The Russia Hotel holds 6,000 people

Posted on September 5, 2012
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(2002 update of 1972 article)

We flew to Moscow from Montreal stopping to refuel at Copenhagen in Denmark. We met Bob Kenney, a Fredericton lawyer, and his wife, Joan. The former Joan Keenan of Woodstock. Our flight was called the “Fox” flight a code name that identified us throughout the trip. Fox flight carried mostly people from Ottawa. Montreal and the Maritimes and the Hockey Night in Canada crew and other reporters. Most of these celebrities pulled strings and picked off the best seats without waiting in line but two of them distinguished themselves in our minds.

Jean Belliveau and Howie Meeker not only waited in line like everyone else, they refused the opportunity to jump past the line when it was offered. They sat in the tourist section with the rest of us and worked all through the flight answering questions, signing autographs and having their pictures taken by the hundred. They were on hand throughout the 11 days to fill us in on what was going on and carry our messages of support to the team members.

Belliveau in particular stands out in my mind. I was never a Montreal fan but I must say that he has to be the number one ambassador for hockey the world over. He has the very special ability to look as though he is modeling for the cover of a magazine at all times–even after 12 hours in a plane with a huge party going on around him. Somehow his hair doesn’t get mussed up, his shoes stay mirror spotless, his clothes don’t wrinkle and his eyes don’t streak.

Aside from his gentlemanly behaviour, he has that very rare ability to seal himself off from vulgar behaviour around him with an invisible wall. At one point some of the people around him got pretty wild as the effects of alcohol and altitude took their toll. He didn’t move but somehow he wasn’t there. They did not intrude on his little piece of territory and he took no notice of them.

Belliveau had us all in awe.

In Moscow, we went by bus from the airport (very stark and cold looking compared to Dorval or Malton) to our hotel. Outside the city, the country looked old and poor. Farmhouses are shacks and most traffic looked like old army trucks.

In the city there are no houses, just huge apartment buildings. Even the newer ones look very scruffy as though they were low rental government projects with no budget for maintenance. I think they are. In any case, the lawns had not been mowed for months and paint and windows were long past renewal.

Organized

The Soviet tourist branch Intourist, was extremely well organized although we took a while figuring out the purpose of some of the things they made us do. We had our first glimpse of the military state at the airport where soldiers checked our visas and refused to smile and a woman came out to refuel the plane.

The military presence grew more and more throughout our stay and was discomforting to Canadians. Fox flight was divided into busloads assigned a number. The Cadogans and Kenneys were Fox 6. That was converted to a French language group and we became Fox 5. Fox 5 was disbanded when so few press representatives turned out for the tours that it was no longer needed and we became Fox 4.

Zig zag time

When we finally were assigned rooms at the hotel and got our luggage we were exhausted. From New Brunswick to Montreal we went back an hour and from Montreal to Moscow we went ahead seven. We didn’t get any sleep on the plane (too excited) and were beginning to lose track of the day much less the time. As soon as we got settled, went to lunch followed that up with a hot bath and collapsed. We didn’t wake up until next morning.

Unusual ashtray

Our room was pleasant and comfortable although much different than any we had stayed in before The Russia holds 6,000 people in 4,000 rooms and is massive. All Woodstock could live in it. The rooms all had piped in radio and some had television and refrigerators. The bathtubs were huge (I loved that) and each bathroom had a bidet complete with absolutely no manual for operation, I used that for an ashtray.

Instead of shower fixtures as we know them, hoses with spray attachments hung in each tub. You could hang the spray up high for a shower or move it around for rinsing hair.

The toilet paper was extremely hard, about like the paper the Bugle is printed on and the towels were like large linen dish towels. No face cloths. The plumbing and grouting in the bathroom was very sloppy and we began to think (wrongly) that were no skilled building craftsmen in the country.

The pillows on the beds were huge and delightful. They were about a yard square. The blankets were all stuffed into a huge sheet envelope like a five cent Kleenex package. When the sheets were changed, the blankets were pulled out of the oval hole in the sheet

envelope and inserted into another one.

There is a key desk on each floor. When we arrived at our rooms, we picked up our keys from the desk. When we left the room, we turned in the key and got a card. When we returned, we traded the card for the key.

At these key desks we could buy mineral water, cigarettes, matches and even a pot of tea. We could leave laundry to be done.

Crazy Canadians

The people at these desks did not speak English but we soon learned to communicate with them and found them very friendly. Although they thought we were a bit crazy too, they worried about us. One night they helped me prepare a huge Canadian flag for the game by giving me a broom stick to tie it to. They laughed at my bugle which obviously did not bother them at all although the militia men hated it.

When Betty Jean returned to the room alone after a game, they fussed about in very worried fashion and finally got it across to her that they were worried about the big fellow with the beard. She signified that I was fine and waiting downstairs and they cheered up immediately. They obviously worried that the militia had got me.

Since no free world magazines or newspapers are allowed in the country, and since people are people, our magazines were the subject of much interest. Betty Jean took a copy of McCall’s with her to the beauty salon and all work ceased while the operators read over her shoulder. Service in the dining room ceased as the waiters clustered around my Playboy magazine laughing uproariously.

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