1. In 1991, before the USSR collapsed, there were only 4 long distance phone lines in and out of Moscow. To place a call to the USA one had to make an appointment, in person at the telephone exchange to make a call to the USA. It was always at least the next day. You showed up 1 hour early and sometimes waited 3 hours before your name was called.
2. In 1991 copy machines required a government license to own.
3. In 1991 city maps of Moscow and St. Petersburg were illegal to own. Smaller towns rarely had maps.
4. During the Soviet era, doctors, street sweepers, teachers, factory workers and nearly everyone else were paid the same amount – about $200 a month. Officially there was no “gender gap” because everyone got paid equally poor. However, few women were ever found in upper leadership positions in government or business.
5. During the Soviet era, the KGB and the nomenclature and apparatchik (those who ran everything), had their own higher-grade hotels and restaurants, hospitals, doctors, vacation spots and cars. Reminiscent of Orwell’s The Animal Farm where “all pigs are created equal, some more equal than others.”
6. During the Soviet era, people would stand in line at stores like shoe stores and when they entered, they bought whatever was available – often a 1,000 sq. ft. shop may have had only 20 pairs of shoes. Armed with shoes that didn’t fit, the citizen used his new shoes to barter for goods other Soviets found in other stores. Note from Boris Leostrin, our Russian partner: “So true. I remember that. My mom always bought us clothing of a bigger size because ‘if you don’t buy it now, who knows if you’ll have a second chance’ and so that when we grow up we would have something to wear.”
7. One of the first legal private businesses in 1990 was a life insurance company that sold life insurance the same way Amway sells soap. Multi-level, meeting in people’s homes. Advertising still wasn’t legal then.
8. Lake Baikal, about the same length as Lake Superior, has more freshwater than all of the Great Lakes combined.
9. In winter, Lake Baikal usually is totally frozen over with three feet or more of ice. The Trans-Siberian railroad is rerouted in the winter to run rail tracks quickly installed ON the lake. Truck races are often held. It all breaks apart in one short explosion one day in spring.
10. The Lena River is the eighth longest river in the world, about 2,700 miles long starting near Lake Baikal and emptying into the Arctic Ocean near Tiksi.
11. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s participation in assassination attempts on the tsar earned him banishment to the banks of the Lena River. He loved it so much there that he changed his name in honor of the Lena River – Vladimir Lenin. Rumor has it he might have had quite a bit of royalty in his DNA adding spite to his banishment.