Russia and Berlin
Dodge and Manly, 1991

The trip started on June 22, 1991, by Dodge's and my taking a 4:50 P.M. Saturday Lufthansa flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, where we waited from about 9:30 A.M. to 1:20 P.M. on Sunday for another Lufthansa flight to Leningrad. Arriving at this very proletarian airport about 5:30 P.M. (Moscow and Leningrad time) we and several others from the same flight were met by Philip Ryan, the Travel Director assigned to us by Alumni Holidays. This is the organization that actually makes the arrangements for tours by alumni of various universities, including Northwestern. He advised us to wait patiently until our luggage got off the plane, and also to buy whatever liquor we were likely to want aboard ship at the airport's duty-free shop because drinks on the ship we would ride are expensive. Dodge and I each got a liter of Stolychnia Vodka for $10.80. I wish I had followed the example of one other man who got a liter or two of bottled water, which cost $1.50 per half pint on the ship.

While waiting one of the women in the group complained about the heat, which was probably in the 80's. I told her that it would cool off as soon as it got dark, and she didn't catch on to the fact that on the 23rd of June it doesn't get dark in Leningrad until others started laughing after a 20-second realization delay. People speak of the "white nights of Leningrad" in reference to this lack of darkness.

In time busses showed up and we were taken to the M.V. Kzhirzhanovsky which was tied to another ship that was tied to a dock on the Neva River a few miles south of Leningrad. The name of the ship is properly written in the Cyrillic alphabet, using characters that don't appear in ours, and what is written above is only a phonetic approximation. One of the Russians on the ship told us not to worry about pronouncing it; the name is Polish and the Russians can't pronounce it either. Our cabin, number 406, was on the starboard side of the ship, somewhat aft of amidships and had two beds, a bathroom and a small refrigerator plus a couple of small hanging closets and a few shelves. A window that could be opened or shut and locked gave a view of the ship to which we were tied, and to more interesting scenery after we got under way.

My law school classmate, Jim Gormley and his wife Mary were on the same trip and we often had meals with them. However this was their sixth or seventh trip to the Soviet Union, so they mostly went their own way when it came time to go ashore on an excursion. There were about 140 passengers on the vessel, including alumni of not only Northwestern but also of Michigan State, Iowa State, University of Southern California, Indiana University, University of Missouri - Columbia and Purdue. Breakfast was generally served from 7:00 to 9:00 A.M. and lunch and dinner were promptly at whatever hour was set, usually 1:00 and 7:30 respectively. We sat at different tables each time and, except for several meals with the Gormleys, Dodge and I almost always sat with a different pair of people for each meal. Most of the others were married couples of middle age, but there were several non-married couples -- mostly of the same sex. There were two mother-daughter combinations one grandfather-grandson pair. The grandson, a 20-year-old named Logan (first name) was 6'8" tall and spoke a little Russian; he and Dodge went on excursions of their own when we reached Moscow.

We spent a couple of days seeing Leningrad on chartered busses. Most of the buildings we were shown along the main thoroughfares (called "prospects") were clearly designed by architects who were impressed by the Renaissance architecture of Florence. One afternoon we were taken to the Village of Pushkin where we saw a mansion that had been given to one of her sons by Katherine the Great. Dodge and I walked about a portion of the grounds and found them a very pleasant park, (I don't know whether larger or smaller that Hyde Park in London) with classic statues at various intersections of the paths through the woods.

One morning we went to The Hermitage. The museum consists of five buildings and the area we saw had magnificent ceilings of carved and painted plaster and floors inlaid with different kinds of wood in patterns that sometimes matched those on the ceilings. Ornate gilt doors were common. We were taken to see the French Impressionist paintings, of which there were three or four rooms full. The opulence contrasted with the drab and empty stores we saw along various streets and with the concrete monoliths in which the people live under crowded conditions.

On leaving Leningrad we sailed up the Neva River (which drains Lake Ladoga into the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea). Ships are not allowed to dock among the bridges over the Neva (which is why we were tied up south of the City) and the bridges are opened only between the hours of midnight and 2:00 A.M., so departures are at night for ships high enough to require bridges to be opened. Although it is only 40 miles long, the Neva carries as much water as the Nile at Cairo, according to one of the guides. Lake Ladoga, to the north and east of Leningrad, is the largest lake in Europe. On its shore is the City of Petrozavodsk, founded by Peter the Great to build ships for the Russian Navy. It seems to be a busy and industrious ship-building city with other heavy industry as well. We had a brief tour of the city and saw part of a service in a small Orthodox Church -- excellent singing by a female choir with an occasional counterpoint from a deep-voiced priest.

In Lake Ladoga we visited Valaam Island, where there are a monastery that Dodge and most of the rest of the tour group visited by bus and a minute village with church near the landing that I saw quietly after the group left. The village well has a silver colored conical cover surmounted by a cross -- perhaps the well contains holy water. From Lake Ladoga we sailed northeast into the Svir River, (which drains Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe, into Lake Ladoga). In Lake Onega is Kizhi Island which holds a magnificent example of a wooden Russian Orthodox Church with twelve onion domes covered with wooden shingles. I bought a watercolor painting of this church from a local artist for $30. The painting shows the church against a blue sky with little white clouds; when we saw it the sky was grey and drizzly.

From Lake Onega a series of rivers and canals, augmented by a few small lakes and the large Rybinskoje Reservoir, forms a waterway to the Volga River. Ours was the first cruise ship full of Americans to take this waterway, with its locks that raise the level of the water several hundred feet. The waterway meets the Volga below Moscow, so we sailed up through another lock or two to reach the canal to the Moscow River. En route we stopped at the City of Uglich on the Volga; it has a fine old walled monastery. Philip Ryan, the Travel Director, gave a talk with diagrams of the major waterways of Russia, showing how they join the Baltic Sea and the White Sea (an arm of the Barents Sea) via the Volga and Don Rivers to the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The waterways were started by Peter the Great in the 18th Century, and were modernized by Stalin in the 1930s. Now the locks are 60 meters wide and 200 meters long and rise ten or fifteen meters.

On three occasions Michael Sherry, a professor of history at Northwestern gave talks about American - Soviet relations. These lectures were informative and well-delivered, and nearly all the tour group attended. One evening the crew of the vessel provided entertainment that included some very amusing pantomime skits.

In Moscow, we were taken to Red Square and to look at the Kremlin Wall, St. Basil's Church and the GUM department store. Feeling unwell the second day in Moscow, I stayed on the ship and Dodge went off with the group to observe the Moscow Subway and Arbat Street, where many little stores sell various items for rubles if a policeman is looking and for dollars if not. The rate of exchange is peculiar. In dollar stores the prices are marked in rubles and then a conversion factor of about 1.5 rubles per dollar is applied to reach the price to paid. However, the purser arranged for us to buy a limited number of rubles at about 30 to the dollar. As the head of McDonalds of Canada (which established the Moscow McDonalds) is a Northwestern Alumnus, our alumni representative arranged for that university's alumni (and their traveling companions) to eat lunch at this establishment, entering ahead of the long line of natives waiting to get in.

In time Dodge and Logan went off on their own, learning to use the subway by themselves, and in due course Dodge found his way back to the ship by subway at 11:00 P.M. He complained that there was no night life in Moscow at all and the only bars open were those that expected payment in dollars.

The food on the ship was wholesome and nutritious. We tired of cucumbers at every meal (including breakfast when they were served with dry, hard slices of sausage) and hard, pink tomatoes at every meal but breakfast. We usually got good soup at lunch plus a meat of some sort, and a similar meal was served in the evening without soup. Brown and white bread were available at each meal, and once I ate with a couple of which the husband despaired of liking whatever was being served and spread a couple of pieces of bread with peanut butter from a jar out of his wife's purse. Sometimes we got oil to put on the cucumbers and tomatoes and sometimes we did not. Potatoes, usually boiled, were plentiful. Sometimes we got ice cream for dessert and it was quite good, especially when bits of shaved chocolate were on top. Several times we had oranges, usually sliced and sugared. Often we had Russian pastries that tasted pretty good but were much heavier than I am used to. At a couple of breakfasts we had light fluffy pancakes that were quite tasty.

On Wednesday, July 3, we arose at 4:45 A.M. to get breakfast before leaving the ship at 6:00 to catch an 8:00 plane to Berlin. The busses got us to the airport on time, but the airport was so busy we had to stay on the busses for some time before even entering the terminal. Finally we got out and stood in three different lines for varying periods of time extending well past 8:00; fortunately they held the plane for us, and it took off about 9:00.

Berlin was wonderful. We stayed at the Steigenbrenner Hotel, a short block from Kerfurstendam Strasse, and wandered about on out own most of the time. Having disdained the food on the airplane, I was more than ready for lunch, and went to the Allegro Restaurant in the basement of the Europa Center for veal with mushroom sauce and good German beer. We ascertained that there are no mandatory closing hours for bars in Berlin, and Dodge found plenty of night life for his purposes, even though he did not find in them much music to his taste.

On Thursday morning the tour group boarded a double decker bus and went on a tour of the City, East and West, seeing the Brandenburg Gate, on which the sculpture is to be put back in August. We were also taken to the Pergamon Museum, a major collection of ancient Greek building fragments and sculptures, including the head of Pericles and the boy removing a thorn from his foot, pictures of which were in my high school ancient history textbook. The major piece, the Pergamon Altar, is the facade of a very impressive temple to Athena. After this excursion Dodge and I wandered about the streets looking for a place for lunch, and found a proper sidewalk cafe where I had little sausages and kraut while he had wiener schnitzel. We both had beer, of course. Much of the afternoon was spent in a record store, where Dodge found that they had many LP records that were released in the U.S. only in the form of compact discs. I observed that even those records that were made by Germans in Germany bore labels and recording information written in English. In the evening, after the tour group's farewell party at the hotel, we met Hildegard Bison, whom we got to know while she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago Law School, and whose parents took Luigi and me on a cruise down the Rhine and a visit to Cologne last year. We went to dinner at the Fasanenplatz, a superb restaurant about half a mile away from our hotel. Prices are high in Berlin, and this dinner, with wine, cost about $140; it included cream of carrot soup with salmon mousse balls, fish in a curry butter sauce, and a dessert of white chocolate ice cream with fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce.

Friday morning the members of the tour group who were going to Chicago again rose early to catch an 8:40 plane to Dusseldorf where we changed to a plane to Chicago, arriving at O'Hare about 12:30 in the afternoon. Philip Ryan, the travel director, accompanied us as far as Dusseldorf, where he was to catch a plane to England; he saw us to the right gate before going on to the one for his flight.