Hello! My name is Elena. I can not imagine my life without traveling around the world. There are too many exciting places on our planet, which I have to see now or as soon as possible.
I was born in Moscow, USSR. I graduated from the First Moscow College of Music, as a music teacher and a classically trained pianist. My husband Alexander got his degree from the Moscow University, the best university in the country, and worked as a journalist in the Moscow publishing house, newspapers and magazines.
Traveling to other countries was impossible for the majority of Soviet citizens. Only “chosen” people were allowed to go abroad – high-ranking officials, famous performers, and athletes.
However, could they call their trips free travel? Fearing that they would seek asylum abroad, the KGB followed them and punished them if they tried to escape to the West.
Alexander decided to emigrate from the Soviet Union because his views on life were incompatible with the teachings of Marxism-Leninism. As to me, besides being in love with him, there was another reason for me to leave our motherland. Since my childhood, I was dreaming of traveling around the world.
In 1979, after nine months of waiting, we received permission to emigrate as political refugees. How do you pack if you are allowed to take only two suitcases, two hundred dollars, and you have to leave your motherland forever?
To make sure that we will not starve for the first few weeks in Austria, my mother made sure that we take enough food: Cream of Wheat, millet, pasta. We also packed a small pot, a small pan and two aluminum bowls and flatware. Looking back I marvel at how uninformed and naïve we were at that time.
The day of our departure from the USSR was the saddest and the happiest day in our lives. We still keep the picture taken minutes before the final goodbye at the Sheremetyevo airport. My parents are hugging me, my mother-in-law is hugging my husband. All of us look exhausted from a sleepless night, our eyes were swollen from crying. At that time we were sure that we’ll never see each other again!
My first airplane ride
As sad as I was, I was also thrilled: it would be my first plane ride! I will fly to a foreign country! I will be free! At the same time, during the flight, I had scary thoughts: what if the plane will crash, what if nobody will meet us in Vienna, what if we will not have enough money? And many other “what ifs?”
I loved my first flight! The food was delicious – they even served caviar as an appetizer! We already heard that the Aeroflot (the only Soviet airline at the time) always served excellent food on the international flights.
Austria – my first foreign country
As soon as the plane landed at Vienna airport, we were lead through the customs and then taken to the hotel by bus. After checking in at the hotel, we immediately went for a walk. It was my first adventure abroad. This evening stroll on the streets of Vienna was a dream come true. We were free people in the free world.
We spent a whole month in Vienna. Even if we did not know any German, we managed to see most tourist attractions, including incredible Viennese parks. We walked a lot and also used the streetcars and buses. It was a magical time.
From Vienna, we were moved to Rome. We took the night train and arrived at the Termini (Rome’s central train station) in the morning. Our group was met by a translator who took us to a hotel.
Two days later, we rented an apartment in the Russian church, located a few blocks from the Termini. The priest of this church lived in the same building. He gave us many pieces of advice on what to see in Rome.
To get the permission to go to the USA, we had to fill out lots of forms, pass a medical exam and have an interview at the American consulate. After one month in Rome, we were granted the working visas in the US as political refugees.
While waiting for those visas, we didn’t waste time. I took English classes (4 hours per day, 5 days per week). These hard studies noticeably improved my high school English. Any free time we had, we spent on sightseeing. Rome is the ancient city, which offers endless options for tourists.
Because of our location, we could reach many historical and religious sights by foot. Having very little money, we would splurge on the bus only if the place of interest was very far from our apartment. We saw a lot, but even after a month in Rome, we felt that we still didn’t explore it all in this eternal city.
Since that time I visited Rome two more times. Both times we went with a tour group, stayed in expensive hotels, went to all attractions on the tour bus with an excellent guide. Still, when we had some free time, my husband and I would walk the streets of Rome as we did so many years ago.
These two countries, Austria and Italy, were my first travel experiences abroad. From that unforgettable evening in Vienna, I wanted to see more countries, and not just in Europe.
In Los Angeles, with the help of my husband I created the largest music school in West LA. Among my students were children and grandchildren of many celebrities, including Gregory Peck, Lucille Ball, Shirley Jones, O.J. Simpson, John Candy.
After we had moved to Florida, I founded Academy of Performing Arts, where forty teachers were teaching music, dance, and theater classes to six hundred students.
Besides teaching music and managing my business, I developed a program of music lectures about famous classical composers. I was giving these concert-lectures at many country clubs and societies. Also, I was playing piano at business, and private parties, and participated in concerts and shows.
As soon as we settled down in the United States, established a successful business and could afford to travel, we started our Odyssey around the world, and I don’t ever plan to stop.