Our Journal
First Trip

First Trip

9.21.04 - We got "the call". Tina, from FTIA, called and told us we had our travel dates. We travel to Russia from October 3-10. Our basic agenda is:
     Oct. 3 - fly from Chicago to Moscow (via London)
     Oct. 4 - arrive in Moscow - fly to Rostov
     Oct. 5 - appt with Minister of Education, receive referral info, travel to orphanage
     Oct. 6,7,8 - stay in Rostov
     Oct. 9 - depart for Moscow
     Oct. 10 - fly from Moscow to London
     Oct. 11 - fly from London to Chicago, and back home again

10.4.04 - Monday - We left Chicago on time on the 3rd, and had a nice flight to London. British Air take good care of you on the overseas flight, and even the food was pretty good. It was a long flight though, and we slept quite a bit to help the time pass. When we landed in London, we had to hurry and grab a shuttle bus to the other terminal to catch our flight to Moscow. Even with "the boot" on, Deb had to run - I'm sure I was quite a sight for those who were watching. We didn't know what gate we were suppose to be at, and according to our tickets, we only had about 15 minutes to find it. But we finally made it - although Deb's ankle took quite a beating. As it turned out, this was the first of many "hurry up and waits" that we did. Even though our ticket said we were to board at 8:30 and leave at 8:55, they didn't even load the plane until around 9:00.

When we landed in Moscow 4 hours later, everything was just as our facilitators had told us. We went through immigration and customs without any problems at all. It was a bit intimidating since we couldn't read some of the signs and of course couldn't understand the language, but we were well prepared. As we went through customs we started looking for the local contact who was suppose to have a sign with our name on it. We were overcome with how many people were hovering around waiting on someone, and how many taxi drivers were just waiting around to try to get you to use their services. We had people coming up to us and it was like fighting your way through a cattle herd, but we finally found our contact - Vassa (I'm sure I'm spelling his name incorrectly, but that is how it sounds). Vassa got us out of the airport quickly, and had to drive us to the other airport for our flight to Rostov. He will be our guide when we return to Moscow so we tried to arrange for some sightseeing when we return. Hopefully, we'll have some time.

The airport in Moscow was interesting. Vassa had already purchased our tickets, so the first thing we did was get a chance to exchange our money. Next, we went to check our baggage, and we were sweating it a bit - we were sure our carry on luggage was over the weight limit and we were going to have pay extra money to be able to take them with us. But Vassa found a way to get past that. When the agent asked about our carry on luggage, he just swung both of them up in the air as if they only weighed a few pounds and said something in Russian, and she just waived it off and put tags on both of them without even weighing them. I think Vassa made them look lighter than they were, and they just let us go through. So we were off to security and this is where Vassa had to leave us on our own. He pointed to our gate, and tried to tell us what we needed to do, but we were on our own.

As we went through the security, Deb had to take off the boot and walk through the security gate on her own. As we went to put back on our shoes, some security guard tried to get Chris to claim a pair of shoes - she kept saying the same thing in Russian and shoving the shoes at him, and he tried to tell her they weren't his shoes, but she just wasn't understanding. Finally, some other person claimed the shoes, and we were on our way to the gate - the next experience with "hurry up and wait". We had no idea how to know when our flight was suppose to leave, there was nothing there to tell us. So we just sat there with a little panic and Deb tried to find someone who had the same boarding pass as we did. Finally, she found a woman with POCTAB (which is pronounced Rostov here) written on her boarding pass and we pointed to our tickets and asked if it was time. She said Nyet, Nyet and motioned for us to just stay, so we did. About 15 minutes later, she motioned for us to go and we hurried up to check in to the gate where we again waited. Finally, we loaded a bus that took us to our plane, and attempted to get into our seats - they certainly don't make the planes for tall people, so during the flight, Chris sat with his legs crammed into the seat and spilling over into the aisle. But it was a short trip - only about 1.5 hours, and we were there. Of course, no one spoke any English on the plane, and we weren't sure if we should eat the food, so Deb just slept. We were met by Alex and Volodya who took our luggage claim ticket and said they would get the luggage, and that Alex would take us to the home. A bit uneasy about just leaving our luggage, but we decided to just go with the flow.

At the house, we met Jo & Jeff Stephens, another couple who are here to adopt. They got to the house before us, and had already settled in a bit, but were glad to see us. They already were feeling a bit isolated with no one really speaking English. Alex showed us around, and Volodya showed up with our luggage, and we settled in. A bite to eat, and bit of socializing with the Stephens and we were off to bed. Alex told us he would pick up our referrals in the morning and be there about 10am with breakfast at 9. So plenty of time to get rested.

10.5.04 - Tuesday - Starting the morning off trying to conquer the shower - the water pressure was very low and took quite awhile to get the hot water. Overall not too bad though. We met Natasha this morning, our cook. She made a big breakfast of ham, swiss cheese, blinni's (sp?) which are like very heavy pancake or crepe items that are a bit sweet. Very tasty. With breakfast over, we just had another wait. All of us were just a bit anxious and were waiting to hear the car door from Alex. Finally, close to 11, Alex came in with Elena, our translator, who had the paper work on our referrals. We were referred a little boy, born on March 18th of this year who was born in Taganrog, which was about 1.5 hours from Rostov. That was all the info we had, so we were off to the orphanage. The Stephen's were referred a little boy who was 1 year 2 months old at the same orphanage, and a little girl almost 3 years old at Orphanage #3 in Rostov. So we were off to Taganrog to visit both boys first, taking two cars.

We arrived at the orphanage with butterflies in our stomach, and got there first, so we first met the director, Titiana, and then off to the orphanage doctor's office to go over the medical records. Elena was a life saver, as the doctor speaks little English. Our little boy's Russian name is Kirill and he is quite big for his age - about 18.5 pounds and and a little over 27 inches. Quite the bruiser. He has big blue eyes and sandy brown hair. We got to spend a lot of time visiting with him, and taking pictures while the Stephens met with the Dr. for their referral. We had him outside during the visit, so he was bundled up because they were afraid he would catch cold. The doctor had lots of great things to say about Kirill. He seems to be a very happy baby. Smiles a lot, blows bubbles, and loves toys. We had a great time visiting. Now we'll have to wait and see what our IA doctor has to say after reviewing his medical information and photos.

Back at the house, we organized all of the paperwork, and faxed them off to Dr. Staat, and again waited. About an hour or so later, we heard the news. Dr. Staat thought he had the best measurements of any child she had reviewed from Russia. His legs turn in a bit, but she said that with his age, not to worry about it. That it may work itself out over time. She said it was outstanding and that we were very lucky. Nothing seemed to be of concern to her. So we plan on accepting, and will start the process in the morning. We'll get a chance to take more pictures tomorrow, and petition the court to adopt him, and request to give him the name: Andrew Martin Kirill Himsel.

10.06.04 - Wednesday - We had to make an early start to go to the orphanage so we could visit during Andrew/Kirill's play time. We had about an hour and half with him today and he was adorable. He smiled as soon as they brought him to us. We got to play with him in the music hall today instead of playing outside. So we got to take lots of pictures of him without his heavy clothes on and his hat. Finally, some pictures to show off that head of hair he has. He loves playing with toys and while we had him on the floor, we were able to find out that he can roll over from his stomach to his back as well as from his back to his stomach and he is so, so close to actually crawling. We're afraid that will be a "first" that he'll experience still in the orphanage, but we'll have many more "firsts" to enjoy with him once we bring him home. Looks like right now he is favoring his left hand a bit, so we may have a left handed pitcher in our mix, if he likes sports that is. Of course, with his size so far he might end up being a football player instead. If his feet are any indication, he is going to be a big boy. We found out that Andrew/Kirill loves to have his back rubbed - he just starts smiling and laughing out loud and stops whatever he is doing so that you can continue rubbing. He will fit right in our family. Chris started tickling him a bit and we got a genuine "belly laugh" out of him today - he sure is a happy baby. About 10 minutes before it was time to go, he just rolled over and let out a sigh and he was out like a light - sound asleep. We couldn't believe it - he must have wore himself out playing so hard with all his toys. Let's just hope he keeps up that habit - naptime will be a breeze if he does.

Back to the house in Rostov so we could fill out the court papers. We had to fill out English and Russian versions of the same papers (or at least that's what they told us we were signing :) Alex, our facilitator here will take the papers to the court this afternoon and the process starts. He thinks it will only be about 3-4 weeks before we come back, but Tina back in the states has prepared us for a 8-10 week wait. We're hoping that Alex is closer to the right time, as we can't wait to bring him home for good. He's already carved out a place in our hearts and its sure going to be hard to leave him on Saturday. Volodya, our driver, says we'll get to go back to the orphanage again tomorrow - so we're just hanging out at the house passing time this evening, anxious to get back there tomorrow.

10.07.04 - Thursday - We spent most of the day just waiting around as the other couple worked through some paperwork. We went to the orphanage in the afternoon, where we were able to visit for about an hour and a half. Andrew/Kirill was dressed for the outdoors, in a snowsuit actually. They intended for us to play outside with him, even though it was a bit chilly. Andrew smiled at us just as soon as we picked him up, and we had the entire front "courtyard" of the orphanage to ourselves. Of course, not a lot to do with him since we couldn't put him down on the ground, and his snowsuit had his hands covered up where he couldn't even hold his toys. We were able to get his left hand uncovered enough so he could hold his toys, but we kept an eye out for the orphanage workers because we knew they wouldn't be happy with us. But Andrew was quite happy to be able to shake, rattle and throw all of his toys. We also found out that he loves to be "tossed" in the air, which was worth a few good laughs from him. Close to the end of our time, he started looking a bit tired, so Chris took him for a walk, and before you knew it, he was out like a light - when he is tired, he winds down quickly. He seems to be on quite a schedule, hopefully we'll be able to get him adjusted to the time change when we bring him home in such a way that we don't mess up his ability to go down for a nap so easily. We'll its back to the house for another night of just passing the time along, anxious for our visit tomorrow.

10.08.04 - Friday - We had an early start today, breakfast and then off to a shopping spree in Rostov. The drive alone was an adventure. Its amazing that they are able to keep from running over each other on the roads. We've joked that they are the only people we know who are able to make a 2 lane road into 5 or 6 lanes of cars - if there is space available, they move another car into it and make a new "lane". The drivers have sharp reflexes though, since they are able to avoid the potholes in the road, and still weave in and out of the traffic. Amazing.

Alex first took us to a pottery store where the items are all made within an hour of the city - very beautiful. Then it was off to find matroyshka's. We went to a small street vendor who had a great time showing off all of their lovely, detailed dolls while trying to communicate with us with just a calculator and hand signals since we didn't speak the other's language. They must have done a great job, since we left with our bags filled. A mad rush back to the house for a quick lunch so we could get to the orphanage in time for the afternoon visit.

When we got there, the doctor told us that he had a bit of a cough. We thought it was probably because they made us play with him outside the day before, but we're hoping they didn't find out about us unwrapping his one hand - I'm sure they would blame us for his cough. You could tell he didn't feel well, but he wasn't really fussy - just sleeping. The other couple, the Stephens, were visiting with their little boy, Andrei, in the same music hall we were in, which was great to have them both together. We're lucky that they will live so close to use when they come home, just a few hours away, so that we can stay in touch and visit.

We were able to get some great videos today, Jeff Stephens let us use his camcorder so we could record Andrews wonderful laugh. But shortly he let out a big yawn and before we knew it, he was out. So we spent the next twenty minutes just holding this precious, sleeping angel, afraid this might be our last visit. Andrew woke just briefly before the caretaker came for him, and we got in a few hugs & kisses. As we passed him over, Chris told him that "we'd try to see you tomorrow, but if not, we'll be back soon to take you home". I know he didn't understand, but it brought a few tears to those in the room. In the car, Volodya said we wouldn't be going back the next day, which brought even more silent tears in the car. We knew this would be coming, but it sure didn't make it any easier. Neither of us know how we're going to make it through the weeks ahead of us.

10.09.04 - Saturday - Today was just a lot of waiting around. Our flights didn't leave until 7pm, so we had hoped to do some shopping or arrange another visit to the orphanage - but no such luck. We first waited with the Stephens to hear about their little boy's test results - we spent a lot of time praying that all would be ok. Andrei had tested at birth for the hepititis virus because his mother had the virus, so we were waiting for blood tests to see if he was indeed infected. Just before noon, Alex came with the good news - the "laboratory" reported that all of Andrei's test results were negative, which brought a big sigh of relief to everyone. The Stephens were caught in a whirlwind of paperwork, trying to get the petition filled out to accept the referral of Andrei. How exciting for them. Then were just sat around the rest of the day, making our "shopping plans" for when we returned home, waiting for the time to head to the airport.

At the airport, Alex got us a spot in the business class lounge where we could wait for our flight. Much better than the flight from Moscow to Rostov. Maybe because we had someone to keep us company, or maybe it was all of the emotions going through our minds, but the time went quickly, and they actually came and took us to the plan - no guess work this time or checking out other passenger's boarding passes. The flight was also much more pleasant - bigger seats, and enough room so that Chris wasn't hanging his legs in the aisle. Of course it was still very emotional leaving Rostov - just didn't seem right to leave Andrew there.

The flight was uneventful, and Vassa was there to pick us up as promised, and take us into the heart of Moscow to our hotel. It seemed a bit like Times Square - all lit up and filled with action in the middle of the night. We stayed at the Arbat hotel, which was more of a western hotel - large room with our own bathroom with a shower that actually had great water pressure and hot water - something we had missed at the house we stayed at in Rostov. We had to say our goodbyes to the Stephens that night, since their flight was very early the next morning - we all hope we get to travel together for our 2nd trip. Chris and I were quite hungry still, since the meal on the flight left a lot to be desired, so we headed to the hotel bar and had a wonderful dinner before calling it a night.

10.10.04 - Sunday - Because the beds at the Rostov house were a bit uncomfortable, and we had a difficult time adjusting to the time change, neither of us had slept well since we arrived. But Saturday night at the hotel was our best sleep yet - maybe the bed was better, or maybe it was just complete exhaustion, but we both slept in until almost 8am.We got a slow start, took time out to look at all of Andrew's pictures and the short videos we had. Still can't believe we have to leave him here, and not know when we'll get to come back for him.

Although the hotel restaurant did a great job with dinner, breakfast was another story. From our experience, it seems that they boil all of their meats in Russia, including their bacon. And they have strange combinations of "extras" with their breakfast - like olives, sauerkraut, salami and cucumbers - very interesting. After picking at breakfast, we took off for some shopping at Arbat street - a 3-4 block section of the street for pedestrians only, that is lined with quaint shops and street vendors, selling their paintings & crafts. We had quite the shopping spree before we were picked up by Vassa and taken to the airport. This started our next round of "hurry up & wait". We also found out that in our opinion the US is much more organized with its check-in process - it was a mad house just getting checked in with our luggage, not to mention going through passport control and security. Finally made it on the plane, and another uneventful flight - but interesting point - Chris and I both thought that the airplane food that BritishAirways served was much better than anything we had eaten during our stay in Russia - that seems to say alot.

We landed in London on time, but had to stand in the customs line for quite a while before we could get to our hotel. We had hoped to be able to go into London for dinner, but Chris had caught Andrew's cold, and Deb's ankle was just not holding up after the long walk on Arbat street so we just stayed in the hotel and ate. Not very exciting, but we were nearly home. With just a long flight to Chicago tomorrow, our 1st Trip journey was coming to a end, and we needed our sleep.