USSR - 1974
This turned out to be a very fateful holiday for Peter and Anne as it marks their first ever meeting and the rest, as they say, is history. The holiday was taken as part of a youth exchange programme although, as far as we know, no Russian youngsters visited the United Kingdom.
There was deep unrest within the USSR at the time of the visit and this was very evident in the Estonian capital of Tallinn which was more westernised than either Moscow or Leningrad. It came as no surprise when Estonia broke away from the USSR and became an independent nation.
Fate actually threw myself and Anne together. There were three separate holiday groups to the USSR going out at different times of the year. I had applied to go on the same group as two journalist colleagues - Peter Anthony and Jenny Jepson. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately depending on how you view these things) we were all put on different groups. My initial reaction was to cancel the visit but, on reflection, decided to go ahead. Anne went with her friend Kathryn Blackburn.
The following travelogue is taken from Peter's diaries written at the time.
Thursday July 25th
Caught the 1.45 pm train to London from Norwich, arriving in London at 3.45 pm. The London Underground system was playing up with trains few and far between. I actually got on the wrong one and had to double back. Had intended dropping my stiff off at the hotel but there wasn't time and I had to go straight to a meeting for the group. I only just arrived in time. The meeting lasted for a couple of hours. Unfortunately most of the others seem to have come with friends. Still I must make the best of it. After the meeting I had to find Sloane Square and the hotel and the luggage was beginning to weigh heavily. I had no trouble finding Sloane Square but did have a problem finding the hotel. Eventually had to ask a taxi driver. By the time I got to my room I was very hot. The hotel is nothing special but ok for one night.
I was very hungry, not having had anything to eat since 11.30 in the morning. I decided not to go out, not wanting to get lost again.
Friday July 26th
The first day in Russia and the day was somewhat disorganised. Breakfast in the hotel, paid the bill and set off for the West London Air Terminal. Got the tube to Gloucester Road. Met other members of the group and got the bus to Heathrow. The flight to Moscow took three and a half hours. At Moscow the problems started. All our bags were searched and some things confiscated. Luckily they didn't find my diary. Then there was a long wait on a bus for other members of the party to get through customs.
The bus journey took an hour. Was surprised to see how colourful the clothes of the Russian people were. There was evidence of slum buildings, however. We eventually made it to a hotel and I got put in with a couple of other guys from Derby. A quick wash and rest and then to the restaurant for tea which was bloody horrible - some yucky salad type stuff with potatoes and Russian tea.
After tea the group broke up and spent the remainder of the evening wandering about and trying to find somewhere to have a drink which proved difficult as we had been unable to change any money to Russian Roubles. The water was undrinkable so I was forced to go to bed with a terrible thirst, dreaming of a pint of Guinness. The people in the group seem to be very nice and easy to get on with.
Saturday July 27th
An unusual way to spend a Saturday and a very tiring and hectic one. Breakfast was absolutely awful and it looks as if we will be really pushed to get any decent food on this trip. It was pouring with rain as we walked to the exhibition of economic and cultural achievement which was massive and sad that they seem to have invested so much money on monuments and gold statues rather than on their own people. The park was over 500 acres and by the time we had driven and walked round it we were all soaked.
Subjects featured in the park included space exploration and there was a unique cinema - one of the few in Europe to have about eight screens showing one picture in a circle . Sadly the film was typical Russian propaganda. this was lapped up by the Russians who obviously go there to be re-assured about "how great their country is."
Got back to the hotel in time for lunch and had to eat another grotty dinner whilst being sopping wet. After lunch we had a guided coach tour of Moscow. It is an impressive city although I'm sure we only got to see what the state wanted us to see. We arrived back at the hotel just before another dreadful tea. Just had time to pack the cases before setting off for the railway station for our overnight journey to Tallinn in Estonia. There were four of us sleeping in a very small carriage with very hard bunks and a 14 hour journey.
A group of us got in conversation via Bill our interpreter, with a Russian soldier who seemd quite knowledgeable about pop music. I gave him some chewing gum and he almost insisted on giving me three roubles for it which is the equivalent of well over £1.
Sunday July 28th
Got absolutely soaked again today. Managed to get a little sleep on the train but felt very tired The Russian people seem to be very tolerant in putting up with their life. We arrived in Tallinn at 9.30 am and we were taken to a hotel by coach. The same three of us shared a room. The room was better but the loo smelled awfully and there was no bath or hot water. We had to catch another coach to go to another hotel. By the time we got there the food was cold.
We had a coach tour of the city. As we parked the coach the rain began and so it was another soaking. Dinner was a slight improvement and then we awaited for the rain to stop before walking across to a coach to take us back to the hotel where we were staying. The rain continued and we had some cake and buffet before going on another long tour of Tallinn. It's quite a beautiful city. Managed to fit in an ice cream in the old town before going back to the hotel.
Monday July 29th
Had to walk for 10 minutes to get breakfast. Breakfast was cold egg, cucumber and coffee. Caught a train to a cinema where we viewed four films - one on Estonian dancing, one on Tallinn and two cartoons. We were then left to our own devices until dinner. Myself, Dave and Peter (my room mates) retraced our steps of one of yesterday's tours to take some photos. I prefer Tallinn to Moscow. Dinner wasn't too bad but tea was atrocious. After dinner we walked to a music museum which was quite interesting. Then went with a group to do some shopping. Whilst in a tourist centre I was accosted by a person talking in Russian and obviously couldn't understand a word they were saying. I bought a pack of playing cards and a leather purse. Back at the hotel, had ice cream, fruit juice and cake.
Having a shower was slightly farcical. Had to go downstairs, obtain a ticket and then wait in a queue for one of the five showers. We stood next to a Russian person at one point who started to sing to us. We gave him a postcard of London! He thrust a bunch of flowers at us.
We stayed in the hotel for the evening as it was raining again. Did have a game of cards with the two girls in the room next door - Kathryn and Anne and we sat up talking until almost midnight.
(Note - This is the first mention in my diary of my wife to be)
Tuesday July 30th
to be continued