A Tour of Vladimir, Russia

So I had the idea of putting together this post now that Sweet Girl is home and we can speak more openly about her heritage. I’ve had many people curious about where she came from and I wanted to put together a little showcase to give you a better understanding of her town and heritage, which we hope we can preserve as an important part of her.
Sweet Girl was born in a small town near Vladimir and when she was about 18 months old was transferred to the Vladimir Baby House which is where we found her.
Being the capital of the region, Vladimir is a good size city of around 300,000 (not all that much bigger than where we live in the US).  Though not a common tourist destination, Vladimir is part of the “Golden Ring” of ancient Russian cities, has several ancient cathedrals, and its heritage dates back to 900AD. In fact, the Grand Prince was crowed in Vladimir’s Assumption Cathedral up to 1200AD when this was moved to Moscow’s Kremlin and the famous Assumption Cathedral there which was loosely modeled after Vladimir’s.
Old bridge of some historical relevance, though I’m not sure what exactly. As seems to be customary in Europe, locals would affix “love padlocks” to the rails of this bridge.
McDonalds, the only familiar sign of western civilization we encountered in Vladimir. Even though most Russian’s could understand simple English and use a few broken words, we hardly ever encountered anyone to which we could carry on a conversation with in Vladimir. ATMs that would exchange money were common enough (most only in Russian), but paying with credit cards of any variety was not common and most transitions occurred in cash. This McDonald’s was one of the few places we found both credit card machines and an English picture menu.
Assumption Cathedral (1160)
The principle church during Vladimir’s reign as political capital of Russia and where the grand prince was crowned before this responsibility shifted to Moscow’s Kremlin
Back view of Assumption Cathedral.
Monument to Prince Vladimir I and Fyodor the monk in Pushkin Park.
Building of the Gubernia’s Administration (1785)
Sits between the Assumption Cathedral and St. Demetrius’ Cathedral.
Housed local administration during Soviet era.
Now home to the Art Gallery and Hall of Pre-Revolutionary Estates. Seems as though it was undergoing renovation

St. Demetrius’ Cathedral (1197)
View perched atop Vladimir vantage point overlooking the Klyazma River
Muronskaya Bridge and Klyazma River leading to Suzdal I believe.
The Northern Trade rows (aka “the mall”).

Located within walking distance of our hotel in downtown Vladimir, this supplied us with a grocery store and all the shopping necessities we needed.

Golden Gates (1163).
Located in the city center, these gates once marked the entrance to the city and were an impenetrable fortress.
More local architecture
Trinity Church (1913)
Vladimir Oblast assembly hall
I believe this is the site where the Tartar-Mongol hordes breached Vladimir’s defenses in 1238. The city has struggled to recover since then in the limelight of Moscow.
19th century water tower. Houses the Museum of “Old Vladimir”.
View of the Assumption Cathedral and Pushkin Park from afar.
What trip to Russia would be complete without your local Vodka factory?
A typical Vladimir street and city horizon
A Vladimir side street.
View from afar of what I called Vladimir’s industrial area we drove past everyday on the way to the orphanage. What you see isn’t a nuclear power plant, but rather a thermal one that produced power and steam for the town. Large steam pipes snaked their way above ground all over the town between buildings as the primary source of heat for the winter.
Entrance to Sweet Girl’s orphanage… down a narrow, rough alley between two high rise apartments adjacent to some sort of military installation. Located about a 10 minute car ride from our hotel in downtown, the orphanage was on the outskirts of town in a noticeably more poverty stricken area than the old world that surrounded us in the city center.
The main gate to the orphanage. This would be locked after 5:00. The entire orphanage grounds was surrounded by a rather creative fence built entirely from rebar.
Once inside “the compound”, the building located in the center was 2-story designed in an “H” configuration with a groupa living in each of the 4 quadrants and common area in the middle. Her  groupa lived in the far quadrant you see pictured above.
The Google earth image shows square “H” style building located in the middle of the high rise apartments. The red line shows the path we took everyday between the two buildings (pictured above) and down the alley to the orphanage. The large complex below the orphanage was some sort of military/police training grounds though I don’t know what. Vladimir is home to the 27th Guards Missile Army and the Strategic Rockets Forces, the latter commands the Soviet nuclear fleet.
The rather square “H” style building was surrounded by 4 playground areas at each of the four corners. The kids would rotate around from play area to play area with the exception of one quadrant that seemed to be overgrown and off limits (see our trip 1 report about the forbidden slide). The vibrant colors seen here were a staple throughout in insides of the orphanage perimeter.
Here is the driveway leading back out of her orphanage to the alleyway. Every morning we would get dropped off here.
View of the high rise apartments that surround the orphanage grounds and tower over them. I often describe the orphanage as an “oasis” in the middle of otherwise run down apartments that would be best described in our culture as ‘projects’.
We hope to one day go back here with Sweet Girl and let her take it all in. We tried to document our experience through pictures and videos as much as we could since we imagine she won’t remember much of it. We are thankful for this place and this staff for doing their best with what they have. Just in talking to them and seeing the grounds, the care and attention they try to give the kids is palpable. But when I see how much Sweet Girl has blossomed with just 3 months of love and focused attention, my heart breaks for the 40 other kids we left behind here and the millions of others in less friendly orphanages and on the streets around the world. No matter how great this place was, NOTHING replaces a family for a child.

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