09 June 1980

Novgorod to Leningrad, black market, caviar and Soviet champagne

Tour around Novgorod. Many monuments to tanks, artillery guns, Katyusha missiles from WWII, anti-aircraft guns. A war monument on the Kreml (citadel) is guarded by young chidrenm about 10-12 years-old, who perform a change of the guard with an elaborate goose-stepping choreography like the adult guards at the Kremlin in Moscow who guard Lenin's embalmed body in the Red Square. Some other "Young Pioneers" are marching up and down the central avenues of the city.

We have lunch in a restaurant in the Kreml, a charming building that is a converted old Orthodow church! Many other churches are still... churches but closed "na remont", for restauration. But no one is working at them, it seems there is no hurry to restore them any time soon.

After lunch we hit the road again, direction Leningrad. The road is poorly indicated  and once we get to Leningrad we are lost. Andrew gets off the car to try and buy a road map at a service station but after a few steps he is stopped by a man who wants to buy his jeans from him, and makes some business by selling one of his jeans and a T-shirt for 85 rubles. The man approaches the car where we are waiting and tells us in excellent English he is interested in buying more from us. We ask what exactly does he want to buy and he says he'll buy anything we are willing to sell: our frisbee, sun-glasses, anything. Tongue-in-cheek, I ask him if he'd be interested in buying Ann and Cathy. He is very serious and replies that I would not be laughing very often if I lived here and knew how hard it was to buy any of the objects we have in the car.

When we reach the camping ground the receptionist has a proposal: we would be upgraded to a proper hotel but on one condition: we must now ask why. Well, it's an easy one. So we accept and get settled in a fairly nice if simple hotel.

In the evening we go to town. Again shut churches dot our serendipitous itinerary around the city. They must have been really magnificent in their old times.

Nicer if it were open

We park Giallina by the "Neva" restaurant, near the bank of the river of the same name. As we walk to the restaurant, one man comes up to me and offers 20 rubles for a crocodile belt I am wearing, but I need it and must regretfully decline. He offers 30 rubles. No deal.

Once at the restaurant door (we did not reserve a table in advance) we are told we can't eat there because the whole restaurant has been booked for a private party. But the belt seeking man, who is still following us, perhaps pondering to increase his offer, explains to the restaurant receptionist that we are Italians and need to have dinner. The receptionist goes inside to confer with his manager and after a minute he comes out and says yes, we can eat, they'll set a table for us. A waiter arrives running and leads us to a free table.

We end the day with one of the most luxurious dinner of our trip. Of our lives really: starter, main and dessert consists of black caviar and Soviet champagne! When we are almost done the belt man barges into the restaurant and ups his offer to 50 rubles, then gives up. I'd like to sell him the belt, he is a nice guy and got us dinner, but it's the only one I have. I strongly regret not having taken more stuff along to sell here. I knew one could sell trendy clothes like jeans on the black market but had no idea of the pervasiveness of local demand for so many items we just take for granted.

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