Friday, October 21, 2011

The Eiffel Tower

Just like in the movie "French Kiss," the Eiffel Tower peeks out and surprises you from random places all over Paris. But we spent one morning getting up-close-and-personal with the tower.

Behind the tower is the Wall for Peace. The glass and metal monument has “peace” written in 32 languages and 18 alphabets.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Conciergerie

The Conciergerie is a former royal palace and prison located on the Île de la Cité, near the apartment where we stayed. During the French Revolution, hundreds of prisoners were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed by guillotine.

There is obviously a lot of history associated with the Conciergerie, including Marie Antoinette's cell, but the most striking component is visual—the large Hall of the Guards with its beautiful vaulted ceiling.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

St. Basil's Cathedral - on the inside

St. Basil's Cathedral - Interiors - Images by Pam Lane

Now to the inside of St. Basil's Cathedral. As I mentioned in my previous post, the cathedral is actually eight churches arranged around a ninth central church, joined by a labyrinth of corridors. And each room is uniquely decorated.

Friday, August 12, 2011

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral - Exteriors - Images by Pam Lane

In the 16th century, Ivan the Terrible ordered the building of the Cathedral of the Protecting Veil, or the Church of Saint Vasily the Blessed (Saint Basil in English) to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. According to legend, Ivan had the architect blinded so that he could not create a more beautiful building. The story is somewhat doubtful, but the beauty is not exaggerated.

St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square
St. Basil's stands just outside the Kremlin walls, at the far end of Red Square. When you enter the square from the typical entrance to the north, St. Basil's rises up in the distance, across the huge stretch of the square, like something out of a fairy tale.

The cathedral is actually eight churches arranged around a ninth central church. The building's design is unlike anything else in Russian architecture.

The cathedral was originally all white. It must have been beautiful that way too, but it's hard to imagine. The color was added in the 17th century.

The cathedral was secularized in 1929 and remains the property of the Russian Federation, serving as a historical museum.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The orphanage then and now

The orphanage is much the same in 2011 as it was in 1993. See the earlier post Memories -- the rooms for our reactions as we wandered these rooms. Here, I just want to show the pictures of the rooms now compared to 1993.

The eating area

Khmelnitsky orphanage eating area 2011Khmelnitsky orphanage eating area 1993

The kitchen

Khmelnitsky orphanage kitchen 2011Khmelnitsky orphanage kitchen 1993

The living room

Khmelnitsky orphanage living room 2011Khmelnitsky orphanage living room 1993

The bedroom

Khmelnitsky orphanage bedroom 2011Khmelnitsky orphanage bedroom 1993

Where is that orphanage?

Finding Erinna's orphanage was much more difficult than I had expected.

Before the trip, I had Googled the orphanage, found the address for the only orphanage listed in Khmelnitsky, and located it on Google Maps.  From above, it looked pretty much like I remembered. So at 10 in the morning, we headed out. We knew how to get to the highway it was listed on, and I was sure we'd recognize it once we got there.

We drove up and down the highway several times, and couldn't find the street number or see anything that looked familiar. We stopped at a gas station and got hand gestures pointing us back in the same direction. We wandered in the area. But nothing.

Around noon, we headed back to our favorite restaurant so that we could use their wi-fi. By doing so, I was able to use my phone's GPS and offline map to guide us to the street number. But no orphanage.

Now I wasn't sure what to do next. Obviously, I had the wrong address. But we could hardly wander around town showing people a 1993 picture of the building and asking for directions.

So, we headed to the Department of Education.

Department of Education 2011
Department of Education 2011
Department of Education 1993
Department of Education 1993
Department of Education Security
Our knight in shining armor, posing for us when we
went back later in the day to say thanks.
This was the building where the process started in 1993. Inside the main entry, there was a security person. I showed him my prepared statement, then the picture of the lady we met with 18 years ago. His whole demeanor changed—he smiled and motioned us to follow him upstairs. He stayed with us as we got passed from group to group, until a young woman took us to her office. All this time, we had no language in common other than my prepared statement.

This woman was grumpy. She kept talking to me in Ukrainian, apparently on the theory that if she just kept on talking, I'd surely get it sooner or later. But she made some calls, and eventually put me on the phone with someone who spoke some English. The English-speaking woman eventually showed up in the office too, and we started to make some progress.

Orphanage sign
Khmelnitsky Specialized Children's Home
Grumpy or not, this first woman was determined to help—not just to get me the address, but to coordinate a visit and everything! But in the end, she couldn't reach anyone at the orphanage, so she called a taxi for us, and the English speaker took us downstairs and told the taxi driver where we were going and not to lose Joan following in our car. (The taxi driver laughed at me when I tried to put on my seat belt, and just shook his head.)

We were so close earlier! But where our earlier drive never stirred up any memories, this one did. And at last, we turned the corner to see that oh-so-familiar building!

Orphanage 2011
The orphanage in 2011. Trees and apartments have grown up around it.
Orphanage 1993
The orphanage in 1993. Even though it was April, winter was still holding on tight.

So, to ensure that I can always find it again, here is the map:

View Larger Map

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Where I started


On Friday I went to my orphanage.

It was very emotional for me because I got to see the place where I grew up for the first three years of my life. It was amazing just to see it. I got to see my playroom. I got to see the place where I slept. We showed the ladies pictures of me when I was very little and they laughed.

I'm very glad I saw my orphanage. It was nice and clean, the building was in good shape. I think that when the ladies saw me, it meant a lot to them that I came back.

When I left the orphanage, two of the ladies gave me a big hug. The lady said something to me, but it was in Ukrainian so I couldn't understand it. But I think it was something very sweet.

Orphanage front view with Erinna

Memories—the rooms

After we wandered into Erinna's old rooms at the orphanage, an older lady appeared in the the other doorway. I showed her my prepared statement in Ukrainian explaining why we were there. She smiled and took us down another hall to what I assume was one of the doctors or directors, who read the same statement. She smiled, and they both led us back to Erinna's old rooms.

Orphanage dining areaThere were the same little tables and chairs where I sat with Erinna that first day while she ate soup for lunch, with the little kitchen nearby. She drank her soup from a huge tin cup that seemed way too big for her.

There was the wall of stuffed toys. Different toys, now. I had brought a large stuffed animal for Erinna, which quickly became the orphanage's stuffed animal and lived on that wall.
Orphanage living roomThere was the living room where the kids played. When we arrived each day, this is where they would all surround us, begging for attention and play.

There was the door to the "bathroom" at the far end, where the kids all sat on chamber pots during their potty break. If we arrived in the middle of potty break time, the kids didn't get up, but they all started scooting on their pots towards the door! Hilarious!
Orphanage bedroomAnd in the large bedroom area, there were 16 young boys sound asleep. (I guess that explained the total silence!) No girls now, just the boys. A little more crowded than it was in Erinna's time.

And all this time, Erinna was nearly overwhelmed with excitement and the emotions being stirred up!

Memories—the bench

Orphanage bench

It took us nearly all day to find it. But finally, there it was. The orphanage where I met Erinna.

We walked in the front door and no one was around. It was eerily silent. Had we finally made it, only to find the place suddenly abandoned? We went down the first hall to the right, just as I had done nearly every day for a month 18 years ago. Up the same stairs, to the door to Erinna's old rooms. Did I dare just walk in?

I knocked, then opened the door.

There, under the window, was the bench.

The bench where I sat with Erinna on my lap the second day we came to visit. She had run straight up to me, with her arms up, saying, "Mama! Mama!"

The bench where we sat every day to get her dressed to go back to the hotel with us for the afternoon. They insisted that she put on layers and layers of clothes before going out into the cold.

Funny how that one bench nearly overwhelmed me with memories!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Russian phonics 101

Russian signs

In the early 1800s, archeologists used the Rosetta Stone as a key to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. In Russia, I'm using internationally recognized faces and signs (and the occasional street sign) as a key to the written Russian language. Here are some examples.

Russian signsRussian signsRussian signsRussian signs

Russian signsRussian signsRussian signs

With these examples, can you figure out the internationally known (and very important) word in the first picture?

The Baggallini incident


While we were waiting for the boarding announcement for our flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Erinna suddenly realized that she didn't have her purse. She must have left it in the restaurant outside of the security area. We had half an hour—could I go get it?

I managed to reverse tracks and exit the security area, where my entrance stamp was cancelled. Then I rushed to the restaurant, where no one could find a trace of the purse. Where else could it be? Oh yeah, the restroom stop!

At the restroom, one of the cleaning ladies seemed to understand, and called to another cleaning lady, who guided me back outside—to a group of five men in security uniforms, looking very grave. That's when it occurred to me—Erinna's purse was an "unattended bag" in an airport where bombs are not out of the question.

Fortunately, I had both Erinna's and my passports, and Erinna's ID was in her purse. So my explanation apparently made sense to them, and they finally gave me back the purse and asked me to check if everything was there. They were very concerned that there was no money left in the wallet—until I explained the Erinna spent it all the day before.

Regardless, they had a report to write, so while they finished it up, the officers and I had a great chat about our trip back to Erinna's birthplace and how lucky we were to get her purse back.

Finally, I raced through the security check, back to the gate, only to find everyone gone! The gate had been changed, so back to the other end of the terminal where I joined our group just as we walked onto the plane.

Yes, we were pretty lucky!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Hermitage and the Russian bear


The Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. Catherine the Great got the museum started in the 1700s with an art-buying spree that ultimately included " 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection filling two galleries" (Wikipedia).

Van Gogh at the Hermitage
Vincent Van Gogh
Mindy, Abby, and Alex initially focused on the Egyptian collection, while Joan, Erinna, and I went upstairs to find the French masters.

So what do you think was the highlight of the day for the girls? You got it--the bear cub right outside the Hermitage that they got to hold and cuddle for 200 rubles each.

Erinna and the bearAbby and the bear

Personally, I had mixed feelings. I can totally relate to the thrill of holding this fuzzy guy. But I can't help but wonder where he came from--and what will happen to him in a few months when he outgrows his cuteness.

Soviet Union hats

Erinna and Abby

Abby and I bought these awesome hats at the souvenir flea market in St. Petersburg. The seller made us a good deal on them -- 300 rubles for each hat.

Don't we look so awesome?

Friday, July 15, 2011

More metro guidelines

Here are some metro lessons we've found useful for when we're traveling as a party of six:
  1. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first lesson is that an adult always gets on last. When those doors close, they close fast.
  2. Closely related to #1 is #2, an adult always gets on first. This was brought home to us when Abby and Alex made it on the train, and Joan just barely followed, while the rest of us watched them ride off.
    Moscow metro Joan waiting
  3. This provided an opportunity to review the "hug a tree" rule, or in this case, the "hug a bench" rule. If a kid ends up alone on a train, he or she is to get off at the next stop and hug a tree -- I mean, bench. If a kid gets left behind alone at a stop, again, hug a bench.
  4. When the train is crowded, do your best to not be standing right at the door. This was brought home to Alex when the doors opened and he was swept out with the crowd. Fortunately, Joan (last on, see #2) swept him back on with the incoming rush.
    Moscow metro Alex
  5. Watch out for strange people sitting next to you.
    Moscow metro Abby Joan
  6. Take advantage of the train ride to exercise. When the train is packed like sardines and you can't reach a handrail, you can work those leg muscles trying to stay upright. When the train isn't so crowded, you can be a little more creative.
    Moscow metro Mindy
    Moscow metro ErinnaMoscow metro Abby
  7. And last, when the train isn't crowded, have some fun!
    Moscow metro Pam Joan Mindy

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Baby orphanage #14


Fourteen years later, the director of Abby's orphanage is still there, and she was very excited to meet us and show us around. "This is where we played with Abby, this is where they bathed her in the video," Mindy kept commenting as we moved from room to room. Memories were flooding back in. The women spoke no English, and we speak no Russian. We communicated in signs, smiles, and a few words of German.

IMG_4847But I think it was a bit odd for Abby. She was the center of attention in a story and a country that she has no real memory of. But she was a trooper!

For me, it was a reminder of the kids at Erinna's orphanage. Just like those kids years ago, these 2-to-3-year-olds saw us and starting yelling out, "Mama, mama!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The heart of Moscow

We spent the day today at the Kremlin and Red Square. The last time Erinna and I were in Moscow, she was two and our host, Tatiana, kindly offered to watch her while our translator and guide, Julia, took me sightseeing. So for me, today was about remembering that first trip. For Erinna, it was about learning firsthand about her Soviet heritage.

IMG_4650Red Square is amazing. It's huge, and at the far end are the colorful onion domes of St. Basil's. It turned out St. Basil's was closed for some special event, so we headed over to the Kremlin instead.

IMG_4600Again, awesome! The cathedrals with their gold-plated onion domes are incredibly beautiful, and we walked around the inside of most them as well.

The kids were really interested—not! Abby was the most interested, since she's at least from Moscow. But really—they all just wanted lunch, with the promise of shopping at GUM afterwards.


IMG_4662In 1993, GUM was more like a giant flea market than a shopping center. The stores carried cheap scarves and those stacking dolls, along with sundries like toothpaste. Now, GUM is a high-end shopping center, with Cartier and Dior. We stayed long enough to buy Erinna a $3 pair of socks for $10. She's wearing her "comfortable" sandals today, which, it turns out, are giving her blisters. With her socks, she's not stylish, but at least she can continue walking.

Looking up in the GUM shopping mall