Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Boys in Piter

It has now been almost a week that it has been just Zoltan and me staying back while Lynne and Alex went back to the States. So far things have gone surprisingly well. Zoltan has been amazingly well behaved during this time. He regularly asks 10 times a day when we are going on an airplane to see Mommy and Allie, but no major tantrums or fits.

Thursday and Friday were Russian Holidays so this has been a long weekend of just me and Zoltan. We spent much of the time going through our stuff and starting to organize everything for the packout that is coming soon enough. In addition we have had a chance to do some fun things. Here is the quick rundown of our long break.

Thursday: This was parade day (Victory Day in Russia) and half the streets are closed to traffic surrounding us so getting anywhere by car was difficult. We are close enough to the parade route that moving the car meant we are likely to lose our parking spot as well. So today was a spend the day locally day. Off to the playground we went. Unfortunately most of the parade was happening during Zoltan’s nap so we did not go to see it. After nap the weather was gorgeous so we went back outside to the playground.

Friday: Rain, Rain, Rain. Lots and lots of rain. I had planned on going by Metro to the Russian Museum with Zoltan but I didn’t feel like walking in the rain. So instead Zoltan and I decide we would go the grocery store. He does love going to the grocery store for whatever reason. At the store I bought him a Chugginton DVD so we could see what it was like. Turns out the whole thing is in Russian with no other languages. Many DVD sold here have both Russian and English and many have other additional languages. I let him watch one when we got home so I could do some organizing. From that point on all weekend all he has been asking for is the “Train Movie”. Not sure why these are movies and not shows since they are about 10 minutes long. After nap the weather cleared and back to the playground.

Saturday: Raining again. Today I had the idea to go to the Grand Maket since that was indoor activity and Zoltan loved it so much the last time. Once Zoltan heard the idea he went and got himself dressed to go. This was despite the knowledge that we were not ready to go. Boy O Boy was he ready. Like last time the Grand Maket was hit. Here is a photo of Zoltan enjoying himself. Also we found little items that I totally missed last time.

Sunday: Weather was decent. Zoltan agreed today since the weather was good we would take the Metro to the Russian Museum. He loves looking at the trains and riding trains so the Metro was a hit. Above ground we took some photos on our walk. When we got to the Russian Museum Zoltan was hungry so we sat on the benches outside and gave him a snack. After a snack and enjoying the weather Zoltan decide quite strongly that he did not want to go to the Museum. Since I just want to get him out I didn’t fight it. We walked to the canal and watch some boat come and go on the canal. Next he wanted to take the bus back to the house. So we jumped on a bus and got off near our house and went to lunch. On the walk home we stopped by the playground to let him play before heading home for nap. Busy Busy day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Franklin Institute

One thing that's nice about America is that there's a wealth of personal and family history to impart to the kids. Alex is in a science museum phase, she begged to go to the one in Piter for a week or so and that's where Terry ended up going with her during their "special time" together our last day in Piter. So of course, in Philly, can I possible deny her the Franklin Institute?

We got there at 10am and I realized I think it was the first time back since the wedding. I showed her where Terry and I got married, standing somewhere near the precise spot. I showed her the exhibits where we had our snacks and drinks (aka cocktail hour) and of course took her through the giant heart. She went through a second time all on her own. The one downside is there were about a million school groups there so the noise level was deafening, we had to yell to communicate, and many exhibits were crowded.

There were a bunch of new additions, which were very cool, and some old favorites I was excited to show her. It was nice to stay longer than the school groups, as she wouldn't have gotten onto the train otherwise.

We are usually museum'd out by 2 - 2.5 hours, if for no other reasons than hunger and naptime. Today we ate in the cafeteria, decided to skip nap, and left after 4.5 hours only because Alex was getting tired. We managed to catch the planetarium show, which she loves, and as we were leaving a demonstration was beginning in the atrium so we stayed for it. We still didn't see everything. I forgot how super ridiculously awesome that museum is, and it was good to be reminded because after reading McCullough's John Adams I am way less in love with Ben than I used to be and of course nobody can think of the Franklin Institute without thinking of him.


When we bought our first home, we bought cheap Home Depot paint for the first 2 rooms we planned to paint. We were cursing that cheap paint as the 4th layer dried and made clear we'd need a 5th.  Someone recommended Sherwin-Williams paint and we have never looked back.

Now we're about to buy a house - looking like next week (cross your fingers nothing bad happens!) I discovered there is a Sherwin-Williams paint store in a strip mall near my brother's, where we'll be next week, and have already planned the trip with Alex to let her pick out her very own paint color for her very own room. And ... taa-daaa, right this very minute there is a promotion with Sherwin-Williams and BlogHer and I am desperately hoping to win that $100 gift card!

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Disclosure/disclaimer: I am receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for this post. 

Some cultural observations

When it was raining our first day here and I told Alex to wear her rain pants when we went to the hospital, she wanted to take off her skirt and just put in on when we got there. I had to tell her in America kids don't wear just their panties in public places even if it's just while taking the rainpants off and putting the skirt on.

People are way friendly in America. Every place we go there's someone who wants to talk to Alex. I am amazed and relieved that when I talked with her about it, she said it's OK. This is a kid who is fastidious about her personal space, so I've been worried about future tours in most of the rest of the world where people are more intrusive than in Russia. The part I don't like is they all tell her she's pretty, which she is, but I don't want her to learn to define herself that way.

The garderobe phenomenon in Russia has become so ingrained I was actually indignant when the hospital didn't have anywhere for us to leave our wet raincoats and the stroller. Same with the Franklin Institute (well, just the stroller. It was a hot sunny day)

We've been worried about her losing her Russian language skills. While we've been here she's read half a book and talks and sings in Russian every day. It certainly may still happen, but I think we'll be OK until we get her to Russian afterschool care or a babushka babysitter.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Home sweet America

On Monday, Alex and I began our journey home. We took the rest stop but I have to admit, flight times sucked and I am not 100% sure it was better in the end. We had a couple of really crabby days and I am sure today will be as well.

I had the stroke of brilliance to think up a solution to the too many bags for too small muscles at Pulkovo and loaded our huge duffel bag onto the stroller and had Alex push that. I was able to manage the rest of the bags. British Airways started off on the wrong foot. First they somehow lost the 2 seats together I had reserved online, then essentially accused me of lying when I couldn't come up with which seats they were or any documentation of having done it. We ended up in the very last row, where each time the flight attendants had to get something out of a locker they banged my seat. There is also apparently a new thing (well, new from the last time I flew with extra bags, which was admittedly a long time ago) where you check your bags, they hold your ticket hostage and you have to go somewhere totally different to pay for the extra baggage. At Pulkovo, it meant going back out into the entrance area, then upstairs to the Finnair ticketing booth, where they processed the payment. Then back to the British Air counter where at least I didn't have to wait in line.

The flight was relatively uneventful. Alex managed to color and do her mosaics (thank you again Jenny for getting her the first pack!) and we didn't even use any electronics. At Heathrow I was reminded how much I like Europe and all their baggage carts. The down side is we flew into Terminal 5 and were flying out of Terminal 1. I found my way to the Heathrow Express and here's where the amazingness of strangers kicks in. One of the HE employees let my cart through the barrier then helped me load all our bags onto the train. At Terminal 1 he reappeared and help me unload, then he got one of his colleagues from Terminal 1 to get me another cart right at the trainside. From there it was easy to get to the left luggage place and drop off all the checked bags, then catch a taxi to our hotel.

We stayed at the Renaissance Heathrow. One side of the hotel faces the runway and you can watch planes touch down and take off. It was absolutely the highlight. The room was tiny and dingy, the plug in the bath didn't work and Alex is traumatized by showers and she was already overtired so getting her clean was a bit nightmarish. The mini fridge is also ridiculous, hard to explain but the gist is to put anything in it garners a charge so we just wasted the huge bowl of yogurt we'd had to order to give her the medicine. Club access is also a plus, we were able to get snacks and water and the breakfast there was impressive for being "continental". All in all we'd probably stay there again, if only because of the runway viewing.

The next day we were up too early, so we just went ahead and started the day. It turned out to be a good thing as there was a bunch of running around at Heathrow - like at Pulkovo we had to check our bags at one place and pay for the extra bag somewhere else. Also annoying is that they don't put up the gate info until 90 minutes before the flight departs, but boarding begins 60 minutes before AND some parts of the terminal are a 20 minute walk from the center area.

When I saw on the e-ticket that the flight was meant to take 8 hours I was surprised, because I've done London-USA enough times in my life i knew full well it's 5.5h to there, and 7h back. And, we left 30min late and arrived 30 min early. Talk about padding the time! At least I wasn't misremembering the duration. During the flight things were a bit rough - Alex tried to nap twice but just couldn't fall asleep even though the plane was empty so we took a 4-seat row and she stretched out over 3 seats and got a 3 blanket cave. Knowing I'd have to drive to Philly from Allentown I napped while she watched shows, I probably slept 10 minutes but rested/dozed through 2 full shows so maybe 45 min?

We ended up having plenty of time in Philly, largely due to arriving early. There's a children's play area, so I like them even better than I thought I did as I've been very annoyed at American airports for not having them. We got ice cream for dinner :-)  The Allentown flight was bumpy and Alex proved again that she will be riding the roller coasters with Terry as soon as we go somewhere that has them, by telling me she liked that feeling in her tummy when we went bump.

When we got to Allentown Terry's hatred of the credit card was good for me, as there was only 1 taxi already hanging out and he didn't take CC but I had enough cash. He also very kindly managed to get the Subaru trunk open, which apparently T's mom or step-father managed to do something to and nobody's been able to open it for a little while. We were at the house long enough to make and have Alex eat a PB and J, for me to grab a few things we'd need, unload some of the vodka and maple syrup (although I missed 3 bottles) and one suitcase we didn't need, and head back out. Thank you Randy for leaving me a full tank of gas!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Miniature city

The first 3 days of our 5 day weekend were largely consumed with chores. There were too many things that absolutely had to be done before I left next week. We got outside every day, but the outings were largely brief and close (major exception being shashlik ... it was important to me to do that one last time, and there's still a chance we might go one last, last time).

Today the sun was shining, and I just had to get out. I suggested we metro to Gorkovskaya and see if we could find the miniature replicas of the major buildings in Piter that's supposed to be behind the metro. If not, there's always Peter and Paul Fortress, the Artilliary Museum or the zoo. The kids love riding the metro, it could be an outing all on its own. So we threw some things into a bag and off we went. It is remarkably freeing to go out with the family with no stroller and everything we need fits into a large purse. As that was packed, however, I took my leather backpack.

I hadn't realized it was actually a miniature of the city. Shiny, polished marble represents the rivers and canals. Grassy areas are parks and a couple of the major ones, like the Summer Garden, had its polished marble "pond" laid out.  The buildings are where they are supposed to be. We read an article a couple of months ago about how this was a gift to the city but the city never did anything about it and vandalism was destroying the place. Today everything was cleaned up, if Spilled Blood lacked color, and a gentleman with a megaphone kept anyone from touching the displays. Or rather, he yelled at everyone as they touched the displays.

 It was warm enough to be without jackets in the sun. The kids had the best time running around town. Zoltan even got on his belly to "swim" in the Neva. We got lunch in a nearby cafe and home in time for nap only a little late.

Friday, May 3, 2013


The latch on our dryer broke and it's a long holiday weekend here so I have 2 thick strips of masking tape keeping the dryer door shut so the wet stuff doesn't get moldy. At one point the tape stopped sticking and it turns out the dryer is happy to operate while the door is wide open. I learn something new every day.