|Moscow, May 1 - May 4, 1996|
|Novgorod, May 5 - 6, 1996|
|St Petersburg, May 7 - 11, 1996|
Is it already May 1? We meet Sheila, Pat, Nancy, Linda and Saro at JFK Airport. Sean McGivern, our tour organizer is with us too. Nate and I are the tour leaders. We distribute packets of information about the trip and a small Russian phrase book for beginners. Soon, we're on our way. The flights were timely and comfortable. I slept some on the 7 hour flight to Helsinki, but am wide awake on the 1 ½ hour flight to Moscow. On the flight to Helsinki, we had drinks, dinner, drinks, a movie, a nap, and breakfast all in seven hours! And now it is 8:30 A.M. on Thursday, May 2.
We arrived in Moscow Airport and all goes quickly through customs and baggage claim. Sean is amazed that the number of suitcases for this group is so small. The trip to the hotel by bus is remarkable for its lack of traffic! We have arrived on day 4 of the "May Day" holiday weekend and the city is unusually empty. Light traffic is nice, however many places seem to be closed.. We take 1 hour to unpack, rest and shower, and then meet our Moscow tourguide Jenna for a bus tour of the city. We learn that Moscow was founded in 1157 by Uri Dolgaruchka (translated means Uri Long arm). Riding on the bus, a few heads are nodding. Back at the hotel, which is about 2 blocks from Red Square, we decide to go for a drink before dinner. We go to the Pizza Restaurant which is adjacent to the hotel, and they have a nice bar. We toast to a great trip (for the first time!). Dinner at the hotel is meat in sauce, rice, and a chocolate eclair. After dinner, we walk around the hotel a bit and then turn in by 9:00 for the night. I try to stay up and read, but I can't because of the jet lag.
I slept soundly until 3:00 A.M. and then off and on until 7:30. We finally get up and go to a breakfast buffet before heading for a walking tour of the Kremlin and Kremlin Cathedrals. Unfortunately, Red Square is closed in preparation for a large May 9 (Victory Day) Holiday celebration. We go to the Hotel Russia for lunch and to meet Galina Perfiljeva, Dean and Professor of the Faculty of Higher Nursing Education, Moscow Medical Academy. We discuss health care in Russia and in America. Galina talks about the gradually increasing role of nurses in Russia, and about her efforts to improve management skills of nurses. She is organizing a conference to expand nursing home care in Russia without making the mistakes foreigners have made. Invited foreign guests will describe their care for the elderly, emphasizing both the good and the bad points. I'd love to go. Maybe my employer will send me? The lunch has many courses and is obviously the BIG meal of the day. The best item is the borscht!
After lunch, we visit the small church in Red Square, and then shop in GUM. A lot has changed in the 4 years since Nate and I first came to Russia. Today, GUM seems more like a Western shopping mall with many Western prices and goods. Shop proprietors often speak some English. After GUM, we go on a walking tour of some small local streets and discover something we never thought we'd see in Moscow - a gun shop. We stop in and browse; finding a mixture of sporting arms and Russian Military surplus weapons. The store was busy and everyone was friendly. Finally, we wind our way back to the hotel for dinner.
Dinner is fried fish and french fries - quite good. Then, off to the circus, which is fantastic! There always seems to be some amazing act that we haven't seen before. We purchase some toys for the kids back home - or are they for us? Then Sean takes us through the streets to a new local pub. It is really attractive and a pleasant spot for a beer. Finally, we head home by Metro (subway) making stops at some of the more amazing subway stations. Chandeliers, stained glass, statues depicting Russian workers and soldiers and various other art works were all in the subway! We arrive back at the hotel at about 11:00 P.M.
I slept like a stone last night and by 8:00 AM we are up and running. Breakfast of eggs, fried to order, cereal, toast and plums. I am really full after this meal. We went with Jenna for a walking tour of Red Square, and this time it is open. It is beautiful on this sunny, windy day. The weather is warm and delightful. In Red Square, they have constructed platforms and HUGE murals, some with a Communist theme, for the big holiday bash on May 9. There are also displays that commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy. Lenin's tomb is closed (3 trips to Moscow - 3 times it has been closed!) so we walk to Arbat Street and stroll the avenue. We go back to the hotel by Metro. At 12:00 we meet Sean back at the hotel and he takes us by subway to Ishmailova Market (a huge market with all the best buys on boxes, pins, nesting dolls, hats, jewlery etc). Nate and I shop for fur hats and buy 5 for the folks back home. We also got a beautiful angel for a friend's first Communion (the day we return home), and a wooden Santa for my sister.
Back at the hotel, Sheila, Pat, Deb and Nate run to the corner shop for champagne and vodka. After dinner, we change into our sweat suits for the overnight train trip to Novgorod. By the time we squeezed 8 people and 18 pieces of luggage into 3 taxis, it had started to rain. Everyone and everything made it to the train. We stow all the bags in our 3 cabins (Sheila, Linda, and Saro in one; Deb, Nate, and Pat in another, and Sean in the third). We started chatting, eating junk food (M&M's, crackers, and chocolate bars) and toasting, Russian style. Bedtime at last at maybe 1:30 AM.
Sean woke us up on the train moments before it pulled into the Novgorod station at 6:45 A.M. We know the routine ... everything off the train, go to the Novgorod Hotel Intourist to register, rest and clean up for 1 hour before breakfast. The party animals are suffering this morning! Breakfast is restorative - blinis, sour cream, jam, tea, etc. Then off for a tour of the Novgorod Kremlin (most cities in Russia have a Kremlin. It means "fortress"), its museum, and its cathedral built in the 11th century. Walking around the grounds is beautiful on this blustery, cool day. We enjoy seeing the monument that commemorates 1,000 years of Russian history.
Lunch is at a nearby restaurant and includes chicken Kiev - the best I have ever had! Then some of us head to the local department store and others of the group go back to snooze. As in most department stores I have seen in Russia, the customer looks at items under glass or on shelves behind a counter. On the walk back to the hotel from the department store, we see a group of young boys with fishing poles and a few tiny fish they caught. They ask for candy and we take the opportunity to take their picture. Just before we arrive back at the hotel, we find a beautiful old brick church and find out that it is the Church of St. Sofia. Dinner is at the hotel and is delicious - a fish stew. I wonder if I could replicate this? Pat, Sheila, Deb and Nate go for a stroll after dinner and find a kiosk with lemon vodka. We go back and have a toast as a nightcap, and then turn in for a great nights sleep.
Breakfast is blinis (pancakes) with jam and sour cream. Another good meal at this hotel! Then off for some health care visits. We first go to the Regional Institute of Medicine of Novgorod, a school for physicians and nursing managers. It is only two years old and appears to be doing quite well. There are anatomy labs with preserved samples of organs, dissection labs with cadavers, lecture rooms, and lounges for relaxing. There are beautiful plants everywhere which are taken care of by one of the professors. The students appear to be very hard working and very serious. They are dressed in relatively formal attire compared to American students (dresses, slacks and shirt) and all wear lab coats. They are industriously writing down every word the teacher is saying (it seems). I do not observe any question/answer type of interaction, however maybe we just missed it. We've been told that this is the Russian style - lectures are more important than the textbooks. We met with the director of the institute, Genadiy Brishakin and he told us that they have been extremely fortunate to receive funding that has allowed them to fix up the building with wallpaper, paint and classroom furniture. Not all schools are as fortunate. He also said that they are in need of textbooks and anatomic models of all types. They are trying to develop a course of study to train fireman in emergency medicine because there are no trained Emergency Medical Technicians in this city.
We move on to see the Polyclinic Volna. The director of this clinic is Iraida Kon and she is very serious and disheartening. She has so little hope for the future. She tells us that she runs this clinic, is a doctor, her husband is a doctor, and they can't afford to send their daughter to college. She expresses that she sees little hope for the future and does not see how Russia will correct all its problems. Before restructuring, this clinic served the medical needs of factory workers and their families from cradle to grave. The clinic is now a family clinic for anyone who lives in the area, and care is no longer free or guaranteed for factory workers. She says that treatments are sometimes cut short for lack of payment. There can be long waits for medical care and there are shortages of supplies and medicine. In spite of all, however, she describes a program in which mothers of newborn children are visited in their home by a nurse for several weeks after the birth to see how care is being given, and to instruct the mother if need be. The nurse weighs the child and teaches the mother about nutrition. One could see why Russian people would mourn the inevitable loss of this personalized type of service.
After the polyclinic, we go for lunch at a restaurant tucked into the basement of a building (a Sean find). We have delicious soup, fried chicken, and "morogenee" (ice cream). Then on to the Uri Monastery (where a woman shows an icon that people believe weeps - it has drops of water on it) and finally to the Novgorod City Orphanage where we have a marvelous tour. Kids perform in singing, ballet, playing Russian folk instruments like spoons, and doing normal things like having milk and cookies after an afternoon nap. The orphanage appeared neat and homelike. They care for more than 100 children ranging in age from 3 to 17. Only three percent of the children will be adopted and the rest stay until they are 17 and have to leave. The director of the Orphanage tells us how he struggles for the money to provide the "nice" things for the kids. The rooms for the older children are organized in groups so that they grow up with a "family" grouping that stays together for years. Three teenage girls who room together show us the piano that they have in their room, and demonstrate that they can play it. The younger children all sleep in one big room which has about 20 little beds. There is an attractive communal dining room. Overall, the facility seems clean and the children seem happy. As it is time to leave, we begin to look for Sean. The children are having a ball chasing Sean through the hallways while he is wearing a Boris Yeltsin face mask! The laughter of children sounds the same in any language!
Back at the hotel, some of us crack open a bottle of vodka and have a toast to the trip before dinner. We go in two cabs to Dietinitz Restaurant (a highlight of dining out!) which is located inside the Kremlin. The restaurant is housed in a building that is 500 years old. Beautiful ambiance and delicious food - obligatory tomatoes and cucumbers with sour cream, then creamed mushroom soup, chicken in sour cream sauce, ice cream and tea. Sean ate with us tonight so we all toast to a great trip and to Sean. Most of the group decide to walk back to the hotel. Guide Katya and I stroll and talk about her family life, her divorce, and her son. She tells me that after the divorce, her husband maintained one room in the apartment that she and her son shared. He kept the room locked and showed up when he felt like it. It is not uncommon in Russia for divorced couples to have to go on sharing the same apartment for lack of money for a new apartment. Katya is more comfortable these days since she has been working as a guide and has been earning "hard" currency. She has just purchased braces for her sons teeth - a very unusual sight in Russia. I tell her a bit about myself, but my life seems relatively uncomplicated as compared to Katya's.
Breakfast of omelet and roll with cheese does the job. We all load into Sean's new bus and head for St. Petersburg. It is an interesting ride through rural Russia - Sean says that outside the big cities, 90% of houses do not have running water. We stop at a cemetery with many of the grave stones dated 1942. The war was bad in Russia. We also stop at a nicely decorated house along the road. The owner invites us in to see a neat, clean house with small rooms and 1950's decorations. On the way out, she displays souvenirs - so I buy a pin. We proceed to the Pulkovskaya Hotel - really nice! After 1 hour to check in and get settled, we go on a city tour with Katya giving us many historical facts. It is a beautiful city. We have lunch at Caroll's (much like MacDonald's.) Salad is the highlight. We enjoy the afternoon of touring including a stop at a small souvenir market at a beautiful spot overlooking the city. We then go for dinner at the hotel, change our clothes, and get in the minibus to go to a concert. The concert turns out to be choral groups starting with young children (6-7 years old), to teens, to adults - very impressive and beautiful! All enjoy it! Back at the hotel, Nate, Deb, Sheila and Pat head to the bar for Piva (beer) and sausage. We talk till late in the evening about our experiences in Russia, and life in general.
The day starts with pancakes and rolls with cheese. It is a day for professional visits. First we go to an elementary school (really a preschool). The little ones are very cute. A physical education teacher demonstrates a class doing exercises with balls. The teacher tells Sean she makes $40 per month. And many prices we see in the stores are like Western prices. How does she do it? We all guess she must be living home with her parents. I suppose this is not unlike American college graduates these days.
Then we go to School 213, the local school for grades 1 through 11. It is a school that focuses on teaching the English language. We are introduced to the school by the principal Ludmilla Lubimova and then split up to visit classrooms. Nancy and I enter a room of students studying advertising in the United States. They want to know if we like advertising and if we buy things because of it. Then we visit a class of second graders. We do morning exercises with them and then they tell us in English what their favorite subject is. Next we go into a gym with some students where 2 young kids demonstrate ballroom dancing. They dress in elegant costumes (he in a tuxedo, she in a ball gown) and do an incredible job. Then we all dance! Our student guide, Leo is approximately 15 years old and speaks English quite well. He escorts us back to the principal's office where we are given gifts of old textbooks, St. Petersburg trays, and 1995 calendars. Leo and Ludmilla serve us lunch in a classroom that is not in use. Deb chats with student Leo about his fears of the upcoming presidential elections. He is afraid of the communists coming into power. He also asks me to obtain scripts for Oklahoma for the school drama club as they are putting on the play but do not have the words (only the music). How can the drama club put on the play without the words? We meet a pleasant old woman who is 86 years old and who lived through the 900 day siege of St Petersburg. She still sweeps the halls of the school as she has for the last 46 years. Nate and Deb also meet the mother of our friend Aleksey (who we met in New York.). She teaches at this school and proudly poses for a photo with us.
After lunch, we leave the school and go to the Ott Institute where Dr. Vlad Korsak shows us around. This is an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic. Statistics show that the average Russian woman has 7 abortions during her lifetime. This often results in an inability to become pregnant at the time the decision is made to have a child. Individuals pay approximately US$2500 for each fertilization attempt. This is a very large sum of money for Russian citizens. Other services provided at the Ott Institute are gynecological, educational and birth control training. We tour the facilities including a well equipped patient education unit which was furnished and funded by an American drug company. This facility has some of the most modern diagnostic equipment that we've seen anywhere in Russia. There is a beautiful old lecture hall with a library of books along one wall. In the basement passageway, there are several booths that are set up by former employees of the hospital where they sell clothing to passersby.
Back at the hotel, the others use a free night to see some Russian folk dancing. Deb and Nate go for a special dinner with Vlad (of the Ott Institute) and Galina (his wife). Vlad and Galina were our host family on our first trip to Russia in 1992. Larissa, their daughter, has grown up since we met her four years ago. She is now attending medical school. She is self confident, and speaks in English about many topics including student life, politics, and her desire to visit the USA again. Dinner is delicious and includes a fried fish called karoshka. After eating and drinking for hours, Vlad and family drive us back to the hotel via the scenic route along the Neva River. They all come in to see the hotel, our room, and to have a night cap in the bar. This was a long and interesting day.
Breakfast of blinis and sour cream is delicious. Today is a BIG holiday in Russia, so even the famous Hermitage is closed (a most unusual event). We go to Peter and Paul's Fortress and view a real Russian political prison, and another beautiful cathedral. The money the czars spent on cathedrals and palaces is beyond comprehension. There is no comparable sight in the USA. After lunch we go shopping on the Nevsky Prospect. There are many more goods than 4 years ago - prices are much higher too. I don't know how Russians afford the goods on their salaries. There are many people looking, and a few buying. We end up at the flea market by the Church of the Spilled Blood - a truly remarkable place. We find a few last souvenirs at the flea market and some lemon vodka at a kiosk. We head back toward the hotel but stop at one of the 5 star hotels, the Macro Polo Hotel, and get a beer in the Scandinavian decor bar. There is to be a big parade for Victory Day which commemorates the end of the 900 day siege of St. Petersburg by the Germans in 1944. We go outside just in time to see the parade. Katya is happy to have arrived in time to view it, and it is quite a sight. Military men and families of military people march with red banners, flowers, and other mementos. Back at the hotel, we dress, eat and leave Nate to go to the ballet at the Marinski Theater. The performance is Romeo and Juliette. I had forgotten the story but was able to buy a program in Russian and English. It is a beautiful performance by the Kirov Ballet Company. I use the Russian words I have learned to help an English speaking woman who is unsuccessfully trying to buy the program in English. When we head back, it is pouring rain. Nate saw the Victory Day fireworks from the Monument to the 900 Day Siege. Sheila, Pat, Nate, and I share a drop of Vodka.
Our last full day in Russia. Blinis for breakfast with ham, cheese and rolls is more than filling. We finally make the Hermitage this morning - very impressive! Katya is a good guide, but is more expert in the architecture and history of the building and art work and less into the art itself. Still the best guide we have had in the Hermitage was Helen (our first visit).
After the Hermitage, we go to the town of Pavlovsk to Sean and Sergei's restaurant called Restaurant Podvorye. Sean joins us for lunch. The place is beautiful with Siberian architecture and Cossack singers. The food is great, and quite different from other meals we have had. A bottle of wine adds to the festivities.
We then head to Catherine's summer palace - a place that is amazing for it's floors, walls and it's richness! Gold leaf doorways all lined up are impressive. This place was heavily damaged during World War II when the Germans occupied it. The building was basically in ruins when they left. A particularly amazing room is the Topaz room where thin layers of topaz were used to coat the entire wall. Today, the topaz panels are missing, and the Russians are working on restoring the room with some combination of real and simulated topaz.
Tonight is the night we spend with Russian families. Linda and Sheila will go to one house, Nancy and Saro to another, and Nate and I to Irina's apartment. We know Irina from previous trips. She is a midwife and nursing student. The other travelers leave with their families, and then Irina arrives with Marta. She is the daughter of Irina's roommate and is now about 11 years old. We have a beer with Sean before heading to Irina's by subway and a few blocks on foot. It is really cool out! Irina has 6 friends over (Valentina, Sasha, a young guy with curly hair, a poet, Svetlana - a doctor - and Svetlana's sister Karina.). We really enjoy the visit, especially Valentina's optimism. We talk about life, politics, business, and travel. The food is good. Salad, rice with vegetables, plemyeni - very tasty stuffed noodles - and desert of ice cream and chocolate cake. Much champagne is consumed but no one gets really drunk. Then Irina and the poet sing. The night is a beautiful ending to our trip.
Packing is a challenge which I have saved to the very last minute. Sean has given us a few things to bring back for people, and with all the souvenirs and hats we bought, the task is like trying to fit 3 large round pegs into 2 small square holes. Somehow it all fits, and we head home. Katya brings her son to escort us to the airport. He is cute but very shy in his brand new braces. Sean says "How about next Fall?" to us as we board the plane! Well, how about it?
Inquiries about our next Russian trip as well as suggestions, comments and questions about this site are welcome at: email@example.com
last update 9/19/96
return to Russian Travels Home Page