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Russian around in Kaliningrad

Posted by Andrew Humphrey on

I love to travel, and many years ago when the Guardian newspaper first launched their online edition I won a contest to spend six months travelling around the world for them, writing about my travels as I went. I know, eh! This is the ad for my column that they ran in the paper.

Now when I go away I need make sure my Tupperware business keeps running.  The orders keep coming in, and my delivery from the distributor comes every Thursday or Friday. So if I am not here to sort, pack and dispatch orders, I will have some irate customers.

This year I am solving the problem by taking two short holidays just a few weeks apart. Next week I am going to New York, where I am thrilled to be going to my first Aunt Barbara Tupperware party.  There will be a couple of days' delay in dispatch for next week's orders because I am not back until Monday.

My other trip this month was to Gdansk, Poland and another very unusual place -- Kaliningrad.  It's okay if you have never heard of it, although you are probably thinking it sounds a bit Russian.  Well it is just that -- literally a bit of Russia.  Kaliningrad is a small wedge of land between Poland and Lithuania that has been part of Germany, East Prussia and now a disconnected enclave of Russia separated from the rest of the country.  Look on the map and be amazed that you never knew it existed.

It's not the beautiful German-speaking city of Königsberg it once was. It was pretty much flattened in World War II by British then Russian bombs.  A small part of its former charm is still there, and some buildings were restored or rebuilt after the war, but with the Soviet Union in control there wasn't the will to recreate the beautiful German city it had been. The most obvious sign of this is the gruesome 1970s Community party HQ called the House of Soviets, or the "buried robot" as locals call it.  It stands abandoned and derelict in a prominent position by the river, near the site of the former Königsberg Castle. When the castle was destroyed in the War, the USSR opted to not restore it and commissioned the House of Soviets instead.  It is officially closed and boarded up on all sides, but I managed to sneak in and have a look. 

In Kaliningrad I decided to look up some local Tupperware ladies.  I found the address of the distributorship in the back of the Russian Tupperware catalogue and while my travel companion James went off to the Amber Museum, I set off down ulitsa Alexandra Nevsokova, looking for number 51A.  It was a hike, but I found the building, complete with Tupperware sign. I explored round the back of the building, but sadly the shutters were down.  I left them a business card on their postbox, which I am sure caused some confusion when they did open the office.

@thetupperwareman visited @tupperware_cis today but было закрыто. I left my card. #kaliningrad #tupperware_cis

A post shared by Andrew Humphrey (@theandrewhumphrey) on

If you have the chance to visit Russia, and you are an adventurous traveller, I strongly recommend using AirBnB to stay in a local's home. It is logistically a bit awkward because for a Russian visa you need a "tourist voucher" which shows which hotel you are staying in (or which local relative or friend has invited you to stay in their home). If you are using AirBNB or backpacking, the easiest way round this is to order a tourist voucher from a travel agency, which they will issue for a small fee without you needing to actually book a hotel. I know, it does seem odd to give false information in your visa application, but it is perfectly acceptable. My tourist voucher cost £20 online from Stress Free Visas, and I then applied for my visa through the official Russian visa centre in London.

James and I stayed in Anna and Vladimir's little flat overlooking the river and the cathedral.  It was your standard old-school Soviet housing block:  the exterior and communal areas are pretty bleak and neglected but the flat itself is a cosy haven. There was some fun decor:  I had a Snow White heart-shaped pillow and there was an illuminated display case of amber and seashells inlaid in the floor in the hallway!


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