Traveling in the Soviet Union

Introduction

When you wanted to travel in the Soviet Union you had four options: You went to the Soviet Union

- on an organized trip

- after getting a private invitation

- after getting an official invitation

In all these cases you were restricted in your movement. You could visit only certain areas. It was not allowed to visit closed cities, towns or areas.

- or you went to the Soviet Union on your own with a transit visa

You were not restricted in your movement but you had to avoid police controls or encounters with other authorities

I tried all four options.

Sukhumi
Sukhumi

Georgia

In 1980, on my first visit to the Soviet Union, I went there on my own, only with a transit visa which was valid only for two or three days. Coming from Poland, I arrived by train in Kiev where I took another train to Sochi and then to Sukhumi. From there I started a hitchhiking trip in Georgia, I stayed for several days there, and it was a great experience to come in contact with people I otherwise would not have met, to see places I otherwise would not have seen. Georgia is the country where Stalin was born, and there was still a great admiration for this dictator.

Chisinau
Chisinau

Moldova

Back in Sochi, I took a domestic flight to the Moldovian capital Chisinau. Soon I realized that this city was culturally more connected to Romania than to Russia. After several days there I decided to hitchhike to Romania. After arriving in a small village two kilometers from the border I had to walk. When the border guards saw me coming, they checked my papers, and they saw that I had entered the Soviet Union from Poland more than two weeks ago. But it was no problem, they thought that I was walking all the time from the Polish to the Romanian border.

Samarkand
Samarkand

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan

In 1985 I went for about ten days on an organized trip to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It was the first time that I chose this way of traveling but after all, it was a positive experience. Before I visited these countries I didn't know anything about Islam, but during the trip I learned at least, that it is not allowed to take photos of Muslim people, and I saw some of the great islamic architecture you can find in these countries, especially in Samarkand, one of the most ancient cities of the world whose history dates back 2,500 years, and in Bukhara, another ancient city. Unfortunately I could not make any personal contacts during this trip.

Vilnius/Lithuania
Vilnius/Lithuania
Riga/Latvia
Riga/Latvia
Paernu/Estonia
Paernu/Estonia

Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia

In 1988 I was invited to the first jazz festival in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Antanas Gustys, the festival director, whom I had met two years before in Germany, had invited me to bring a band to his festival. The festival was a big success, but it was not only the festival which I was interested in. At that time the movement for the restoration of the Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union had started. People began to think for themselves and stopped listening to politicians. It was an exciting spirit of freedom I felt when I was in Vilnius. I had some similar experiences in the following years when I visited Latvia (in 1989 and 1991), Estonia (in 1990) and again and again Lithuania, and it was always a good opportunity to come in contact with people in these three countries still under Soviet occupation. In 1991 I tried again to visit Estonia. Coming from Finland I had no visa for the Soviet Union because the Soviet consulate in Helsinki was too lazy to issue visas in time, and so I tried to get a visa at the border. This attempt was unsuccessful, and so I had to return to Finland.

Monastery on Solovetski island
Monastery on Solovetski island

Russia

In 1990 I went to Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg) to attend a jazz festival there. The first impression was a nightmare, a dirty and ugly city, 40 km East of the Ural mountains. My friend who had invited me, lived with his family in a small apartment, but he told me that he was lucky that he had not to share it with another family. The room of the hotel were I spent several nights was big enough to host a soccer team but I had dozens of other roommates - cockroaches (a friend had even a mouse in his room). The festival was interesting, some of the most important Russian musicians performed there, plus some musicians from Bulgaria, Lithuania and the UK, and it was a good opportunity to make some new friends. Another year, another festival. In October 1991 I traveled to Arkhangelsk, a port city in the Northern part of Russia at the coast of the White Sea. It was at a time of transition, the Moscow putsch had just collapsed, but the Soviet Union was still existing. During Soviet times, Arkhangelsk was one of the most important places for jazz and improvised music in the country, and so it wasn't a surprise that the festival offered some high level performances, including some by foreign groups. The festival included a trip to the Solovetsky island in the White Sea, a place of extraordinary untouched nature. This island is also home to a monastery which was turned into a prison camp during the time of Stalinist dictatorship, and where many prisoners, Russians as well as foreigners, lost their lives.

February 1992 - the Soviet Union was history. At that time there were no border checks between the countries of the former empire. I bought a train ticket for about 1$ in Vilnius and traveled, without a Russian visa, to Leningrad to attend another festival there ...

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Comments 18 comments

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hi! oh those were nice great places, i have a friend in kazakhstan, is that far away from Tajikistan? and sure lithuania is a nice place to visit. I wish I have enough money!

Have a good day always!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

I think I'm repeating myself but I had a guitarist in my band for couple years who is Lithuanian and still spends his summers there: Jonas Berzanskis.

I very much enjoyed reading about your journeys to these exotic locales. Thank you for the pleasure.


Beata Stasak profile image

Beata Stasak 7 years ago from Western Australia

Thank you for taking me on a ride around the Soviet Union, which does not exist any more. It brought some memories from my time studying there. Have you visited Volgograd?

Your great travel writing gave me an idea to write about my experiences in 'mother Russia'. I have also just finished reading a book about Stalin written by an English. I have read about Stalin in Russian language long, long time ago so it gave me a different point of view.

Thank you for visiting my hub again my fellow traveller. I have just finished writing about one hot summer day in Western Australia, if you have time to spare...just pop in and leave a commnent. All the best from Beata


motricio profile image

motricio 7 years ago from Bogota DC, Colombia

Hey!,

Very interesting to read about Soviet Union and all your trip.

I'd like to go to Europ someday and see all that beautiful places, and also get some cultural knowledege and fun!

Great hub.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

I'd love to visit Russia and the Ukraine one day!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

We don't think of that area as a travel destination but you make it sound great. Interesting Hub. Thanks.


Loveslove profile image

Loveslove 6 years ago from England

Hi..I read your Hub with interest I used to be part of a charity that hosted children from the Chernobyl area ,sadly its now folded but I still stay in contact with friends from Byelorus and especially the 2 boys our family hosted.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I too would love to visit Russia one day - definitely on my list! Thanks for the interesting Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

If I were to ever travel abroad,from the US,Russia and China are the only two destinations that intrest me greatly...thanks for the tour,nextstopjupiter;)


KimberlyLake profile image

KimberlyLake 5 years ago from California

Thanks for sharing your adventures!


ltfawkes profile image

ltfawkes 5 years ago from NE Ohio

Fascinating. Reading your travel stories frees my mind.

L.T.


Londonlady profile image

Londonlady 5 years ago

My parents lived in Romania when communism still held the country. I love listening to their stories. My dad was 21 or 22, I think, and in the military when the revolution broke out in Romania, and he always tells me how he would be assigned to certain locations in our town to keep the hospital entrances guarded or the police station or other vital places in the town so that the "rebels" wouldn't overtake them. It's amazing to hear stories first hand! Thanks for this hub. (Voted UP)


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

I envy you and wish I was in the fortunate position to see what you see during your travels. Thanks for sharing.


IntimatEvolution profile image

IntimatEvolution 5 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

This something I have always wanted to do. I am jealous!


bmukherjii profile image

bmukherjii 4 years ago

Ohho, Russia is my childhood dream destination


Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

Spasibo za rasskaz. Prikolno! Thank you!


Jason Smart 3 years ago

Nice photos.

I have also been to every country of the former Soviet Union and loved them all.

Read my book about vsiting them called 'The Red Quest'.

www.theredquest.com


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 5 months ago from San Diego California

Sounds like you have had some fascinating travels. Thanks for sharing.

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