Day 6 -6/23- Our final day in country before starting the long travel home. We woke up this morning around our usual time to meet Ilya out front of the hotel. But something was different this morning. We had said our goodbye's to Vita the night before as there were no more trips to the orphanage and no more visits with Sweet Girl. Instead, we would be traveling back to the city where the airport was located in preparation for departure... a day of mild sight seeing in attempts to take in some of Sweet Girl's culture as the orphanage doesn't permit visitors over the weekend. It was a somber feeling leaving her hometown, being so close to her knowing that tonight, when we laid our heads down, we'd once again be in different cities and the distance between us growing.
The drive to the airport was 3 hours. We had somehow gotten accustomed to the driving... bumpy, narrow pothole filled roads, aggressive driving, mounds of traffic... but we were in good hands with Ilya, who we have grown to admire.. and the drive went surprisingly fast. Even without Vita present and though Ilya spoke little English, we had reached a comfort level. Before we knew it, we were pulling up at our hotel smack in the city centre and quickly unloaded. We presented Ilya with the gift we had brought him. He seemed geuinely surprised and motioned for us to wait while he ran back to his glovebox. He returned and presented us with two coat pins... propoganda from his nation's past... muttering in broken english "very old" and "history". We were touched by this gesture, he will be missed, and we hope he is our driver in the future.
After saying our goodbyes, we were alone once again. It was noon, but we went to try and check into our hotel anyway. We were pleasantly surprised to find the staff speaking english. We were told no rooms were ready yet, so we asked that our bags be held as we set our on an adventure... a few hours of light sight seeing in the city centre. Our first mission, navigate the local subway system to get there. Luckily, Jessica had done a little research ahead of time and I had a tourism book that already came with a local subway map and translations of the stops. We found a station not far from our hotel and mapped out a route to get there, now to execute. Buying tickets proved far less challenging than initially expected. We found our line, only challenge was to make sure we're heading in the right direction. We made our choice and hopped on a train. Unlike NYC, the subways lacked any sort of helpful hints for foreign travelers. No maps of the stops, no LED boards showing the next stop, stations were barely marked. The driver would simply come over the intercom and verbally announce the stop. Luckily we were able to correlate with our map, make sure we were on course, and count the number of stops to our destination. When we surfaced from the train, we find ourselves in the middle of a mall, albeit generally where we intended.
The Great Wall surrounding their nation's "white house".
Where we surfaced from the subway. Seemed as though some festival/concert was either setting up/tearing down as there was lots of mobile fencing diverting the flow of people and coordinating off certain areas.
We decided to walk around not knowing exactly where we were going. Most of the streets seemed to be closed to traffic. Not sure if this was due the event, normal for the weekend, or what. Pictured on the right turned out to be a very large and extravagent mall we discovered.
One of the most fameous Cathedrals in all the world. Of course the crowd control barriers prevented us from approaching at all angles, so we simply had to admire from afar.
The barriers prevented us from entering a square that would be normally teaming with thousands of people, but today was only filled with empty sound stages and crew techs.
The great mall from the front and an empty beautiful square.
To enter the subway, you had to swipe your paper card in front of these scanners. We had only purchased 4 trips, 1 for each of us out and back, so we were careful to make sure to enter the right station/line. We bought ourselves no second chances.
The subway arriving. Not much different than NYC subway in terms of comfort, though I did miss the little LED navigational boards that lit up as the train hit each stop.
Our hotel for one night, a much different experience than the hotel we had been in all week in Sweet Girl's hometown. This hotel is from their countries history, and is very large, extravagent and somewhat Americanized by comparison to where we came from.
Grand entrance way where we were greeted by multiple English speaking staff.
View of the city from our room on the 9th floor.
As we had such little time here and our thoughts were still with Sweet Girl back in her hometown, we had little time to enjoy it. For tomorrow we would be waking up early to start our journey home. In place of Vita and Ilya, we had Boris and Irina who would be picking us up from the hotel and escorting us to the airport. We had yet to meet them, but they would be our guides in the big city. That night, we recieved a call from Boris to the next morning. We would meet him at 7:00am to head to the airport. Even though we were in the city, the drive to the airport would take 45mins - 1hr due to horrendous traffic. We look forward to returning home and seeing Audrey and Harper, but can't stop wondering when will we see Sweet Girl again and will she remember us and our short journey. Until then, Sweet Girl....