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Family Reunion

In August, 1999 the Tchertkoff family met in Moscow for a family reunion – to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the founding of Chertkovo as well as to discover the southern regions of Russia where the family once had great influence and through their philanthropy, donated money and resources to further build Russian culture.

The trip was a year in planning, right down to the last detail and went off without a hitch! There were 12 members of the Tchertkoff family who attended the reunion:

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and two adopted ones:

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Along the way, we picked up several photographers and journalists, without whom, many of the photographs and articles found in these pages would not have been possible. They chronicled our adventures while befriending us in the process. On behalf of the Foundation, our sincerest thanks to Vladimir Shuvaev, Mikhail Rogozin, Andrei Paukov and Anna Popova-Zhidkih.

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Also, we would like to thank Vladimir Boikov, historian specializing in the history of the Tchertkoff family who gladly shared his knowledge with us during the trip. Spasibo Volodya!

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So, without further adieu…

After three days of travels in Moscow, including a visit and tour of the Mansion on Myasnitskaya Street, the State Historical Museum and the State Historical Public Library of Russia, we woke early on the morning of August 12th and drove to the Rossiya Hotel to board the bus we would call home for the next 9 days.

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We were introduced to our bus drivers, Sasha, Victor and his son Ilya, who were extremely helpful and quickly loaded our many bags into the bus. After the first of many, many headcounts, we were finally on our way South to the town of Tchertkovo where we would celebrate the 130th anniversary of its founding in 1869.

Traveling with us was Svetlana Tolstaya who graciously agreed to take the microphone and give us a city tour as we left the capital and then of the outlying towns we passed on our way. Four hours into the trip, we stopped at Yasnaya Poliana for a tour of the Tolstoy Estate. Nikolai Pavlovich Puzin met us on the grounds and gave us a truly unforgettable visit into the past, making every room come alive with the history of the family as well as the relationship between Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov. We then walked deep into the woods to see Tolstoy’s burial site. It was a cloudy, damp day and the stillness of the air mixed with the tranquility of the woods made a lasting impression on our group.

Before leaving the estate, we stocked up on vodka, cucumbers and pryaniki, a sweet pastry-like bread. Back on the road, folk songs could be heard and we all joined in, toasting each other and the adventures that lay ahead!

We finally reached the city of Voronezh at 11pm and were met by city officials bearing flowers and bread and salt – symbols of the traditional greeting. One must rip off a small piece of bread, dip it into the salt and eat it quickly before the ceremony is completed. Tired and a bit hungry, our hosts invited us to dinner at a nearby restaurant, where we ate and drank until 2am!

Comfortable rooms waited us at the Don hotel across the street. The next morning we awoke and were treated to a breakfast of fresh eggs, rolls, coffee/tea and home-squeezed orange juice. What a treat! By 11am, we were back on the bus heading for Tchertkovo!

As early evening approached, we crossed the mighty river Don and everyone struggled with their cameras and camcorders to get to the windows before we passed the sight.

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A short time later, several militia overtook the bus, forcing us to pull over. Slightly confused, our concerns were soon laid to rest as the officials boarded the bus and welcomed us to the Tchertkovo Region.

Looking out the front window, we saw a small crowd of people gathered, some in colorful costume, others holding flowers – all excited to see us!

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We got off the bus and were greeted again by “bread and salt”, followed by introductions of all who were present. Their delegation greeted us officially on behalf of the Administration of the Tchertkovo Region and invited us to relax on our first night by joining them at a picnic which was being organized on the shore of a small lake surrounded by huge sunflower fields. We readily agreed and were escorted by the militia to the site of the picnic.

We arrived to find an incredibly long table laden with all sorts of food – salads with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, meats, kasha (made from buckwheat groats), breads, rolls…and of course vodka! Quickly taking places at the table, toasts began ringing out, and filling the evening air with laughter and gratitude at the first of many events our hosts had planned for us! After our group consumed the first three shots, some of the less hearty began filling their glasses with mineral water before standing which soon became more difficult! Dinner over, dessert of cantaloupe and watermelon was quickly prepared and we were offered to swim in the lake. They even went through the effort of importing 2 tons of sand to cover the shoreline, making it look like a beach!

One of the gentlemen broke out an accordion and loud singing could soon be heard. To me, this is the essence of Russia – family and friends gathered around the table, having had their fill of food and drink, singing folk songs as the sky fills with bright stars – the comradery of the scene made thoughts of home dimmer and dimmer. Some people began dancing and others joined in – those of us with camcorders began taping the merriment and laughing and cheering as each couple or group tried to outdo the one before.

Finally, at 10:30pm, it was time to go. We would be escorted to the “hotel” where we would spend the next two nights. After the initial confusion and settling in, we were told to be dressed and ready by 8:30am and would be escorted to the town of Tchertkovo were the celebration would take place.

Our hosts arrived promptly and waited as we filed onto the bus after a quick breakfast. We were handed that day’s edition of the Tchertkovo News, which congratulated the town on its 130th anniversary. Included in the issue was a biography of Mikhail Ivanovich Tchertkoff, founder of the region. The militia lights began flashing red and blue in rapid fire and we were off!

The bus was led to the offices of the Administration and Nicolai Grigorievch Sardak and his staff greeted us. They made a short speech to us before we headed to the train station where the celebration would soon commence. As we walked up a steep hill, school children waving brightly colored flags smiled and waved to us, yet nothing could have prepared us for the greeting by the townspeople!

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At the top of the hill are the town square and the railroad station that started the town. Militia had cordoned off the perimeter of the square, such that 12,079 people stood behind the roped barrier as our group walked uninhibited into the center as the entire town applauded wildly, waving, screaming, taking snapshots, some wanting autographs! It was INCREDIBLE! There are no words to describe the feelings we felt as we looked around. I think only royalty and celebrities know these feelings! More greetings took place, costumed performers sang, Sardak’s assistant, dressed as Mikhail Tchertkoff made a speech and we soon found ourselves headed back down the hill, lead by a military band and followed by over twelve thousand people!

We were lead to a stage decorated with a huge sign declaring Tchertkovo – 130 years! There was also a rather sophisticated amplification system set up – for a concert – dance troupes and singers from Tchertkovo and surrounding regions came together to celebrate. Each group was better than the one before. First though, the entire Administration of the town was introduced, as well as the delegates from surrounding towns and then… the Tchertkoffs were introduced, by name and by country and called one by one to the stage. Nicolai Tchertkoff made a speech in which he told the crowd that it was difficult to express his emotions to the people – thanking them for carrying on the traditions of the past and in making the day that much more special!

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We watched the concert for about an hour before we were taken to another part of the day’s events – kiosks had been set up, each featuring a different craft or food item made in the region. Each was more elaborate than the last, and we were invited to sample each food item – often sitting with the people, singing and drinking with them for ten or fifteen minutes each.

After 30 kiosks, we were invited across the street for a photo shoot under a giant portrait of Mikhail Ivanovich. And then onto an official lunch with the Administration, which lasted for several hours and spilled out from the hall reserved for us to a set of picnic table set up outside. All the while, vodka poured freely and the toasts became more intimate as those imbibing became less inhibited!

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That evening a soccer match was held and we were invited to sit centerfield with the town officials was the home team, Urozhai, easily beat their opponents 2-0! It was a very exciting game and our group was immediately swept up in the enthusiasm of the moment! The crowd near us repeatedly screamed UROZHAI – CHAMPIONS! We were also introduced to Victor Ponyedyelnik, 1963 Olympic Gold Medallist who was also invited to watch the match. A native of the region, it was a homecoming for him after so many years had passed.

Monday

After a lavish dinner, we had the opportunity to watch a rock concert held on the large sporting field. After a half-hour, however, an unexpected thundershower disrupted the concert and many of the audience ran for cover. The storm passed almost as quickly as it came, but by that time at was after 11 and we had to get back to the hotel.

Sunday morning, after breakfast, we were invited to join the small congregation of the St. Nicholas Church for Liturgy. After the regular service, we had a “poniheeda” – service for the dead, to pay respects to all the Tchertkoffs whose influence and philanthropy in Russia made the family reunion there possible.


The congregation then showed us the new building, recently erected for Sunday school education. We were told that the cost of construction was 11,500 rubles – an incredible sum of money for them to raise and were very proud of their accomplishment! Some quick mental calculations converted this amount to dollars – $350, a small sum according to our standards, especially if one is talking about new construction. We sat silently as they told us about their dreams of expanding the church and its influence. We promised we would talk to the Administration on their behalf to see if additional funding could be procured.

Our hosts from the Administration soon appeared, half-inviting – half begging us to leave the church and attend horseracing, which was organized and could not start until we appeared. Some of our group resisted, preferring to stay at church, and thus creating a difficult situation for our host. Indeed, I felt sorry for him – everything had been orchestrated for us, thinking that we would attend every attraction planned – and now… a change in plan made this poor man very uncomfortable since he would have to answer for why we all did not want to watch the match. However, seeing this situation, only a few stayed behind and the majority of us went on ahead.

The matches were very exciting, and we soon found ourselves standing next to the commentator high above the crowd with an unobstructed view. We cheered the winners and applauded loudly as they received their prize money.


When all the competitions were over, we were invited back to have a farewell lunch that lasted until late afternoon! More than 15 toasts were proposed, each more elaborate than the last, each pledging undying friendship and support, (and of course financial backing if possible) wishing that we would soon return and that we would never forget each other and the three days in Tchertkovo! They gave us gifts; Nicolai got a ceremonial sword that he proudly displayed to all those in attendance. His son Dimitri received two bottles of cognac on the promise that he would save them until the day of his marriage! We said our last good-byes, filing slowly back on the bus, promising to keep in touch, shaking hands, and waving until they were out of sight.

On to Rossosh!

We traveled late into the evening, we even got lost! As the late summer sun set over the hillside and the afterglow began turning shades of dark blue, we could see the last few birds flying home for the night. Our group was tired and there was very little conversation. It wasn’t until we started getting close, signs of civilization again began appearing that we woke up and started getting anxious! A Las Vegas style restaurant with a huge neon sign lit up the night sky. The hotel was across the street, and after checking in, we headed over for dinner and some good conversation with our host Alim Yakovlovich Morozov. He is the curator of the Historical Museum and the author of the booklet “Rossosh – A Concise History”. We talked about the city history, how the name originated and what our itinerary would be.

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The next morning after a huge breakfast we were given a driving tour of the city on the way to the museum. We passed the river that gave its name to the surrounding city as well as the newly refurbished church – a stop later that day.

The museum housed many displays – archeological finds made in the region, folk life in the 18th and 19th centuries, many display cases devoted to the events of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), and our focus – a large display of photographs of Vladimir Grigorievich Chertkov, lifelong friend and disciple of Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy. Alim Yakovlevich explained the role of Chertkov in the region. He established schools for peasant children on his family estate of Lizinovka in the 1880’s, he also organized a printing house called “Posrednik” – The Intermediary – for the release of Tolstoy’s writings. Alim Yakovlevich also surprised us with a six-foot tall family tree, with Tchertkoffs dating back to 1564. We all gathered around, jockeying for a good view to take a picture. Several members of our group even took the opportunity to add themselves and other members not found on the tree. Some dates were also corrected. It was an interesting event to watch!

After leaving the museum, we walked over to the church and were greeted by its priest. He gave us a small tour and had a conversation with Nicolai’s sister Maria. After the exchange, he gave one of the older icons to her in remembrance of this visit. We were all touched by this generous gift and thanked him for it. Back on the bus, the icon was gently passed one to the next so we could have a good look.

We went back to the hotel for lunch and then after that, had a meeting with the city officials. At this meeting, Nicolai talked about his cultural project and how technology, specifically the internet played a large role in the spread of information and ideas. An offer was made to put Rossosh online, but the Administration seemed not to grasp these concepts and the meeting was concluded.

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By late afternoon we were back on the bus, heading for Chertkov’s estate- Lizinovka. The town had since built a park around the site and after walking a few minutes, a very dilapidated building came into view. This, we were told, was a school built by Chertkov during the last century. Everyone immediately started filming the building from all angels, trying to get access to window to gets some shots of the interior. Nicolai and his brother Vladimir soon found a window which was boarded up, but low enough to the ground, that if we managed to get access, could easily climb into the building and take a better look around.

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After several valiant tries – the boards were forcefully removed and our intrepid leader climbed into the darkness, followed soon by his brother, some cousins, and then, to my surprise – I followed!

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The floor was littered with garbage and pipes – very uneven surface to walk on and I took it upon myself to stand in the most sturdy spot and help those wishing to come in through the window, assistance to a more safe place to walk. Camcorder still running, I recorded the laughter of those breaking into the school and the ordeal of getting in. Maria saw me and said, “Here stands Grisha, faithful friend of the Tchertkoffs’…” I was very pleased by this remark!

Safely inside we began exploring until we reached the largest of the rooms – the floor covered with garbage. There were desks scattered around – remnants of a once proud school. Dima found two gas masks among the refuse, souvenirs which would eventually find their way back to the U.S. Maria found an essay written by a young girl praising Lenin for all his good work! We all stood in silence; some wishing the walls could talk and tell us the stories of those who once were here. Pictures having been taken and one last look around, he headed back to civilization, but no before finding once last surprise. Propped up against the wall, weighing perhaps a hundred pounds, was a plaque of Lenin and some socialist quote that had once hung outside the school! It’s one thing to see pictures of such plaques in textbooks, its quite another to see one in person!

Outside was yet another photo opportunity and the group, quickly dusting themselves off from the break-in, smiled for the cameras before boarding the bus for a short drive to the village of Rzhevsk.

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This village gained notoriety because it was here that Chertkov built a printing press – “Posrednik” – The Intermediary – to print and distribute works written by Lev Tolstoy. It was also here that, several years after their first meeting, Tolstoy and Chertkov came here and planted trees as a sign of their friendship. Two years before we arrived, Nicolai proposed that a memorial be built to commemorate this event, and, when we arrived, a huge granite stone was already in place proudly announcing its purpose!

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I was one of the first to reach the monument and starting videotaping it, as a small crowd of locals gathered for the event of meeting the “foreigners”! As I taped, I heard them talking among themselves – one said “its seems they’re from America!” I looked up at them and said in my best Russian “yes, it seems we are from America!” at which point everyone started laughing. As our group gathered, the local administrators greeted us and made a short speech on the significance of the gathering. He was applauded and thanked for erecting the monument. Then several of our group made small speeches as well.

We were told that there was a woman from the village, 93 years old who remembered the printing house that was built here and, if we wanted, they could go get her, but it would take about half an hour. Thrilled, we quickly agreed and decided while waiting, we would head down to a lake at the bottom of the hill to see the trees which Tolstoy and Chertkov had planted. There were three, originally, one each planted by the two and the third both planted together. The third, however, was struck by lightening and therefore was conspicuously missing. When we asked which tree was planted by Chertkov and which by Tolstoy, our hosts were unsure and joked that they had a 50-50 chance of being correct, no matter which tree they would say was planted by either man! Everyone was very pleased by this answer and the conversation turned to the beauty of nature in this spot.


Indeed, as the sun went down over the hillside and the red and orange reflections could be seen on the water was just incredible! And then we began the steep climb back up the hill, where the woman was waiting to meet us!

Upon seeing her, everyone tried to get an unobstructed view for pictures! Listening to her reminiscences about the era was like walking back into the past. Her descriptions were so vivid and we were a bit surprised, given her age. I managed to tape most of the interview and a sudden impromptu concert that the locals began as we were getting ready to leave! I wish we had more opportunities to interact with the people like we did that night!

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Back on the bus, we drove through the night back to our hotel.

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast, we were back on the road to Voronezh. On the way though, we spent the good part of the day in the town of Olkhavatka, visiting the sugar factory built by Alexander Dmitrievich Tchertkoff. This factory, built in 1834, is still functioning and products are sent as far as Vladivostok! The tour was very interesting and we got to taste sugar right off the conveyor belts! Yet the most lasting impressions that we had was the need for modernization – new equipment, new practices. And indeed Nicolai was asked during his first trip in 1997 to buy stock in the company, thus raising much needed capital for the project.

We were then invited to go to a museum which had several large displays about the history of the sugar factory including archival photos and letters, the first pieces of equipment used to refine sugar and the story of how the town fared during the Great Patriotic War.

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Lunch was served in a fairly large restaurant and after many courses of food and drink, toasts were made about meeting each other and undying friendship and keeping in touch. And then it was time for our good-byes. The kissed each of us three times, as per custom, as we boarded the bus for Voronezh.

On our way, we had an unscheduled stop – to visit the Kostomarovsky Skete which was built into the side of a limestone hill, something we had never seen before. We were given a tour, venturing in with only candles lighting the way into chambers barely high enough to stand comfortably with a room temperature of 30 degrees! Thick white walls sparsely decorated with icons greeted us with a deafening silence and a reverence for those who built them and prayed there. We were told that photographs were prohibited without prior permission and our guide was genuinely upset when some tried to film inside.

After the tour we descended the steep hill and were invited to dinner with the nun who ran the complex. The property was a fully operating farm, complete with livestock and horses. Chickens roamed freely, socializing with some cats and a really lazy dog! The meal was in keeping the diet we had become accustomed to – vegetables, cheese, kasha and bread.

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We thanked our hosts and, as the sun set over the skete we began our twenty minute walk back to the bus.

The next morning we woke early, and having breakfast, boarded the bus for Khvoshchevatka to visit the cathedral built by Feodor Dmitrievich Tchertkoff. Father Andrei had joined us to serve another poniheeda in memory of their descendants. I had seen this cathedral on videotape and snapshots such that I was familiar with it, but nothing prepared me for walking inside (through a gaping hole in the wall!) and looking around, remembering it’s history.

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Several people took quickly to the task of setting up icons and pictures of the relatives as well as candles and crosses. Soon the scene was set and the mass began.

Local people and administrators soon joined in – praying, singing with the chorus, and holding candles. After 35 minutes the service was over, and as a fitting gesture, many people left their candles burning on a rusted piece of farm equipment that had somehow found its way inside. I slowly meandered back outside into the fresh air thinking about how the Communists destroyed the cathedral and found new purpose for the structure as a chemical waste dump!

Outside, after pictures were taken, a picnic lunch was set up right outside the cathedral, consisting of homemade honey, tea, cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet bread. Vodka was plentiful and many toasts were made celebrating the day. We rested a bit and walked down to the edge of the property for a breathtaking view of the Don. A large group picture was taken commemorating our time there.

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Back on the bus, we headed for the Venevitin Museum to see the home of the Tchertkoff’s neighbors. It was a true walk back in history, seeing the items that were preserved from the era as we listened to stories of family life during the 18th and 19th centuries. We were told that descendants of the Venevitin’s had come to this place several years before, just like the Tchertkoffs were now returning to see those places where the family had influence.

After the tour, we found ourselves in large hall where a reception had been organized. Food was combined with many toasts of gratitude for our hosts of the day.

Outside, we decided that we would like to watch the sunset over the cathedral and the Don River. I couldn’t think of a more fitting end to this day than that! So, back we went, cameras and camcorders in hand to catch the view! Father Andrei had to return to Voronezh and several of our group agreed to escort him home. Victor and Sasha promised to return as soon as possible to pick the rest of us up. Famous last words…

We walked down the hill to the edge of the property which, after that, was huge cliff steeply leading down to the shore of the mighty river. Blankets emerged and leftovers from lunch set out for consumption, as if anyone was really hungry by that point. Nicolai, Vladimir, Emanuella and I got curious and wanted to venture down the steep cliff to see if we could get to the bank of the river. After several failed attempts, we finally made it and were none the worse of the journey. I breathed deeply, feeling the now colder summer air working its way slowly into my chest as I looked around, first down, and then up this waterway filled with the history of its people. We touched the water; somehow secretly hoping this act would connect us with Rus’ – land of our forefathers.

On the opposite shore we saw a group of boys attempting to launch a small boat. The all grabbed it and began running, pushing it into the water. On the way across, they had a contest – who could stay in the boat the longest before being knocked out into the river. Laughter grew louder and louder as they reached the bank, finally touching down not far from us.

Nicolai lay on his back, eyes closed, contemplating. His mischievous older brother grabbed his camcorder and began slowly filming the younger Tchertkoff as Emanuella and I stood trying not to laugh out loud at this site!

Soon it got a bit darker and we decided to make our way up the hill, finding a better path a few yards down. Back on top, locals started joining us, small children took to collecting cattails and playing with them. Older boys, some with bicycles were “hanging out” nearby. Babushkas, older women, made their way over to talk to us. One of them was introduced as having gone to church at the cathedral when she was 9 years old, in 1918 before it was destroyed. She agreed to an interview that everyone desperately wanted to tape. Nicolai and I both used up our batteries taping the river and it wasn’t clear if Vladimir’s camcorder had any life in it either. Luckily, as he made his way toward us, he was able to film the talk. It was night by this point and there was no light to pick up the images. Someone had a lighter and held it up so the taping could continue. The woman gave us a vivid description of the cathedral’s interior – as she remembered it at that young age. She told us what the cathedral was called – we didn’t even know that. After 15 minutes, she was tired and we all gratefully thanked her for her time.

Just then, the bus returned, a mere THREE hours after it left us, and just before the complaints of cold from our group started getting really loud! Satisfied with yet another day of our trip, we drove in silence back to the hotel. We reached the Voronezh city line at 11:30pm and, having earlier accepted in invitation to Misha’s house, his wife Marina and I got off the bus and took a cab home.

I returned to the hotel a bit after 2am, thrilled that I had met Misha’s team of web designers and that they showed off their talents using equipment I thought to be unobtainable or too expensive to be procured in the city.

There was a note on the table next to my bed that said we would be going to church the next morning at 7am – not 11 as I was originally told before I left the group the night before. Four and half-hours of sleep were not enough and I declined the service, even though it was a holiday – the blessing of the fruit.

After lunch we went to Voronezh Historical Library where the collection of private Tchertkoff books were stored. We were given a lecture on the significance of the work done by the library in general and research using this collection in specific. There were several reference books on display that we soon were allowed to swarm over. We found a family tree going back to 1564, birth and marriage records of some Tchertkoffs, and other interesting materials. We were then invited upstairs to meet the director of the library who showed us some books in the collection, written in French and then talked about the significance of the Tchertkoff’ contributions in Voronezh. On the way out, she proudly showed us the new computer lab, complete with internet access. Nicolai wasted no time in proudly showing off his foundation’s site to everyone in attendance!

Our last night in Voronezh was very special because we went on a four-hour cruise up the Voronezh River on a boat chartered just for our group and the faithful band of photographers and journalists who had accompanied us through all our adventures and who had become our close friends instead of maintaining a professional relationship.

We quickly took our seats and were off! We sailed up the Voronezh River for two and a half hours, soon leaving the city behind and enjoying nature and the countryside. There were terrific views on both sides of the boat and the group soon divided in half – each alerting the other when something even better could be seen on the opposite side.

Many locals came to the shores for a picnic dinner, each waving wildly to our shouts of greeting! We saw one couple sun tanning – the man was leaning by the side of the car and the woman was nude on the hood! She was on her stomach, much to the chagrin of the men on the boat, knowing full well we would get teased by the women for the duration of the trip!

Zakuski (hors d’oeuvres) were put out out in small but comfortable room below – there were two couches and a small table where we could enjoy dinner – but we decided to take heavily laden plates above deck and eat in the fresh evening air.

We passed several small villages on the way. The silver cupola of a small parish church as well as a cemetery could be seen perched high on a hill. Several larger houses dotted the shoreline – homes of “new Russians” – those with money! They looked oddly out of place here, but then again, juxtaposition is the rule in Russia and not the exception!

Finally the boat turned around and headed back down the river. We realized that our adventure was coming to an end and a sudden silence came over the group. We breathed in that sweet summer air, trying to capture every detail we saw around – trying to preserve this night in our mind’s eye forever. I for one certainly was not looking forward to returning home.

Our two photographers had stayed up the whole night before developing all the photographs that had been taken over the past two weeks – over 500 in all! They invited us to see them below deck and pick ones of which we wanted copies by writing our initials on the back of them. We sat in small groups as the sky turned black, scribbling our names and remembering the scenes that the photos portrayed.

Soon the boat docked and we had to return to the hotel for one last night. Those who did not finish looking through the pictures gathered in the lobby to continue sorting through them. We were up until 2am!

Misha and Andrei promised to have all the duplicates printed by the time we left at 10am. Needless to say, we were skeptical, but nonetheless, took them at their word. At the appointed time, our sleep-deprived photographers returned with boxes and boxes of pictures for us! We were truly amazed! Misha displayed these photos on his site for a while, and even though they are no longer there, he has some very interesting scenes of life in Voronezh which I would strongly recommend taking a look at!

We were all emotional that morning, and slowly said goodbye to our new friends, eventually hugging and kissing and promising to stay in touch! Vladimir Boikov accompanied us to a church for Sunday liturgy, for those wishing to have one last glimpse of the city. We said our last goodbyes to him and soon were on the road back to Moscow.

After several hours of travel, the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. After waiting a few minutes, we learned that there was an accident ahead and we were obliged to wait for it to be cleared. We decided to make use of this time by wandering aimlessly up and down the street, striking up conversations with fellow travelers on the road. After a while, some people decided to drive off road through a muddy field to a point beyond the accident and then keep going. We cheered as each driver decided to attempt this, even betting on who would succeed and who might get stuck.

Sure enough, one driver got caught in the mud and needed help. He tied a rope to his bumper and we pulled his car out of the field and back to safety!

After two hours we were back on the road again and reached the Rossiya hotel only at 3am!

Some of the group had flights leaving later that day so we bid goodbye to them at the hotel. Some had one or two days left before we too had to depart the country. We made the best of the time left in Moscow, going souvenir shopping and dinner on the Old Arbat.

Monday, August 23rd came all too soon and I watched out the window as we sped toward the airport – bound for New York. And yet, I will never forget this trip, the best to date! I can only look forward to my next trip, to pick up where this one left off and thus adding to the growing saga! Until then…