September, 2001

Greetings from Baku:

   Well the world is certainly a different place since our last letter. We do pray that no one suffered any losses in the terrible tragedies in New York and Washington. As of now, none of our family or friends has been victims of these cowardly acts. All of our lives have been changed; we only wait for what changes the future will bring.

   On schedule, Xenia started school on August 27. It is tradition here that on the first day of school the student brings flowers to their teachers. So before going to school that day, we stopped at the florist and bought a huge bouquet of flowers. Also, many of the little girls wear big white bows in their hair on the first day and of course Xenia was no exception. After all the picture taking Xenia was a little reluctant to let us go. But finally she said good bye and was off playing with the other children. Xenia will be going to school this year half days, five days a week from 9:00 to 12:00. Xenia was going to be in school for only one week because the first three weeks of September we were going on vacation or as they say around here "on holiday.

   At 6:00 am on Sunday, September 2, we said good bye to Baku, boarded a Turkish Air flight, destination - Istanbul. We spent two days in Istanbul seeing the sights. The only disappointment was that the Hagia Sophia was closed when we were there. That now gives us an excuse to go back. Istanbul is a very large city that seems to go on forever. We took a boat ride on the Bosphorus, saw the Chora Church (Museum) with its splendid mosaic iconography, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Obelisk and the Covered Bazaar. Spent a lot of time in the bazaar shopping for deals. We also managed to eat some good Turkish food. It was quite hot in Istanbul.

   After two days in Istanbul it was off to Paris. The first day in Paris was what I call "Chamber of Commerce" type weather – blue skies and puffy white clouds. We learned that the fastest way around the city is by using the subway system. So off we went first to the Eiffel Tower. With all the crowds gone, we quickly went to the top. The view was great. After a lot of looking and picture taking, it was time to have coffee in one of those French sidewalk cafes. Then it was off to a cruise up the Seine River past all the sites including the massive Notre-Dame Cathedral. After the cruise, we took the subway to try and find the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevski. With its golden domes it was not too hard find. There is special significance to Nia and her family concerning this Cathedral. In the 1930’s her grandfather visited the Cathedral. Following the liberation of Paris during World War Two, Nia’s uncle attended the Cathedral and now Nia and Xenia visited the Cathedral. So four generations have visited the Cathedral. The only disappointment was that the Cathedral was locked and they were not opening it for anyone. The priest said "no" and that was it. He went back into the rectory and closed the door. The Orthodox Church has a lot to learn about educating the public about the church. I could walk into any other church in Paris without any problems but my own church was locked to me. The church is listed on the maps and as we were there people were coming by to look but no one could get in. Not a good way to spread the word about the faith.

   The next day we visited Notre-Dame Cathedral. With its massive size and the amount of people in there, it was amazing how quiet it was inside. The Catholics were doing it right – the Cathedral was open, you could go to confession, light candles, pray or just sit there and meditate. Following our visit to Notre-Dame, we walked through the Louvre however did not visit the museum. We felt that with Xenia we would not have the time to appreciate all the artworks there. We’ll come back when she is older. We walked through the Jardin des Tulleries and got to the place de la Concorde where there was a great big Ferris wheel. So we all took a break and took a ride on the Ferris wheel before continuing our walk up the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomph. After resting for awhile at the foot of the Arc we decided to climb the 284 steps to the top. Xenia just about ran up the steps and then ran back down. Following a good meal and French Wine, we slept very well that night. The next day Friday, was a shopping day. We went to a French flea market, had lunch in a cafe in the Opera district and just hung out in the city. Saturday we were leaving for the Riviera.

   We flew down to the Riviera to a city called Montpellier where we rented a car and drove to Cap d'Agde where we had rented a villa. The City of Cap d’Agde is located about three hundred kilometers from Barcelona, Spain. The City was designed by the French Government as a vacation city with areas reserved for families, retirees, singles, etc. The villa we rented was on the beach with our bedroom window facing the Mediterranean Sea. All night you could hear the waves crashing on the shore. We had plans to do all types of travelling and exploring the French coast, however after the events of September 11 that all changed. Since we could not be even sure of our own safety, we decide just to lay low and basically stay where we were.

   The beaches were exceptionally nice and clean with powdery white sand that got into everything. The beach was also very good for collecting shells and I think we came back with about 10 pounds worth. Xenia has since taken some of them to school for Show & Tell. We spent quite a bit of time on the beach either collecting shells, in the water or at times digging great big holes and jumping in them. Xenia has become an expert beach hole digger and has learned that if you dig deep enough you will find water. We visited the markets in the various nearby cities, and also the weekend flea markets. One day just for Xenia we drove down to Safari Country, which is a drive through zoo. Since it was a cool day, the animals were very active and Xenia got to see many animals close up from the car window. Of course the petting farm was also a big hit. Another day was spent at the local aquarium looking at all the sea life that we share the Mediterranean with. The weather over the two weeks in south France was very nice, daytime temperatures in the low 80's with nighttime temperatures in the upper 60's and rain only on the day we left. Our one big complaint was the wind, which was always blowing. Sometimes just a gentle breeze, other times really howling, but always present.

   Since it was still late summer and France is on the far western side of the European Time zone, the evenings were still very long. We would go into the various villages at night, shop a little and then eat dinner in one of the restaurants along the waterfronts over looking the fishing fleets. The basic food was fish and lots of it along with French wine. There were also many sidewalk cafes that we would stop at for a drink and listen to the live music. Xenia would entertain all the patrons and us by dancing on the sidewalk.

   All vacations must end and ours did also and we had to fly back to Baku. We were a little nervous. Flying out of Montpellier was a bit of a chore. I almost had to get completely undressed before I would stop setting off the metal detector. Orly Airport in Paris looked like a military installation with soldiers patrolling everywhere carrying semi-automatics. All the flights back to Baku were relatively empty. At Baku Airport, arrangements had been made to greet us at the airplane, take us to the VIP lounge and quickly whisk us through passport control and customs so that we would not spend any great amount of time in the airport.

   All the foreign embassies in Baku have been sealed off with parking and access restrictions all around them. Xenia's school now has guards patrolling the grounds and our residences now have guards on patrol at all times. We have been restricted to the city however we are free to move around the city as needed. From now on Nia will have a bodyguard/driver escorting her wherever she goes. The government has reassured us that it is doing everything in its power to guarantee the safety of all foreign nationals, especially Americans. The bottom line is that we are relatively safe here however you need to be ever vigilant. Azerbaijan does border Chechnya and Iran so there are probably a couple loose "cannons" floating around the country that may at sometime want to make a statement. Preparations have been made for evacuations if that becomes necessary. We are not located in the suspected war zone, however collateral effects or threats may necessitate the need for an evacuation.

   So we like you and the rest of the world await the response of the United States. Fr. John will know of our where-abouts if we are evacuated from the country. ‘Til next month,

Nick, Nia, and Xenia


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