Parts 1 and 2 have been added to the sidebar (under Willow’s Serials) in case you missed them when they were hot off the presses.
In an earlier WT Travel Tip, I explained how a few dollars could be saved by travelling a night, obviously this isn’t the best way to travel if you want to see the country, but a lot of times the geography is pretty much the same as wherever you come from (unless you’re travelling through tropical jungles or deserts). Well, in the premium version of this tip you can actually get some accommodation thrown in.
At a time when the Soviet Union was in it’s final stages, and it’s citizens were still being prevented from travelling anywhere other than within the USSR (although they liked to call it CCCP), one of life’s little ironies was that Intourist was just about the largest travel agency in the world. However, in a prime example of why communism is ultimately doomed to fail, they had no idea of how to turn a profit. The whole thing was heavily subsidised, and run along bureaucratic guidelines, where everyone just did their job. This was great for the low cost traveller, as there were some glaring examples of stupidity that were capitalised on by many a seasoned traveller.
Here’s the deal…Aeroflot flew to almost all European countries, but in a similar way to trying to fly anywhere in the States, you had to change planes at a Hub (which in Amercia’s case, is a prime example of why capitalism is doomed to fail). Anyway, it’s like this, you could fly anywhere you wanted to, so long as you were prepared to change planes in Moscow. This gave rise to some lateral thinking, what if you chose a flight from where you were (say, Bangkok) that didn’t quite meet the connecting flight to where you were going? Answer: free accommodation.
Now the trick was to find the biggest gap possible, in my case I chose Athens as my destination because they only flew there once a week, on Tuesdays. I then found a flight out of Bangkok that landed in Moscow on a Wednesday morning, thus giving me 6 free nights at the Hotel Metropol, as well as three free meals a day! Mind you the meals weren’t that flash. I doubt a commercial airline would have allowed that sort of scheduling.
So now here I was, sitting in an Ilyushin Il-62 (I didn’t know what it was at the time,I didn’t even now a minute ago for that matter, I just looked it up for you, thank you Wiki) waiting to take off, when I noticed two things that made reality seem even stranger than it had been for the last 3 months, due all the drugs I’d been taking. Firstly all the stewardesses were really big (not as big as the women I saw in Moscow, but way bigger than any stewardesses I’d ever seen before), and secondly, there was some sort of vapour coming from the overhead lockers. It seemed like I was at an Alice Cooper concert, with an out of control dry-ice smoke machine! As near as I could tell, that was the cooling system.
Oh I almost forgot, the in-flight meal consisted of a big old sausage and a potato (both boiled) in a cardboard box. While that may not seem unusual now in an era of cheap low frills flights, 30 years ago when you got real cutlery, actual steak and all kinds of nifty little containers on international flights, this was pretty unusual. But the plane worked fine, unlike some I’ve been on (more about that later maybe).
Next time, my week in Moscow…. (don’t hold your breath it wasn’t all that exciting)
* Unfortunately there are no photos of this period, as I didn’t have a camera at the time. I eventually bought a Rollei 35T trip camera in Canada, which I still have.