Monday, 13th June 1988
We were then approached by black marketers and asked if we had anything to sell. We told them that we didn’t and asked them where the metro station was. Begrudgingly they pointed out the entrance in the far corner of the station.
We walked into the metro station and looked at the map of the system. We just needed to get to the hotel, but as we looked at the system map, totally in Cyrillic, we were totally confused as to where we needed to go and how we were going to get there.
Luckily we happened to stumble across a German couple who had been on our train. They had missed Intourist too. They were not staying in our hotel, but they had an English map of the metro.
My first real memory of Moscow was helping to haul heavy German luggage down the beautiful long escalators of the metro system in return for a few quick glances at the map.
I eventually found the Hotel Belgrade on the map and it turned out it was across the road from where the Germans were heading anyway. We made it and it only took us 20 minutes to get there. We were quite impressed with ourselves.
The Hotel Belgrade was situated in the west of central Moscow and it consisted of 2 modern tower blocks. It was beside the rather beautiful looking Art Deco style foreign ministry building. It looked like a kind of mini Empire State building but it had a big stone hammer and sickle engraved half way up the side.
We checked in and went up to room 1806. The room had a faulty door handle, it was very spartan, the bed was very hard and the mattress was thin. The water flowing from the bathroom taps was often brownish in colour.
We unpacked and then we tried to have lunch in the restaurant. It proved impossible to have lunch as the staff were already having their own lunch break.
We went outside to explore. After so long in Asia Moscow felt very European to me. We walked out of the hotel, past the foreign ministry building and then we saw a really long queue for vodka. This was my first experience of a really long Russian queue.
We walked past a rather impressive looking classical style building, thinking it was a museum or a library, as we looked for the metro station. We had been looking for over 10 minutes when we discovered that the beautiful building was the metro station.
We went in, got a metro token and descended deep on an escalator onto the platforms. The platforms were amazing. They were lit with crystal chandeliers and decorated in the same style as a palace. We climbed on a train quickly and then got lost looking for Red Square on the map on the inside of the train. We got off at the correct stop though and eventually we made it through a labyrinth of Cyrillic writing and tunnels to the exit.
We emerged out into Marx Square and we took a walk around. The people were very European and a lot better dressed than I had expected. Still, the fact that there were almost no advertisements anywhere made the place seem very different.
We wandered around the square and went into the GUM department store. We went into one section that was selling toys, the stuff that was on offer looked shoddy, the shelves were quite empty and the whole place looked a bit spartan. We bought a cold (it was meant to be) hamburger and some delicious ice cream.
The drinks vending machines we saw in Moscow were quite curious. For 3 kopeks you could get a full glass of pink lemonade or a kind of watered down cola from a machine that resembled a large water tank. You used the same glass as everyone else and you then washed the glass using a special washing machine before leaving it for the next person.
We ventured through some back streets and then finally into Red Square. The first impression was that it was stunningly beautiful. The second was that it was smaller than I thought it was going to be. I realised that the young German guy must actually have been a very good pilot to land his plane there.
We spent the rest of the time walking around St Basil’s Cathedral and the Historical museum. By the time we had finished, it was already evening and we just stood and stared at the square again.
There was a lot of pollen in the air.
People were talking evening walks and generally they seemed to be enjoying themselves. We made a complete circuit of the Kremlin walls and we saw men fishing near the river. We ended up in the park next to the memorial to the unknown solider.
We got back on the Metro and we plotted a course back to our hotel.
On the way back to the hotel from the metro we popped into a supermarket. There were lots of queues everywhere but there was little choice on the shelves. It was all very, there was no other word for it, spartan.
The restaurant at the Belgrade looked very impressive. We sat opposite an Australian couple and talked to them. We thought it was ironic that we were supposed to be in a socialist country yet the fact the Russians had forced us to stay in a 3-star hotel (We had no chance to slum it in a cheaper place) actually made us feel quite middle class.
However, the service in the hotel was anything but 3 star and the food was not even 1 star. We had cold hamburger steak and chips and a “warm” salad. There was a party of Russians at the next table getting drunk and they asked the Australian girl to join them for a few minutes. She did and then they all started dancing. Her husband seemed to be getting a little worried and so, not wanting to get into a fight, we left for bed.
Tuesday, 14th June 1988
The next morning we rose bright and early and “enjoyed” cold sausage, salami, peas and bread for breakfast.
We caught the metro again. By now we had a system for the Cyrillic and we found our way back to Red Square with ease.
We visited the GUM department store again and we watched the queue for Lenin’s tomb.
We then entered the Kremlin itself and had a nice walk around it. We eventually ended up in a park outside and went to the Hotel Rossiya for cold hamburger, salami and bread.
We caught the metro to a park near the university. There was a lot of interesting things near the metro stop: the drinks machines we had seen before; coin changers – (not vending machines) but real people; a place where you could read Pravda standing up; and a lot of ice cream sellers.
There was ice cream everywhere we went. We purchased some and ate it on the way to stadium park. It was absolutely delicious.
The Lenin stadium had a statue of Lenin. Actually, there were statues of Lenin everywhere.
We visited the Lenin museum and saw every conceivable material dedicated to him. There were animal skins, feathers, hats, shirts and cups all with his image on them.
We came to a very beautiful spot on the river, with the view of the university in the background and we walked across the bridge to try to find the Metro station. We couldn’t find it and in the end we had to get a trolley bus back instead.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed more slow service, tasteless chicken and more Russian dancing (this time at a wedding reception) before bed.
Wednesday, 15th June 1988
For breakfast we had the same salami, bread and really slow service as the day before.
The train to Berlin was not due to leave until 18:35. We had instructions to be back at the Belgrade Intourist desk by 17:30 to pick up our tickets and get a taxi to the station.
We caught the metro to the stop known as VDHX in order to visit the large exhibition on Soviet achievements they had there. We emerged from the metro opposite the giant Cosmos hotel and then had a look at the simple and effective monument to Russian space exploration. We then entered the exhibition through an imposing Paladin arch decorated with large golden letters that spelt out CCCP (USSR in Cyrillic).
The SEA exhibition was actually presented as a sort of theme park. It cost 75 kopecks to get in and then once inside you were free to wander amongst the exhibits. It was set out like a cross between an amusement park and a palace. We had fun. We studied Russian pipe line technology, we inspected a Russian car, we walked through two Aeroflot planes and then we went into the great hanger-like building that housed the space collection.
After the SEA we went back to Red Square had a final wander around and then went back to the hotel.
We presented ourselves at the hotel Intourist desk at the allotted time and we were given our tickets to Berlin. We were then led out by our Russian driver to our Russian car; a Zil. The car was old and falling apart, but that didn’t stop the driver from driving as fast as he could. We thought he was positively trying to kill us or the pedestrians who got in his way. He spent the entire journey cursing at the other drivers as he tore around the streets.
We arrived well in time at Belorussia station for the 18:35 service overnight to Berlin.