BUT…. I still had one more trip to help to organise. The BIG one. Slightly off the art trail, except for visits to galleries

1967…Betty, my friend, taught German and French but also Russian. Not many schools in the country offered Russian at this time. She had six students doing A level. Our school was twinned with one in Leningrad (St. Petersburg)

We were having tea one day when she looked up and said ‘They don’t get enough chance to speak to genuine Russian speakers, I want to take them to Leningrad’ I said ‘You must be crazy, what parent is going to let you do that, and anyway how are you going to get there?’ ‘I’ll hire a mini bus, we can share the driving’. She wrote letters round to parents inviting them to come to an Russian evening. It was at the meeting that she put forward the idea. Much to my utter astonishment they all agreed. We also acquired two extra  girls from another Hertfordshire school.

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The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

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Before we went she did a number of evenings with parents and girls on background work about historic and contemporary Russia. I knew what I wanted to do in Russia, go to the Trechyakov gallery in Moscow and most definitely the Hermitage in Leningrad. By this time I had visited all the major galleries in Europe and this was on my wish list, although I never dreamed that I’d ever have the chance.

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The Winter Palace. Hermitage Gallery.

 

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I knew that this was the sort of painting I would see there!

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But I knew they had this one too and this is what I wanted to see.

The route was not going to be difficult as when you got to the Russian border you were only allowed on the main road to Moscow and from there the main road to Leningrad. We would have to camp in Russia, the sites were already set up with either tents or small wooden huts, they all had camp kitchens where you could prepare and eat your food. It would take nearly four weeks. We were given two extra weeks holiday beyond our school holiday as we wanted our children to go to school at the Russian School. We would come back on a boat with our mini bus stowed on deck. My job was to be the co driver and the quartermaster for the Russian part.

Ace holidays who specialised in travel behind the iron curtain, helped us to get visas and to get permission to drive plus booking the camp sites. Betty and I also went to see Rev. Paul Oestreicher, the peace maker who had been several times. He later became Canon of Coventry Cathedral with special emphasis on peace between nations. He has a page on Wikipedia and interesting articles in the guardian. This is him in later year

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I worked out how much food we needed, and went to a wholesalers. It had to be capable of being placed under the seats. Powdered milk and coffee. Large tins of fruit, stew, beans, sausages, corned beef etc. There was one plastic packed cheese, margarine,Ryvita. Masses of cornflakes. Biscuits, cakes, sweets. I had a menu for every day which worked out pretty well. I also bought lots of small things to give away as presents. We knew from Anya and Wlodek and our Czech friends what was desirable and in short supply. Nice bars of soap, biros, elastic bands! (they made a lot of home made jam) etc. We could have made money by taking pairs of jeans, which were in huge demand ( Russians often came up to you in the streets asking if you had jeans to sell) Neither Betty or I approved of that it was a kind of black market, we didn’t want to be spivs.

Betty wrote to the school to say we were coming, she had no reply but decided we would go anyway. In the west we would stay one night at Hanover Youth Hostel, three nights in Berlin, at Mittelhof, one night in Poznan Youth Hostel and two in Warsaw. She made arrangements beforehand for our girls to meet other young people in Berlin and Warsaw. Our camp sites would be Smolensk, Minsk, Moscow, Novgorod and Leningrad. Then we had three nights on the boat coming home, the boat called at Riga, Helsinki and Gothenberg. When I was teaching at the international camp at Cuffley I had become friendly with a young Finnish girl. We had corresponded regularly, she would meet us at the dock and take us round Helsinki and then to tea with her mother.

By this time two national papers had got hold of the story.

The following blog is taken from a diary I wrote at the time. It will have to be in instalments!

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