Russia Stories

This article is about our trip in June and July of 1991.  We spent almost a month in Russia.  During part of that time, I was in Mongolia for a Ham radio contest.

This page has some stories of our travel in Russia.  These are tidbits that aren’t worthy of being called a story.

Once, I saw a string of maybe two dozen phones and a queue at one phone while all the rest were empty.  That one was allowing free calls.

I always looked into as many rooms as possible in a public building because I was nosy.  One was quite large but had only a single desk in the middle.  Mounted on the desk was a bracket to hold a massive paper roll.  A man was pulling at the roll and using scissors to cut off squares of paper for toilet paper.  The paper in a toilet was always squares that weren’t quite square.  Then I understood how they got full employment under communism.

Another time I saw a man out in a light rain holding a piece of roofing over his head for an umbrella.  It was his job to watch the single milk cow graze and move the stake every couple of hours.  Full employment.

Approaching an airport, we had to go through old security checkpoints with a bar and a small building.  They were no longer used, but this woman was still there, and as a car approached, she would raise the bar to allow the vehicle to pass without stopping. An average person would tie the bar up and go home.

On our first trip to Eastern Europe, we tried ice cream on the way to Russia.  All examples were made with sour milk.  I told Linda they probably wouldn’t like fresh milk, as they have never had it and would find it strange.  I was right.

We never saw cows out grazing in any fields.  We saw plenty of people using a hand scythe to cut any green growth and putting it in a cart pulled by hand.  The cows were kept in a building and not allowed out to graze.  Full employment.

It wasn’t possible to buy stamps for an envelope.  One had to wait in line at the post office and get it weighed and priced out for the distance defined by the address.  Full employment.

Finding a building with a bulb in the fixture of halls and stairways was almost unknown.  They had all been stolen to be used in people’s apartments.

When Larry would park his car, he either had arranged to take along his security person to guard it or would hire one on the spot.  Removing the windshield wipers before walking away from the car was customary.  Otherwise, they would be stolen.

A few times, we saw an ice cream vendor serving a very long line.  Larry would ask if we wanted ice cream.  We would say, “No, the line is too long.” We would be told to stay “right here”  Larry would return in a couple of minutes with plenty of ice cream. It was KGB-style intimidation.  His wife could do it, too, as she knew the wording to get what she wanted.

Russia had one color of hair coloring, red.  There was no other choice.

Russians were told that their astronauts were the first to visit the moon.

On any reasonably well-traveled road, one could always see at least one dead vehicle every couple hundred meters.  Many would hitchhike, as that was a common practice.  The hitchhiker would wave the hand in a certain way to show that he/she wishes for a ride and is willing to pay some small amount to help defray expenses.  It was common to see dead buses too.  In that case, one would see dozens of people waving hands for pick-up.

Sometimes instead of the well-designed underground commuter system, the trains would run above ground on very wavy and dangerous tracks.  Those trains all ran very slowly.

The public toilets all stank badly.  A woman was always in charge of attending and handing out those squares of toilet paper……… for a price.  We learned that her job was one of the best paying around.  The competition for that job was huge, and would be assigned by some corruption.

More stories to come as I remember them.

Bag of sugar

Bolshoi Ballet

Flight to St. Petersburg

Hermitage Museum

Moscow train

St. Petersburg hotel

Stalin’s bunker

Russian coup attempt

Soviets’ discontent

Update 30 March 2023