USSR 1991

USSR 1991

USSR 1991


When I woke up this morning in Suzdal, it was still  overcast and raining.  However, the rain held off for half an hour between 7:30am and 8:00am to allow me to go for a walk before breakfast.  So under very heavy, threatening skies I headed off around the top of the river embankment and around the walls of the old monastery.  It was quite a walk, but almost miraculously, the heavens did not open up over me.  The walk took me through more of the small streets of Suzdal with their carved wooden fronts, chooks and sheep roaming around, and well-dressed people, making their way through the mud and slush off to work.

I was a bit sorry to leave Suzdal – it has been a good experience to be living in what looks like a fairy-tale world for while, especially one that has the occasional splash of Soviet propaganda, even though the weather has been grey and misty.  We left at 8:30am by bus after a quick breakfast and headed back to Moscow, passing through Vladimir once again (but this time without stopping).  The further we travelled, the better the weather became.  By the time we reached Moscow, which was about 12:30pm, there was bright sunlight and only a few clouds in the sky.

We had a fairly late lunch at the Cosmos Hotel followed by a fairly leisurely afternoon.  Our first stop was a souvenirs/ arts and crafts shop (but quite a good one), and then Arbat Street.  Arbat Street is an old, well preserved street to the west of the kremlin that has been closed off to traffic and opened up to arts and crafts stalls.  The street was converted into a pedestrian plaza in the late 1970s.  Frankly, it was a bit too touristy for my personal taste, so I walked up to Kallinn Prospekt instead.  This large roadway was only a couple of blocks from Arbat Street, and interestingly was recently re-named New Arbat Street because Mikhail Kallinin is now out of favour – he was a key ally of Josef Stalin until his death (amazingly of natural causes; cancer) in 1946.

As an aside, politicians going in and out of favour has been a feature of Soviet life ever since the Russian Revolution in 1917.  In that context, I was having a coffee with my guide, and for some reason I was showing her what Australian banknotes looked like.  She was surprised to see different people’s portraits on the banknotes, as Soviet roubles only feature a portrait of one person – Lenin (of course).  She asked me who the people on the Australian banknotes were, and I explained that several of them were scientists.  I thought her response was very telling: “That’s very wise” she said, “scientists are almost never out of favour”.

Kallinin Prospekt (as everyone still refers to it) is a concrete, glass and steel environment of massive proportions.  I spent quite some time in the books and posters shop, mainly because of the Soviet system of queuing three times to make any purchase.  There is no self-service, so (with limited language and lots of pointing, nodding and shaking of heads) the first queue is to get to the counter and let the shop assistant know what you want to buy.  The assistant gives you three identical (but differently coloured) slips of paper that you take to a second queue, which is for the cashier.  The cashier stamps the three slips of paper, keeps one, accepts your payment, and then hands the other two slips of paper from the first queue back to the customer.  You then join a third queue to the original counter, show the two stamped slips of paper, after which the shop assistant takes one and hands across the items that were purchased.

In the interests of full disclosure, there are really four queues, because there is always a long queue to get into a shop before the “three queue system” just described can even begin.  As one local person said to me, “Whenever you see a queue outside a shop you join it.  You may have no idea what you will find when you get in the shop, but you know it will be something worthwhile; otherwise nobody would be queuing”.

We had a little free time after dinner, so I offered to take the group by Metro into GUM, the large department store (some people claim it is the world’s largest department store) next to Red Square.  We arrived at about 8:20pm, with coincided with their new early closing time – somewhat disappointing as you can imagine.  Nonetheless, seeing Red Square floodlit at night was quite a sight to behold, and no-one in the group was disappointed in the slightest that they had made the trip.  We even had two young touts follow us all the way on the Metro back to the Cosmos Hotel – money can’t buy that sort of excitement.

At 11:00pm, we caught the overnight train (Train No.6) from Moscow to Leningrad, where we were scheduled to arrive at 7:30am tomorrow morning.  We have 4-berth sleepers, being hard class, and some of the ladies in the group are a bit anxious at the prospect of maybe having to share a cabin with a man.

Day 7

Suzdal to Moscow, Russia, USSR


4 October 1991