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.

Terrace Cafe in Leningrad. (Brochure, 1970s.)

Tourism in the Soviet Union wast gradually westernized from 1970s onward, and even Russian language guide books would now add few photos of unproductive leisure and innocent fun alongside all the factories, kolkhozes, Lenin statues etc. one definetely had to see to be a good tourist. Here is an illustration from a brochure presenting Leningrad to Soviet travelers. The image highlights, that there were European style terrace cafes in the Soviet Union, especially in the “most western city” of the country, as Leningrad was called.

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.

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.

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.

Welcome to the Soviet Union. (Brochure, 1963.)

It seems that the Soviet Union was a combination of Edward Hopper’s paintings and Aki Kaurismäki’s films, at least based on the cover image of the booklet here. This Intourist brochure was published in Finland in the early 1960s, when tourism from Finland to the Soviet Union was increasing. At this time, during the so called thaw era, the Soviet Union was represented to foreigners as an up-to-date but also serious country, which had all the advantages that the western world had, as the setting of the photograph and especially the red high-heeled shoes of the sitting woman propose, but without the frivolous traits of capitalist culture.