We've had a post in our head reviewing the old-skool Soviet Intourist chain for a couple of years now, but since we are no longer obligated to stay in those monuments to the Soviet hospitality industry, the indignities, if the not the need for a thorough assessment, have faded over time.
That doesn't mean that we don't appreciate Soviet-era design, however. In our experience, even when Soviets leave places, they leave unmistakable traces of themselves behind (see: Ukraine). Our favorite part of traveling around Ukraine, other than going to strip clubs with gangsters, was documenting Sovietica in gray industrial cities like Dnipropetrovsk or Kherson.
Due to a variety of circumstances too boring to get into here, we were comfortably ensconced at the Kabul Intercontinental hotel for a couple of days last week. Based on a visit in 2007, during which we stepped over construction debris in the lobby on the way to dinner, we arrived under the impression that the hotel had been refurbished.
Not that it needed it. The Taliban bombed it a little in 2003, just to show that they could.
Instead, we discovered it has been thoroughly remonted. For the unfamiliar, REMONT is a Russian term suggesting a remodeling project that does not result in a net improvement in facilities or, one that leaves behind the fundamental essence of a place -- such as cigarette smoke, the smell of assfat or the terror of ancient dzurnas (floor ladies with soviet-red hair). Other than a paint job and some new lamps, our room looked exactly as it did when the Soviets swaggered in in 1979 and then let the swinging door hit them in the ass on the way out in 1989.
Built in 1969 by the British but with unmistakable Soviet design input, the Kabul Intercon hosted Soviet officers until things went, uh, south for them, then housed journalists after the city fell to the Taliban, when it was the only hotel operating in the capital. The Taliban rampaged through, destroying bars and restaurants in the lobby, probably looking for booze they could sell back to its owners at at 300% markup. Now, because of its well-connected ownership, the Intercon is known primarily for being "safer than the Serena," which, well, nevermind.
Take a look at our room! We had to take the photo during the day because you could not run the klima, turn on the lights and plug in your computer or mobile at the same time. There were only two modern electrical outlets. We tried to render the bedside lamps operative only to find their cords had been spliced together so they could be both plugged in to a single prehistoric three tiny pin outlet. We learned to not curse the darkness. The desk furniture had sustained some kind of damage, possibly from that 2003 bomb.
To be fair, this phone was in a room that had had no remont whatsoever. It is still in frequent use by the
Afghan version of dzurnas (they are guys and their hair is normal-colored) who are sweet and practically beg you to give them something tipworthy to do every time you walk out your door, when they are not busy answering calls from 1975. Replacing crabby Soviet dzurnas with helpful and attentive Afghan dzurnas is a perverse but welcome twist on a remont.
You'll notice a lovely pool in front of the Intercon. It is tile-y and light blue and looks well-chlorinated, like good pools should. It was very, very tempting for someone whose primary exercise for two weeks had been talking. But, having walked through the noon-time lobby and noticing the clientele at the nightly Iftar, we were pretty certain that taking a swim would have resulted in immediate bikini jihad.