This study tour was one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far.  It was sponsored by Denmark's International Studies Program, where I was spending fall semester with a group of students from Whittier College.  The tour visited Moscow (in the Russian republic), Riga (in the newly independent republic of Latvia), and St. Petersburg (the original name of Leningrad, recently restored).

            The tour occurred less than two months after the fall of Communism and the independence of the three Baltic republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and less than three months before the collapse of the rest of the U.S.S.R into independent republics.

            The tour group included 25 students, a representative from DIS, myself, my wife, my 14-year old daughter, my 12-year old son, and my younger brother who is a businessman. The following is a detailed description of what I did, saw, and thought in the form of a daily diary.




            The Aeroflot flight from Copenhagen to Moscow was delayed an hour.  This was not unusual, but I was surprised to see the condition of the plane. The carpeting was badly soiled and torn loose.  The flight attendants were nice, and the lunch was good, but I did not expect to be served packaged cheese from Kentucky on an Aeroflot flight from Denmark!


            When we arrived at the Moscow airport, I noticed that one customs line was very slow, while another was moving quickly.  In the latter line the agent just stamped our currency declaration forms and waived us on through.  We then had to wait more than two hours, however, because an airport baggage handler had misplaced the luggage of several members of our group.  During this time, we met our tour guide from Intourist who would remain with us for the entire tour.


            The airport was dark, drab, crowded, and smoky in contrast to the bright lights and open spaces of the Copenhagen airport.  I exchanged some money into rubles at the exchange window, at the official rate of 32 rubles per U.S. dollar. While I was waiting in line a man offered to sell me rubles at a slightly better rate (35); I refused, knowing that such an exchange was illegal and risky.  I later heard that the typical black market rate was 45.


            We finally boarded a tour bus.  After the porters had loaded the luggage, they asked for cigarettes for a tip.  We then rode an hour to the Cosmos hotel.  It was a 25-story curved building which could accommodate 4000 guests.  We checked in, and I found that the main light in my room was burned out.  I reported this to the floor attendant, and gave her a pack of cigarettes to insure good service during our stay (I don't smoke but was told to give cigarettes as tips).  She sat at a desk by the elevator, and kept the room keys.  We gave her a card with our room number and she gave us the room key when we arrived, and we returned the key to her when we left the floor.


            We then ate dinner in the hotel restaurant.  The first course consisted of a few pieces of cold fish and about two tablespoons of salad. The waiter apologized for the small amount of salad, explaining that it was difficult to obtain fresh produce in Moscow.  The second course was a huge plate of cold French fries with roast beef and gravy; it was not great, but it was more food than some of the students could eat.  We felt guilty eating so much food -- and even wasting food -- knowing that there were food shortages.  There was even ice cream for dessert served with tea and sugar.  We saved the extra sugar packages and gave them to our tour guide, because sugar was not available in state stores in Moscow.


            After dinner, the larger group of 31 split into smaller groups.  About a dozen of us walked across the street together to the subway station.  After paying 15 kopeks each (about half a U.S. cent, since there are 100 kopeks per ruble), we rode fast escalators about three stories underground.  We took a train into town, on which I formed my most memorable impression of Moscow.


            Most of the people on the train were wearing clothes that were dark and drab.  Their shoes and clothing styles were similar to those in Western Europe over twenty years ago.  Most stared at the ground and looked depressed. There was a teenage boy sitting across from me who looked totally dejected. This was in sharp contrast to the laughing and talking teenagers I was used to seeing on trains in Copenhagen.  I expected Russians to be happy to be liberated from the oppression of Communism, but found that they were still economically oppressed.  I felt sorry that they had to endure the economic failure of Communism in order for it to fail politically.


            We got off at the station which had been identified by a hotel clerk, but found that we weren't at Red Square.  We headed up a street that looked like a major route.  After walking several blocks, I stopped and asked three officials standing on a corner for directions. I later learned that the officials had been standing in front of the headquarters of the KGB!  In the middle of that square was the pedestal from which a statue of the head of the KGB had been toppled just a few weeks before.


            We were shocked at the condition of the buildings that we were passing by. They were large gray apartment buildings with stores on the first floor.  Pieces of the building surfaces had broken off and had not been repaired.  As we passed block after block of this, I wondered how the USSR could have been a superpower when it couldn't even maintain its public buildings.  Then I remembered that the Soviet Union had been spending about 30% of its gross national budget on defense while the U.S. was spending about 6%.


            We finally reached Red Square.  The familiar onion-dome cathedral, St. Basil's, was beautiful at the far end of the square.  On the left was a long building which was the GUM state department store.  On the right was Lenin's Tomb in front of the Kremlin wall.  It was surreal in the moonlight with spotlights on the cathedral and the Tomb.  I had never expected to be in Russia, and never thought that Communism would fall in my lifetime, yet here I was in Red Square shortly after Communism had ended.


            We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb, and were surprised that those were the only guards we saw.  We did meet two former soldiers, however, who were selling souvenirs.  One had just returned from Azerbaijan, where he had been sent to quell ethnic conflict there.  They and others were selling t-shirts, army belts, military hats, watches, and the famous wooden dolls which have multiple dolls inside.  They explained that they could make more money selling souvenirs in one day than their parents were making in a month.  In the past, such sales by individuals were illegal.  Now private selling was legal, provided that it was in rubles and did not include military items.  However, most sellers preferred to take U.S. dollars, and they knew that military items were popular with foreign tourists. 


            We took the subway back to the hotel, and were approached by more than a dozen souvenir sellers between the subway station and the hotel entrance.  There were also young boys asking for chewing gum, even though it was almost midnight. At the hotel, there were clerks at the entrance who let foreign tourists in, but kept local Russians out.  When I entered my hotel room it was stifling hot, even though it was cold outside.  So I turned off the radiator and opened the window, and finally was able to sleep.




            For breakfast we had white bread, light rye bread, cheese, cooked oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, and caviar.  There also was tea and mineral water. We had been warned that the tap water tastes bad in Moscow, so we drank mineral water or soda with meals.  Diet Pepsi, bottled in Russia, cost 3 rubles (about 10 cents), while canned Fanta or Sprite, imported from Germany, cost $1.  We also found that we could buy mineral water from our floor attendant, for one ruble and five kopeks.  Since a ruble was only worth about 3 U.S. cents, it was difficult for us to take kopeks seriously when Russians painstakingly counted them out.


            However, we learned later from our Intourist guide, that the typical Russian salary was 400 rubles a month, or about 20 rubles per working day. In U.S. funds, that is about $12 a month, or 67 cents per day, or about 8 cents per hour.  So a 3 ruble bottle of Pepsi cost them an hour of labor, while a $1 can of Fanta cost more than a day's wages.  This also gave us a new perspective concerning the prices of souvenirs, which typically were $10-15 for a doll, $10 for a watch, and $5 for an army belt on Moscow streets.  One of the dolls we bought was stamped 90 rubles on the bottom, which indicates that the seller paid about $3 for it; since we paid him $10, he earned $7.  Selling only two dolls would earn him more than a month's Russian wages.


            After breakfast, we boarded a bus for a tour of the city.  We passed state stores with long lines outside.  There also was a Pizza Hut with a long line. But the longest line of all was more than two blocks long in front of the new Macdonald restaurant!  In addition, there were stacks of crates on various street corners where private individuals were selling produce, books, and flowers.  We drove along the same street we had walked along the night before, and saw the location of KGB headquarters, and stopped at Red Square.


            St.Basil's cathedral was beautiful in the sunlight, with its multi-colored onion domes.  The Kremlin wall looked massive behind Lenin's Tomb. We also noticed the huge base where a massive statue of Lenin had been until a few weeks ago.  We walked freely around the square, then a few of us explored the GUM state department store.  It was a beautiful building with fountains and balconies.  Since it was located on Red Square, it had higher prices for souvenirs than other state stores we found later in other parts of the city.


            On our way back to the tour bus, we saw a display of water color paintings of St. Basil's.  They wanted only rubles.  But other sellers gathered around the tour bus selling other souvenirs.  We offered them lower prices ($5 instead of $10) and they often accepted lower prices if we started to walk away. We also asked them for the price in rubles, and found that it was often cheaper in rubles, since it was difficult for them to exchange dollars for rubles.


            We rode the bus across the river and stopped for a view of the rear of the Kremlin.  Again the tour bus was surrounded by souvenir sellers.  By this time we had a better feel for prices, and were developing a fever of souvenir buying not only for ourselves but for Christmas gifts as well.  There was an element of competition in the group, to see who could find the nicest items or the cheapest price.  At first the Intourist guide was impatient at our delays in boarding the bus, but later she was amused.  She commented that our prized souvenirs were not so good as we thought they were.  When we looked at them closely later, we noticed that there were significant differences in the quality of the paintings on the dolls and lacquer boxes, but we liked them nonetheless.


            We drove by Moscow University, and stopped on a high embankment for a view of the city.  There was a man there with a life size photo of Yeltsin and Gorbachev with whom one could pose for taking your own photo, for 20 Rubles.  We passed a newspaper building and saw people reading newspapers posted on the wall.  As we drove over a bridge we saw the white house that is now Yeltsin's home.  We also went under the overpass where the army tank rank over some protesters during the failed coup attempt last August.  At the end of the city tour we stopped at a private shop where they were selling souvenirs, but we found the prices there higher than what we had seen on the street.


            It took us an hour to get back to the Cosmos hotel for lunch.  After a first course of fish, we were served borscht. We ate lots of bread, thinking that was it.  But as we got up to leave, the waiters brought out the main course, which was cold French fries and roast beef and gravy like the night before.  After stuffing ourselves, we got up to leave again, and met the waiters bring ice cream for dessert.  We then realized that the mid-day meal was the main meal for the Russians.  We boarded the bus for an hour drive back to Moscow University, and were annoyed that we had wasted so much time driving to and from the hotel for a long lunch instead of eating closer to the university.


            We met with students who were studying English at the university, in preparation for careers as teachers or interpreters.  They told us that they were disillusioned.  All of their plans, and hopes, and dreams were shattered. Everything that their parents had worked so hard for, to achieve Communist ideals, had been for nothing.  They had no new plans or visions to replace the old.  They didn't know what to do. While some of the students seemed optimistic, there was a young man who was clearly depressed.


            After dinner back at the hotel, there was a pleasant diversion for the evening. We went to see the Moscow circus.  It was in an indoor building which was always used for the circus.  There were several acrobatic and balancing acts, which were very good.  There also was an act with trained dogs of various breeds. In between the acts the same two clowns performed -- they worked the whole evening. There was an intermission in middle, during which we were approached by more young adults selling souvenirs.  We enjoyed the circus a great deal.


            We wanted to see a little of the Moscow night life, but learned that the ruble bars closed at 11 PM.  The dollar bars (which took only hard currency, not rubles), located primarily in tourist hotels, stayed open until 2 AM.  We thought that we would go to the disco in the basement of our hotel, but found that they had a cover charge of $22 which was outrageous even by Western European standards.  So instead we had a Danish beer in the small bar off the hotel lobby, and talked about our impressions of Moscow.  We went to bed early, knowing that we wouldn't get much sleep the following night on the train.




            After breakfast we boarded the bus again for the long ride back to Red Square, for a tour of the Kremlim.  We were told we could take our cameras, but we had to leave large backpacks on the bus.  We entered through a gate in the back of the Lenin Tomb and first saw a beautiful large white building with tall narrow windows, which was where the Congress met.  As we walked past and around the building to the right, we saw the beautiful golden onion domes of three Russian Orthodox cathedrals.  We then came to the large square which was surrounded by the three cathedrals.


            We entered the largest of the cathedrals, called the Church of the Ascension.  It was incredibly beautiful.  There were rows upon rows of painted icons all the way from the floor to the high ceiling, in bright colors and gold paint.  There were gold and silver furnishings and huge silver and bronze chandeliers.   We had always thought of the Lenin as an armed military fortress, and had no idea that there was such beauty inside.


             When we left the cathedrals, we passed a huge bell which was intended to be hung in the bell tower.  But a huge chunk had broken out of the bell before it could be lifted to the tower.  It reminded me of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, although this bell was much larger, more than three times the height of a person.


             As we rounded a corner and headed back toward the Congress building on the left, we saw a pretty park on the right. There was a statue of Lenin seated there.  We were told that it was located in Lenin's favorite spot.  It was the first statue of Lenin we had seen in Moscow, a city that formerly had statues and photos of Lenin everywhere.  Across from the Congress building there were two three-story yellow buildings, which were used for government offices.  The building on the left had white columns around three windows on the second and third floors; that was the location of Lenin's apartment.  There were three guards scattered around the yellow buildings, who didn't want anyone to get too close to those buildings; but they weren't carrying rifles and they were the only guards we saw inside the Kremlin.


            When we left the back of the Kremlin, we walked through a park along the Kremlin wall to the grave of the unknown soldier, killed in World War II.  We then entered Red Square to see the inside of Lenin's Tomb.  We gave our cameras to the tour guide to hold, since no cameras or packages were allowed inside the tomb.  Red Square, which had been wide open Monday when Lenin's Tomb was closed, was now closed off except for the long line to Lenin's Tomb.  Guards checked for packages closely as we walked through an entry point, and all along the route to the tomb.  There were dozens of guards spaced along the line and inside the Tomb.  It gave us a sense of what life felt like before the fall of Communism.


            But we understood the need for tight security.  There were many who would like to see Lenin's Tomb destroyed.  Indeed, there was a current debate about whether to bury Lenin and remove the Tomb.  The Tomb itself was like a temple to a deity, and inside, Lenin's coffin was like a high altar.  The coffin had glass walls so you could see Lenin's preserved body, like coffins of bishops I had previously seen in Italy.  Lenin despised religion, but the Communists created a state religion with Lenin as the deity.


            We had complained to the tour guide about the amount of time it had taken to return to the Cosmos hotel for lunch Monday, so on Tuesday we had lunch at the Ukraine Hotel, which was downtown.  The food was better than at the Cosmos, and that gave us time after lunch to look at some state stores nearby.  Around the corner from the hotel entrance, in the same building, were three state stores. There was a long line for one of the stores, which was a butcher shop.  I was surprised to see what they were all waiting in line so long to buy -- wieners. Another shop was selling liquor, and it had a shorter line.  A third shop had large jars of canned fruit, and it had no customers.  On the next block there was a bakery, and it had a long line. Nearby was a bookstore, but it had just closed for lunch.


            On the sidewalk was one of the enclosed stands, which private individuals could rent from the state.  This one was selling used clothing.  Others we had seen before were selling tobacco or newspapers.  We boarded the bus again, and passed a row of carts on the sidewalk selling flowers -- about the only color we had seen in an otherwise drab city.


            Our last stop in Moscow was at the offices of the newspaper Pravda.  We met with three of the editors of the paper, who told us we were the first group that had visited since the paper had become independent.  Prior to the August coup, Pravda had been the official mouthpiece for the Communist party.  Even though it had a smaller circulation than Izvestia, it was important politically. After the coup, the paper was shut down for a week.  Then it reopened as an independent paper.  Previously the editor had been appointed by the Communist party, but now the editor was elected by the newspaper staff.  However, the editors told us that even though the paper had officially changed, the people writing the paper were the same.  It was difficult for them to change their perspective overnight.


            Indeed, they didn't know what new perspective to take.  I asked them what the United States should do to help their country, and their answer was to send aid.  Through the course of the discussion, I got the clear impression that they, like the Moscow university students, and the political leaders, did not know what to do to reform their country politically and economically.  Their countrymen had no experience with democratic traditions or capitalism, and they didn't have a clue about how to make the changes that were desperately needed.


            It was a little scary, because it reminded me of the situation when the Communists took over in October of 1917.  There were actually two revolutions in 1917.  The first one, in March, resulted in the overthrow of the czar. A Provisional Government was set up, which hoped to create a socialist democracy with multiple parties like other European nations. But the government was paralyzed by indecision.  This made it easy for Lenin's well-organized Bolshevik party to seize power in a coup in October and establish a single-party rule.  Although the failure of the coup attempt last August has discredited the Communist party, the current situation still raises concerns about a possible dictatorship, whether the dictator is Gorbachev (now too weak), or Yeltsin (still a possibility), or someone else.


             The United States and Western European nations need to send more technical expertise, than they have been doing, to help the former USSR reform its economy and develop new democratic institutions.  Without those reforms, money given to the USSR will be wasted.  Food is also needed to help the people survive the winter.  The irony is that the former USSR has more natural resources than any other nation.  With proper management, instead of central Communist mismanagement, it could be one of the richest nations in the world. To help tap those resources there need to be more joint business ventures, in which Western companies provide investment and expertise.  Unfortunately, western companies are now hesitant due to uncertainty about the future situation.  What is needed is something like the Marshall Plan, which helped put Western Europe back on its feet after World War II.  With the former USSR at the crossroads, the risk of not helping with reforms is too great for future world peace and prosperity.


            After leaving the Pravda office, we picked up our bags at the hotel and boarded a night train to Riga in Latvia.  The train car was divided into compartments, and each compartment had four couchettes (bunk beds attached to the wall), two on each side.  Some of the students played chess, while others played cards. My family and I talked with the Intourist tour guide, who accompanied us on the train.  Later we wanted some dessert, so we walked through the train to the restaurant car.  The tour guide was tired, so she didn't accompany us.  But that meant that none of us spoke Russian, and we discovered that no one in the restaurant car spoke English, or any other language that we knew.  We tried to explain that we wanted cake, but the waitress didn't understand.  She took one of us into the kitchen to point to food, but he saw no dessert.  Finally we drew a picture of a cake, and the waitress indicated that they didn't have any.  So we went bed.




            We were tired when we woke up, because it was hard to sleep on the train.  The tracks were old and a little bumpy, and the car couplings were loose so that every time the train stopped, the car jerked.  Nonetheless, the ride was an adventure which I enjoyed.  The porter brought everyone hot tea from a large urn, as he had done the night before.  The tea was served in a glass held by an ornate metal holder, which I liked very much.  Out the train window we could see forests of both fir and deciduous trees, with occasional meadows and farm fields.


            When we arrived at Riga, there was a short ride to the Latvia hotel. The hotel was much smaller than the one in Moscow.  Since it was morning, our rooms were not ready yet so we put our bags into two rooms which served as hospitality rooms.  There was a beautiful view out the window, of a park and many old steeples, unlike the drabness of Moscow.  We then had breakfast at the hotel.  The food was similar to what we had had in Moscow, but it tasted better. 


            A Latvian tour guide joined us and we took a short bus ride to the old part of the city (half a mile from the hotel).  We walked by an old cathedral, and saw a statue of a German who had promoted Latvian culture by translating Latvian literature into German during the time that Germany ruled Latvia.  We learned that Latvia had previously been under Swedish, German, and Russian rule. Indeed, there had only been two periods of twenty years each when Latvia was not under foreign control.


            We saw the remnants of a barricade by the church, then a larger barricade at the entrance of the communications (newspaper and radio) center across the old square.  This was the place where Russian troops tried to crush Latvia's declaration of independence last January.  A few blocks away were the barricades blocking Soviet tanks from the parliament building -- with "Red Army Go Home" written in English for the benefit of American television viewers.  Although the U.S. government was very slow to recognize Latvia's independence formally until after the Soviet parliament approved it, the support of the U.S. did play an important role in controlling Soviet reaction.


            We returned to the hotel for lunch, then some of us went to the museum of fine arts, while others explored the state stores.  I was very impressed by the paintings in one wing of the museum.  They included scenes of old buildings in winter, surrealistic paintings of blue and white mountains, and impressionist views of rural life.  I was surprised that all of the art abruptly ceased at the end of the 1930s, until I remembered that the Soviet Union annexed Latvia during World War II.


            I was disappointed that the museum did not have a catalog or any postcards, but was told to look for art books at the book stores.  So this became my quest as I explored the shops and street vendors.  I found several street vendors selling books, but no art books.  I saw a woman selling leathercrafts on the sidewalk, and many paintings for sale which were hung on a temporary construction fence.  Near the train station I found an underground sidewalk which had tables selling Western car and movie posters and cheaply printed nude magazines.  The latter indicated that they now had freedom of expression, but that it was recently achieved.


            The people I saw on the streets seemed happier and wore brighter clothing than in Moscow.  There were children playing and laughing in the streets.  The only children I had seen in Moscow were begging for chewing gum.


            The shops had a greater variety of consumer goods than I had seen in Moscow -- shoes, clothing, art objects, appliances, even a television set.  The food shops had more choice and smaller lines than in Moscow.  The butcher shop had several kinds of meat and fish instead of just wieners.  There were at least 20 kinds of fruits and vegetables in the produce shop, instead of just cabbage and potatoes.  There was even a confectionery shop with candy and cakes, which was striking in light of the sugar shortage in Moscow.


             I finally found some book stores, but they did not have the art books I wanted.  I also found a video rental store, which had American movie posters on the walls.  By then it was time for dinner, so I walked back to the hotel. After dinner, some of us wanted to check out the nightlife, but after walking all over half of downtown we found only one cafe; it was small and quiet, but pleasant, and we shared a bottle of champagne for only 57 rubles (less than two dollars).


            We later learned that some students had found a bar next to a casino, where a man waved a knife at them and told them to leave.  Apparently, there are separate bars frequented by different ethnic groups, and they don't like others to intrude.  Less than half of the population of Latvia is Latvian, with the remainder being Russian, German, and other groups.  Most of the signs in Riga are in both Latvian and Russian, and many of the people in the stores speak German (which was helpful to me since they didn't speak English).




            We learned more about these political issues the next day when we visited the English department at the university in Riga.  One of the teachers explained that Latvians resent Russians, not only because of Soviet domination but also because many Russians were brought in and given the best jobs.  A major political issue is a proposal to restrict Latvian citizenship to those who have been in Latvia for 16 years and who know the Latvian language.  Others would be granted residency, but wouldn't be allowed to vote, since they would outnumber the ethnic Latvians.


            The mood of the students was very different from those in Moscow. They were happy about their independence, proud of their city and culture, and generally optimistic about the future.  At the same time, they were concerned about high inflation.


            We learned more about inflation that afternoon in a visit to a textile factory.  Three of the managers of the factory told us that prices had increased by a factor of five since 1989.  During that same period, wages had only increased three and a half times. 


            The managers showed us samples of the children's clothing they produced, and stated that all of the machines they were using were 20-years out of date.  New machines could only be purchased from the West, and were too expensive for them to afford.  With their old technology, they could not compete with Western firms.  Another problem was their prior dependence on only one source of fabric.  To begin to address these problems, they were forming a joint venture with an Italian firm to produce clothing for sale in Latvia and Finland.  It appeared that forming joint ventures was a wise way for both Eastern European firms and Western Europeans firms to rebuild East European economies.


            They also showed us samples of t-shirts they produced, which we liked and wanted to buy as souvenirs of Riga.  Some of us then went on a tour of the factory to see the way the clothing was made.  It was interesting the way the sewing machines trimmed the fabric as they hemmed the seams.  Other machines made scallops in the seam binding.  Of particular interest was the use of a band saw with a straight edge to cut out pattern pieces from a six-inch high stack of fabric.


             We returned to the hotel to get our luggage, and also exchanged more money into rubles.  The official exchange rate in Riga was 46 rubles to the dollar, while the official rate in St. Petersburg would be 32 as in Moscow.  We then boarded a night train, which was similar to the one we had ridden before.  However, the porter on this train was less conscientious than the other porter had been, and one of the bathrooms on the train was disgustingly filthy; the other bathroom was slightly better, but still smelled bad as did the bathrooms on the first train.


            Since I didn't expect to find any dessert on the train, I had purchased four packages of cakes (for less than two dollars, since I paid in rubles) earlier when I was exploring the stores.  We shared these with the entire tour group, as well as the people in the last compartment of the car, who were not part of our group.  In return, they invited us to join them for vodka and beer.  Two were from Riga, two were from St. Petersburg, and one was from Kiev.  Two of them were brothers, one from Riga who was going to visit the other in St. Petersburg.  Originally all of them were from the Ukraine.  One spoke only a few words of English, and another spoke a little Spanish, so the communication was rudimentary, but we had a good time.




            When we woke up in the morning, the countryside was similar to the forests and meadows we had seen when we had approached Riga.  Since we would be arriving late in the morning, we had brought a sack breakfast from the hotel in Riga. After we arrived in St. Petersburg, we rode a bus to the hotel, showered, and had a short time to explore the hotel before lunch.  It was a large hotel, but not long ago it had had a big fire, so two of the elevators were not working and the other two did not go above the fifth floor.  There were small cafes at the end of each floor where our rooms were, which was nice.  On the main floor, there was a tourist shop which had a Russian doll for $63.  Next door there was a newsstand which had metal pins for 35 kopeks (one U.S. cent).  The juxtaposition of the two shops illustrated the split in the Russian economy between transactions in hard currency and transactions in rubles.


            After lunch we boarded a bus for a tour of the city.  Across from the hotel was an old battleship from which the signal was sent which started the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.  It reminded me of the Old North Church in Boston, which signaled Paul Revere which way the British were coming in 1775.  As we rode along the river, we could see the Peter-Paul fortress across the water.  It was built to protect the city from invading Swedes.  We stopped to take pictures of it near the building which had been the stock exchange during a brief period before the Communists seized power.  We also passed a statue on the spot where nobles had tried to limit the power of the czar in the Decembrist uprising which was crushed in 1825.


            We drove by many beautiful buildings, including the Winter Palace which had been the home of the czars.  The Winter Palace, New Hermitage, and Old Hermitage buildings were now all part of the Hermitage museum, which had more than 3 million objects of art.  If you spent 1 second on each object, it would take 5 years to see everything in the Hermitage.  But in addition, there are 120 other museums in St. Petersburg to see.


            We stopped at an old cathedral, St. Isaac's.  It was even more beautiful than the cathedral I had been so impressed with in the Kremlin.  There were not only golden icons painted on the walls, but huge gold angels over the side altars, marble columns, and gold trim everywhere.  Outside, we were approached by more sellers with military hats, belts, and watches -- with prices cheaper than in Moscow since there were many soldiers and sailors stationed in St. Petersburg.


            After dinner, many of us went to see the famous Kirov ballet company.  The bus driver arranged to get tickets and take us there for $20 a person, which was much cheaper than the $35 offered by our hotel.  However, the tickets were marked 12 rubles (about 36 cents), again reflecting the dual economy. The ballet was called Don Quixote, but the action was centered on two lovers, and it wasn't clear why Don Quixote was needed.  However, the dancing was beautiful, so it didn't matter.  After the ballet I went to bed, since I was tired from the train ride the night before.




            After breakfast, we went to see the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum. The palace was very beautiful, with marble columns and gold trim.  The Palace was originally built for Peter the Great's daughter, but she died before she could move in.  So the first ruler to live there was Catherine the Great, who seized power by plotting to have her husband Peter III murdered.  One of the rooms in the palace had Peter the Great's throne, even though he had never lived there. Other rooms contained beautiful furniture, including exquisite inlaid wood chests. In the white dining room was the place where the Provisional Government officials were arrested by the Bolsheviks during the Communist revolution in October, 1917.


            Among the many paintings in the Hermitage, there were 30 rooms of just Italian paintings.  We saw one of the first paintings to depict the holy family as three-dimensional people instead of two-dimensional icons.  We also saw two beautiful early madonnas by Leonardo da Vinci.  Then we jumped to another part of the museum to see several paintings by Rembrandt, and passed by a room full of marble statues by Rodin.  We were only able to get a glimpse of the treasures in the museum during the two hours we had available.


            After lunch back at the hotel, we rode to the Peter-Paul fortress.  Outside the entrance, we saw more Russian dolls and lacquer boxes for sale.  The asking prices were cheaper than in Moscow, and they were cheaper still in rubles.  Inside the fortress, we visited a cathedral which had the sarcophaguses of many czars.  I was especially interested in those of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Alexander II.


            These czars were meaningful to me because my father's ancestors were Germans who had been brought to Russia to live in communities along the Volga River by Catherine the Great in the 1760s.  When Alexander II freed the serfs in 1870, he also eliminated the special privileges enjoyed by the Volga Germans, such as exception from military service, that had enticed them to come. My father's parents left Russia in 1901 at the time of the nationalistic uprisings which were the precursor to the revolution in 1917.


            After we left the Peter-Paul fortress, we asked the bus driver to let us off by the state department store downtown.  The department store was very crowded.  As in Moscow, shoppers had to wait in line to look at the merchandise and get the price, wait in line to pay a cashier, then wait in line to pick up the merchandise.  It's about the most inefficient system that could be imagined. I saw shoes, clothes, toys, toiletries, cigarettes, and various hardware items. Each kind of item was sold in a separate stall. There was also a stall which had some stereo equipment -- one tape recorder and a few speakers.  But the tape recorder was reel-to-reel, which is obsolete in the U.S.


            Outside, I saw a produce stand with many customers.  In general, there seemed to be more food in the stores and stands in St. Petersburg than in Moscow, but not as much variety of consumer goods as in Latvia, which was having increasing trade with Western European countries.  We were looking for a street with many sidewalk vendors which some students had told us about, but were unable to find it.  Finally, we took the subway back toward the hotel, then walked 15 minutes in the rain from the subway station to the hotel dining room.  We were physically exhausted and cognitively overwhelmed with impressions.


            After dinner, we went to see a Russian folkdance group.  It was a pleasant diversion.  In the lobby of the theater there were counters with more souvenirs. But by this time most of us were out of money and had all the souvenirs we wanted anyway. 




            In the morning, our baggage was picked up at 5:30, and we left the hotel at 6:00, after eating a sack breakfast.  According to Intourist rules, we were supposed to leave the hotel 3 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave.  When we arrived at the airport we stood for two hours at the airport entrance, while another tour group pushed past us because their flight left before ours.  The way it was organized (or rather, disorganized) was totally insane.  It was no wonder that the Communist system had fallen.


            The Aeroflot plane that we flew to Copenhagen was newer and nicer than the plane we had flown to Moscow.  But when we landed, we were glad to be in Denmark and felt that we were back home.


            The next day, when others asked me whether the trip to Russia had been fun, I said that I wouldn't describe it as fun.  But it was extremely interesting, one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far.  I am glad that I had made the trip.  It gave me a totally new perspective for evaluating things.  Instead of using 100% as a comparison point, I can now appreciate things in comparison with 0%.   When I saw the produce stands by the Danish train station the next day, which I previously had taken for granted, I appreciated the variety and quality of the produce.  When I walked into a Danish department store, which I had been in many times before, I was overwhelmed by the variety of colors and sizes and styles.   Issues which seemed important before seem trivial through eyes that have seen Moscow.