In Crimea. (Brochure, 1980s.)

What was dream vacation like in the Soviet Union? During the 1970s and 1980s it meant a trip – preferably a car trip – to Crimea, and few weeks in a “kurort”, as the health spas were called in Russian after German model. In the late Soviet Union holidays were less ideological and more about rest, fun and freedom. Here is a full page illustration from an Intourist brochure promoting private car trips to the Black Sea coast. Apart from the inevitable Lada Zhiguli car, the photo could be from any European travel ad. Of course, in the Soviet Union only marginal part of the common citizens ever had an opportunity to travel to Crimea, let alone with a private car, so for most it remained literally a dream vacation.

Schema of flight routes to the Black Sea towns of the Soviet Union. (Brochure, 1980s.)

It is probable that the graphic artist of Intourist was heavily drunk when he designed this instructive illustration. Approaching the end of the 20th century, Soviet tourism became more and more liberated. Especially foreign travellers could go for relaxing vacation and not get force-fed with socialism and factory tours. Alongside holidays, the aesthetics of tourist brochures was also liberated – sometimes too much. Here is a page from Intourist booklet presenting Black Sea towns to Finnish audience. As the title declares, the image shows the flight routes from important Soviet cities to Yalta, Sukhumi etc. But the graph is so extravagant, that it doesn’t really give any information about the routes. This reveals the true intention behind the illustration: it wanted to tell the reader how modern and advanced the Soviet Union is with dozens of flight routes and millions of holiday-makers.

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.

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.

Neptune Greets You. (Brochure, 1970s.)

During the 1950s Soviet tourism was still bit stiff and official, but in the 1970s it began to relax. People didn’t anymore go to Black Sea resorts to heal from sicknesses under surveillance of doctors, but to rest and have fun. This was reflected in the postcards and guide books. This photograph is from a 1970s brochure presenting Soviet Black Sea resorts to Finnish audience. Apparently, “Neptune parties” became a thing during that time. Intourist representative was dressed as God of the sea, Neptune, and he entertained Soviet and foreign tourists.