The Soviet Travel Experience


It’s been almost 25 years since the Soviet Union collapsed. So I presumed I wouldn’t be able to experience Soviet travel short of time travelling. Then I got on a plane to Georgia (the country, not the American state) and travelled to what felt like the 1980s. I’ll admit living in Dubai has probably distorted my sense of just how futuristic a city should look and it’s not fair to judge a poorer nation for not being able to keep up.

That being said, when I arrived in Tblisi (the capital), I found technology I had yet to see in Dubai or anywhere else in the world for that matter. The apartment building I was staying at had a coin operated elevator. And as luck would have it, I was on the top floor. What made this elevator even more special is that it was programmed with Soviet style corruption. By that I mean sometimes it wouldn’t operate if you only put the specified amount of money. So you could try your luck by putting more money. Sometimes this ‘bribe’ would persuade it to do it’s job. Sometimes it wouldn’t.

While I’m not usually one for guided tours, after learning from friends that bus schedules were dependent on how full a vehicle was rather than what time it was supposed to leave, I gave in. Thus began my guided tour with a man who only spoke Georgian. A man who would ask us to buy him tickets to enter wherever we were going and then ‘change his mind’ and return his ticket for a refund. Or take us to a poor village and suggest we take pictures with the beautiful backdrop of scattered garbage. I’m sure it was a complete coincidence that his sister happened to live in that out of the way village.

What added to the Soviet experience was being in a country where Russian was more widely spoken than English, safety rails were non-existent and toilet paper was clearly one those frivolous luxuries. But none of those things sealed the deal more than the souvenirs. Stalin’s face appeared on fridge magnets and keychains across the country in the same way you’d find the Eifel tower on souvenirs in France. Either they are getting rid of excess stock from the 1940s or they really are trying to market the Soviet travel experience to tourists.