Moscow to Yaroslavl and back

Nimgp08661 It’s late and I’m exhausted, but this first good connection in more than a week compels me to post. It has been an incredibly emotional period. Masha and all of us have met Olga and Alexander, her biological parents, and a two-year younger sister, Katya. We visited the staff at the regional maternity hospital where Masha lived her first three-plus years. These women were both joyful and tearful to see her. They had prepared the room in which she had lived by putting up decorations and old photos of Masha from her first years with them: I was astonished they had kept those photos nearly 13 years.

All of this after days of sight-seeing in Moscow and train trips to Yaroslavl. In Yaroslavl we had the fantastic assistance of Galina Evstifeeva, a local teacher of English, who has lived in the USA as a Russian teacher and is involved with Friends of Russian Orphans.

This is all disjointed, it’s past midnight in Moscow and we fly out to Paris and onto Nice tomorrow for the Mediterranean EM Congress. I’m just trying to get a few thoughts down and share some photos with all of you since I’ve been out of touch for more than one week.


You can view my public photostream at Flickr.

Nimgp06811_2 Flying Air France to Moscow took the whole day, departing at 9:40 AM from the apartment on Rue Claude Bernard to arriving at the Marriott Tyverska at 8:00 PM Moscow time (two time zones earlier than Paris).

We had packed the gifts of medical supplies, including all sorts of OTC medications and suture materials among the five bags we brought so that we wouldn’t lose it all if we were stopped coming through customs. Entry to Russia reminded me of entering Italy when I was 15 years old. There was some formality, but very little and we were quickly through customs and met up with our driver who took us to the hotel. We saw modern European and Japanese cars everywhere. Later we learned that there are over 3 million privately owned car in Moscow, a city of 10.5 million (official) people with some unofficial estimates going as high as 13 million.

We’re staying at the Marriott on miles I’ve accumulated over the years. Thank you ABEM.

We grabbed a quick and expensive dinner in the hotel restaurant and I got a WiFi account which unfortunately doesn’t work in my room. It does in the kid’s room and in the lounge where I’m sitting now. So I’ll have to be more disciplined and organized in my blogging.

Nimgp06861_2 We spent today touring, visiting Lenin’s tomb, seeing the Kremlin wall and visiting various churches, including St. Basil’s shown here. Ludmilla Chmyga (chmyga at mail dot ru) took us around first through the metro which was entirely as described with inlaid stone floors and finished ceilings well lighted with various art pieces in the Soviet style. Our guide helped us beat the line for Lenin’s tomb, but nothing could save us from having to walk all around the outside of the square and view the statuary after exiting the tomb . . . statues of long dead Soviet leaders.

Nimgp06931_2 Nimgp06941_2 Saint Basil’s sits in Red Square, which contrary to my prior understanding was not named such in honor/recognition of Communism but rather because the name "red" means beautiful–rather like the "Firebird" symbol. With our back to St. Basil’s we’re facing the Gum Department Store. The sun really was brilliant at our back and thus the washed out sky so I could get our faces to appear. I’m not so practiced with Photoshop.

Nimgp0695_1 The GUM Department store (over my left shoulder in the photo above right) is a modern commercial enterprise with every name you might imagine: L’Oreal, Rolex and more. No more a state enterprise, it resembles in every way a visit to a modern mall except for the architecture which is marked by gorgeous 19th century colonnades and wrought-iron work. Apparently escalators have been installed only in the last five years. Soon after GUM and a pit stop at the Metropol Hotel we were picked up by a mini-bus and driver who took us around the city for an orienting tour. We heard about the old churches demolished by the Soviets–especially Stalin–and the rebuilding splurge of recent years.

We saw Moscow University and views of the city from various hillsides. All in all it was a fine and somewhat fatiguing tour which ended with a stop at one of Simone’s favorite destinations in any city: a supermarket.

Nimgp0711_1 Nimgp0710 When Simone was here in November 1992 to complete Masha’s adoption, it was at the height of the turmoil and disorder after the end of the Soviet Union. There was nothing in the stores. There were scarcely potatoes to be had let alone other produce. She took the family she stayed with to a "green store" not because it was ecological or had great produce but because you could only spend American Greenbacks there. She bought edible, though not great food on that trip. Today, Simone was bowled over by what she saw of the store’s stock and I by its interior architecture.

Paris Plage

Nimgp06591Nimgp0658 It was a gray Sunday in Paris with no agenda and the kids wanted to ‘hang out’ so Simone and I went for a walk along the Seine and found Paris Plage, the fourth annual week-long Parisian beach party. Lots of people enjoying the environment, even if it was a bit chilly and gray. It was our last day in Paris and we were off to Moscow the next morning, so walking along the Seine and making it a busman’s holiday by visiting Hotel Dieu finished the day.

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Marches aux Pouches, Saturday Afternoon

Nimgp0633 One of the seven markets at Marche aux Pouces. We took the Metro #4 to Porte de Clignancourt and walked from there. Simone tells stories of shopping there all the time when she lived here in the 1970’s. I remember the bootleg disks and old French Foreign legion surplus or knock-offs for sale. Today it was full of name brand clothing at relatively cheap prices, but there are still a few of the older sellers hawking wares from who knows when and "antique" (could be, I don’t know) furniture for sale.

Nflea903e I went on this trip eager to hear jazz ala Django Reinhart at the café named ‘La Chope des Puces‘ which has been singled out, most recently in the August US Airways Attache Magazine, because it is small, funky, has moules–frites, and live Django Reinhart–type music with its musicians ‘Les Manouches,’ in the afternoons on Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays. At 122. Rue des Rosiers, Saint–Ouen. Métro: Garibaldi or Porte de Clignancourt. InfoTel.: 01 40 11 02 49. Unfortunately, the bar was closed on this August weekend as we’re finding many places are at this time in the summer.

Nimgp0637_2 We took the Metro back to Odeon and wandered around the Latin Quarter where we people-watched, cafe sat, shopped and wandered . . . saw this opera singer draw quite a crowd. (Click the photo for a one minute audio-video sample, but it’s huge–10 Megabytes–so you’d better have a DSL/cable connection or lots of time on your hands.)

Supper in the Mouffetard district near the apartment and now (midnight) soon to bed. Tomorrow’s weather anticipates lots of rain.

/Steve, Simone, Zoey & Masha

Summer 2005 The first 48 hours

We made it to JFK with lots of time to spare and since we had lots of room to carry things, Simone and I bought "travel pillows" which you can see Simone wearing here.Nimgp0627 The Air France flight was uneventful on a new Boeing 777 with nice amenities. I slept about 3-4 hour, Simone was harassed by the predictable crop of kids and Zoey stayed awake watching videos and playing video games on the seat back setup. I haven’t a clue what Masha did. Does a father ever know anything about a 16-year-old?

We arrived at Charles Degaulle Airport, or at least we were told we did, but we took at 15 minute ride by bus before we got to the terminal. While waiting for our bags the problem of making phone calls for pickup and to set up the apartment arrival (get the keys, etc.) appeared and was quickly solved by one toll free call for pickup and a friendly woman who gave us her "about to expire" phone cards.

Arriving at the apartment, we discovered that the elevator wasn’t working. We’re renting on the 6th floor. Since this was the only amenity we demanded in selecting a place for rent, the irony was lost on everyone now in our 23rd hour of wakefulness or insufficient rest. Schlepping bags to the sixth floor wasn’t on my list of vacation activities; yet it was this day. So we did, showered, napped and behold, the elevator had been fixed. Remember this is an old building with a 2-3 person elevator running up the middle of a wide spiral staircase.

The apartment is small but functional: two bedrooms, sitting room, toilet room and separate shower/sink room and a serviceable kitchen. The view out the front windows on this gray day Nimgp0628Nimgp0629 included your typical Paris rooftops and the dome of an imposing structure under renovation directly across Rue de Claude Bernard from our apartment.

We’ve been shopping in the market area on Rue de Moufftard which is only 1-2 blocks away. Last evening we wandered far and wide for supper, but came back to the apartment via Rue de Moufftard. This morning fresh fruit and bread/pastry from the market made a delightful breakfast.Nimgp0631Nimgp0632  Before we left for a day’s shopping at Galerie Lafayette, Printemps and Tati, we posed for a photo in the rear window of the apartment. Coming up in just a few moments as it is approaching 9:00 PM here is venturing forth for dinner. More later, possibly tomorrow.

Summer 2005 Prologue

What follows is Simone’s message to our family and friends sent just before we left Brooklyn.

This is the beginning of our email travel log. We take off this evening for Paris then on to Moscow and Yaroslavl and end in Nice at a conference for Emergency Medicine where Steve will be presenting a paper.

When we started the process of looking for Masha’s birth family there were two main obstacles.

I speak no Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet seemed a mystery to me.

I only had Masha’s family name and the village they lived in.

What I came to find out is that for the past 13 years I have had enough of Masha’s birth family’s address to get in touch with them. I wanted to kick myself since I wasted so much time asking for help since I thought I needed an exact address.

Masha’s birth family names are Olga, Alexander and Katya is Masha’s younger biological sister. Earlier this year Masha had sent Olga, Alexander and Katya a short note through a Russian interpreter   asking if we could come and visit them this summer. They replied yes and then it was my turn to write and nail down the details. I have been anxiously waiting to get a response . . . and on Sunday finally a translated letter arrived through email from our go-between interpreter.

Nlt002_f Dear Masha and your family!

Please accept our gratitude for your letter. Having read your letter we understood that we hadn’t known half of what had happened to Masha. Thank you very much indeed for being with Masha at her hardest moments taking upon yourselves so much responsibility and providing care for Masha.

Masha, you have loving parents who have done the impossible for you. We will look forward to meeting you in Yaroslavl. Katya sends her photos to you.

Nph002 Your character is very much like Katya’s.

With best wishes,
The Kalinkins


So we’re off to Paris for a few days before flying on to Moscow and our Russian adventure. Perhaps I’ll see some of you at the end of the trip in Nice. Please keep reading as I’ll start blogging after we arrive in France. There will be much more later.