A Travellerspoint blog

April 2020

1968

Lenin Mausoleum

Lenin Mausoleum

If you have a travel blog but cannot travel, what is the answer?

One is to look back.

My second big travel adventure came along in July 1968, with an educational visit to the Soviet Union. I was a few months short of turning 16. We were a party of high school students from several Scottish schools who were all studying Russian.

We sailed on the MS Mikhail Kalinin from London to Rīga in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, from where we transferred by bus to the airport and flew with Aeroflot to Moscow in Russia. After 3 or 4 days in the capital, we took the overnight train to Leningrad (now St Petersburg).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Mikhail_Kalinin

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leningrad

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leningrad

Again we had 3 or 4 days in the city, and then it was back onto the MS Mikhail Kalinin at St Petersburg to travel back to Leith (Edinburgh’s port).

It was quite an experience for a 15 year old.

Red Square, Moscow

Red Square, Moscow

Travel was very tightly controlled within the USSR back then, for nationals and for foreigners. We were warned that our hotel rooms would be bugged, and to make sure we did not say anything critical of the regime. Each floor of our hotels had a “supervisor” stationed at a desk beside the lifts and stairs, to monitor guests’ movements. You could not leave the hotel just to walk around - everything had to be done as part of an Intourist controlled excursion. It was not possible to speak to locals - they would be reported and face sanctions.

My knowledge of the language was quite basic at that time but one thing we all noticed was that on every radio news programme Czechoslovakia was the only story. The Red Army invaded a few weeks later.

Space

Space

Looking back, we took in a huge amount in just a week. Many things are still vivid memories - going inside the Kremlin, seeing Lenin’s embalmed body in its mausoleum, the splendour of the Summer Palace outside Leningrad, the Battleship Potemkin, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage.

The voyages were fun too. We crossed the North Sea in a force 8 gale on the outward trip. I enjoyed it. I found a vodka with Orangina (not the real thing - a Soviet version) calmed my stomach nicely. I remember sailing through the Øresund on the return voyage, with Copenhagen on the port side and Malmö to starboard.

Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow

Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow

Approaching Rīga on the outward journey was special. A party of Latvian exiles was among the passengers. They gathered on deck for the first sight of their homeland on the horizon, and then burst into song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU4RW2a2nK0

That may have been my introduction to the “nationalities question” which helped to bring the USSR to an end 25 years later.

Footnotes:-
(1) Leaving aside that the photos are over 50 years old and taken on a Kodak Brownie, they have been scanned from transparencies.
(2) I have only been back to Russia once, for a short business trip to St Petersburg in the 90s. I am privileged to have been back to Latvia many times.

Posted by IainT 23:27 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow st_petersburg scotland edinburgh russia riga latvia airlines leith aeroflot Comments (0)

Going Viral

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Life moves fast sometimes, doesn’t it?

Just over a month ago I was finalising details of a 10 day trip to Tunisia at the end of March, and starting to book flights for going to Russia in June. Tunisia was cancelled obviously. A lot could change before the end of June, but Russia seems a very remote possibility now.

Air France allowed me to re-book the flights to/from Tunis for October at the same price and without paying fees. They showed no signs of wanting to just refund my money. One hotel reservation allowed me to cancel without payment. The other took payment in full - £330.

Cancelled

Cancelled

My car rental reservation can be carried forward to October, but my internal flight from Tunis to Djerba (and back) is just forfeit. Another £100 lost.

Travel insurance? I have it to make sure I am covered for unexpected health problems when on holiday. I am cynical about insurance however, especially the travel kind. The business is good at identifying what risks lead to payouts, and then excluding those risks in the small print.

Did you know that if you want to claim for a lost suitcase, the insurance company will demand a receipt for every item in its contents, and the luggage itself? Keep those receipts… In addition, if the item is not new, they will discount the amount they will pay out based on how old it is. Keep those receipts…

Language Prep

Language Prep

As far as Tunisia goes, once the government there had announced a 14 day monitored self isolation period for anyone arriving from abroad, I knew I could not go. The logistics of complying with that seemed impossible, plus I would not have been allowed to fly home without completing it, and my trip was only for 10 days.

The insurance company will interpret that as me “choosing not to travel”.

Air France cancelled the flights between Paris and Tunis a couple of days later. Oddly enough, after that they were still encouraging me to check in for my flight from Edinburgh to Paris, which had not been cancelled.

Posted by IainT 05:33 Archived in Tunisia Tagged transport tunisia russia airlines Comments (0)

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