“The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming!”
Of course, for years, Tanya and Tolik would ask us to come to Russia and visit them. At that time, we were travelling to various spots in Europe and even Australia, but Russia was not in our plans at that time. Then one day . . . we thought . . . instead of us going to Russia, why don’t we bring them over here? For the price of a holiday for us, we could show them a trip they could never afford. Just for the two adults . . . we could not afford to bring the entire family over, and most likely the children would now grow up in a country and at a time when travel would be much easier for them.
So we began the procedure of tickets, visas, letters to the embassy, they had to get permission to visit Canada from the Canadian Consulate in St. Petersburg after we provided a letter declaring we would take care of them on arrival in Canada. And so it went . . . until eventually they headed out on Lufthansa from St. Petersburg to Frankfurt, then on directly to Vancouver. Tanya knew English, so the change of planes, etc, was no problem.
An interesting little anecdote regarding this event was at this time, the children had completed their education, university (top marks) and had even gained some travelling of their own through school or associated organizations. They often kidded their father Tolik, about maybe taking a trip somewhere. Tolik would just smile and answer “I’m not going anywhere until I can go to Canada!” So once we had arranged everything, I had the pleasure of telling them on the phone one day that yes, Tolik, they were both coming to Canada. At first they were a little hesitant, they really did not know us, had never really met us, what were they getting into? Tanya talked to our friend Julia in Vancouver, the young woman from Gatchina, who was here with her Nuclear Physicist husband. Julia assured them that we were O.K., nice people and we would take care of them. So it was a GO!
We waited at Vancouver airport arrivals, hoping that they had a good flight, hoping they were even on the flight! No worries, here they came . . . all smiles! Tanya immediately grabbed Diana by the arm and marched off . . . talking a mile-a-minute, like they had known each other all their life. Tolik, on the other hand, was a smoker and had just endured a ten hour no-smoking flight, so the first thing he wanted to do was have a smoke.
We immediately bonded into a four person relationship, a continuation of several years of correspondence. Tanya was a lovely, vivacious, happy person who had most likely seen hard times under Soviet rule, but was determined to enjoy this Canadian experience. Tolik did not speak English, so it was a little harder for him, but we made sure the important things were translated. We still joke about them years later, as Tanya became a great fan of Costco, and the only English words Tolik learned were “Costco, No!”
At that time, we had just closed our B&B which we had operated for several years. We had renovated the area and turned it into a separate suite, complete with bathroom, shower, stove, dining area, washer, drier and its own private patio and entrance. The Russians were delighted! To them it was deluxe resort! One item which amused us was Tolik could not believe we had glass window panels alongside the front door, with no bars or security arrangements. In Russia, everything had to be locked, armour-plated, double guarded, and built to repel the most determined of burglars.
They enjoyed some ‘down time’ as they recovered from jet lag, walking around the neighbourhood, looking at all the different styles of houses and construction techniques. As an engineer and builder himself, Tolik enjoyed this slow introduction to Canada.
Not too much rest, we had a busy schedule planned for their two week stay in Canada. We planned two major trips to introduce them to Canada and the west coast. The first trip included a ferry trip to Vancouver island and overnight at a nice hotel in Victoria. They loved the ferry trip, during which we enjoyed a buffet breakfast on the ferry. This almost turned into a disaster, as I got some kind of food poisoning at breakfast, which caught up with me later in downtown Victoria. After a break that evening and a short nap, I managed to recover and we carried on.
When we pulled up in front of the hotel I had booked previously, Tanya asked why we were here? Diana said that this is where we were staying, and I had to go in to find out where to park the car. She looked horrified. “Oh no!” she said, “We can’t stay here!” Diana had to convince her that yes, we were staying there. It was a nice hotel, not not an extravagant one, which we had used before and knew it was a lovely place to stay, and within walking distance of the harbour and all the sights of Victoria. Later that evening, while I was recovering from my stomach ailments, the two Russians enjoyed themselves by walking around the downtown tourist area of Victoria, discovering the beauty and charm of that city.
The next day started fine. I had planned a lot of activities for the “Canadian Adventure”, so we started with an interesting visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum. I love this museum, as they present their exhibits in a fascinating way, a way that involves the viewer. Many times you are actually walking through the exhibits, whether it is a B.C. forest scene, a coastal beach, a walk through an 1800’s gold-rush town, or a visit on board a historically important sailing ship, all this accompanied by the sounds you might hear in the real thing.
After this whirlwind look at Victoria, we headed north up Vancouver Island, over the Malahat Mountain, through the villages of Duncan, Chemainus, Ladysmith and eventually Nanaimo. After lunch, we continued north through several more small towns and arrived at Comox, where the small ferry operated to return to the mainland at Powell River. At Powell River, the accommodation was a little different, a cosy B&B was built in an old courthouse. It was called “The Old Courthouse Inn”, a Boutique Heritage Hotel on the Sunshine Coast.
Our adventure continued, returning along B.C.’s “Sunshine Coast”, from Powell River via two more ferries through the villages of Sechelt and eventually Gibsons, the site of the TV Series “The Beachcombers”, finally arriving back at ‘Horseshoe Bay’ and a drive through Vancouver to our home in Tsawwassen.
We wanted to show off some of our neighbourhood, and many of our friends and relatives wanted to meet them, so we had a few events and excursions planned. The first was a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium, and a tour by Danny, our son, who was also Curator of BC Fishes.
Of course, in the middle of all this, Colleen, our daughter, joined us for lunch one day.
While we were driving around Vancouver, of course we cruised out to the UBC area. Tanya was excited to see the TRIUMF facility on the grounds, a place she had been dealing with for years and had hosted many nuclear scientists from here. Of course, she had to get out and have her photo taken.
They were both excited to meet our toddler twins, Ben and Maya, who they had heard about at great lengths from us. Also, at that time, Anne gave birth to another boy, Nicholas, who we all visited in Women’s Hospital. Tanya always said that Nicholas was a Russian name (Tsar Nicholas) and she called Nicholas her “Canadian Grandson”, because he was born while she was here in Canada.
Their Canadian adventure continued, as we tried hard to provide a positive experience for them to take back to Russia.
Stay tuned for Episode three, “The Russians are Here!”
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