"You are not permitted to have some strangers in the room while you are absent. Be careful with fire, don't have big language in your room."
Instruction card for guests at Hotel Ukraine
For athletes and others currently attening the Soviet sports festival Spartakiade, and for tourists planning to visit the 1980 Olympics here, an experience not to be forgotten is living in a Moscow hotel. To paraphase the recruiting slogan of the U.S. Navy: This is not just an accomodation, it's an adventure.
For most of the 700 foreign journalists and many of the invited guests at Spartakiade, home for two weeks is the Hotel Ukraina -- a huge, 1,000-room skyscraper in the architectural genre knows as "Stalin wedding cakes."
There are seven of these Moscow skyline, including the Foreign Ministry and Moslow State University. "They look like cathedrals. The idea was to be gradiose, to celebrate the accomplishments of the Communist party and state with monumental architecture," but it was done with a heavy hand," noted one Moscow resident.
Actually, these Stalin-era buildings of pale brown blocks look rather like the Fantasyland castle of Disneyland, with Gothic overtones. Sprawling structures with elaborate towers and turrets, they have steeples topped with a gold wreath encasing the obligatory neon Red Star.
The lobby of the Ukraina has been liked to "Grand Central Station without the trains." It is cavernous, austere and rather forbidding, an ambiance immediately reinforced by the elevators which one American guest dubbed '"Jaws 3."
They are not exactly man-eaters, but they could pass in a pinch. The thick, heavy doors of polished wood shut rapidly with a thunderous clang. There is a way of stopping them, but it takes some figuring out.
The car rises with a grinding whir -- but not very fast. If you are in a hurry, best take the stairs. Paul Hornung, a former football star who is here as a television commentator, reckoned it took him 14 minutes to travel 16 floors by elevator.
The Ukraina lobby usually is crowded and buzzing by day, but almost deserted before midnight. Moscow is an early closing city, with no night life to speak of, and no guests are allowed in rooms after 11 p.m. Registration cards are scrupulously checked by a guard at the door.
At the dinner hour, the general hubbub and clinking of dishes is mingled with the sounds of the house orchestra. No Russian folk ballads or soothing Tchaikovsky from these musicians. They belt out the Beatles and Bee Gees at such discordantly deafening decibel levels that the wine and vodka bottles on ringside tables join in the dancing. Just imagine a bad groupe playing overamplified hard rock in a train station and you have the sensation. "If you close your eyes," grumbled one American last week, "You could easily imagine the lounge of a Ramada Inn in Fort Worth."
Borsch -- a delicious beet and cabbage soup with vegetables and sour cream - is a Russian speciality, but the dining rooms of Soviet hotels have little in common with those of the Concord, Grossinger's and the other kosher gastronomic resorts of the American "Borsch Belt."
Portions are rather spare. Some Americans, who must seem like gluttons even to stocky bread-and-potatoes-fed Soviets, like to order an appetizer and two main courses: stuffed cabbage rolls and chicken with dumplings for instance. Then dessert.
Thick, rich and creamy Soviet ice cream is one of the most pleasant discoveries of visiting westerners, many of whom consider it the best in the world. No 28 flavors of Baskin-Robins style borsch-ripple, though. It comes in one flavor, vanilla but is usually topped with berries or jam. Ice cream was unknown here until the late Anastas Mikoyan, longtime head of trade and food industries in the U.S.S.R., tasted it at a trade exposition in the U.S. in the 1930s and brought the idea home with him. The Sovrets will not reveal their indredients, but they have built a better vanilla.
Most tourists dine in their hotels -- either because meals are prepaid in the tour packages they have purchased from Intourist, the huge government-run travel agency that arranges practically all foreign travel in the U.S.S.R., or because they are intimidated by restuarants where reservations are an iffy proposition and only Russian is spoken.
Service in the hotel dining rooms is inconsistent at best. Longtime travelers to the Soviet Union say it has improved markndly in the last decade, and expect it to be at its best during the Olympics, but it still will never be mistaken for the Ritz. Waiters and waitresses are predominantly unsmiling and unhelpful.
Occasionally, service is prompt. More often, one waits a long time for everything -- even for a menu when there are few customers in the room and a dozen waiters standing around talking among themselves.
When the menu finally comes, there is only one, no matter how many people are at the table. And having delivered it, the waiter expects your order almost immediately. If more than one or two people take a glance, he grows impatient. Even when translated, the menu is difficult to fathom, and most items on it are not available. So if the waiter suggest mushrooms in sourcream, take them. that's likely what you'll end up with anyway.
The food, historically maligned, is not bad. It is not Maxim's to be sure, but it is more than acceptable . . . Especially when one considers that many people not far from Moscow cannot buy meat at all.
One feature peculiar to Soviet hotels is the dezhurnaya, or 'floor lady,' There is one on every floor, usually matronly in appearance, and she is a combination concierge and house mother.
On duty 24 hours a day, she keeps all room keys at her desk, near the elevator and stairs. She is in charge of laundry, wake-up calls, breakfast orders and other services, and is the sentry against any trouble or commotion. She is responsible for enforcing the rules printed on every guest's registration card, including the emphatic "No visitors in the rooms between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Intourist offers four basic categories of accommodations: he extravagant "deluxe suite," deluxe, first clas and group tourist. The average first-class room at the Ukraina is drab but serviceable, with high ceilings, a fading picture or two on the walls, and a black-and-white television. The beds are narrow but comfortable. The floors are unvarnished parquet with oly a couple of small scatter rugs, so it is best not to walk around barefoot if you are unprepared for dealing with splinters.
Bathtubs are large and deep, and may even come with a plug. A plug for the sink as well is expecting too much. Most Americans like to bring their own toilet tissue, since the local brand is much like waxed sandpaper.
Are the rooms all "bugged," as rumored, with electronic eavesdropping devices+ Probably, but unless you are plotting to overthrow the government, so what? No one really thinks the KGB gets it kicks listening to pillow talk in English. Exercise moderate conversational discretion and you almost forget that the room may have ears.
There is a story -- probably apocryphal but often repeated that Canadian hockey players competing in the U.S.S.R. scoured their rooms looking for the elusive "bugs." Gerry Cheevers, convinced there was a microphone in a bolt in the center of his floor, supposedly unscrewed it -- much to the chagrin of a teammate one floor below, whose chandelier came tumbling down.