With 27 years since my last visit to Russia, I returned to the country from which my grandmother was born to visit my relatives, to renew my interest in Russia’s rich history and culture, and to lecture to fellow eye care professionals. My babushka (grandmother) Amalia left Sevastopol, USSR and came to Virginia in 1932; she was not able to return to see her family until 1972. My mother, a professor of Russian Language and Literature at James Madison University for over 20 years, traveled twenty-some times to the country she adored. This time, without Mom and to bridge the language barrier, I traveled to Russia in September 2010 with two of Mom’s past college students, Joe and Ginger, and Richard (Ginger’s husband).
As Joe was able to help interpret the language and customary lifestyle to me, I was able to share my eyes and legs with Joe. This dear friend of over 40 years is legally blind from glaucoma and physically challenged from a double hip replacement this past summer. Since Joe ran me around in my teens (transporting me to violin lessons and on my dates), I returned the favor by escorting him around the extravagant sights of Russia, from church cupolas to historical museums to dance performances. His fluency in the Russian language and his familiarity with the “do’s” and “don’ts” helped us not get thrown in the clink on the train from Moscow to Tallin!
Despite Russia’s communistic state prior to 1991, the country has managed to preserve many of its provincial traditions and elaborate Renaissance architecture. My time in Moscow was highlighted by exploring the Kremlin (including its incredible diamond collection), visiting with my cousin Sveta (21 years after her last visit to Virginia), and touring one of Moscow’s state eye institutes. I shared my knowledge on advanced technology lens implants with our tour guide as she prepared herself for cataract surgery soon.
From the ten million-person population of Moscow, we exited Russia to visit Tallin, Estonia, a much smaller city of 400,000. This old town of cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes, and small shops is located on the lovely Baltic Sea. I visited the laser vision correction practice of Ants Haavel, MD, where we shared our experiences with vision correction surgery. I shared power point presentations on “Beach Eye Care – A View Inside a Contemporary American Eye Care Practice”, “Presbyopic IOLs “(intraocular lenses), and “Optos Retinal Imaging”. This visit gave me an insider’s view on the stark contrast between state run eye care and private practice eye care.
Our last stop was St. Petersburg, a city of 4 million people, 42 islands, and 66 canals. After re-entering Russia, we enjoyed the Hermitage museum, gorgeous cathedrals, and summer palaces. St. Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia with a very different personality from Moscow.
I recommend visiting all three of these Slavic cities, as they each carry unique cultural experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity to reconnect with my heritage, as I am one-quarter Russian. Travel with me vicariously through the cities of Moscow, Tallin, and St. Petersburg by clicking below.
– G. Peyton Neatrour