In the times of the Polish People’s Republic, a trip to such a remote corner of the world as Murmansk was possible thanks to cooperation with the Almatur travel agency. I was then a pilot in this office. The Pilot Club Board in Wrocław gave me a trip on the Warsaw-Moscow-Murmansk-Moscow-Warsaw route. It was a long time ago, because in 1978. I have to admit that I was very happy because I have never been so far away.
The work of the pilot at that time looked a little different than the present. On the day of departure the pilot received a voucher, which is a document authorizing the participants of the trip to use hotel accommodation, program to implement and a list of possible contacts in case of problems. A major difficulty was the lack of a phone. At that time, nobody even dreamed of cell phones or smartphones. Instead of GPS, you had to be fluent in the map and pass on your own knowledge and intuition. My duty was to ensure that everything went smoothly and that the participants did not get tired and were happy.
I met a group at the Warsaw-Okęcie airport, which looked more like a small hangar with a few planes than the airport. After checking the participants’ attendance list and completing all formalities connected with the passport and customs clearance we finally got on the plane. After two hours of flight we were in Moscow. From the airport we arrived by coach to the hotel of Ukraine, where we had to sleep. After accommodating us and settling all organizational matters, it was time for dinner and well deserved rest. The next day we had a guided tour of Moscow, the capital of the then Soviet Union.
My attention was paid to the relatively small traffic of cars while at the same time there was a large number of taxis. On the other hand roads were so wide that could freely move the tank. The best means of communication was the metro. For me it was a kind of tourist attraction, because in Poland we still did not have a subway. The stations of the Russian subway were also very nice. They were filled with decorations and chandeliers. Sometimes I felt like visiting a palace. It was an amazing contrast to the grayness of the Polish streets. I thought, it’s a pity we do not have them. I was comforting that in the end in a few years we too would ride the metro. And it happened. After 100 years we have a metro in Warsaw, which is proud of the inhabitants of the capital and more.
We visited the most important monuments of this largest city at the time of the USSR and today the Russian Federation. The Red Square, the Moscow Kremlin, the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, the Bolshoi Theater, the Trieste Gallery, the Kremlin Armory, the Old Arbat, one of the most picturesque pedestrian streets in the city.
Undoubtedly the most important place for historical reasons is the Red Square. This famous square located in the city center near the Kremlin is now the seat of the Russian president. The square is a place of social life and precious sights for centuries. Communist authorities organized state ceremonies here, presenting the military power of the state.
A great interest of the visitors was aroused by the Lenin mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the leader of the October Revolution rests. To enter the mausoleum, you had to stand at least 2 hours in the queue. That was then. I do not know how it is now. I have to admit that it made an impression, and the statement Lenin is eternally alive is still valid. My attention in the mausoleum drew many couples, who consisted of flowers.
In the neighborhood there is the Basilica of Saint Basil the Blessed, the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Kazan the icon of Our Lady. Lobnoje Miesto is a bit further on the former place of public announcements of Czech decrees and executions. At present there are customary state ceremonies.
In 1893 GUM was built – the Glorious Universal Warehouse. In this beautiful and magnificent shop I bought souvenirs for those times. My dream was to bring a samovar, but unfortunately I was not able to buy it. I had to settle for his miniature.
After a long walk through Red Square I went to the Kremlin to meet the youth. I was fortunate that I was able to enter and see the richness of that then-seat of the communist authorities, the secretary of the communist party of the USSR. Currently the President of Russia is working here.
My admiration aroused richly decorated rooms, beautiful crystal chandeliers, numerous paintings by eminent painters and golden ornaments on the furniture and doors. It looked very richly and elegantly modestly. Tsarist dynasties liked to surround themselves with wealth and beauty, so they left in the inheritance valuable cultural heritage that their descendants enjoy.
One more thing drew my attention. Adolescents would be surprised, but in these seemed a decent standard of hotels, there was no toilet paper in the bathrooms. And the puppy had to be chopped up in newspaper pieces. It was a surprise, because in Polish hotels and flats toilet paper was a standard. Despite this, Moscow impressed me with its enormous size and list of places to visit. I am very curious how the city has changed over the past 40 years. Maybe some of you will tell me?
The next day we were going to fly to Murmansk. Unfortunately the Russians changed the transfer at the last minute, explaining the change in flight hours. I had no choice but to agree to a Russian side proposal. Instead of the plane we were supposed to reach Murmansk by train. We had a long journey, because we had to travel 2,000 km. As far as I can remember, we drove 3 or 4 days. The train was long and the wagon stacked. We were sitting or lying down alternately. Time passed very long. Outside the window was the same boring landscape. For the sake of the time, you could ask the conductor for a glass of tea. From time to time, a glass of champagne was also offered, which was relatively cheap. And then we fell asleep.
The only entertainment for us was the consumption of meals we went to the restaurant car. In practice this meant the passing of several cars, which was not a pleasant experience. We passed bundles with different passengers. There was a terrible dread that I would not say stink. All the smells were mixed up there. The windows were closed and could not be opened. We lacked a fresh air supply, which did not affect our well-being.
Well, although the food was tasty and the service nice. We were most tired of this monotony. How much can you still sit or lie and so non stop for a few days. We felt increasingly tired. Only food and champagne was a chance for us to persevere to the end of the journey
We finally got to Murmansk in the afternoon. Surprisingly for me it was still snow, and it was the second half of June. There was nothing strange about that, because we were just behind the Arctic Circle. Murmansk is a city located in Russia on the Kola Bay near the border with Norway and Finland. It is a large port that does not freeze all year round. Behind the hills of the city was the Barents Sea and artificial lake. The climate is cool and raw. It is the largest city in the world located behind the Arctic Circle.
Murmansk was also the base of the Russian state’s nuclear ships. It is also an open port of international shipping. This is a place hard to find and not so easy to get there. You need to have a special permit. I think that in today’s political realm I would not have the chance to go under the Arctic Circle.
Murmansk seemed to me a rather cool city and not too pretty. The only attraction worth a visit was a natural museum. We got interesting information about the taiga and watched the movie. We saw beautiful white bears. This was one of my more beautiful memories. In addition Murmansk had white nights. It was difficult to distinguish between day and night. Only the look on our watch reminded us that it was time to get up or go to sleep.
According to the tour program, we had a disco accompanied by a gala dinner. This was the kind of entertainment we needed after our trip. I have to admit that they all had a great time. I also. And it is known that after such a play, you sleep like a baby.
Sadly after waking up we found a situation unpleasant. It turned out that the participants of my group were robbed in the night. It was a big surprise for me, especially since it happened on the hotel grounds. My dear hikers at the disco went to their rooms for a well deserved rest. They removed their gold chains, watches, rings, etc., and laid them on the night tables. Unfortunately, they forgot to close the door, which was used by thieves. It was the thoughtlessness and naive on their part.
We were all sad that it met us. I had to report this to the hotel authorities immediately and ask the police to explain the whole situation. The police conducted the investigation as it usually does routinely. Nothing was found, and the victims of the stolen things never recovered, the police did not find the guilty.
At that time I was looking at my watch because we were going back to Moscow on that day. From the hotel to the airport was far, and we could not be late for the plane. I was just going to have trouble. Who will cover the costs? You can guess how stressful was for me the whole situation.
Fortunately we got to the airport on time. We were all saddened by this nasty event, but most importantly we were all right and healthy. Material items are important, but memories are more valuable. This unpleasant event did not discourage me and other tourists from traveling. On the other hand, caution should always be maintained regardless of where and with whom we travel. Do you agree with me?