My Wanderlust began in a small snowy town in Russia. A beautiful little girl with sad brown eyes and a resilient spirit was waiting for me. The last 18 months had focused on the long, excruciating yet exciting process of international adoption. At the time, all I could think about was bringing my daughter home.
She needed me. I needed her. It was time to board a plane and travel half way around the world. I wanted this over. It was 2009. I hadn’t done much travel up to this point. I really had no idea that I even wanted to. But this trip changed that. It’s funny how we have our stereotypes. I had never been to Russia but I’ve watched the news and the movies about Russians. I knew everything that I needed to know. At least that’s what I thought. I was wrong.
My journey began in Pskov, one of the oldest cities in Russia. It is located 12 miles from the Estonian border on the Velikaya River. The orphanage where my daughter had spent the first two years of her life was just on the edge of town. I traveled to Pskov twice that year. Once to meet the shy, quiet, brown-eyed girl and a second time to bring her home.
During the first trip, snow blanketed the city . The women wore warm winter coats and fur hats. I donned my ski hat which hadn’t been worn since trips to Minnesota to visit family. The road to the orphanage snaked through the forest, consisting of tall birch trees. It was quiet and serene except for the occasional log trucks or beeping horns.
The trip ended at a two-story brick building which was home to some of the most precious children I had ever met. They flocked around with curiosity and hugs. Their mismatched clothes and runny noses couldn’t hide their playful spirit.
I had the opportunity to stay with an amazing host family. They graciously opened their home and their hearts to me. My preconceived opinions were being challenged. They were kind, warm, and generous. They treated me like part of their family. We ate meals together and explored the countryside together. I learned of the traditions and way of life for Russian families. I looked forward to afternoon tea. It was a time to relax and share experiences, ask questions, and learn of everyday life.
I learned of the banya. A hot sauna followed by “beatings” with dried branches of birch, oak or eucalyptus. These branches are moistened with very hot water and used to improve circulation. After the first good sweat, it is customary to cool off in the snow or splash around in cold water. This is repeated several times with short breaks for tea or vodka.
A few miles from Pskov is the Pechory Monastory (Pskov-Caves). The monastery was founded in the middle of the 15th century when the first hermit monks came to live in the caves. Surrounded by stone walls and towers with beautiful gardens, the colors and details are magnificent. I felt like I stepped into a fairy tale. The snow-covered buildings, candle lit churches, and quiet beauty was a unforgettable experience.
My adventure continued as we traveled twelve hours from Pskov to Moscow by train. The next week consisted of doctor’s appointments, embassy visits and paperwork. We stayed in an apartment near Arabat street with a view of the bustling city below. My mother, who came along to share the journey and help me navigate the process, eased my transition. The beautiful little girl, who was finally my daughter, was learning a new way of life and how to be loved.
Arabat street was buzzing and full of energy. “The Arbat” is a pedestrian street in the historical center of Moscow. Russian music fills the air and numerous artists live and work on the street.
Small shops with vendors selling Matryoshka dolls and fur hats lined the sidewalks. “For MaMa, For Babushka” was the merchants way to entice us. Many beautiful hand painted matryoshka dolls fill my shelves today.
I was slightly relieved, after several weeks in Russia, to stumble across Ruby Tuesday, The Hard Rock Cafe, and Starbucks. A reminder of home and a change from Oladis (Russian sour cream pancakes) and borscht (soup made of beetroot).
My daughter was fascinated by this exciting new world. The bright fragrant flowers, the up beat music, the bright lights. Her sheltered, boring life behind the doors of the orphanage was over.
Three generations experienced the joy of discovery together.
We visited Red Square for the traditional picture taken in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Adoptive parents and their children pose in front of this beautiful building. Commonly, the parent is beaming with joy and their child, somber and uncertain of what all the chaos is about, looks terrified.
A curiosity and fascination with different cultures. An appreciation of how similar we really all are, despite the different languages and traditions. Most importantly, I discovered that in order to understand a place, the people, and the culture, you have to experience it for yourself. The preconceived ideas instilled in us, often from our culture and media, may be warped or just plain wrong. Leaving what we have been told behind and discovering with new eyes and an unbiased mind allows the opportunity to experience a new and fascinating place.
I returned home from this unforgettable trip exhausted yet inspired. My daughter and my new-found wanderlust accompanied me home.
I’m a freelance writer and photographer living in SW Florida. I have a love of travel and photography. Living in Florida, my backyard is a travel destination with crystal clear water, beautiful beaches, quaint towns, and amazing wildlife. Wander with me…