Saturday, September 18, 2010

Old Town

The next day it was time to check out Old Town! We parked right by Viru Gate, and as we walked in Alex kept stopping to look at the various arrangements at the row of florists. I eventually had to promise her that we'd get flowers on our way home but we couldn't carry them with us all day. She then moved on to window shopping. My girl is all girl. Isn't she adorable in her skirt and tights?

Our guide book had a suggested route to take, including detours to check out the view from various ramparts. I won't bore you with the details, you can see the pretty photos we took here. It was a perfect day, a bit cool and not too sunny. We ate outside and Zoltan made friends at a neighboring table. We took note of all the embassies we saw along the way - many countries seem to have located their embassies right in the center of old city and we were pretty envious of some of the locations. Some of the buildings were beautiful, some had historical significance. I took some photos of interesting architecture. Unfortunately, one of the buildings I liked was the Russian embassy. Oops! It didn't seem to hinder our ability to leave the country when it was time, so I guess they weren't TOO bothered by it.

We generally like to get non-souvenir-ish souvenirs when we travel, so we ended up wandering around looking for something that struck our fancy. In the end, Alex, Zoltan and I got hats (really warm, handmade wool hats. Yeah you can get them in Russia but 1. not as cute and 2. not fleece lined so they aren't scratchy. Brilliant addition)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The tide turns

This is where we start to have fun :-)

When we got to the museum, we discovered it was Potato and Bread day, with exhibits and displays about different varieties of potatoes, breadmaking, fresh butter, and more. Further, there is some kind of organic festival too and lots of produce and goods available. Yummies!!!!

The place is really well done, and huge. It kicked the rear end of the one in Helsinki, in our communal opinions. Alex and I went on a horse-buggy ride around the museum and I realized that after almost two hours there we'd only traveled maybe 10-20% of the place, and that was without going in to most of the exhibits. There was an accordion and violin duet that totally got Alex's toes tapping. An excerpt is below. We swung on the 8 person village swing. Alex danced to the band playing at a different location. She played on a wooden horse, a wooden cow, and wooden riding toys (they kinda looked like sheep). We ate yummy treats. Zoltan napped in the stroller. When the weather turned and rain started sprinkling, we decided to cut and run. Alex, as should be obvious, missed her nap. As we drove back to the house around 5pm local time, we realized it was eerily quiet in the back seat. Yep, both kids asleep. And the camera in the trunk :(

Comedy of Errors, without the comedy, Part II

The next morning we were awakened, as usual, by the sound of a crying baby. Checking my telephone clock, I saw it was 5:30am – the time Zoltan had been waking all week. He's in a new place, he's getting my cold, I'll just get him up and we'll have an early nap. All sounds fine except for one thing that hadn't completely registered in my mind – it was 4:30am local time.

I nursed Zoltan, made tea for my poor sore throat, thanked my wisdom in going to bed what seemed so ridiculously early the night before. We played a while and were eventually joined by Terry. I started talking about possible plans for the day and he tells me I may need to take the kids somewhere on my own and drop him off at the hospital, because …

he'd been having chest pains since the afternoon before

So I fed Zoltan while Terry got on the computer and started researching heart attacks. We started gathering the diaper bag essentials, setting the nearest hospital into the Garmin, and going back and forth between freaking out and reassuring ourselves that it didn't have enough of the warning signs to be a heart attack, but it could be something slower but equally as dangerous.

In the end, we waited for Alex to wake up and Zoltan to take a nap then comparatively calmly got into the car and drove into town.

Guess what? There's a marathon in Tallinn today and half the roads are closed, other roads are merely blocked off. Between the map, Garmin, and Terry's internal guiding system, we make it to the hospital. We can't figure out where to go or even if we parked in a legal spot, so I insist that we just need the diaper bag and kids, nothing else, as I could go back to the car. We finally make our way to the emergency room where Terry stands in line while I seat the kids and pull out snack traps in the waiting area. Next thing I know Terry's heading back somewhere and we're not allowed to go with him. Pretty much what we expected. We settle in.

Then I realize I hadn't brought my car keys and Terry hadn't given them to me before he disappeared. I had 2 toys, few snacks, no drinks and no change for the vending machine. We hadn't even gotten the stroller out of the car. Sugar booger.

Between playing in the grassy area outside and eating snacks, plus the water cooler the nurse was able to point us to in a pretty open area – it was Sunday morning around 9am so the place was pretty dead – I managed to keep the kids happy for over an hour. Finally I had to ask a nurse to either let me back there or get Terry to us because I needed the car keys. She went and fetched them for me, and we went to get the stroller out of the car to take a walk. I went back into the hospital to try to use the bathroom (all locked!) and ran into Terry checking out. Everything checked out, but the doctor didn't give any instructions for follow up, nor did he mention what was causing Terry's pains. We decide to toss Tartu off the itinerary and get back to Russia where we can consult with the RMO and decide what, if any, next steps were needed. Given the doctor's apparent unconcern, though, we decide to stay in Tallinn for the planned duration.

So, homeward bound for lunch and to figure what to do next. Tallinn had been so empty we thought today may be a good day to go to the old city, on the other hand the traffic re-routing was challenging enough maybe going to the open air museum would be a better bet. We settle on going back to Tallinn … get thoroughly confused with the detours … and head on to the open air museum.

The rest of the day

After a quick stop at the just-over-the-border McDonald's – why do we seem to eat there more often when traveling in foreign lands than we ever do at home? - we were back on the road. We weren't sure what troubles we'd have getting back over the border into Russia, nor what problems we could have going between Estonia and Lativa. We decide to toss Riga off the itinerary.

About an hour before we got to the apartment we rented, we learned a valuable lesson. Zoltan's tolerance for car rides is just about 6 hours. Unfortunately, we were 7 hours door to door. The last hour was pretty screamy. Not a big deal on a normal day, but today it was extra-super rough.

The apartment was outside the center area, close to the water. It had 3 bedrooms and a living room upstairs, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. Good enough for us, much better than a hotel! There was an apple tree right outside the doorway so we started a tradition of picking Alex up to choose an apple she wanted to eat. They were really, really tart. Not Granny Smiths but definitely as tart. She loved them.

The events of the day coupled with our early cold-inspired awakening meant that everyone was in bed by 9pm local time. Being away for such a short trip and only one hour's difference meant most conversations about time involved the question “local or home”? Kids don't tell time so they were still living on Russia time – up early, bed early.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Comedy of errors, minus the comedy. Part I

The holiday began uneventfully enough. Left the house "early morning" Petersburg time (right about 9am), decided to trust Garmin and although the route was pretty slow, it was all within the time it had calculated for the trip so we weren't delayed. Not too many problems on the road, Zoltan fell asleep and Alex was surprisingly entertained for us not giving her TV to watch.

We got to the border around 11am. Given that the line was a mere 3 cars, we decided not to try to flaunt the red plates and snake ahead. Our turn arrives, we go to the window and present our passports. The lady says something about a "green card" and we understood that was what the Estonian car insurance document was called, so we handed that to her as well as our Russian car insurance documents. After some bad English (them) and very bad Russian (us) we figured they were asking for our Russian car registration document, which is a laminated green card.

Well, the very day before we had been told by someone at the Consulate not to leave that card in the car but instead to leave it in the apartment, in a safe if we have one. So, Terry had brought the card into the house after work. Fewer than 24 hours before this moment, the card sat securely in our glove box. The Russians first try to figure out why we didn't have it. They tell us to go back to our car and wait there. We hand the kids snacks and discuss our options (go home and try again tomorrow. Go home and try again later today. Go home, period) They eventually call us back to tell us to move the car out of the way and they would call to the Estonians and see if they were willing to let us into the country without the Registration. At this point the kids were getting pretty grumpy, so we hauled out the Archos for Alex and got her watching Mickey Mouse, and I nursed Zoltan. Not too much later, they asked for Terry again so he went back to see what the answer would be. The woman gave him our passports and told him to go ahead. By this we assumed she meant the Estonians had OK'd the situation. Ha.

We drive across to the Estonian side of the border and the rigamarole starts again. The official asks for our documents. We hand him our passports. He asks for the insurance documents. We realize they were still sitting in the booth on the Russian side. So, the Estonians let us do a U-turn out and cross the border again. At this point we're pretty happy to have red plates, as we get to jump the line. The line wasn't so long in either direction, but go around a few times and every delay adds up. At this point we're debating just going home but we have to get our insurance documents anyway, as the Russian docs were sitting with the Estonian ones. When we get to the Russian side, on the other side of the fence from where we had been, the woman who greeted us was very confused as to what we wanted. Terry's Russian was up to the task, but just barely. She told us to stay in the car and we saw her going over to the other side. Not too long afterwards, she returned with a folder we recognized in her hands. Our documents!

One more U-turn and one more short drive across the border. We hand the Estonians the passports and insurance docs again. They ask for registration. Sigh.

More waiting as officials decide what to do with us. One official comes up and copies down our VIN number. Eventually they seem to decide the car really, most likely, is ours and they say it's OK to go into their country. Yay!!! It wasn't the several hours at the border that others have encountered, but it was close to 2 when all was said and done.

Here I take a quick digression. The importance of the Registration card is to prove the car is indeed ours, meaning it wasn't stolen. Many stolen cars make their way in or out of Russian and it's a lucrative black market. BUT …. here's the thing … our car is a 1994 medium blue Corolla. Seriously, WTF?? Who would bother to steal the damn thing and who would buy it anyway? We're expecting to drive it til it dies then be required to pay someone to take it away from us. Seriously.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Comedy of Errors, without the comedy, prelude

We were excited to take a trip to the Baltics. Our original plan involved hitting all 3 capitals: Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. When we got out guide book and started mapping out a planned route, we realized it would take at least 2 weeks to make the trip without excruciatingly long days in the car. Schedules, timing, those silly Jewish High Holidays meant we had just about 10 days to accomplish the trip. Vilnius fell off pretty quickly. An evaluation of our children's temperaments caused all the one-night stopovers in smaller towns to fall off as well. In the end we were going to spend 4 nights in Tallinn, 3 nights in Riga and 2 nights in Tartu. We found apartments to rent in each city, as hotel rooms are more challenging with our kids than the kind who nap easily and deeply (I have heard of these kids and have even seen one or two, but have difficulty believing they truly exist). We had fabulous visions of days leisurely wandering around pretty cities, seeing the outdoor sights and stopping at cafes for snacks and lunch, then evenings quietly at “home” while the children slept peacefully.

Ha! Read on for our adventures …..

Friday, September 10, 2010

working woman!

After a too short lived flurry, I've basically retreated into my hole again. Not that there aren't things to report about, but I have less than no time. The main event is that I'm working at the Consulate in the same position I held in Malta - CLO - but also preschool has begun with its joys and headaches, and finally the International Women's Club, of which I am co-president this year.

We're off for a short driving holiday tomorrow assuming Terry can get our travel requirements in order, which means we should have some time to at least comment on the things we're seeing and doing while away from home.

Happy Fall everyone and L'shana Tova for those who celebrate.