. Here Catherine the Great built this fantastic Summer Palace for a summer home, with huge gardens planted with trees, flowers, and shrubs. I would estimate the palace to be 3 blocks long--it's huge. Impossible to imagine a summer home of this size. One wing juts way out and was built to resemble a Roman temple. In this wing, the nobles' sons were educated. Pushkin received his education here. During the bombing by the Germans in World War II, the palace was hit, gutting the inside of one of the larger wings, with fire spreading throughout much of the palace. Restoration has been completed in 18 of the palace's 54 rooms. Hope that my pictures turn out. Using film in this cold country is tricky--you have to coordinate the timing for changing rolls of film so that you aren't trying to do it outside. The Summer Palace was a fabulous place. Returned to the hotel for dinner.
Went to Peter and Paul Fortress founded in May 1703. The cathedral, the complex is like a military fort with a bastion all around, is splendidly done. Inside are marble caskets containing the remains of tsars and kings. Peter the First and Catherine the Great among others are buried here. Also in the fortress is the political prison for the tsarist period from Peter the Great forward where not one prisoner escaped in 200 years. Dostoevsky was held captive here, along with Lenin's brother and other revolutionary figures during the tsarist period. Very dismal place.
Returned for supper and then attended the Mussorgsky (Mikhailovsky) Opera & Ballet Theatre (the Malyi or Little Teatr) that evening where three one-act ballets were presented. The ballets were fabulou--the first ones that I have ever seen. Very colorful! I had an excellent seat costing only 1 ruble 70 kopeks which would be about $1.95 in America. Everything is state owned so there aren't such high prices as in America. Ballet and opera are popular in the Soviet Union. The Little Theater itself is fabulous. Was built in 1833. Seats probably four hundred people. All silver on the balconies with curtains and other trimmings are done in orange. Huge chandelier in the middle. Following the ballet was a birthday party for Pat. Wine and vodka flowed freely as did everyone's spirits. Was much fun. Hope we don't have too many birthdays to celebrate; drinking vodka straight up isn't the most exciting experience but then again maybe I should say that it is an exciting experience for me, given my lack of drinking experience.
January 5, 1969: Leningrad
Today is the last day in Leningrad. Toured the Museum of the Revolution this morning, followed by a visit to Piskaryov Cemetery where over 600,000 Leningraders are buried in mass graves. Nine hundred thousand people died during the World War II blockade and siege of Leningrad by the Germans. Of these, 600,00 are buried in this special cemetery. Following dinner we toured St. Isaac's Cathedral. An immense church; pendulum down the middle. Surprise followed: a trip to a wedding palace where all wedding ceremonies are conducted, if such a service is desired. It's really like a marriage factory; we walked and viewed one; while we left via one door the next wedding party was waiting to enter via another door. Irene and I talked afterwards at the hotel. She presented me with 2 records: Rachmaninoff's 2nd Concerto (it reminded her of the spirit of the Russians) and a record of Russian poetry read from famous works. Also gave me a pair of miniature peasant shoes, lapti, and some pictures of Leningrad. Wished that it would be possible to visit with her more. Seemed strange to say goodbye. We exchanged addresses.
Special supper at 7:30. They at least can serve a decent meal if they try. All types of appetizers and Russian vodka and wine. There is a definite technique when gulping straight vodka in the Soviet Union. Russians eat dark bread spread thick with butter and then salted. This special preparation coats the stomach and keeps the vodka or liquor from entering the blood stream so fast. The only problem is that as the stomach slowly digests the food, one feels "high" for a longer period of time. Went for a walk in Leningrad. There are really neat winter slides around here in the parks. You stand up and slide down on icy boards and glide out on the ground. Packed upon return to the hotel. We are leaving tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.
January 6, 1969: Leningrad, Novgorod
What a bus ride! Was freezing cold and took us five hours to reach Novgorod. Sure do hate thinking of the bus ride back. We are staying at the Hotel Volhol. What delicious meals! We get fed food resembling American style meals (eggs for breakfast, etc.). Went to the Novgorod Kremlin, the ancient fortress which was at times the entire city. Novgorod was at one time an independent and prosperous city state. Visited the museum containing many icons and paintings. Toured St. Sophia's Cathedral which is inside the Kremlin. Also looked at many church relics which are contained in the museums around here. The cathedral is in the process of being restored. During World War II, Novgorod was one of the hardest hit areas; the Germans destroyed many of the ancient churches. The Russians have done a very splendid job in reconstructing and rebuilding these churches. After supper we walked to the library in the Kremlin and met with students from the Pedagogical institute. There were 5 Russian people talking with 1 American on the average. Many of us thought that it was rigged. The students all had the same complicated questions; one man kept on walking around asking the students if they had talked about this and that. Some example questions which were asked: Isn't the reason that the war in Vietnam is still continuing is that it is economically aiding large corporations?" or "In our country it is an honor to be drafted but in yours there are draft dodgers and draft card burners. Why?" After the questioning, a few Russian students came to our hotel for some folk singing. All in all it was enjoyable but difficult. Not at all like visiting with Irene who was understanding and open-mined. Finally got to bed. Five of us are rooming together; Mike, Rick, Val, LeRoy, and me.
January 7, 1969 Novgorod
Fried eggs for breakfast! Today we walked to an elementary school and spent the entire morning there. We toured the facilities and then were guests at a party in the gymnasium where the Russian children danced and sang and we did likewise. If you want to really laugh, watch 8 college students attempt to square dance and then attempt to teach Russian children an "alaman left" and then a "grand right and left." What a riot! After dinner we had an hour of free time. Walked downtown to buy some candles for Carol's birthday cake and refreshments for the birthday party tonight. Heaven help us all. Everyone went to the Pioneer Palace except for we three (LeRoy and Yuri, one of the guides) because we didn't make it back in time. Slept for an hour until supper. After supper a small group of us took a bus to a Russian Orthodox Church where a continuous Christmas service was being conducted; standing room only but the worshippers were all old people. Was really a depressing event! From the church we traveled straight to the Palace of Culture, met the rest of the students and then attended a two-hour folk music and dance concert which was great. Russian dances and costumes were spectacular. We had a party with the dancing troupe afterwards for about an hour. Returned to the hotel and celebrated Carol's birthday. Vodka and lemon juice tasted great together but it's very fast acting. Mary and I walked to the park and slid down this huge ice slide on boards. Met Nikolai, a little drunk, who had just finished two years in the army. Went to bed.
January 8, 1969: Novgorod, Leningrad
This morning we took a bus tour of Novgorod. Visited many of the old churches and cathedrals and also visited Antoniyev and Yuriev Monasteries and ancient wooden churches which are being brought to an outdoor museum near Yuriev monastery. Afternoon was completely free. Rita (one of the guides), Polly, Cindy, and I went downtown. Stopped at a bookstore and purchased a map and postcards. Am trying to buy a pair of valenky (Russian felt boots worn in the winter) but may have a hard time. Most items for winter are purchased in the summer and vice versa. Shopping is really weird. There certainly isn't a store like Fantle's or Shriver's located anywhere. All of the merchandise is behind counters. You decide what you want to purchase, find out how much it costs, then go to a central cashier and pay the amount. The cashier gives you a slip which you give to the desk clerk where your merchandise is and then you receive your purchased goods, wrapped up in pieces of paper since there are no sacks (or I should say, very few). Left Novgorod after supper on that stupid cold bus. Never thought that we would arrive but finally did. Was great to take a hot shower and get a good night's sleep.
January 9, 1969: Leningrad, Train to Kiev
Breakfast at the hotel. Left hotel about 11:00 a.m. for the train station. Boarded the train. Played cards Las Vegas style. Mary owes me 1.55 rubles. Trains are a good time to rest and attempt to get caught up on diaries and postcards. Hope nobody compares postcards at home because I wrote them all on the same day. Had a long talk with Carol C. and then went to bed.
January 10, 1969: Train to Kiev, Kiev
Another day on the train! It seems as if we spend half of our time traveling; don't really mind traveling on the train because at least you can rest, but then you get just as sick and tired of trains. Arrived in Kiev about supper time, met by Sputnik guides. Went to our hotel. What a change in pace! Our hotel is relatively modern looking with a little bit of color for a change. The name is the Hotel World/Peace depending on which translation of the Russian word "mir" that you prefer. Kiev is the capital of the Ukraine and is completely different from other towns we've been in. Seems to be much more progressive and definitely more wealthy appearing. Rooming with Dave Olson and Rich N. Individual showers and toilets again! The evening was free; went for a walk with Mary to a lake and park. The weather is definitely much warmer; what a relief!
January 11, 1969: Kiev
(Note: got behind in diary so all events in Kiev are recorded briefly)
Bus tour of the city this morning with our visit to St. Sophia's Cathedral. Afternoon was free time. Took the trolleybus downtown and window shopped. Evening was a film, a Russian movie titled "June 6," concerning Lenin's takeover. Was all in Russian--didn't understand a thing, therefore it was quite a 2-hour waste except to further demonstrate that Lenin is the Soviet's God. Went to the hotel restaurant upon return and shared a bottle of champagne with Carol C.
January 12, 1969: Kiev
This morning we visited Pecherskya Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves. Really was a fabulous place. Huge museum of Ukranian art was also located in the monastery. Monks lived in catacombs below the ground at times and were buried there in open graves or in caskets sitting on ledges. Some of the skeletons are visible and others were dressed in church garments. Very mysterious, strange, and a little scary. Another free afternoon. Went downtown but nothing was open because it was Sunday. Only stores that are open are ones that sell food. In the evening we went to a party hosted by research engineers and other young workers. Much wine and cognac and dancing. Had a wonderful time. Met Igor and Anatoly.
January 13, 1969: Kiev, Train to Moscow
Visited a kindergarten this morning. Very enjoyable--the children were really cute, ranging from the age 3-7. The older ones at this school were already learning English. Afternoon again free time. Bought my podstakans, the foxes, vases, and rabbits at a downtown beriozka. Wasn't feeling well. I think my sinuses were acting up; went to bed. Left the hotel around 8:00 p.m. to board the train for Moscow.
January 14, 1969: Moscow
Arrived in Moscow this morning around 9:00. Everyone was completely exhausted. Still feel really zonked out. Sinuses still draining. Nothing was planned for the morning. Again staying at the Hotel Tourist--only about 45 minutes from the downtown area. Moscow is absolutely huge; took a bus tour of the city in the afternoon, stopped at the Bolshoi Theatre and also stopped at Moscow State University--saw two ski jumps being used at full speed and also viewed an outdoor swimming pool, the water is heated and it's really a popular thing. Never thought I'd see the day when people would be swimming in this cold wintry weather. Went to bed early. Free time in the evening so hit the sack to attempt to get rid of this darn cold. Washed clothes!
January 15, 1969: Moscow
This morning we visited the Kremlin at last. What an overwhelming place! Saw a splendid museum containing many items from the tsarist period, Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, and Lenin's Mausoleum, where Lenin is preserved and lying in state. There was a line about 3/4 mile long, waiting to walk through the mausoleum. Fortunately, we were able to cut in line but still had to wait for a while. I am amazed at the emphasis placed on Lenin; he's like a pagan god to which everyone pays homage. Also included in the walk to see Big Brother was a walk past the graves in the Kremlin Wall and nearby, including Yuri Gagarin, the cosmonaut killed in a plane crash, Stalin (the poor guy doesn't even get a statue on his tomb, all the others did who were buried by him,) and the American, John Reed. Afternoon was a trip to the Moscow Museum of History. Everyone was so exhausted from all the walking this morning that it was difficult to pay attention. Went to the Bolshoi Theatre in the evening and saw my first opera "Madame Butterfly" sung in Russian. Was really superb. Contrary to opera productions in the U.S., operas here are often sung in Russian, regardless of the language in which they were originally written. Rode trolleybus #48 home, taking about 45 minutes. And it was the coldest 45 minutes that one could ever spend.
January 16, 1969: Moscow
Rode the bus for 2 hours this morning out to a small town called Zagorsk and visited a monastery there. Also viewed a museum of Russian folk art. This monastery is still actively educating men to become priests. There has been a continuous mass sung here ever since the founder of the monastery died hundreds of years ago. Legend states that when this mass stops, Mother Russia will fall apart. Monastery is very peaceful and a little eerie. Boris Godunov is buried here. Many pigeons around. Stomach is revolting again. Have caught what 8 others have had--severe stomach cramps, diarrhea. Lasts about 3 days. Free time this afternoon. Went downtown with Mary to Moscow House of Books; attempted also to find the Hotel Russia but failed. Met Cindy, Doug, and Dave and took the metro home. The metro (subway) system is fabulous. Moscow subways have to be the greatest in the world. Went to bed after supper and slept until next morning.
January 17, 1969: Moscow
Still feel really ugly. Visited L. Tolstoy's home here in the older section of Moscow. Saw piano on which Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff among others played. Rest of the group went to BDNH--Moscow's economic exhibit in the afternoon. Didn't feel well so stayed in bed and slept. Washed shirts in the evening.
January 18, 1969: Moscow
Feeling much better. This morning we visited Tretyakov Gallery, built from 1902-04, now gallery for Russian Art--beautiful place! Really loved some of the unique landscape paintings. Ate at the Cafe Lyra for lunch. Free time during the afternoon. Really went through the money downtown at the beriozka in Metropol--attempted to purchase gifts for all those that I wanted to bring something to. Much cheaper to purchase goods in dollar stores where foreign currency is the only money accepted. These dollar stores are located usually in lobbies of the larger hotels. Returned to our hotel and got ready to return to the Bolshoi Theater for the second time. A small group of us are going to see a student ballet recital (students from about the ages of 8 to 20). The theater was packed and they televised the 3-act show consisting of various solos and group performances. Was really great! Rode the trolleybus with Val back to the hotel. Never was so cold in all my life. They don't believe in heat over here.
January 19, 1969: Moscow
This morning we first went to the historical museum near Red Square and viewed the Russian representation of World War II, which consisted of only the Russians and the Germans with the Russians finally being victorious. No mention of Americans, of course. Following this we took a subway to the A. S. Pushkin Museum--a gallery of European art with a special exhibit of French Romantic Paintings from the Louvre. Saw Monets, Van Goghs, Renoirs, Matisses, etc. Really fabulous. After dinner we took one of the coldest excursions that we've endured so far. We toured Novodevichy Convent, near the Kremlin. It was here that Sophia, sister to Peter I was sent and where she died and is now buried. Ivan the Terrible also killed his son here. I think that we had planned on doing something else but the weather was so cold that we headed back to the hotel and stayed put.
Ironing shirts occupied the rest of the evening. Decided that I wouldn't wash anymore. Collars aren't getting clean anyway so don't know why I should toil so much.
January 20, 1969: Moscow
This morning we visited an apartment building where an exhibit was located describing Moscow's future (present) construction plans. Strange to look at the massive apartment buildings--each the same size and shape. You finally realize that there are no homes and little individuality. How great it is to be an American and living in an old house in an older section of town in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Skipped dinner and returned downtown with Rick Jorgenson. Found the Hotel Russia and again went through a little money. Returned through Red Square in order to take pictures and then returned to the hotel. Also shopped at the House of Books again. After supper we met with institute students who were older than we--what a disaster! Never had such a boring time in all my life. I was quite tired and wasn't in the mood for talking at all. End result was that about half of the evening was spent in silence; drinking chalky coffee but eating apples.
January 21, 1969: Moscow
Skipped the morning's activities; most of the group went to Moscow State University for a crummy tour (I was told) and for a meeting with students that never occurred. Glad I didn't go. Instead I went by myself to a commissary store (second-hand antiques) in attempts of finding an old-fashioned samovar. The only ones that we are able to buy are new electric ones which I don't want. The bad thing about the samovar hunting is that there are none anywhere; everybody shares my samovar desires. Met a very interesting old gentleman at the store. He had asked me what I wanted and ended up that he spoke excellent English and had studied in the U.S. for 4 years at Cornell and John Hopkins; he was a professor of biology and medicine. He gave me directions of how to get to another commissary but they only sold clothes at this one. Took a taxi to Hotel Russia again. I want to purchase folk art boxes but the section is still closed for inventory. Took the metro home and made it just in time for dinner but the food was terrible; the hotel's food has been nothing to brag about. The entire atmosphere is blah--it's so freezing cold in all the rooms. Was going to pack today but Mary wanted to take some pictures of nearby sight-seeing things so did that instead. After supper we attended the opera Carmen at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. Opera was okay, but I wished we were seeing a full-length ballet instead. The Kremlin Palace is fabulous--quite new, comfortable seats, and a huge dining area above the theater hall which is reached by escalators. Upon returning I began the ugly chore of packing which took until 3:30 a.m. Now have a heavy suitcase, grip, a full Aeroflot pack, and a balaleika. Things are getting exciting as far as luggage goes, since each of us must be able to carry all of our belongings in one trip.
January 22, 1969: Moscow, Vladimir
Our last day in Moscow. Am counting the days until our return. Am homesick for home and the U.S. This morning we loaded the bus and drove to the Cafe Lyra. Free time for everyone in the morning. At 1:00 p.m. everyone met at the cafe for dinner and then left for the railroad station to go to Vladimir. During free time I went to Hotel Russia and finally bought my folk art boxes and a few last minute gifts and souvenirs. Left Moscow about 3:00. What a riot watching and participating in the train loading. The group now has 14 balaleikas, backpacks, and samovars tied around waists. It's quite difficult to walk down train aisle with all this. Not very far to Vladimir so we have regular coaches. Read Times which we received from the American Embassy. First news from home. Really happy to read that Ted Kennedy is now Senate majority whip. Arrived in Vladimir about 6:00 p.m. and made it to the hotel at about 7:00 p.m. Rooming with Rick Jorgenson. Name of the hotel is simply Hotel Vladimir. Supper was delicious with a grand welcome; the heads of Sputnik, Tass, and the Komsomol participated. Wine was served and a toast was drunk throughout the restaurant for American-Soviet friendship. We danced to a band that plays nightly and really put on a show for the Russians. Took a short walk with Mary and Cindy and am now hitting the sack.
January 23, 1969: Vladimir
What a great bed! Slept the best that I've ever done so far on the trip. At least we have enough covers now. After breakfast we boarded a warm bus and headed for a small town about an hour and a half away named Goose-Khrustalny. Went to one of the most interesting places that I have ever seen--a crystal glass manufacturing factory. Employing about 5,000 people, the factory started in the 1700s. Really great to see glass masters blowing and forming stemmed goblets, vases, ashtrays, etc. At the factory is a school where workers train for 3 years to reach the required level of ability to work in the glass factory. Learned the finger method of rubbing the top of a glass to get it to ring, thereby confirming that it is crystal. Everyone received a souvenir glass medallion from the factory. Following the tour we walked to a restaurant and ate one of the most delicious meals ever. We had cherry juice with real cherries for dessert! Went to a sports school after dinner and watched an exhibition basketball game by Russians a little younger than we. Then the fun began--6 Americans challenged the Russians to a fun basketball game. What a disaster! I think our American team made 1 basket and 2 free throws with the Russians totaling up about 38 points. Was a riot to watch 5 Americans play basketball having never played together before and not having played for 2 months. Returned to Vladimir for supper. Girls sponsored a party afterwards in our room; such an evening is called a "vecherenka." Probably one of our last parties in the U.S.S.R.
January 24, 1969: Vladimir
This morning we took a bus tour of the city of Vladimir, population about 200,000. Stopped at the remains of the Golden Gates called "Solomye Borota" which were the main gates for the fortress which surrounded the church and town in ancient times. Next we went to Yspensky Cathedral, still in operation. The Russian Orthodox religion is a very mysterious one from this Protestant perspective, with icon worship and also worship of saint remains. Following the cathedral we were treated to a fabulous surprise: a troika ride (Russian sleigh ride). There were three black horses and what a team they were. Had sleigh bells all over their harnesses. The sleigh was blue with a huge fur blanket. Was quite an experience! Following a delicious dinner of fish soup (sturgeon) and fried potatoes we all bundled up and took a bus as far as possible and then walked a mile across snow covered plains to one of the oldest churches in Russia, built in 1165. Really felt like Dr. Zhivago--took my towel from the hotel and used it as a scarf. Was really weird looking at 25 people in a line tromping through a foot of snow heading towards a little church. Had our last "strecha" (Meeting with students) following the mile hike. Really didn't talk about too much; I visited with 3 literary students who were interested in prose and poetry. Some of these meetings were enjoyable, others were not. It's hard to comprehend, especially for those who haven't witnessed what we've experienced, the effects of a national propaganda system such as exists in the Soviet Union, there rarely exists any differing views on a subject. Everybody thinks the same about Czechoslovakia or the Vietnam War. It's quite hard to argue with students or attempt to explain alternative ways of looking at issues. Supper was blah--red salad and potatoes and some really weird "something." Already hard at work composing my menu for that long awaited first meal at home. Think that it will include a huge juicy steak, fruit salad, pumpkin or cherry pie. Haven't decided about the rest of it yet. Took a shower after supper and had the hot water turned off just as I had a head full of shampoo. Russians never worry about anyone taking a shower when they decide to turn off the hot water at the hotel. That shut-off time comes whenever somebody feels like it. Hitting the sack early today. Only 9 more days until the U.S.A.
Januay 25, 1969: Suzdal, Vladimir
Today is our last touring day in the Soviet Union and our coldest. The wind is blowing like mad and it's freezing. We took a 45 minute bus ride to one of the oldest Russian towns, Suzdal, with traces of the town dating back to 700. The town is one of the most famous religious centers; unfortunately the Tartars and Poles destroyed the town around the 12th or 13th century so no evidence exists of these churches. Most of the churches and monasteries are from the 18th century. Our first stop was at the Pokrovsky Monastery--a womens' nunnery. It was so cold that it was absolutely impossible to enjoy the place. The second stop was at a place where officials in the Russian Orthodox church lived. Following this, we went to a folk restaurant, simply called Restaurant Suzdal, where all Russian foods are served in wooden bowls, spoons, etc. Food was different; some kind of jellied meat loaf with horseradish as an appetizer, followed by some kind of mystery soup, so named because one never knows what's in these Russian soups: leaves, snail-like flowers, meats of all types, you name it, they put it in. Next we were served potatoes and meat cooked in individual pots; this would have been delicious except they put sour cream over the top of everything. I hate sour cream. Following the restaurant we drove to Savior Monastery, the mens' monastery on a river bank overlooking the womens' convent on the other side of the river. Again the cold wrecked the enjoyment of the place. Stopped at a beriozka and then headed back to Vladimir. Was so cold when I came back that it was nearly impossible to get warmed up. After a late supper, another packing job occurred. Tomorrow morning at 7:30 we board the train and head back to Paris via Moscow. Amen!
January 26, 1969: Vladimir, Moscow, Train to Paris
Breakfast at 7:00 a.m.--earliest so far for the trip. Hard boiled eggs were served, a real delicacy on the trip. Left the hotel at 7:30 and just made it on the train before the wheels began to roll. Everyone is much more organized now and can handle themselves a little better with all their luggage and souvenirs. Arrived in Moscow just before dinner. Feel really funny again today. I think it's because I haven't been eating very much of anything and what I have been eating hasn't been worth mentioning anyway. Returned to the dearly beloved Hotel Tourist where we had two rooms. Stayed at the hotel during free time in the afternoon; attempted to get some sleep. We received chocolate ice cream for lunch which proved to be a real treat! Our table paid for another serving even. Boarded the train about 6:00 p.m. Was one of the saddest times of my life having to say goodbye to Rita, Boris, Valodia, and Yuri. Eva is going to ride with us until Brest--the border station of the Soviet Union for the train route that we take. Here we all were, singing "Today" and "If I had a Hammer" and other songs on the platform before the train left. Tears were flowing as the train pulled away and people said their last goodbyes. Was really upset because I left my vaccination booklet at the hotel; had taken it out to get some pills and forgot to put it back in; along with it were all my purchase receipts and declaration forms. Gave Rita my Paris address; she was going to send it to me in hopes that it would reach me before leaving Paris. What a surprise I received when Mary lets out a scream that she had my vaccination booklet; she had thought that it was hers when she saw it lying on the hotel desk so picked it up and tucked it away in her purse. Now I think of poor Rita looking high and low in the hotel for the little yellow booklet. Now on the train heading for Paris.
January 27, 1969: Train to Paris
Woke up for Brest inspection (leaving U.S.S.R.). Everyone was quite worried about having our suitcases gone through and everything else connected with border inspections but nothing took place at all. I really could have smuggled something out but then the minute I would have tried something, we'd certainly get checked. Mike H. left his passport at the Moscow hotel so he had to leave the train and wait until he received his Soviet visa and passport. Train rides are train rides, so nothing too much to report except that it's getting warmer. Finally saw the Berlin wall.
January 28, 1969: Train to Paris, Paris
Now traveling through Germany and Belgium. It's beautiful! No snow; saw one man plowing a field. The country is so indescribable. While I was in the toilet everyone else saw a castle. Can't see everything your first time around, I guess. Arrived in Paris late afternoon, was raining. Went to our hotel; we are staying at the Hotel de la Paix in the student district and Latin Quarter, only blocks away from the Sorbonne University--this area is where many of the demonstrations and riots were (one just a week ago). Staying on a little tiny street called Rue Blainville so narrow that our bus cannot drive up it. Had a great supper of soup, French bread, green beans, pork chops, and an orange for dessert. Mary and I went walking down this little tiny street filled with all types of open air shops. Really fantastic; night life in the student district really swings out, but at late hours. Went to bed early.
January 29, 1969: Paris
Got up early this morning and had rolls and coffee for breakfast here at the hotel. Went by myself (after changing my remaining $18 into francs) on my first hike. Walked to Notre Dame (Catholic church built in the 1160s. Joan of Arc's trials were held here, Napoleon crowned King of France here, etc.) Mass was being sung--a huge place. It's possible to walk behind the altar and look through gated doorways, seeing the priest singing away. After that I walked to the Louvre, passing by a section of streets where there were mainly pet shops and flower and garden seed shops. I've seen so many art museums that I think I'm getting tire of them. Anyway, my visit at the Louvre was brief. Saw the Mona Lisa. Met Mary at the Louvre unexpectedly so left with her around noon. Got caught in the rain so ducked into a restaurant and ordered French fries, beefsteak, and cokes. After the restaurant we hopped on the subway and went to the Arch de Triumph. Much larger than I pictured it to be. From there we walked to the Eiffel Tower. On the way we walked past a building flying an American flag with a huge wall around it and an iron door. Asked a policeman what it was; spoke only French but did say "U.S. ambassador." We thought it was the embassy. (More about this the next day.) Walked towards the Eiffel Tower but decided to head back in order to make supper at the hotel at 6:00. Didn't get to stand close to it or anything but saw the entire thing. After supper Mary and I went to the English version of Oliver in an exclusive theatre on Champs Elysses (tickets cost $3.) Movie was tremendous! Following the movie we walked to a restaurant called Pizza Pino and had something that resembled an American pizza but tasted a little different. Had a Pepsi! Also ordered my fruit salad (mouth was watering for fruit.) What a let down when the fruit came all soaked in some sort of alcoholic beverage--which I hated. Mary ate it all. While in the restaurant the subways closed (1:00 a.m.) so Mary and I walked about 5 miles back to the hotel along the Seine River (took about an hour and 15 minutes.) A great day.
January 30, 1969: Paris
After last night's walk decided to rest and recuperate today. Slept late. After breakfast decided to head back to what I thought was the Embassy. I wanted to find a phone number of an American living in Paris which wasn't in the phone book; hoped that the embassy would have it. Arrived at the place that I thought was the embassy from my previous walking excursion but couldn't figure out how to get past the huge iron door. Finally it opened and a woman came out who only spoke French. She showed me a little building which housed a Secretary's office. An elderly gentleman greeted me and I asked him if he could help me find what I was looking for. He looked quite befuddled so I asked if this was the embassy. He replied by saying "No, this is the private home of the Ambassador." Turning completely red, I realized that I was inside Sergeant Shriver's home. Anyway, he called the embassy for me; they told me to come over, so I took the subway to Concord Square, found the embassy and received my phone number. Headed back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the day. Must go easy on the money.
January 31, 1969: Paris
Slept most of the morning; wanted to rest up for the afternoon. We are going to tour the Versailles Palace. Left at 1:45 p.m. with the most fabulous guide. He really knew his history and made the tour both interesting and enjoyable. The Palace of Versailles is out of Paris proper about 9 kilometers. It was built by Louis XIV with Louis XIV residing in the palace before the revolution and his execution in Concord Square. Louise XIV was called the Sun King and there are many medallions on doors, walls, etc. of the Greek god Apollo with the sun radiating from it. Louis XIV admired Apollo who was the Sun god in mythology, hence the name Sun King. We saw the Hall of Mirrors, the table at which the Germans and French signed treaties ending World War I, the famous gardens of Versailles, and much, much more. The Palace itself is beyond description. The Spanish tour group from our college consortium has now arrived in Paris and is also staying at our hotel. During the evening, Linda Janisch (Cindy Severance's roommate at Gustavus and a member of the Spanish group,) and I went walking to Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and then took a subway to Arch de Triumph and Champs Elysees. We wanted to get a sundae or a banana split so decided to go to a restaurant (me in a blue shirt, no tie or sport jacket) and ordered banana splits and were flatly told no!---we had to order pizzas first and then we could order banana splits. So we both decided it would be better to order pizzas first instead of being so embarrassed by walking out. We never thought about checking out our finance situation. End result was that our bill totaled 29 francs and we had only 32 francs between us--just made it. Both of us have now joined the ranks of all the others in the group who are out of money!! Headed back to the hotel and went to bed, after showing Linda my Russian souvenirs. Nearly had a tremendously disappointing situation develop today but was later remedied. Swiss Air called our hotel and informed us that we wouldn't be able to leave until Tuesday because there were no available planes. Our group leader called Swiss Air and informed them that they would have to pay for 144 rooms for Monday evening plus telegrams home and meals for another day. Lo and behold, two hours later Swiss Air mysteriously found a plane so the schedule remains as planned.
February 1, 1969: Paris
Only 11 more days of being a teen-ager and only 2 more days until home. Hooray! This morning we really saw the places. The guide who conducted us through Versailles yesterday took us on a walking tour of the Ile de la Cite today and also other sites. Nearby our hotel, we saw ruins of Roman times consisting of an arena and a public bath. Also saw the only Gothic architecture-styled private homes in Paris, which were the homes for the Bishops of Cluny when they came to Paris; the grave of Saint Genevieve, patroness of Paris, who was originally to have been buried in the Pantheon but the Revolutionists had other ideas so now she lies in an old church next to the Pantheon called St. Etienne du Mont. Walked by the Sorbonne, through the central square of the student district and Latin Quarter. The name Latin Quarter was derived from the fact that in ancient times at the University, students came from all over Europe with their common speaking language being Latin, hence the name Latin Quarter, applied to where the students lived. 110,000 students now study in the University of Paris. Toured through Notre Dame; Palais de Justice, at which the French kings ruled until the 15th century at which time the ruling palace was the Louvre, up until Lous XIV, who built Versailles. Saw Sainte Chapelle which is inside the Palais de Justice, built especially to house the thorned crown which Christ wore, the remains of which are now kept in Notre Dame. Saint Chappelle was the king's chapel when the kings lived and ruled from the Ile de la Cite. Also saw the Revolutionary prison where the aristocrats were kept for a few days before the execution in Concord Square via guillotine. Saw special cell for Marie Antonette, wife of Louis XVI, where she was kept for a few years before her death at Revolutionary Square (Concord Square). Saw the guillotine that cut the heads! Walked by the Institute de France also. Originally had planned to walk with Linda J. to Eiffel Tower but slept all afternoon. Trip is catching up with me--am pooped out! Did nothing Saturday evening; read a Times magazine and then went to bed.
February 2, 1969: Paris
Suppose to have gone to early mass at Notre Dame but slept through it at the hotel. Finally got up around 11:00 and scrounged together some type of breakfast/dinner consisting of fruit, coke, and shoestrings. No wonder my stomach is all weird. Left with Rick, Mary, and Cindy to find a place to get something to nibble on. Walked halfway around the town and then decided to eat at a restaurant right by our hotel, where Hemingway always ate when he lived in Paris. Cindy and I went to a museum of French Impressionism and saw Pissaros, Renoirs, Van Goghs, Monets, Manets, etc. From there we took the subway to the Eiffel and paid 2 francs to climb to the 2nd level. Scared half to death climbing up; took the elevator down. Beautiful day--blue skies but a little windy. Was worth climbing up. Returned to the hotel. Packed after supper and did a little of nothing before going to bed.
February 3, 1969: Paris, Plane to Chicago, Chicago
Our last day in Paris and Europe. Finished packing, and left the hotel at 9:30 a.m. Plane left at noon. Am now sitting in Chicago airport--it's great to be back. Seems so incomprehensible to realize that I have traveled half way across the world, behind the Iron Curtain and toured the motherland of communism, the U.S.S.R. I wish more could have the opportunity of a tour such as the one I completed--perhaps we'd move just a little bit closer to a world brotherhood of peace.
NOTE: Upon arriving back in South Dakota, I was still not feeling well and was attempting, unsuccessfully, to control my diarrhea. I eventually was hospitalized and ended up being diagnosed with intestinal parasites that I had acquired while abroad. I lost 27 pounds during my four weeks in Russia.