10 June 1980

Sightseeing and dining in Leningrad

Wake up around ten o'clock and off to town for some strolling and shopping along Nevsky Prospekt, the main high street in Leningrad. There is almost literally nothing to buy. Big shops and lots of salespeople but inevitably empty shelves. We have a look at the prices for staples, like meat, butter, bread. Everything is cheap, but nothing is there for anyone to buy.

Except for the Beriozka stores of course, but prices there range from uninviting to prohibitive, at least for us.

We go for lunch to the Sodko restaurant where we had booked a table. Just before we go through the door though, a couple of middle-ages men approach Andrew (for some reason black market dealers prefer him to me) to ask if he's got "anything" to sell. He does not. We really should bring along more stuff to sell next time.

Fixed menu for 22 rubles (about 25.000 Italian lire, or 30 USD at the official rate, about six times cheaper at the black market rate). No choice for the manu but we can't complain: excellent tender smoked salmon, caviar and Soviet champagne. There is also a show of Russian folk music and dances, at the end of which a waiter comes to our table, and only to our table, to ask whether we liked the performance. We did, really.

We end the day with a leisurely drive through the city. It is so much more pleasant than Moscow. It's still mostly Soviet apartment blocks, but here and there the occasional pre-Soviet building makes for an interesting dive in the past.

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