Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Messy Truth

When in the course of a mother's events it becomes necessary to tell the messy truth -- I will. And today, it became glaringly obvious. I hold these truths to be evident, and not just to myself.

I AM EXHAUSTED. And my house is a mess. My house will likely be a mess for at least the next 5 years. Or longer. I have never been an "everything in it's place" type person. I know these people. And I admire their skills. However, it's not me. Never will be. And now that I am out numbered, I can't keep up with their messes. As I am cleaning things up, silently they are behind me, making more messes.

The jump from 1 to 2 kids is hard. Being a single mom is hard! Being a single, working mom is hard! Ok - there I said it. Yes, I am back at work. Shortest maternity leave in the history of time -- I know, however, adoption doesn't qualify for "short term disability" in my employers eyes.

So for now, I am getting used to the juggle. Juggling being exhausted and having 4 more things to do before bed (including getting caught up here - no pressure other than from myself, and the desire to record my thoughts/emotions while I have them). Juggling the needs of two kids and balancing some of both of their jealousies (hold me, no hold ME, you get the picture!). Juggling the inevitable work/life/family balance - with one of the least favorable bosses in the history of time. Juggling what I want to do vs. what I HAVE to do.

Enough of the complaining... such is life! I do have to admit, I am terribly blessed. Alex's transition has been, for the most part, VERY smooth. And even in my frantic clean up tonight, as I was purging things - I came across one of Tatiana's preschool folders (from the class that is now done for the school year) - inside was a "journal" picture she made to answer the question of "what will you do this summer". Often, these journal entries are focused around really exciting things in her life (visiting Grampa and Gramma in FL; going somewhere special with Gramma Darlin) - but this time, her response was "I am going to the beach with mama". And suddenly the whole juggle is worth it!

Now on to the basics!

We had a fun weekend - nothing too major, nothing overboard, but a good weekend. We got groceries, planted flowers at the cemetery, went to a family friend's farm to see baby lambs (among other things!), saw two parades, went to a pancake breakfast and finally spent most of Monday at the VERY COLD pool. The heat had not been turned on in the pool yet, so it was a very cool 66 degrees to start with. Tatiana was miserable at first -- but as the pool warmed up, little Miss Zero Body Fat got more comfortable. (And of course was asking to go back tonight!) It was too cold for Alex's first swim, so we'll put that off for another week or so. Plus there was NO way I was going in at that temp and he goes with me! Poor little Russian wasn't used to this heat, though and was a sweaty mess. He and I hung out in the shade... but I still got burnt. Apparently I remembered to put sunscreen on THEM repeatedly, but me? Not so much! Sign of a mama, I guess.

Our weather jumped from 50's/60's to 80's/90's on Monday and today. The rest of the week is supposed to be 70's+, which will be nice, but, of course -- more rain! We may have to make a trip back to the farm to make sure there are twos of each of the animals because the ark can't be far behind at this point...

As I type, here comes the next round of rain... stay dry!!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Survived…

No, I am not talking about Rapture… I am talking about the last part of this crazy week.

Wednesday night Aunt “Whonda” came north, “to the sticks”, to visit with Tatiana and Alex.  And me, I am sure – but let’s be honest, I know where I rank against those two with her.  It’s a hard competition.  We had a great time catching up and thankfully the weather was on an upward swing, so we were able to get some good outside time in as well. 

She stayed for the dreaded bath time… and as if by magic, Alex actually didn’t mind his bath!  I wouldn’t go so far as to say he enjoyed it, but he certainly didn’t mind it and possibly even slightly had a moment or two of fun.   I even ran to get my camera to prove it – since I had another set of bathroom eyes.  I know Mr Alex isn’t exactly looking at the camera in this shot – but you can tell he’s not sobbing uncontrollably.  It even looks like he may have been laughing!  Besides – this shot was the best at hiding all their bits and pieces…

5-20 006

After she left, the kids were in bed and I was silently writing this post in my head ready to celebrate the hurdle that was bath time.  Hip Hip Hooray!  Alas, I was exhausted, so instead, I went to bed.

And then it hit. 

The stomach virus from, well, I simply don’t know where. 

Tatiana woke up around 2:45am – give or take.  I was tired, sue me for the lack of details.  She rarely gets out of bed at night but when she does, she open her door (right across from mine) and bounce down the hall to the bathroom.  She’ll go potty (her words) or get a quick drink of water and then back to bed – usually without any talking – just maybe some silly giggles.  This time was different, she whined and moaned all the way down the hallway.  When I got up to check what was going on, she told me she didn’t feel well.  In the same whine.  I felt her forehead and there it was – the dreaded fever.  It was confirmed shortly thereafter by my good friend the ear thermometer. 

Before you think – ok, no big deal.  The kid’s sick.  I challenge you.  When is the last time you’ve heard me mention her being sick?  A fever, even?  Can’t do it.  Go ahead – search the blog.  I think in the whole time she’s been home, she’s had a total of 3 fevers now.  One of them lasted a grand total of 5 hours.  Sure, she’s puked before – but honestly, it’s from a seriously high gag reflex.  She.  Doesn’t.  Get.  Sick. 

And within 1o minutes, the real fun started – puke city 2011.  Thankfully 95% of dinner was digested.  However, she had just laid back down in her bed, and not feeling well, she didn’t even sit up.   I heard the noise in my room and found her, crying, in the same position, with… you guessed it – puke in the hair.  A girl’s nightmare.   So off to bath #2 we went.  Thankfully SHE doesn’t have issues with tub time!

Alex had a doctors appointment – the BIG doctors appointment – first after you get home appointment for the next morning, so after some hanging out with mama time, we woke up and I added her to the itinerary.  I turned my back in time for her to down the rest of her water cup – and then promptly puke it up in MY bed.  Score – Tatiana = 2; Beds = 0. 

She managed to get a 1/2 a piece of toast and a few drinks of apple juice to stay in her stomach from breakfast, while I ran around getting us all ready.  During this magical time, my giant beast of a cat (Roo) came forward with a weepy eye (allergies says the vet) and the fluffy one (Casey) joined Tatiana’s fun and projectile vomited a huge furball all over the kitchen floor.  I was up to my elbows in sick and puke.  I literally walked out the door and put the kids in the car IN MY SLIPPERS.  I couldn’t figure out what felt wrong as I ran back in to grab the diaper bag.  Uh huh.  Nice look. 

Basically the doctor said she had what was “going around”; a nice run of the mill stomach virus.  Lucky us!  The doctor also said that Alex was as healthy as they come – and oh yeah, here’s 4 shots for some added fun tonight.  Ye Ha!  Stomach Virus AND a baby with 4 shots!

So that was the later part of our week!  Tons of fun!  T is on the mend and hasn’t had any further problems since late Thursday afternoon (maybe she only got the 24 hour version…) and Alex ran a slight fever after his shots, with a little redness still on one leg, but seems no worse for the wear. 

However… we started back at square one with baths this morning.  So maybe it’s a good thing I never got to write that post.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Adventures with Alex

I think I just blinked and missed a week. And yet, a couple of the days seemed to crawl by at a snail's pace. Either way, it's really hard to imagine that we've already been home a week.

Alex continues to settle into his new surroundings. While we have made ZERO progress toward being a champ in the bathtub, he's made some huge progress in other areas! Here's a quick run down...

Car Seat: For a kid who screamed bloody murder during his first car seat experience, he now LOVES the car and the car seat. He gets super excited anytime we start making our way toward the car - as if he thinks there will be some super exciting new adventure just around the corner.

Eating: We're making strides here as well. Alex still seems to prefer breakfast foods over all else, but he's being a little more adventuresome in the food department now. Lots of room to grow here, but big strides this week, for sure.

Sleeping: No real problems in the department. He's always been a decent sleeper - and it continues here at home. After I put him in his crib (for either nap OR bedtime) he'll vocalize his complaint - LOUDLY, but briefly. It's almost as if he's trying to say "I am going on record that I disagree with this decision!" The tears end quickly, usually under a minute.

For the amount of things that were thrown at him in the past week, he's come through like a trooper. We didn't make it to the doctor this week, but we did make it out for his first haircut. Hoping to get to the doctor this next week.

Alex's reaction to his haircut...
Tatiana modeling mama's work brand
Even though he's not smiling -- it's a good picture of the new 'do
Overall, Tatiana is handling life as a big sister with ease. She's informed her teachers and friends at school that "he's stinky". And she does NOT like it when he cries, however, thankfully, the crying is becoming less of an occurrence. She grew up while I was gone. Maybe it was the dutiful job of becoming a big sister, but some of her previous whining has gone by the wayside. I am not saying it's gone -- but she's made some HUGE strides herself.

I am adjusting ok. I've had my own moments this week that I am not proud of. I think I took over some of Tatiana's whining - haha! Why didn't anyone warn me how much work another little body would be. (KIDDING!)

More later -- tired mama needs to go to bed!!

Two tired kids cashed out in mama's car

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Be It Ever So Humble

We're home!

It is beyond words how good it feels to be home. I will always LOVE Russia. It is the country that brought me together with my children. It's their homeland and will always be a special place for me. HOWEVER, if I don't get back to Russia in the next 10 years, it will be just fine!

A little bit of catch up...

Friday morning we all got to sleep in a bit. We weren't due to leave for the Embassy until 11am. It felt like we had TONS of time -and of course, Murphy's Law, it was the one day we all SLEPT late! Suddenly, we were almost running late!

I don't know what I expected of the Embassy, strike that -- I DO know what I expected. I expected a large, grand building with rich wooden walls. I mean, isn't that what ALL Embassy's look like in movies? Totally NOT what the Embassy looks like! There was a HUGE line (Russian's getting, or attempting to get, a VISA to the US??) but thankfully, they make adoption/immigrant appointments for US citizens a priority and literally, you get fast tracked to the front of the line.

In the little seating area, we met the 5 other families who were "graduating" on May 6th. They were some of the coolest people I have met! Ironically 4 of us were ALL staying at the same hotel. So we made a date to go back to Red Square together that afternoon... and we did. It was nice to spend time with some fellow adoptive parents in a magical place.

Red Square

Our flight home (via Amsterdam) was due to leave @ 5:30am. Massively early. However, the bonus part was that we would arrive home in the US before noon on Saturday. We had to get up @ 1:45am to be ready for the ride to the airport. I have to say - if you need to navigate
the streets of Moscow -- 2:45am is NOT a bad time to do it. Aside from the check in (they were extremely bothered and confused that Alex had a lap ticket to Amsterdam and a full seat to Detroit), I was impressed with the Moscow airport. It was nicer than I expected. MUCH nicer.
For the most part, Alex was a trooper on the flights. He slept A LOT. Maybe the 5:30am was the secret. He did his fair share of whining and SCREAMING, but all in all, he was a super boy on the way home. It's just HARD keeping a 19 month old child in a confined area for 11 hours (combined).

My dad picked us up from the airport. With the long immigration time (much longer than Tati's), he was sitting waiting when we arrived. Sharon (his wife) had returned to FL for an emergency with her mom, but thankfully, everything turned out ok and she was able to meet us in Michigan. HER plane arrived about 20 minutes after I emerged from customs! Such timing!

Alex took a big shine to his grampa! A serious shine. Tatiana was leary of men for a while after leaving the orphanage. Alex seems not to have any of these issues. In fact he's very accepting of most people. He seems to have his favorites, but he's not overly scared of people. Which hopefully will be a good path to attachment and bonding and not take the ugly route of indiscriminate affection.

We pulled onto my street around 3:30pm. From the road I could see a darling, curly headed face peering over the couch back. It was my Tati!! Grampa took Alex so I could go see my girl - and the meltdown started. She was so overly excited, and had not napped with my impending arrival (too much excitement!!) - so the tears started flowing. I wasn't sure if she was trying a new death grip on my neck or just squeezing the tar out of me for leaving for so long -- but she got her point across! It was so wonderful to see that face again.

After the meltdown, she finally was ready to see her brother. A jealous streak reared it's head a couple of times but other than that she really took a shine to him. I expected nothing less. She's been the QUEEN in all of our worlds for the last couple years and now there's another throne.
First Breakfast at home...

Overall, Alex is adjusting about as well as he can. After everyone left on Saturday, he had some MAJOR meltdowns. I couldn't leave the room without him panicking that I was gone. Poor guy would scream BLOODY MURDER. On one hand, he's such a charmer and a flirt, and on the other hand, it's also evident (Sara totally called this one, too) that he got his way in the babyhome by screaming and crying. He's perfected the fake cry. Like no other!

Out in the yard...
So now I am officially caught up. We got Tati off to school today and thankfully, she was on time. I can see that it's going to take some adjusting for MAMA to get used to getting two of them ready and not just one! I'll promise to send some updates this way... but likely there will be MUCH less to report on a daily basis!


Friday, May 6, 2011

Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat

Did you get all that? In other words, WE WENT TO ST. BASILS!!! To be fair, our trip also included Red Square which for most Russian adoptive families means one thing: you are ALMOST done!! Aside from those who adopt specifically from Moscow, or get to hire a courier to complete the VISA appointment @ the US Embassy, like most families who adopt from Vladivostok - this is typically one of the last steps in your journey and a huge monumental moment.

When we arrived in Moscow on Wednesday night, we were told that the doctor would arrive early to the hotel to complete Alex's medical clearance. This is a step along the way to getting his immigrant VISA -- to show the US that he won't be bringing any huge communicable diseases along with him. The doctor was younger, spoke really good english and was very nice. Marina told us later that he is "famous baby doctor and plastic surgeon" in Moscow. Good to know. He knocked on our door promptly at 6:30am. We had to wake Alex up - as he was still completely zonked from a) not napping much on Wednesday, b) another huge change - leaving St. Pete's and going to Moscow and c) staying up WAY to late on Wednesday night. The doctor was off after about 15 minutes and Marina arrived to take our documents to the Embassy.

We arranged with Marina for her to take us "sightseeing" around town. Our priorities were, of course, Red Square and Arbat street. I had heard that Red Square was within walking distance from the hotel, but not knowing how Alex's attitude would hold up I thought the car driven option MIGHT be better. I am SO glad we had Marina with us! She's lived in Moscow all her life and knows all the little tiny details about every statue, every building and every monument. So, not only did we get to see the beauty and magic that is Red Square, the Kremlin, Lenin's Tomb and St. Basils, but she filled us in on all the specifics.

At the entrance (gates) Red Square there is a (literal) square in the brick tiles. This is considered the central square of Moscow and all of Russia. Marina said that all the roads in Russia (including, she pointed out, even those all the way in Vladivostok) originate RIGHT here. It is customary to stand in the middle of this specific square, make a wish and throw a coin over your shoulder. I feel compelled to note: don't expect your coin back, there are people who will stand here all day and scamper after your thrown coin. EVEN, when you attempt to scamper after it yourself. Sara and I debated standing here for awhile too and trying to raise some college funds for our kids, however, we figured that St. Basil's was probably going to be worth leaving the coins to someone else.

Making a wish...
Someone taking Sara's coin...
Historical Museum
Clock at the top of the Kremlin...

After you leave the little Square, you walk through the Iberian Gate to enter Red Square itself. Maybe it was the build up to seeing Red Square, maybe it was being away from home and missing Tatiana, maybe it was the joy of knowing that it's almost time to bring my son home... whichever, but I'll totally admit that as we walked in and I saw a glimpse of St. Basil's Cathedral down at the opposite end, I started to tear up. Thankfully, Sara was there with a giant, jubilant smile on her face and a "CAN YOU BELIEVE WE'RE REALLY HERE"?? to help me snap out of it, otherwise I would have been a blubbering mess. Crazy Amierikana!

Because Monday is "Victory Day" in Russia (refer back to my post a couple days ago for the details, as I am much too lazy and behind in these postings to go back and link it myself!), the buildings around the Square are all decked out in the most elaborate decorations you can imagine. Flags, banners and huge draperies are hanging everywhere. It's really nice to see, but at the same time there were a couple downfalls to this... some of the things we would have liked to have seen are blocked - like Lenin's Tomb. You can barely see it through the decorations and platform set up for the big parade on Monday.

Red Square today is made up of a bunch of buildings: the Kremlin, St Basil's Cathedral, the GUM shopping mall (think really high end stores in a super old, beautiful building), a historical Museum, Lenin's Tomb, the Kazan Cathedral, and the Iberian Gate. We didn't go into the Kremlin as the tour is approximately 3 hours long and as Marina says "very boring for the babies". The whole Square is amazing. Fantastic. Awe-inspring. And every other adjective that you can imagine to describe beauty!

We slowly crossed the square, taking in all it's glory, and, in the process, 600 pictures. Give or take. St. Basil's was dead ahead and it was more beautiful than I can ever imagine. The only thing I can compare it to, is seeing a picture of something beautiful for so long. So very long -- all your life. Never imagining that you might actually get to see it in person and then doing just that. We took the obligatory photo with me and Alex (and Sara and Alex, and Alex alone and all 3 of us) in front of the Cathedral and then strolled around to admire it's beauty. From every angle! It's really the only way to do it...

St. Basil's Cathedral

Onion domes... so beautiful
Mama & Alex

Sara at St. Basils

Crazy Amerikankas!

Souvenir shop at GUM
GUM Mall

When Marina finally peeled us out of Red Square, we headed over to Arbat Street. I have heard so much about Arbat from other adoptive families, so it was one of those things that we were able to check off our mental "to do" list. We hit some souvenir shops for some token gifts (Sara scored a MAJOR find for her husband, Steven -- but I can't tell you what it is, in case he reads this... hehe, sorry Steven! Just know it's beyond cool and you will LOVE it). And finally, we had to have a snack in the Arbat Street McDonald's. Just to say we did. I can't even convey how packed McDonald's is. I get annoyed at home if there are 2 cars ahead of me in the drive through. Patience isn't always my virtue!

McDonald's - Arbat Street

We finally got back to the hotel for some down time and some rest but wandered out again early that evening to check out the neighborhood around the hotel. We walked and talked and suddenly found ourselves -- about 2 blocks from Red Square again! Ok, so it IS really close! The main road (Tverskaya) was closed for a parade rehearsal. According to some nice professional photographers (possibly media), the rehearsal is everything BUT the airplanes. We were really hoping to see it, but nothing was happening. It's a good thing we didn't because we were told this AM that it didn't go down until about 3 hours after we left! We're planning on heading back out later tonight (it's now Friday, mid day) just to take in the beauty of Red Square one more time! It's so close and besides, what else do we have to do?

I am ALMOST caught up! Later I'll post about this morning's trip to the Embassy... and our afternoon adventures! Paka!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Poised to Moscow

The Russian word for train is "Poi-esed". Which when spelled phonetically kinda looks like I have spelled "poised" wrong.

And if you can't guess, yesterday, Wednesday, we said Paka and Das Vidanya to St. Petersburg and started our journey home, via Moscow. We took the 3:15 "speed train" to Moscow. For the 3 of us, tickets were cheap! It was a smooth, comfortable ride, which was MUCH less of the stress that comes with an airline trip!

We were seated in car #3, at one of the table seats. Which was appreciated having a baby for the whole time. I had asked Svetlana to buy us 3 seats... but nyet -- we got 2 seats and a lap ticket. Thankfully, the trip was only 4 hours. WHEW. And double thankfully, I used Delta points to buy his ticket for the long flight home (Amsterdam to Detroit).

Across the table from us (facing us) were two Russian men. The train left during prime nap time, so Alex's screaming, crying fit at the beginning scared one of them off. I think he went scurrying for the food car. Or the drink car. The other one, Oleg, spoke some English and helped, or tried at least to help us translate things. He told us when the lady was coming to see our tickets, he told us what cities we were passing and helped catch things as Alex through them or knocked them over. Of course, we gave Oleg, early on, our Canadian Alter Ego story, so we'd both like to apologize to Oleg for lying to him! Sorry, dude! Not that he'll ever find this and read it, but our minds can rest a little easier.

Across the aisle from us were two beautiful Russian women and their beautiful daughters, both named Alina. The little Alina's were ages 5 and 6 and very sweet with Alex. They tried to talk to him, play with him and even sang "La Duschki" (I am sure I butchered that spelling!) to him. Oleg informed us that when you are in Russia with two girls of the same name, you are supposed to stand between them and make a wish.

The highlight of the trip was once again entertaining ourselves while entertaining Rhonda. About every half hour we made her a new Flip Video video-conversation. She would have LOVED to come on this trip with us, and even to the last minute debated it, but it was not in the cards. So, we made her feel like she was there. And yes, we looked like idiots. Again. This time with an audience. We have nicknamed ourselves "The Crazy Americankas".

The lowlight of the trip was the BATHROOM. It was putrid. Burn your nose hairs bad. Think strong smelling chemicals and urine. A pool of it. Enough said, moving on...

We made it to Moscow, tired, hungry and a little smelly. We got situated in the hotel and went out to the market for some beverages and snacks. Thanks to Stephanie Ragguci for blazing the trail for me in Moscow -- we not only found the market quickly but we also found the potato restaurant and it was the PERFECT dinner. We got back just in time to get Alex to try to sleep. It was VERY late for him but he was WIDE awake. He fussed for a bit played in the crib and the literally fell asleep in one of his playing positions.

Whew! I am ALMOST caught up! Next post: Thursday Cinqo de Mayo in Moscow. Although we really didn't realize it was Cinqo until later! A little teaser... RED SQUARE!!
the train station, as seen from the car
on the train platform
ok, we're in the right spot!!
the train next to us... wonder we're they're bound for?
Alex and Mama
Alex showing off, he's famous for one shoe on and one shoe off,
so we call him "Diddle Diddle Dumplin" sometimes

Last Day in St Petersburg (I am in a little behind...)

Technically, we are in Moscow now... if there can be a technically about where you are at. However, for the purposes of this blog posting, let's pretend it's our last day in St. Petersburg. Our last FULL day in St. Petersburg. Man, this pretending is hard, complicated stuff!

The plan for Tuesday was to have the morning free and at some point to pick up Alex's passport from the giant huge passport office that I wrote about previously. When we woke up, I emailed my coordinator (Svetlana) to get an approximate time. Sara and I really wanted to go see the Winter Palace (aka Hermitage) before we left. If you couldn't tell from the pictures from Monday, it's HUGE. Gi-normous, even. So while we didn't have all day, we thought we could at least see a good chunk.

So we waited for Svetlana to reply. And waited. We got bored. Really bored. Slap happy bored. The time change between St. Petersburg/Moscow and home is almost worse than Vladivostok. When we're waking up, you all are going to bed. Late afternoon is when you're waking up - so most of our "day" you're sleeping! Thankfully, Rhonda was working (night shift) so we were able to skype her. And that's where it got silly. Sara had bought a Harry Potter matroyshka and I had bought a Beatles one. The dolls talked (in a really poor English accent, I must say) and sang to Rhonda. I know it sounds ridiculous - and admittedly, it was. But it was hysterical.

Harry Potter...

Alex was getting hungry by this time, and still being picky about what he ate, so we broke out some baby food. Today's menu item was some form of canned meat puree. Gross. Gag. But mama really gets weird about making sure the kidlets get protein. I'll own that one. So canned meat it was. Alex took about 3 bites and NYET. His reaction, thankfully was caught on film. It's must see TV. Or at least blog.
Canned meat...
Alex's reaction to the meat
And the final reaction...

By noon we still had not heard back from Svetlana. So I broke down and called her phone. I hate bugging them, I know how busy they are. I had a big lesson in this last Thursday when we went to apply for his passport - Svetlana was literally on the phone ALL afternoon. When she answered she acted like she had no reason why I would be calling... and then proceeded to tell me that we'd get his passport on WEDNESDAY morning, before we left for the train. UGH. We've now wasted half the day. The prime part of the day for touring with a toddler (as in not nap time).

So our back up plan was St. Peter and Paul Fortress. I've posted pictures of this place in the past couple days. It's on it's own island near Vasilievsky Island - and is the original citadel of St. Petersburg. It's OLD -- built in 1703. Which is part of what I love about European cities -- the RICH history. Essentially, Peter the Great was afraid that the Swedes would attack -- so he had this fortress built to protect St. Petes.

Today it's the burial location of all the Russian Tsars from Peter I to Alexander III. It also includes a mass burial plot for the entire Romanov family and some of their staff that were killed in 1918. To say that it is very cool would be a tragic understatement. Tragic. There is an operational mint, a city museum and some old (I THINK not currently used) bastions aka prisons. We took some serious pictures! All in all, it was a great Plan B!


When we left the Fortress it was getting late (dinner time), after all we had gotten a late, post nap start. It was cooling down again so we decided we'd be lazy and take a taxi back to the hotel. We had taken one there to make sure we got inside before the Cathedral closed and it only cost 400 rubles (roughly $14). We stood by the taxi stand until Sara pointed out that maybe the guard in the guard shack needs to call us the taxi. We asked the guard and he called a cab. He conveyed in his broken English (a fabulous match to my broken Russian) that it would be 10 minutes. Around the 10 minute mark, a rickety old circa 1960's Fiat type car, held together with bondo showed up. The guard told us NYET - this wasn't our cab. Soon a Mercedes rolled up and the guard told us this was the one.

The Mercedes had curtains on the window and Sara noticed that she couldn't unlock the doors manually. We both started feeling very uneasy at this point. The driver started off - and in the wrong direction. I quickly said NYET. Perhaps he was trying to avoid traffic - but I don't think so. He took us for American SUCKERS and thought he'd make some money. He told us, in HIS broken English that he was "Business Class VIP" taxi, which make me look at the meter. The meter was moving VERY quickly. Already, about 2 blocks later, we were at 800 rubles. And of course, to make things even better - we were suddenly hit traffic. And weren't moving. At all. But the meter was...

Things took a strange turn from there - and the VIP driver started asking us broken English questions. He wanted to know where the "Papa" of Alex was. Our Canadian alter egos came out again and one of us was suddenly married to a "Michael" who was back at the hotel. Then he started eyeing Sara's ring and asking questions about the size of her diamond. CREEP-Y. In turn he had to start showing off his rings. ICK.

When we finally pulled into our hotel, the meter was at just under 2500 rubles. If you're doing the math - that's about $90. Seriously. We were FURIOUS. We were within 2 miles of where we started. We got taken by a Russian JERK! And, he wouldn't unlock the doors until we paid. Of course. So... word to the wise. If you are going to take a taxi in country, make arrangements for the driver to return (or different car) at a specific time!! Lesson learned.
Peter & Paul Fortress
Alex had a great time (in the beginning)
Sara got serious about some pictures (but the Russian's thought she was nuts)
The Romanov's Burial Room
On the top of all the Tsar's tombs

Peter the Great's tomb

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sights and Sounds of St. Petes!

Apparently touring the city of St. Petersburg is not HIGH on Alex's list, currently. The 3 of us, Alex, Sara and myself, ventured out late this morning in hopes of seeing some of the sights and sounds of Alex's birth city. This city seriously overdoses on history, culture and gorgeous architecture, so why not appreciate some of it!

Compared to most of last week, today and yesterday were YUCK! Cold and windy. In light of this, Sara and I opted to take a cab to start at the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. I have seen this Cathedral many times (those of you facebook friends know the next part...) and was even able to take a picture outside on the way home from the passport office last Thursday.

The cab ride was worth every 470 of the rubles we paid. The driver appeared to speak no english, but thankfully our friendly hotel concierge had told him where we were going and replied back to us what the set price was ahead of time. Check and check. We started off on our way. Perhaps I should first explain that in NO way will I claim to be an expert on the streets of St. Petersburg, however, after a couple turns, I had NO idea where he was taking us. I knew the route we had taken in the past, and prior to deciding on a cab, I had mapped out a walking route. This didn't look anything like it! I didn't panic. Ok, maybe a little. Remember just 2 hours ago we were watching live coverage of the fact that Bin Laden had been found and killed, and the US State Department has issued a "warning" for all American't traveling abroad. Before we left, Sara and I plotted our cover story - we were Brits! Tally Ho! Alas, we knew there was no way we could pull off the accent without much more practice. So we decided we were Canadians. Yeah - that's it. Canadian's from London, Ontario. We shant forget the Brits, totally, eh?

Finally, like a flash in the sky, I saw the beautiful tops of Spilled Blood. Relief. But then we turned - the OPPOSITE way. Breathe in. Breathe out. No big deal. We're just finding a BETTER route. Then again, tops! Spilled Blood! Relief. And then again - turning the OPPOSITE WAY. By this time, Sara and I are fully talking LOUDLY about hockey and which teams we support (Maple Leafs of course -- since we are Canadians that live near Toronto) and laughing hysterically. You know when someone you're with starts laughing and then suddenly that's even more funny than what you're actually laughing about. THAT'S what happened to us. I think the driver grew tired of our laughter and decided to finally let us out. If we'd have been in NYC, I would have thought we were being taken on long ride to drive up the fare -- but these Russian cabs don't seem to operate like that. Just before we got out Sara asked the driver - who again, we think doesn't speak english - a question. IN ENGLISH. And essentially he answered. I think we both wet our pants a little.

FINALLY we were at the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Modeled after St. Basil's in Moscow, this building in UNBELIEVABLE. To say the least. Complete with beautiful onion domes at the top (which scream RUSSIA to me) and the most detailed, delicate hand laid mosaic tile from floor to ceiling, it rivals anything I have ever seen. Everywhere you looked you wanted to take THAT picture.

We both paid an extra 100 rubles to get the "audio tour". We didn't exactly keep up with where we were supposed to be and when (too many crowds, and the aforementioned photo opps slowed us down) but I did actually learn a couple new things about the building. Did you know: the onion domes shape was created to help from not collapsing under the weight of snow? You did now!

I posted the back story of this Cathedral with my picture on facebook the other day, but since many of you are NOT on facebook, here goes. In March of 1881, Tsar ALEXANDER II (appropriate, no?) was riding his carriage near the canal. Someone threw a grenade and it exploded. He was wounded, but not killed. He got out of the carriage, and someone exploded a 2nd grenade, which mortally wounded him. He was taken to the Winter Palace (Hermitage) where he later died. This cathedral was built in his honor where he fell. Literally, the cobblestones he fell on (where his blood spilled... get it?) are still there and exposed, and look stark in comparison to the riches of the cathedral.

I could say it 100 times - it's unbelievable. A MUST see.

We decided to walk it home from Spilled Blood. This way we could see some sights and take advantage of the fact that Alex had fallen asleep in his stroller. (See first picture!) So we headed toward Nevskiy Prospect, one of the main drags of St. Pete's. The sights were amazing. From there it's a quick jaunt to the Winter Palace (aka The Hermitage) which is (of course) closed on Mondays. We knew that going in... so no big deal. We're hoping to go back tomorrow, time permitting (I have a passport to pick up for the kid!! Woot!), but if not, the outside itself is amazing!

We crossed over Palace Bridge back on to Vasilievsky Island and hauled toward the hotel. By this time Alex was up. He was COLD and MAD. And likely hungry too. He refused to ride in the stroller and would scream bloody murder until picked up, upon which he would instantly quiet down. In these moments, I like to compare him to Jeckyll and Hyde. He's a sweet, gorgeous loving snuggle bug one moment and the next a strong willed, screaming crying fit maker! Ahhh the joys of adjustment. I think I forgot about this part. It must be like child birth. My friends who have experienced that say you forget about the pain and suffering and then want to do it all over again. I think I forgot about the pain and suffering of adjustment!

We're settling in for the night - but lastly, a couple quick thank yous: to Gramma Darlin, who is holding down the fort with my greatly missed Tati, words can't even express how lucky I am to have a mom like you! To Grampa & Gramma (Dad & Sharon) - can't wait for you to meet the little man, thanks for picking us up!! To Rhonda & Sara: You two are both godsends. Thanks for getting me through these trips!! So blessed to have you as friends. To Jenni - my sister from another mother/aunt: Thanks for everything, especially helping Gramma Darlin! Rena/Gary: Thanks for making me laugh and thinking of me this weekend at the sale!! And to the rest of my friends - you rock! Thanks for all your support - it means the world to me.

Pouting on the walk...

And finally... SPILLED BLOOD!

Mosaic Tiles... teeny tiny ones! Everywhere...

The Winter Garden (aka The Hermitage)
It's hard to explain how massive it is, but below gives a good idea...
View from across the Island to St Peter and Paul Cathedral... the oldest building in St. Petes
Finally, a picture that sums up Alex's opinion of the day...