1. In 1991, before the USSR collapsed, there were only 4 long distance phone lines in and out of Moscow. To place a call to the USA one had to make an appointment, in person at the telephone exchange to make a call to the USA. It was always at least the next day. You showed up 1 hour early and sometimes waited 3 hours before your name was called.
2. In 1991 copy machines required a government license to own.
3. In 1991 city maps of Moscow and St. Petersburg were illegal to own. Smaller towns rarely had maps.
4. During the Soviet era, doctors, street sweepers, teachers, factory workers and nearly everyone else were paid the same amount – about $200 a month. Officially there was no “gender gap” because everyone got paid equally poor. However, few women were ever found in upper leadership positions in government or business.
5. During the Soviet era, the KGB and the nomenclature and apparatchik (those who ran everything), had their own higher-grade hotels and restaurants, hospitals, doctors, vacation spots and cars. Reminiscent of Orwell’s The Animal Farm where “all pigs are created equal, some more equal than others.”
6. During the Soviet era, people would stand in line at stores like shoe stores and when they entered, they bought whatever was available – often a 1,000 sq. ft. shop may have had only 20 pairs of shoes. Armed with shoes that didn’t fit, the citizen used his new shoes to barter for goods other Soviets found in other stores. Note from Boris Leostrin, our Russian partner: “So true. I remember that. My mom always bought us clothing of a bigger size because ‘if you don’t buy it now, who knows if you’ll have a second chance’ and so that when we grow up we would have something to wear.”
7. One of the first legal private businesses in 1990 was a life insurance company that sold life insurance the same way Amway sells soap. Multi-level, meeting in people’s homes. Advertising still wasn’t legal then.
8. Lake Baikal, about the same length as Lake Superior, has more freshwater than all of the Great Lakes combined.
9. In winter, Lake Baikal usually is totally frozen over with three feet or more of ice. The Trans-Siberian railroad is rerouted in the winter to run rail tracks quickly installed ON the lake. Truck races are often held. It all breaks apart in one short explosion one day in spring.
10. The Lena River is the eighth longest river in the world, about 2,700 miles long starting near Lake Baikal and emptying into the Arctic Ocean near Tiksi.
11. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s participation in assassination attempts on the tsar earned him banishment to the banks of the Lena River. He loved it so much there that he changed his name in honor of the Lena River – Vladimir Lenin. Rumor has it he might have had quite a bit of royalty in his DNA adding spite to his banishment.
Here's a wonderful article and photos that will make your visit to Plyos come alive.
We've visited Plyos many times and it is a charming stop along our way that has remained one of our favorites. There's a path up a hill for those who enjoy a view and there are a few shops in town that might possibly be open when we arrive - no guarantees.
Ask your counselor to introduce you to some towns people, take a paddle boat out on the Volga, or sit and enjoy the history of this quaint village. If we're lucky the art museum will be open and we can see some of Levitan's work.
Check out the day-by-day itinerary and see when we will be visiting - you may be surprised by the charm.
Contributed by Elizabeth Stoddard
By Mark J. Stoddard, Co-Founder, Heart of Russia Cruises
Bits and Bizarre Pieces of Russian History, Culture & Geography
PART I of 4
1. According to legend, the large dish in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral off Red Square was used for:
a. Mass baptisms b. Mass executions c. Both.
According to various guides contradicting each other, the answer is Both. Welcome to legends of the tsars.
2. In 1991, when the USSR finally collapsed under its own weight, injection needles were cleaned with an autoclave; disposable needles were unknown.
3. Also, in 1991, President Boris Yeltsin’s office in the Russian White House, had a 3’x3’ table to the left of his desk. On it were 18 rotary dial phones, each a different color. That was his switchboard. (I saw it.)
4. When Boris Gudonov’s plan to execute Prince Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, was carried out…although by Boris’s account the young man slit his own throat while having an epileptic seizure…the cleric in Uglich rang the large bell to warn everyone. In retaliation, Gudonov cut off the “ears” of the bell. (The “ears” hold the bell to the pulley system that makes it go back and forth.)
5. At the wedding of Nicolas and Alexandra, many people died trying to get to the buffet table.
6. Catherine the Great, born and raised in Germany, rarely, if ever, spoke Russian because her Russian had a deep German accent. French was the language of the court.
7. When Lenin’s communist party took over the government, one of their first acts was to “nationalize” all of the churches, then burn all of the Bibles they could find, melt the bells to make cannons, and use many churches as grain storage facilities.
8. When Nicolas and Alexandra and their 7 children were rounded up in the basement and shot, many bullets were deflected upon hitting the jewels they had secreted below their clothing. At least one version of their execution. But...did Anastasia really die?
9. The song, “Lara’s Song” made famous by the movie Dr. Zhivago, is NOT a popular folk song in Russia. It was written for the movie yet is very popular for balalaika performers today.
10. The virgin forests of Russia would cover the United States of America at least once.
11. During the Soviet era, Russia had a severe paper shortage.
Bucket lists are all about finding the perfect or unique adventure to experience before, well, you know, you kick the bucket. Morbid. But it certainly resonates with most people.
Before Elizabeth and I were invited by the Minister of Higher Education of the USSR to come to the Soviet Union to teach free market and business classes to their leading industrialists, going to Russia was never a consideration. After all, they were the Evil Empire and in my mind I could only picture Russia in black and white. Dull. Cold. Stern. Uninviting.
After that first adventure in 1990 and a subsequent lecture tour that my brother Eric joined me on, teaching free market principles to President Boris Yeltsin's cabinet, the Supreme Soviets of BeloRussia and Ukraine, the president of Moldova, and 17 city councils and a host of other full day lectures, my image of Russia and Russians was forever changed.
Elizabeth and I have now been to Russia more than 50 times and taken all five of our children to stay weeks and months at a time.
So when people tell me they have no desire to visit Russia, I try to assure them that their decision is correct and give them these 7 Reason Why Russia should NOT Be on Your Bucket List.
1. Too many Russians want to meet Americans. Solitude is tough.
2. A headache may ensue from having seen the largest most ornate palaces in the world set in millions of acres of huge forests, lakes and rivers.
3. Yes, 900 miles on rivers and lakes – yeah, there are rolling banks and forest and little villages here and there, yada yada, but how many trees and acres of farmland and inside of villager’s home and tea parties that suddenly spring up…can one stand to see.
4. Where are the giant cruise ships!!? Only river yachts holding 200 – and 40 of them are those pesky Russians wanting to meet Americans. A ship that size doesn’t have the joy of waiting to get off the ship in port as thousands go ahead of you. No waiting time to get into your book.
5. When’s a body to sleep! The Bolshoi Theatre is closed in summer so you are stuck with those singers on the ship every night. Bring ear plugs.
6. Not a single McDonald’s Happy Meal anywhere on our ship. You’ll starve, except for all the chicken, duck, beef, vegetable Siberian, Russian Far East, Ukrainian and Russian dishes. Too many deserts too. Too much to choose from.
7. Talk about not leaving you alone. You’re stuck with a highly educated Russian who speaks English better than you, who only helps your group of 12 to 14. Trying to stump them is so impossible it’s no longer fun trying.