03 June 1980

Off to the USSR

Early rise today, it's going to be a long one. Just to get started on an upbeat note, we take a cold shower, as there is no hot water in the dorm. Andrew and I load Giallina and pick up the ladies at their dorm. Then the four of us drive to Borzena's for a hearty breakfast. We are going to miss her and her family for the next few weeks. After that we fill up with some black market gas and off we go, to the east.

On the road to the USSR


We reach and cross the Polish border at Terespol very easily, then slowly drive over the Bug river and meet the Soviet border guards. Here things take a long time. We see some French tourists who have just finished to have themselves and their car inspected. They are coming out of a small building next to the parking area where we stopped. Ann and I try to ask a few questions, but we are not allowed to talk to them. After a few minutes we see them again getting ready and do talk to them more extensively, asking questions like... "did they search you everywhere?" and get a nod in response, they also say they had even their spare tire taken apart and inspected!

As we wait for our turn to be inspected, Andrew and I play American football in the parking area. Some Soviet soldiers look at us slightly bewildered but say nothing. I guess they are more curious about a game that is not played in their country than interested in showing authority. And I imagine there is no regulation that forbids playing American football in front of border crossing stations.

When our time comes, Giallina is thoroughly inspected, they even take apart the air filter (Giallina is an original VW model, with air-cooled engine). They open everything, look everywhere. But they put everything back in its original place at the end. In the meantime, I chat a bit with an officer who is friendlier than the others. He even lets me try his military hat! It's too small for me. I'd like to buy one, will try to exchange some of the stockings we have with us. We speak Polish; my Polish is at a simple conversational level after four months of practice, and I wonder how he learned his. Maybe he lives near the border and is in frequent contact with Polish traders, maybe he comes from a family that used to be Polish, as the border was more than one hundred kilometers to the East.

After all the checks are done, we meet with a guy from Intourist who gives us all kinds of detailed instructions about our trip. All hotels and camping sites are pre-booked, we are not allowed to seek accommodation elsewhere. We are to stay on the direct road between all the cities we visit, though we are allowed to drive around at will within each city.

Finally we are free to go and hit to road in Belorussia, or the White Russian Soviet Republic, headed for the capital, Minsk. Smooth driving, but not for long. After a few kilometers a couple of policemen stop us for speeding. I was driving at 90km, which seemed reasonable on this highway, but apparently the speed limit (not shown on any sign that we could see along the way) is 60. Or so they say. They look at our papers and let us go. I get the impression that they were just curious about this bright yellow foreign car, of which they must not see many. In fact we do not see any other tourist car all day. It's only a few months after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has frozen contacts between East and West in Europe and tourism must have suffered accordingly.

After about 100 km the two-lane highway is merged into one lane in each direction and a bit later it is completely interrupted because of some road work. Interesting to note that it is mostly (only?) women who seem to do the hard work with spades and tar

Soviet road workers



Because of the road works, we MUST leave the highway that had been assigned to us for a side road, thus contravening the instructions we have just received, but we have no choice. And to make matters worse, we don't know where to go: there are no road signs, in any language, about a detour to go back to the highway after the road works interruption. We are stuck and have no idea where to go, the memory of our arrest in the Warsaw Pact military base in Czechoslovakia is still quite vivid in our minds. It starts raining quite hard.

Luckily, after a short while we manage to stop a truck and the driver points us to a secondary road that leads us to Minsk. We need fuel, but several gas stations along the way are "under construction". We are forced to leave the secondary road and wanter into a small village where we finally can fill up our tank.

We finally reach our camping by early evening and get settled into our two bungalows. Simple but adequate for the night. Quiet dinner and we go to bed quite early, it's been a long day.

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