Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dear families and friends,

In our continuing efforts to explore every method of transportation on this tour, we are now on a train, with the rain and mist making the countryside look sort of mysterious and haunting. We are traveling through a wetlands area, often with water on both sides of the train. The kids are happily journaling, playing cards, making up games, chatting and reading, as usual. We had a bit of a sleep-in today, with wake-up at 8am and breakfast at 8:45. The train depot was just a few-minute bus ride from our hotel and we watched excitedly as our train pulled in, right on schedule, passengers streamed off, cleaning crews boarded and worked their magic, and we were finally allowed to board. It was a bit of a challenge with our suitcases, as there is no luggage compartment and they must go either at our feet or in the luggage racks above our heads. At first glance, it didn’t look like there was any way they would fit above our heads, but they did!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The train ride was quite delightful. We had sack lunches and successfully survived both Finnish and Russian passport control. The Russian visas are very cool, as they should be for what they cost! Everyone’s name appears in both our Latin alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet. Depending on the length of your name, it’s pretty easy! Isabel, Lillian and Jackson all have two middle names, so they had to work a bit harder as we all copied our names in the Cyrillic alphabet!

As we drove from the train station to Pushkin and our concert at the Pushkin Cultural Center, many of the kids commented that they definitely felt like we were now in a foreign country. You see no English anywhere, and if you don’t know the Cyrillic alphabet, it’s pretty much impossible to pronounce anything. I do think there is also definitely a different perception about Russia. As Adrian said, “I thought it would be so isolated here. It’s beautiful.” We have heard nothing but horrible things about Russia and Putin in the American press for over a year now. Even the adults had to fight back negative thoughts and fears. But when you get off the train, or off the bus, and you are walking the streets, you quickly realize that these are just people, like people all over the world. They are trying to get through their day, do their job, live their lives. And oddly, the only news we have seen here is of the terrible riots in Baltimore. It looks scary over there in the U.S.

Our first dinner included borscht, a cabbage/beet soup. The meal started with a Greek salad, then the borscht, beef stew and finally our new favorite, potato pancakes with jam. Yum! To our delight, we also get them for breakfast, when they can be smothered in sweetened condensed milk. Not so sure about that.

Our first concert in Russia was at the Pushkin Cultural Center in a charming, albeit challenging, little hall. Small stage, with large grand piano, big heavy platforms and about a four-foot drop to the house. Fernanda, accompanist extraordinaire, helped me figure out how to turn the piano so that she could see me without falling off the stage, and there was still room for the kids. Two men from the hall patiently pushed and pulled, inch by inch, a little more this way, a little more that way, no, a little more that way, a little more this way…and we finally found the perfect spot. We also found two, red carpeted, step units to get us on and off the stage, making it possible for us to do “Getting to Know You,” complete with handshakes, “Do Re Mi,” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” We staged the remainder of the show both on and off the stage, and thanks to the smartest kids I’ve ever met, the show was a smashing success. Audience members fiercely clapped along to everything possible. And I mean fiercely! We did two encores, “I Bought Me a Cat” and a reprise of “Footloose.” And they wanted more.

It was a late night for us, as we still had to check in to the hotel. Fortunately, we were able to sleep in the next morning, before heading out to explore St. Petersburg.

I am going to close with that, as we have a very short night tonight (we’re up at 2am!), and I want to get this off while we have a strong internet connection at the hotel. With a six-hour layover in Frankfurt, I promise to get you all caught up very soon. From host families and many new friends in Turku to all of our St. Petersburg adventures, there is still a lot to share.

See you soon!



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