USSR / Russia: Leningrad / St. Petersburg, Moscow (since 1991)

USSR / Russia: Leningrad / St. Petersburg & Moscow

Detention by and fall of the USSR

russia moscow tankOn 25 December 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, resigned, declared his office extinct and handed over its powers – including control of the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes – to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The USSR officially ceased to exist on 31 December 1991.

DJ and I were there during this time.  The USSR was collapsing and was becoming the Russian Federation.  Tank tracks were in the streets.  The state bank collapsed.  The ruble was worthless.  Food was scarce.  Poverty was rapidly on the rise.  The ground was icy and the temperature freezing cold.  The black market was thriving.  Things that had been closed or banned since 1922 were quickly re-opening or becoming available.

Bribery and confusion was the order of the day.

We were in Leningrad (today Saint Petersburg) to record with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (now St. Petersburg Philharmonic) Morris Bernstein’s score that was the basis for a forthcoming musical.  As part of the agreement with the Ministry of Culture, we agreed to deliver a public concert at the famous 1,500 seat Bolshoi Zal (Grand Hall) of the Leningrad Philharmonia.

The experience was fascinating, from driving around in the mayors limousine, to ‘key lady’s’ observing, logging and tracking our movements, to visiting the Tikhvin cemetery grave sites of the most iconic classical composers like Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, to opening a synagogue for the first time since 1922 and seeing a wedding alter from it’s last inhabitants before locked down, to breaking the seal and opening room 7 at the Hermitage museum, to interviews with Soviet TV on the rooftop of a cathedral, being stuck in an elevator in the suburbs of Leningrad, to Russian overnight trains, frightfully terrifying flights, and ultimately my (brief) detention at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

At the recommendation of my mother years before, I keep daily travel diaries, noting daily interesting things.  Here is an extract of this particular travel diary…

Extract from my world tour diary

DAY 35 (of a world tour)

DJ and I woke early for a breakfast of cheese, buns and coffee. We checked out of the Budapest hotel and caught a taxi to the airport. For 850 Florins, we drove for 45 minutes on a guided tour of the city compliments of the friendliest taxi driver we have ever had. In exchange for the tour, he wanted to speak in English, as he is trying to learn it. We arrived at the airport, checked in, and changed back our money where we lost half of it. [Hungarian Florins may not be removed from the country, and when exchanging them back upon departure, they keep half as a fee].

The Malev flight was a tiny plane, and a little like Aeroflot with minimal safety announcements, and people doing whatever they want on board.

We stopped in Warsaw, Poland for 2 hours where we had the pleasure of meeting a British businessman, a director of a liquor and cigarette company [with an O.B.E. – Order of the British Empire] who was also heading to Leningrad on the same flight. He made the stop in Warsaw go much faster. In each of Eastern Block countries it was interesting to see the different military uniforms, and the amount of arms that they each carry. Even in Warsaw, on the shuttle bus from the plane to the terminal transit passenger holding area, the guards on the bus where wielding heavy machine guns.

The Warsaw to Leningrad flight was full. People in the non-smoking section smoking, no seatbelts etc… etc… it was very interesting. We landed in Leningrad airport and taxi’d for miles to the far side of the airport. From there we boarded a rickety shuttle bus, with a badly smashed front widow, and drove to the terminal. From there, we went quite quickly through customs and immigration.

At the customs point, we again met up with the British businessman who helped us avoid a very pushy woman who was trying to get about 30 bags through the customs x-ray ahead of us. We where quite astounded when the Brit yelled at her to “Piss Off” and pushed her violently away. He then signaled to us to keep in line with him and go through, saying this is the way you have to deal with some of these people, or they will take complete advantage of you. Now on the outside of the airport, we where expecting to be met – but no-one was there. There where hundreds of pushy people and no car for us. Fortunately, the British businessman offered to drive us downtown. The Brit paid the taxi driver 2 packs of Marlboro cigarettes and us a further US$50.00 to get us to the Hotel Moskva that is seemingly miles out of the city.

Upon arrival at the Hotel Moskva, I went to check with the desk to see if there where any arrangements made for me in Leningrad, and found no messages. We were on the 6th floor of a huge, several thousand room hotel — room number 6054. The hotel room door was 157 steps from the elevator. There is a ‘key lady’ assigned to monitor and log the comings and goings of guests, every 20 or so rooms, with a little hallway desk.  I was amused to immediately notice that the room has several obvious listening devices built in, speakers and microphones on the wall above the beds, the dresser, and above the door. The bathroom also has a two way mirror, so the ‘key lady’ on the floor can watch you in your room if she desires – but they don’t try to hide it. Each room has 2 doors, one for the guests, and one for the key lady, she has an area about 4 feet by 5 feet to stand and watch you if she feels there is illicit activity. Amazing, and probably only still there from an era gone by.

We walked around the hotel, went into the store where we could buy all sorts of food, but it was all very expensive. A bottle of coke and a sausage was US $11.00! The ruble tourist exchange rate was dreadful — about 1 for 1, Anyway, at this point there was not much we could do about it.

After watching Soviet TV for an hour, we went to sleep on the hardest beds ever — again, like Budapest, tiny and very uncomfortable.

DAY 36

We woke early and decided to try to find our concert and recording team. We started by going to the hotel bank to change some money, since all we had were travelers cheques, since the taxi last night had used up all our remaining cash. The hotel bank was out of money, and could not change traveler’s cheques. The same with the hotel front desk, the bar and restaurant. They told us to go downtown to the State Bank to change money, but the only way to get there since we were so far out of the city was by either taxi or metro subway — and of course both needed cash! It was a catch 22. Finally a very nice lady at the front desk gave us 1 ruble of her own money so we could get downtown on the metro. [1 ruble as it turns out is worth about 1/10 of 1 cent, but for a local Russian would cover a few metro trips] We went to the Neva store where I talked the owner into cashing a traveler’s cheque so we had US dollars. They are normally forbidden from doing this.

We caught the metro from the hotel, after going down a huge escalator honestly about 1 mile long. From the top, we could not see the bottom — it simply looked like a pin spot. The metro doubles as their Nuclear Fallout shelters, and each of the stations are designed with massive steel doors that close like bank vaults. Indeed the train doors align themselves with a series of these steel doors to make sure that very little uncontrolled air gets in. We ended up catching 2 trains in 4 different directions and back again until we could find our station — it is very confusing as each of the stations are not signposted, they only make an announcement in Russian. We ended up finding our station by trying what little Russian both of us could speak (it helps DJ is from a Ukrainian family). What makes it more confusing is the English Intourist metro maps are color coded differently from the actual Russian. This is done since Intourist does not want tourists catching Russian trains to areas that tourists should not go to.

Leningrad is the second largest city in the Soviet Union with a population of ~ 5 million people. The city is located on the Neva River, on the edge of the Gulf of Finland. Leningrad is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, filled with an eclectic form of architecture.

After getting off downtown, we started walking for miles from hotel to hotel [that we could find] asking if there was a Bernstein staying there. As we walked around, we could not help but notice the lines of people, stretching blocks in order to buy food. The stores were all but completely empty. People tried selling us anything and everything on the street in order to get money to buy black market food, a little boy followed us for 2 and a half blocks begging for food or money. Eventually, and at 4:00pm, after 14 hotels and 7 hours of walking we found them staying at the Astoria Hotel! [of all places!!!!]

We phoned Morris [the Composer] and went up stairs to see him, and to learn that Richard had not come to Russia, and that Richard had been trying to get messages to us everywhere we had been in the past 2 months (on a ship, throughout Asia, in Australia, in England etc..) — we had been 1 step ahead the whole time. Anyway, I can’t tell you how relieved we were to find Morris.

Morris informed us of some of the last minute details that needed to be completed prior to the concert that evening, so we immediately went to work. Phillip Kaykov, our humongous ape of a man – and our Leningrad contact, interpreter and all round Soviet whiz kid arranged for a taxi to take us back to our Hotel Moskva, wait while we steamed our tuxedo’s, showered and changed, and then return us to the concert. What would cost the average tourist US $50.00 each way, ended up costing us US $10 round trip for about 1 and a half hours of taxi hire in local rates!

We arrived at the concert in our tuxedos and walked around the lobby before entering the Great Hall where we had seats in the official box with Morris. The concert was received exceptionally well with Morris and RJ Miller receiving 9 encores! – Russians don’t applaud after each number — they leave it until the very end when they go crazy, but I can tell you there where a few anxious moments throughout the evening as we were wondering how they would receive a US composer and conductor with a Jewish concert. According to several members of the Philharmonic, they were themselves amazed at how the public acknowledged the music [with foot stomping, applause and flowers], as the Russian audiences are extremely finicky and are often known to get up and walk out in the middle of a performance if they do not like it.

Leningrad Philharmonia Concert and Dinner

After the concert, we went backstage for official photographs to be taken for the Leningrad Philharmonic, Soviet newspapers etc… We then had an opportunity to relax in the conductors room [a room where Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Shostakovitch, Karajan etc… have sat on numerous occasions] with RJ Miller, Morris, Mikhail Baskin, the director of cultural events of the old Soviet Union, V.S. Fomin, the director of the Philharmonic and many other dignitaries.

During the concert, I also met up with a music producer from Amsterdam, who produces a lot of Soviet tours. We swapped cards and will discuss more business, and the possibility of Israel, Oh Israel in Holland upon my return to Canada.

Paying for dinner with 6 inches of concert takings in rublesAfter the concert, Mikhail Baskin, his wife, Phillip, his ‘girlfriend’, Morris, RJ, Jeff Shuey, DJ & I went to dinner and drinks in the restaurant of the Hotel D’ Europe – [the only hotel that is Swedish run, and is more likely to have food every night. It also happen to cost US $1,100 per person per night to stay there.] – A crazy evening with more than 40 toasts of vodka to the success of the show, 8 courses of food, vodka, soups, vodka, salads, vodka, stroganoff, blintz, vodka, caviar, ice cream, champagne, vodka, coffee, vodka and more vodka.

The bill was 17,850 rubles, what would have cost a tourist about US $12,000, and a local Russian 51 months average salary to pay! But after some US dollars going under the table from our Russian hosts to the manager and the waiter, the bill was reduced considerably, and ended up being paid with a stack of rubles about 10″ high.

Leningrad Mayors Limo at our disposal to get us around, with soviet TV crew in convoyAfter dinner, the limousine [the only stretch limousine in Leningrad / St. Petersburg, and belonging to the Mayor, who gave it to us for our use throughout our time in Russia] drove DJ and I back to the Moskva [where we decided to remain, since it was a fifth of the cost of the Hotel Astoria] after dropping the Baskin’s at their modest home. We arrived back at the hotel at 2:00am and went to sleep.

It was noteworthy that Phillip, and the Baskin’s where able to get any food they want, at any time — the power of connections we guess, and an obvious 2 class system.

DAY 37

The mayors limousine picked us up at the Moskva at 10:00am to take us to the Great Hall for the recording session. When we arrived, DJ stayed with Morris, ensuring that he was OK, and making sure that he kept to his schedule, as I went off with Phillip to meet the orchestra manager and the Baskin’s to plan on how I was to solve the biggest problem.

Leningrad Philhamonic Concert Hall

The way the contracts had been worked with the Philharmonic orchestra, we were required to pay in cash – in hard currency, with either British Pound Sterling or US Dollars, since Rubles were worthless in the USSR. The other reason the orchestra required cash, was that the Russian banks literally have no money, the country is bankrupt. Indeed Mrs. Baskin went to the State Bank to withdraw some money from her account, but was told to “come back next month since they do not have any money today.” This is very true, and explains why we could not get any at the Moskva. Russia is in a serious economic crisis — with no currency.

For the funding of the concert and recording, rather than travel around the world with a large amount of cash in a briefcase, prone to robbery, it was decided, and quite rightly, it was safer to travel with traveler’s cheques. American Express did not have sufficient quantity of traveler’s cheques on the days preceding the departure, and so US Mastercard traveler’s cheques were used.

Upon arrival, we found that nowhere in Eastern Europe do they accept Mastercard, let alone traveler’s cheques, and furthermore, no where in Russia could exchange the traveler’s cheques, since there was not enough hard currency in the country to accommodate the amount required since the state bank was collapsing due to the revolution underway. The Russians, upon learning that their money was in this form, became extremely concerned, thinking that they would never see it, since they understood the problems of the Russian monetary system better than we did.

Indeed the orchestra on 2 occasions came to the point where they were going to pull the plug on the recording, and not play until they got paid in hard currency. A lot of gentle persuasion, persistence, and diplomacy allowed Phillip and I to be able to convince them to continue the recording, and await my efforts of converting the traveler’s cheques into hard currency.

Upon my arrival on the scene, we had but two options. The first was to deposit the traveler’s cheques into an account with the State Bank, where after several days hold, the money would be converted into Rubles at an exchange rate of .51c, or alternatively, find a way to cash the cheques outside the country, and bring the hard cash back in for distribution. Since the first option meant that the exchange on the rubles, and back into US dollars would cost us 5 times the original amount of the contract, we only had one option left — for me to leave and cash the cheques in a nearby country, and return with the cash.

Because of the very structured Russian visa that was issued, and the fact that when entering or leaving Russia, every visitor must complete a currency declaration, declaring exactly [to the dollar] how much money is coming in, and then on departure, you must complete another declaration, showing either you still have the same amount of money, or alternatively, receipts totally the same amount from authorized state stores, taxis or restaurants. This presented us with another major problem. This was the reason for our meeting with the various leaders, away from the Great Hall during the recording.

Morris and RJ Miller had to concentrate on the artistic matters of the recording, the business elements were left to me to arrange.

After a morning discussion of how I was to successfully do this, I left Mikhail Baskin to phone political friends of his in Moscow to get advice, and to commence working on the necessary departure visa and re-entry visa required. I returned to the Great Hall to find that the first mornings recording session had gone very well, and we where now ready to do some sightseeing.

Phillip, Morris, RJ, Jeff, DJ & I headed off in the mayors limousine, with a camera crew in tow, following in another car to the graveside of Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Stravinsky an so many more at the Tikhvin cemetery… [The camera crew where there to film a documentary on the American team in Russia for both Soviet TV and for us to be able to utilize in our own marketing – they literally shot everything we did, getting in and out of cars, walking around, eating, drinking etc.. etc… The only time they shut camera off was when we went to the bathroom, or when we slept].

The graveyard was very impressive, normally no tourists are allowed to visit it, we had special permission to not only walk into the catacombs and graveyard, but also we where allowed to take pictures.

Tikhvin cemetery grave sites of Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Stravinsky etc

Unfortunately at this time, Morris started feeling ill [he had been brushing his teeth with the water that is heavily polluted in Leningrad], so we returned Morris to his hotel, and continued on a general tour of the city.

We visited a Russian Synagogue that had been locked up for years, and was only re-opened exclusively for us.

Actually, Morris was not the only one ill, I had been bitten by fleas on the train to Budapest (the Orient Express) a couple of days earlier, and by now, my ankle had swollen badly, and I was in terrible pain. A large red sore had grown on the side of my ankle and I was very concerned about it, but at the same time, I was not prepared to see a Russian doctor about it, preferring to wait until at least Vienna before seeing a doctor. I made the decision that I would also keep it quiet, with only DJ knowing, in the event, our Russian hosts decided they would check me into their own hospital. It was agony to walk on, and the only relief I could give it was soaking it in alcohol, and keeping light gauze pads wrapped around it.

We returned to the hotel to collect Morris, and then take RJ, DJ and Jeff to the second recording session. After dropping them at the Great Hall, and making sure that the orchestra were prepared to continue to play, we left to go back to the Baskin’s to find out what he had developed to solve some of the bureaucracy problems.

After an hour there discussing the options, and finding out what he had uncovered, we drove back to the Hotel D’ Europe, the only place in St. Petersburg with a guaranteed international telephone line [there are only 65 international lines leaving Russia – the Hotel D’ Europe has one dedicated]. At the hotel, I phoned the American Express Emergency Hot Line in the United States to discuss the problem, and get advice on where we could cash the cheques. On the basis of my own personal account with them, they were very helpful. First they switched me to the American Express Bank, who told us that the American Express offices in Leningrad and Moscow had only a total of about US $26,000 in cash [a long way short of what we needed], and they could not import more in due to currency restrictions. They told us the necessary cash was available at a common bank in Helsinki [Chosen for its stopover route for Morris’ return trip to the USA on KLM]. They furthermore said they would have an agent meet us at the airport arrivals in Helsinki to help us cash them all etc…

After 13 minutes on the phone to them, they had effectively solved the problem. The Hotel D’ Europe then charged me 768 Krona, we think the equivalent of about US $148.00 for the phone call. After the phone call and the good news, we returned to the Great Hall to collect the artistic team to return them to their hotel, and then Mikhail Baskin, Phillip, DJ & I returned to the Baskin’s home for a late supper and to finalize the details of the ordeal that was about to ensue.

DAY 38

DJ & I were picked up at our hotel at 8:00am in order to get DJ to the Hotel to escort Morris, RJ and Jeff to the third and final recording session in the morning. After getting the artistic team to the Great Hall, Phillip, Mikhail Baskin & I headed off to buy the necessary tickets for this side trip to Helsinki. First we went to the train station to buy 4 one-way tickets to Tallinn in Estonia, in order to save US $350.00 and avoid visa problems, we bought the train tickets as Russians, traveling on a Russian – no tourist overnight train. Then to the Aeroflot office to buy 3 one way tickets from Tallinn to Helsinki.

Our final stop was at the Baskins to collect an official invitation letter to Estonia [posing as a group of Americans heading to an environmental panel discussion in Tallinn], this letter acted as our official visa. With the ticketing and visa to get out of the country out of the way, we returned to the Great Hall where we found that the Rocky Mountain Audio engineer, Jeff Shuey, could hear loud vibration in the background of the recording — due to revolutionary tanks nearby, and so recording stopped.  We decided we had enough recordings on DAT masters, and it was not worth anymore risks.

With nothing else to do, RJ, Jeff and DJ were able to escape and do private tour the Hermitage, unfortunately, with all the emergency logistics I needed to do, I didn’t get an opportunity to join them until late in the afternoon for a quick VIP tour.

Again, Morris was not feeling too well, and with the long trip to Helsinki that evening, we sent him to his room for an afternoon sleep, as Phillip, RJ, Jeff, DJ, the Russian TV camera crew and I climbed the roof of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to gain a 360 degree view and vantage of Leningrad. On the roof of the cathedral [after climbing scaffolding ramps and steps to the roof] we where each interviewed by the camera crew on our perspectives of St. Petersburg, Russia and the orchestra. After we clambered down, we toured the Russian Federation museum, similar to a mini-Hermitage.

We then went on a private tour of the famous Kirov Ballet and Opera Theatre and given the first printed (that day) program covers of the new name of the theatre: Mariinsky Theatre, as well as a general drive around the Neva River shores.

Leningrad Mariinsky Theatre aka Kirov Ballet and Opera Theatre

After this was over, Phillip invited us all back to his private apartment in the outskirts of the city for afternoon tea, prior to our departure that evening.

We drove out to his flat, about 45 minutes from the center of the city, into a huge apartment building housing development where we pulled up at his building. Phillip joked about our either walking up the 13 floors by the fire escape steps, or catching the elevator. We chose the later, and somehow managed to get in the wooden crate, posing as an elevator, about 5 foot by 2 foot, with all 5 of us. Phillip being the size of a sumo wrestler, and RJ & I both large men, it was a tight squeeze.

After a bumpy and rickety ride up, we arrived on the 12th floor, where Phillip said it was the wrong floor, and proceeded to close the door again, to get to the 13th floor [yes 13th!]. Sure enough, we heard a fizz from the motor, and the elevator stopped. Jammed just above the 12th floor, we where able to force the wooden elevator door open about 6 inches, in addition to the wooden door, there was also a steel door on the outside, that likewise, we could only force open a couple of inches.

The escape hutch in the roof had been locked shut, and when trying to bang it open, or break the wood on the roof, we were forcing the floor of the elevator [which was made of wood] down. We thought that any more pressure may break the floor away, so we gave up and decided to call for help. As all the doors to the apartments in the building have and external outer metal security door, it was going to be a long shot that anyone would hear us. Needless to say, Phillip thought it would be helpless in calling for help, and instead we should just wait until someone turned up.

Since we had to catch a train to Tallinn in 4 hours, and since Morris was at the hotel and expecting us in 3 hours, and since we were an hour away from the city, this left us with 2 hours to get out of the mess. So I decided it wouldn’t hurt to yell for help. I asked Phillip what to yell, and he told me “Pah-ma-geet-ee,” which supposedly in Russian means help, so I started yelling it down the elevator shaft.

My yelling was not made easier while Phillip started laughing every time I called it, since I was wondering what I really was calling, but I persevered, particularly given that we had no time to waste sitting in this wooden box without ventilation, food or water. While calling for help, we decided that it was best to keep morale high, as some of us where starting to get quite claustrophobic, and understandably so! DJ happened to have a pack of playing cards in his bag from one of the airplanes, so we started playing, teaching DJ and Phillip how to play poker. After about 3/4 of an hour of yelling for help, and after 5 or 6 hands of poker, someone finally heard us, and went away to get help. Phillip did not re-assure us by telling us that the emergency services can sometimes take several hours to respond, but we kept our faith and waited. Sure enough, with half an hour to spare, the maintenance crew got the elevator doors open, and we went to Phillips apartment for coffee, and to receive some more gifts.

Almost immediately we had to leave again, this time we opted to avoid the elevator and walk down the steps, but in order to do this, we had to climb out onto a balcony 13 floors high, and walk along a ledge filled with sloping ice, back through another window, down some steps, and then repeat it again. For those of us that were afraid of heights, it was quite an experience.

Leningrad Sights

We finally arrived back at the hotel in time to collect Morris and head for the train station.  Part of my agreement with Baskin and the orchestra leader was to leave RJ Miller and Jeff Shuey at the hotel for 2 nights as ‘collateral’ until I returned with the money.  Now we headed to the train, were we were smuggled aboard a Russian only train, pretend to be sick sleeping Russians made up in old clothes for the ticket taker to only talk to Phillip, got into our sleeping cabin, and fell asleep for the night heading to Estonia.

DAY 39

We arrived in Tallinn early morning where we caught a taxi to Mati Eliste’s house to all camp in his living room, kitchen and stairway. Mati is the Managing Director of the Estonian Newspapers, and is also General Director of Estonian TV – he is an ally of Mikhail Baskins, and was the man that prepared the invitation letters and visa for us. While at Mati’s, I composed my own invitation letter to return to Tallinn that night from Helsinki, helping Mati understand his new computer, and teaching him a little English. Tallinn is the capital of the Estonian Republic. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea. Tallinn is a treasure-trove of monuments and medieval architecture. From Mati’s we headed to Tallinn airport to board our Finnair flight to Helsinki.

At Tallinn airport, we went through immigration, where my original Russian visa was taken away from me. At this point I turned to Phillip [who was remaining in Tallinn, since he was not allowed to leave the USSR] and signaled to him that I will need another for later. Anyway we then boarded the plane and flew the 20 minute flight to Helsinki.

We arrived in Helsinki and met the American Express agent who was waiting for me, then boarded a private mini bus for the Hotel Intercontinental Helsinki.

Arriving at the hotel, I checked Morris into the hotel, and went off the American Express agent to the main bank where the cash had been prepared for us, and was waiting. I left DJ to sign the traveler’s cheques [403 of them], and headed downtown to buy a flight ticket for me to return to Tallinn on Aeroflot, another ticket for DJ to fly to Vienna on Austrian Airlines, a Malev ticket for me to get from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to Moscow to Budapest and finally a bag for me to carry the cash back into Russia with. We then returned to the bank to collect the cash, and return DJ to join Morris at the hotel, while I continue onto Helsinki airport to catch my flight back to Tallinn.

Aeroflot Boarding PassI boarded the Aeroflot flight to Tallinn, being one of only 3 people on the plane, a little propeller one. The Aeroflot stewardess presented each of us with a plastic cup containing warm flat Pepsi, before exiting the plane. I was sitting near the back row of the plane, as the luggage and cargo were being loaded up a conveyor belt onto the seats to the right of me. The back door was still open, with all the luggage on board, and the conveyor belt was still resting in the doorway when the pilot started reversing the plane in preparation for take-off. The conveyor belt went under the plane, hitting the side, and stopping under the wing, as I was calling out to the other passengers, who alerted the pilot. The pilot simply got out of his seat, came down the back, closed the door, and continued to move forward, still with the conveyor belt under our wing. He didn’t bother to get out to check for damage! Anyway, we took off, and for the first time in my life I was really afraid of flying — particularly with all the cash sitting next to me!

I arrived in Tallinn to be the last flight of the day at the airport. 2 flights a day, 1 in the morning leaving, and 1 in the evening arriving. It appeared as if the guards were tired and anxious to go home.  I had to pay US $40.00 for an official Estonian Visa and then offered a Canadian pin, and on the advise of Phillip earlier, US $10 bill inserted in my passport to avoid filling out a Russian customs form declaring the large amount of cash that I had on me. It worked, he just waived me through. Finally I was through and back in the terminal — safely!

Upon arrival in the terminal, I was terrified to see that Phillip was not there waiting for me as organized – indeed there was none around, and the terminal is about 20 kilometers from the city. I was alone, and the terminal was closing for the night. The immigration and customs guards went home, and I was left with the maintenance staff. Eventually, they too wanted to leave and tried getting me to wait outside in a -20 degree snowstorm. Now learning the system, I bribed them with another US $5.00 to keep the doors open and to allow me to stay to wait for Phillip.

Half an hour went by, and still no sign of him, so I decided to try phoning Mati Eliste, who spoke a tiny amount of English. The public phone needed 2 kopecks that I didn’t have, so I played around with the various coins I had and found that a US dime is about the size of a Kopeck and tried it — it worked. Unfortunately, Mati was not there, I spoke to his wife who did not speak English, and kept repeating “Toby in Tallinn airport – Nyet Phillip – Pah-ma-geet-ee“.

Another half hour went by before Phillip turned up, apparently he had forgotten the one hour time difference between Leningrad and Tallinn, and was running behind. I was so happy to see him, since I felt VERY vulnerable with the large amount of cash, and not speaking any Russian.

We went off to a restaurant in a hotel to pass the time until our train for St. Petersburg was ready. The restaurant was beautiful, very ornate, full of gold and silver and crystal. The waiters were extremely elegant, dressed in tails and white ties, walking around with silver trays’ etc… We were sat at a lovely table and presented with magnificent leather menus, filled with pages upon pages of food. We started to order before the waiter told us they were out of that, out of this… eventually we determined that the only thing they had in the kitchen was Cucumber soup – we ordered two bowls.

We left the restaurant and caught another overnight train to St. Petersburg, again having to pretend that I was a Russian.

DAY 40

We arrived in St. Petersburg, after a sleepless night expecting to find a Russian border guard asking for a visa — fortunately there was none. Mikhail Baskin was waiting for us at the platform in the Limousine. We went straight to his house to count out the cash.

We then went back to the Astoria hotel to collect RJ and Jeff to take them to the airport to catch their flight to Helsinki to pickup Morris, and return to the United States. Since Jeff had the DAT tapes [recording master tapes] with him, I had to fight with Phillip to ensure that we were going to ensure that they would not go through the X-ray machines at the airport. Another bribe to the Captain of the guard at the airport from Phillip got them past, and RJ and Jeff were safely on their way to Helsinki.

Now I went back to the Great Hall to meet with the orchestra, and pay them. I met with Timacoff [the Leningrad Philharmonic conductor], Fomin [the Director] the Orchestra Manager and their Musicians Union leader — I can’t tell you how grateful they were for actually getting paid!!!

Today, Yeltsin past a decree that no hard currency was allowed in Russia – all bills from now on had to be paid in Rubles – no more US dollars!

From there, I checked into the hotel to finally relax, and try to see something of St. Petersburg without all the pressure, I ran a bath and fell asleep in it! By the time I woke, I only had a short time before I was to meet with Phillip to go to Moscow (to pickup on my original visa planning), in an effort for me to get out of the country. After a light meal, and paying in Rubles, the waiter sold me 2 cans of Black Beluga Caviar (in US dollars of course), probably stolen from the hotel.

I then went back to the room, collected all the junk I wanted to give away, including Canadian woolen hats, maple leaf lollies, packets of snack food Philip had organized for us, etc… and walked out onto the street to find someone that could use them.

As I walked out of the hotel, I found an elderly couple huddled under the kitchen extraction vent of the hotel (with warm air blowing out) to whom I gave all of it, they were so pleased to receive it, we swapped scarves, and I later learned from Philip that they likely wait outside the kitchen of the hotel to get food leftovers to make soup with.

I went back into the hotel to get a message from Phillip that he could not get down to meet me, and instead wanted me to taxi it out to his house immediately. I found a taxi, had the hotel write down the address of Phillips flat, agreed to pay the driver US $10.00 only, and headed off with him. He spoke no English, and sure enough we found our way to the area of Phillips apartment buildings, but he got lost trying to find the actual building. From my memory of going out there, coupled with the little Russian I had picked up, in addition to my drawing maps, we finally found the building. 1 and a half hours later!

I went up [the stairs] to meet Phillip, and we immediately left for the train station. Here again, another Russian only train, pretending to be a Russian. This time, because Phillip took his girlfriend along with us, I had a separate compartment, and had to deal with the Russian conductor and “sheets’ lady” [a woman that comes by with sheets and rents them for 5 rubles per person] myself. Somehow – I managed!


DAY 41

We arrived in Moscow early morning where we were met by Phillips boss, the President of a trading company who has spectacular offices literally 30 yards from the Kremlin. Alexander Markoupolos (no joke, that’s his name on his business card!) then took us to breakfast in his private boardroom kitchens, before taking me through the offices to show me what he does (I assume black market importing/export). We then departed for the airport, noticing the very visible tank tracks embedded in the streets from the coup. We drove past the Kremlin, but unfortunately, the heavy snow storm would not allow me to see the roof, or the Russian Federation Flag now flying there.

We drove on past what Phillip explained was the headquarters of the KGB, and saw numerous statue bases, their statues having been removed earlier by the people. Upon arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport, we found my plane to Budapest was delayed by 2 hours due to the very bad weather.

We used this time to rehearse my story for immigration: “Morris, DJ & I traveled to Tallinn to take part in a conference, Morris fell ill, and so we flew to Helsinki where he could board his flight directly home. DJ stayed with him in order to make sure he was all right, I returned to St. Petersburg to complete my contract with the Philharmonic. Upon arrival back in Tallinn, immigration took away my Russian visa and replaced it with my Estonian visa, telling me it was valid for all of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Astoria hotel even agreed that it was valid.”

The airport by now was a little disorganized.  When it came time to go through customs, I was the first in line, and fortunately, the x-ray machines had not been turned on, and as a result, I had no problem getting the various gifts including giant metal samovar, caviar, Faberge style eggs, mink/sable hats, pepper vodka and religious icon painting through customs. I then went to the Malev check-in counter to collect my boarding pass, and lodge my suitcase. From there, I was to proceed to passport control, and after successfully passing it, was to give a signal back to Phillip and Alexander to show that all was OK. They were to wait until they saw this signal.

I reached passport control, a glass booth with mirrors everywhere, and handed across my passport with the Estonian Visa. The guard asked me for my Russian visa, and when I explained my story asked me to “wait.” A few minutes later, a Captain [with 3 pips on his Red Army uniform] asked me to step aside. He questioned me briefly about my situation, and then asked me to again wait. A female army officer, carrying a machine gun, along with a young officer, then escorted me, along with the Captain through the side door of passport control, through the back door of the area, and down a long hall under the airport terminal to an interview room. All this time, Phillip and Alexander could not have seen me, as I did not emerge from the other side of Passport control, only behind it, with the booth obscuring their vision.

I sat in this room for a few minutes (what seemed like an eternity), alone with the female army officer. Eventually, a man dressed in a shiny pin-striped suit, carrying my passport entered, and questioned me in very broken English more detail about the entire story, paying particular attention to the fact that I was currently in Russia “without a visa,” and questioning “what purpose do you have in our country without a visa?“. He repeatedly said that Estonia is not a part of Russia, and have no diplomatic ties, therefore, my visa is not valid. He went on to say that since Estonia does not exist in the eyes of Russia, neither does my visa.

The officer gave me the option of either paying the fine, or alternatively, I could remain detained “as a guest of Russia in an illegal immigrant hotel” until such time as they could find my original visa from Tallinn, and verify my story. I did not have much cash left on me, and by now I was getting very concerned. After about 30 minutes of questions [he didn’t speak English very well.. at that time], I built up the courage to demand to be able to make a phone call to my Embassy. When he protested, saying it wasn’t necessary, I protested, saying that our countries have diplomatic ties, and I must be allowed too. Now an ‘expert’ in corruption and bribery payments thanks to Phillip, after a US $20.00 bribe, he allowed me to make a phone call from the office, while he remained.

I did not have the number to the British Embassy on me, and furthermore, Russia has no phone books, and he sure wasn’t going to help me find the number. Fortunately, I had carried around an ‘InTourist’ guide book to Russia from the USA that DJ had picked up before we left — it contained a rubber stamp on the back with the number to the US Embassy in Moscow and so I called it.

My notes during detention in Moscow Sheremetyevo AirportI was put through to David Leary, a Vice Consul with the Embassy who told me that I should be calling the British, that the US had no jurisdiction over me since I entered the USSR on a British Passport, that the Soviet immigration process was completely confused due to the recent developments and breakup of the Union, that I should pay the fine, and by no means stay there. When I explained that I did not have any cash on me, he organized through his Embassies communication department to transfer me to the British Embassy, so I wouldn’t have to make another call.

The British Embassy was a little more helpful, telling me not to worry, it wasn’t too serious, and that I must pay the fine, and under no circumstances should I stay overnight, or sign anything. When I explained that I didn’t have enough cash on me, they suggested that the Embassy could pay the fine, and I could organize a bank transfer to cover it as a last resort. The British Embassy advised me to attempt to persuade the Russian immigration official to accept a credit card, or obtain a cash advance from one of the duty free stores in the airport. Again, he suggested another bribe could help in getting down to the duty free to try a cash advance. Last, the British Embassy gave me an emergency 24 hour number to call in the event of any more trouble, or in the event that the Russians would not accept credit cards.

I hung up and explained to the Russian that I did not have the cash, but could get it for him if he would allow me to go up to the duty free store and take a cash advance on my American Express card. Now with a big smile, fortunately he agreed, and al of a sudden, he was now speaking perfect English.

We went up to the Duty Free, again with an escort, where it was surprisingly simple to get a cash advance [I would guess that I was not the first who has done this], we went into a stockroom of the duty free store, where I paid him US $500.00, demanded [and reluctantly got a (hand written rather worthless) receipt for US $400.00 of it], and was then escorted through another curtain past passport control, where I was allowed to go through.

By this time, I had already missed my Malev flight, and now desperately needed to find a way to get to Budapest. Fortunately, an Aeroflot stewardess (who explained this has been happening a lot lately) saw me and explained that they had a flight that afternoon, and I was able to get a seat, but my suitcase had already gone on ahead with Malev. She took my passport and got my ticket converted.  She was my angel.  I boarded the Aeroflot flight which was completely full, was not surprised to find no safety announcements, and sat back relieved that I was leaving Russia.

Upon arrival in Budapest, I went to the lost luggage counter, and fortunately reclaimed my suitcase that had arrived earlier on the Malev flight. Once I had collected my suitcase, I got a taxi to the train station [bargained from 3,000 florin down to 1500 florin], where I collected my other suitcase that I had stored there the week before, tipped the luggage storers to borrow a luggage cart, and headed off to find my train to Vienna.

The ‘orient express’ train was completely empty, and I ended up with a carriage to myself — still the same type of ugly old dilapidated train, but at this point I didn’t care, as long as I could get out of Eastern Europe.

Toby collapsed after arriving in AustriaI arrived at Vienna Westbahnof Train station, and caught a taxi to the Trend Hotel in the hope of meeting back up with DJ [who had successfully flown to Vienna that morning from Helsinki]. I knew he would be frantic and concerned.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I went to the front desk where they were expecting me, got a key, went up to the room to find DJ not there. For the first time the magnitude of the whole day’s incident finally sunk in, and I’m not ashamed to admit I just sat there and started to cry, and curled up in a fetal position in the couch. It finally hit me, and I was so pleased to be out of it all safely.  I was now panicked that DJ would be scouring the city concerned and frightened for my safety.

DJ arrived at the hotel about an hour later, laden with shopping bags, he had gone to another train station to await my arrival, on advice from the hotel reservations manager, but unfortunately, my train didn’t pull into that station.  So he went shopping instead.  I went straight to sleep.

Smuggled Russian Gifts and GoodiesThe ‘loot” of gifts I brought from Russia.        .

dvd PromisedLoveA Soviet TV camera crew where there to film a documentary on our American team in Russia for both Soviet TV and for us to be able to utilize in our own marketing – they literally shot everything we did, getting in and out of cars, walking around, eating, drinking etc.. etc… The only time they shut camera off was when we went to the bathroom, or when we slept.  These are clips from the 3 hour TV show they prepared, including the top of St. Isaacs Cathedral (where they had built a scaffolding to do interviews), re-opening room 7 in the Hermitage, re-opening of a synagogue closed since the communist takeover to reveal a wedding setup on the day that it had been closed, visiting the Tikhvin cemetery (known as the Necropolis of Artists in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery) grave sites of the most iconic classical composers like Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Igor Stravinsky and Pyotr Tchaikovsky along with writers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, touring and re-naming of the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre as the Mariinsky Theatre (and receiving a special gift of it’s very 1st printed program) visiting the 1985 film ‘White Nights’ ballroom, driving around Leningrad and bits of the concert.

SM WeChatSM WeChat Channel
🇨🇳 in China, all foreign sites are blocked, scan my WeChat Channel QR to watch:
QR WeChat Channel

CD covers for Israel, Oh IsraelMultiple recordings were released

On the Finer Arts Records label, the recorded score of “Israel, Oh Israel” was released both in a solo album (twice) of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982, and a 2-cd set with the London Philharmonic Orchestra shortly afterwards. I also wrote the liner notes.

Israel, Oh Israel International Inc. & The Bernstein Corporations
in association with
proudly present
The Promised Love

Executive Producers: Richard J. Bernstein & Toby Simkin
Album Produced by: R.J. Miller and Richard J. Bernstein
Lyrics and Music by: Morris Bernstein, a.s.c.a.p.
Arranged and Orchestrated by: R.J. Miller
Music Publisher: M. Bernstein Music Publishing Co., U.S.A

The London Philharmonic Orchestra portion

Recorded at CTS Studios, Wembley England by Jeff Shuey
Assistant Engineer (CTS Studios): Jonathon Morton
Mixed and Mastered at FTM Studios, Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. by: Jeff Shuey
The London Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by: R.J. Miller

The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra portion

Recorded in the Grand Hall of The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Petersburg, Russia by Jeff Shuey
Assistant Recording Engineers: Vyacheslav Medvedev, Sasha Dokshin and Volodij Egorov
Production Assistant: Shemen Shougal
Mixed and Mastered at Shadow Mountain Digital, Colorado, U.S.A. by: Jeff Shuey
The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by: R.J. Miller
With Special Thanks to Philip Kaykov and DJ Wizniak

Israel, Oh Israel, The Promised Love graphics by Serino Coyne Inc., New York City

Special thanks to Janice Kempenich; Dr. Bruce Dinner (Shofar performances); Melissa Klar, Anne Henry, Rowena Brown and American Express.

 USSR Russia Leningrad Mayors Limo USSR Russia Leningrad 196 USSR Russia Leningrad St Isaacs Cathedral USSR Russia Leningrad St Isaacs Cathedral Looking Up USSR Russia Leningrad St Isaacs Cathedral Toby Being InterviewedUSSR Russia Leningrad St Isaacs Cathedral Dj Being InterviewedUSSR Russia Leningrad Hermitage USSR Russia Leningrad Arch Of The General Staff Building On Palace Square USSR Russia Leningrad Catherine The Great Statue USSR Russia Leningrad Church Of Sacred Blood USSR Russia Leningrad Church Of Sacred Blood1 USSR Russia Leningrad Elevator Stuck Playing Cards USSR Russia Leningrad Federation Square Outside Astoria Hotel USSR Russia Leningrad Marinsky Theatre USSR Russia Leningrad Marinsky Theatre Royal Box USSR Russia Leningrad Outside Leningrad Philmarmonia Dj USSR Russia Leningrad Outside Leningrad Philmarmonia Toby USSR Russia Leningrad Philharmonia Orchestra Recording USSR Russia Leningrad Philharmonic Interior USSR Russia Leningrad 'White Nights' Ballroom USSR Russia Leningrad Port Sign USSR Russia Leningrad Street People USSR Russia Leningrad Street USSR Russia Leningrad Tram USSR Russia Leningrad Tikhvin Cemetary  USSR Russia Leningrad Tikhvin cemetery - Tchaikovsky USSR Russia Leningrad Tikhvin cemetery - Rimsky-Korsakov USSR Russia Leningrad Tikhvin cemetery - Borodin USSR Russia Leningrad Hotel Moscow

USSR / Russia: Vladivostok

We returned to the other side of now Russia years later, to be the first ever foreign cruise ship to be allowed to visit Vladivostok, until then a secret Russian naval base.  As we pulled into the port, a Russian destroyer carrying nuclear weapons was on fire.

 USSR Russia Vladivostock City Street USSR Russia Vladivostock City Damaged Wall USSR Russia Vladivostock City Hole In Wall USSR Russia Vladivostock Train USSR Russia Vladivostock Port Departure USSR Russia Vladivostock Mail Box USSR Russia Vladivostock Port Russian Navy Destroyer On Fire Closeup USSR Russia Vladivostock Port With Russian Navy Ships On Fire

Toby Simkin’s Broadway Entertainment, LLC
dba within China as: 沈途彬商务咨询(上海)有限公司

– ~ ~  {:-)-:}  ~ ~ – | | | |

Facebook #PreservingHistory1ShowAtATime

Biography | Portfolio | Blog | Consulting | Theatre History | AustralAsia Live | ObituariesContact