1st class sleeper. (Brochure, 1970s.)

Not everything worked in Soviet tourism, but one thing did – the trains, especially night trains. The Soviet Union was a huge country, and journeys could take days, so sleepers were designed to perfection. There were different classes from open sleeper (so called “platzkart”) to 4-person compartment, and the best was 1st class 2-person compartment, depicted here in the illustration of a Soviet travel brochure from the 1970s. Soviet citizens were used to trains and knew how to conduct themselves, but foreign people didn’t know the small tricks of the trade. One peculiarity was that in Soviet trains male and female passengers were put together without any separation, so one had to know how to act decently. For this reason, though, the night train was also a place for secret erotic encounters.

At the Sea, Abkhazia ASSR. (Postcard, 1970.)

According to famous quote, “there is no sex in the Soviet Union”. But Soviet postcards seem to indicate otherwise, or at least some of them got pretty daring during the last few decades. Soviet leisure tourism was gradually liberalized and westernized from the 1960s onwards, and even the state produced postcard series got few relaxed postcards among all the Lenin statues and pompous buildings. Here is a postcard from 1970s depicting almost erotic beach life at Pitsunda in the Abkhazian coast of the Black Sea. This kind of imagery, so familiar to western tourists from holiday postcards, was quite exceptional in the Soviet Union.

Autotourism. (Stamp, 1970s.)

In the 1970s tourism was already a big business in the Soviet Union. It was promoted as a leisure activity that indicated freedom and equality. Of course, real freedom and equality were still mostly lacking in the Soviet Union – and that’s exactly the reason they had to be advertised. Here is as stamp from the series “Foreign Tourism in the Soviet Union”. It might initially feel weird that stamps promoting foreign tourism were published for Soviet citizens and in Russian language, but when seen as propaganda, it isn’t that weird. State wanted comrades to think, that Soviet Union is an open country, where foreign tourists can come and drive around everywhere (as indicated by the beautifully carved landscapes at the background) and take photos – all activities that were restricted for foreigners. Stamps with wide circulation were good means of spreading this false image.

The hut of V. I. Lenina at Razliv. (Postcard, 1960s.)

Some attractions in the Soviet Union were excessively political, to the point of being comical. The so-called “Lenin’s haystack” is one of them. Just before revolution Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin went hiding. One of his refuges was a peasant hut and nearby haystack at Razliv, some twenty kilometres west from St. Peterburg. After the revolution and especially Lenin’s death in 1924, the symbolic importance of the hut – and the haystack – was realized. The hut was museumized already in 1920s, and later a granite memorial was erected there, and even the haystack was reconstructed. In the end of the 1960s the place had become a proper tourist attraction with a brand new museum building, the replica of the haystack, nice forest paths and even a pier for passenger boats. Of course the “Hut of V. I. Lenina at Razliv”, as it was officially called, was featured in postcards, too. Here is a postcard from the end of the 1960s where one can see the haystack and the granite memorial – with Lenin’s name written on the top in gilded letters. And the best part? Yes, it’s still there.

Route map to the Black Sea coast. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Yes, one could travel from foreign countries to the Soviet Union with private car, especially from the 1970s onward. There was a catch, though: only few main highways were allowed to auto tourists, and the Soviet traffic police GAI had checkpoints, where they monitored that cars continued the journey and didn’t deviate from the route. Moreover, the law allowed you to drive only 500 km. per day, and you had to book accommodation beforehand. So basically your road trip began to resemble a train journey with a private compartment. In this brochure one finds the routes availabe to Finnish tourists. Although there were not that many roads, the distances were huge. From the Finnish border to Crimea one had to drive 2500 km., and to Yerevan, Armenia, it’s over 3500 km. The worst thing was that you had to drive back home via the same road.

UdSSR Intourist. (Poster, 1930s.)

Soviet travel bureau for foreign tourists, Intourist, was established in 1929. In the 1930s it began extensive advertising campaign in many countries, especially in the United States. Intourist posters were designed by the best artists and influenced by the constuctivist aesthetics of the 1920s. In this poster, which is not promoting a single destination but the Intourist itself, one can see what the early Soviet Union wanted to highlight for travelers. Progress and modern things like power lines and high-rise buildings were important, and in the background there looms the long history with churches. In the forefront one can see mausoleum of Lenin and the globe indicating that the entire counrty is open to visitors.

Camping site Butovo. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Camping was a popular hobby in the Soviet Union. Early on, in 1930s, it meant mostly overnight hiking trips outside the buzzing industrial cities, but later, during the 1980s, trips got longer and reached further away. At that point some citizens already sported private cars, for example Lada or Mosckvich, and in there one could fit the family, a tent, and the necessary gear for a proper camping trip. Unfortunately, even roadtrippers were not free to go anywhere. The roads permitted to vacationers were clearly marked on the map, and the nights had to be spent in official camping sites, like the one here at Butovo, just outside Moscow.