Travel agency of Lomamatkat. (Advertisement, 1960.)

When a westerner wanted to plan and buy a trip to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, she didn’t go to a dark and dusty office with angry lady asking too many questions. Tourism to Leningrad, Moscow and especially the Black Sea coast was increasing and even getting fashionable in the latter part of the 20th century, and package trips were sold in fancy premises. Here is the headquarters of the Finnish travel agency Lomamatkat (“Holiday Travels”), which was specialized in Soviet and Eastern European holidays, depicted in the advertisement of Ajan Kuvat (“Images of our Time”) magazine. Stylish modern woman is planning her trip with three snappy clerks ready to serve her. Will it be Crimea, or maybe Kiev?

To Bashkiria. (Postcard, 1978.)

The different ASSRs (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics) were featured prominently in the postcard series of the Soviet Union. Producer of the postcards was ultimately the state, and the patronizing orientalist attitude was prevalent in the imagery, especially when representing different ethnic groups. Here is a postcard of Bashkiria, small area between Ural mountains and Kazakhstan border. Old traditions, partly folklore, partly fakelore, are highlighted to the point of kitsch. Stance towards national traditions and cultural heterogeneity changed from time to time. In the field of tourism it was more accepted and even desirable to bring forth the national heritage, especially in the last decades of the Soviet Union.

City's new suburb, Vyborg. (Postcard, 1970s.)

During the late Soviet era city postcards still clung to the idea of representing the most modern buildings, like in the beginning of the Soviet Union. Vyborg, a former Swedish town at the western border of Russia, has a pictueresque old town, age-old walls, and it even boasts a castle, but here we are with a Soviet postcard titled “New microraion of the city.” Microraion was a word that was used in the Soviet Union about new, huge suburbs, many of them towns in their own right. They were considered as pride of any city in the 1970s, when many microraions were built to ease up the cramped living in kommunalkas, and of course they found their way to the postcards – with sea view and wasteland beach.

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.

Forest Combine. (Postcard, 1963.)

Not all postcards show picturesque landscapes or sunny beaches. Sometimes they present one with good old forest combine in Ukraine – at least when it comes to Soviet postcards. Industrial sights were deemed as an important propaganda tool in the state-led tourism of the Soviet Union already in the 1920s, and later the were integrated as a normal part of practically all the package tours. Factories, dams, sawmills etc. were supposed to prove the rapid industrial development of the Soviet Union for its citizens. So of course they also appeared in postcards. Here is one card from the series presenting Ukraine. Other themes include, for example, big cities, hiking in the forest, and the Black Sea coast. Forest combine with frozen logs, smoking crane and dirty snow is natural continuation of these.

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.