*There are MANY MANY children with DS and other special needs of ALL ages that are not represented on RR. If you feel drawn to this region but not necessarily to a particular child, PLEASE consider a blind referral (meaning Russia assigns a child to you that meets your criteria). It may be that child's only chance of getting adopted because no one knows they exist. If the child is not yours, you can reject the referral and ask for another one. If you meet the child, and they are not yours, you ask to be shown another child. You can also get very young babies this way because it can take a long time for kiddos to get on the database but most of the children who have DS are relinquished at birth. They do have to be made available exclusively for Russians to adopt for 6 months but after that they can be adopted by foreigners.
*Everyone we have worked with so far has been GREAT. Do not be afraid to meet with government officials, orphanage personnel, etc. They really want these kiddos to be adopted into families.
*Do not bring a ton of cash! Our agency told us to bring $3,000 in crisp new bills. We exchanged only $200 into rubles because we just wanted a little to get us started and we didn't know if the exchange rate in the hotel was any good. We only spent $100 of it and that was only because at the end of the trip we were thought, "Crap! We have all these rubles we need to get rid of!" Everyone takes credit cards so we never needed any cash. Ok, that is not totally true, I bought a mirror from a little street vendor for $3 and I needed cash for that transaction. Otherwise, all the stores, restaurants, the hotel, the corner ice cream stand, everyone takes credit card. And the exchange rate was much better on our credit card then we could get anywhere in Novosibirsk. I think it is DANGEROUS to carry that much cash unnecessarily. So this would be my advice: if you love to spend cash and do not want to use your credit card that much, bring $1000 in cash. If you run out, you can use your debit card at no-fee atms to get more. If you are like me, I rarely carry cash anyway and much prefer just to hand them plastic and not have to figure out foreign currancy, I would only bring $500 in cash to just have in case of an emergency of some kind. But honestly, if you brought $100 in cash, I think you would be just fine too. Anyone have advice for Moscow and money?
*The Hotel Siberia is very nice. If you are traveling in the winter, you can get a really good deal on a very basic room. If you are traveling in the summer, it is worth paying the extra money and getting a Business Deluxe room because you will get A/C. TOTALLY WORTH IT! Springs and Summers in Novo are HOT and no one has A/C so you will spend your days out of your room frying. Especially if you need to make the long 2 hour drive to Oyash in Kate's car which has no A/C and she is worried about you rolling down the window more then a crack because "you might get sick". Coming back to a cool hotel room is worth any extra money you need to spend and then some.
*Traveling during the summer costs significantly more then the winter but is a lot more pleasant. We already discussed the hotel will be more, flights are also go way up as soon as the 3rd week of May hits. I think no one in the right mind travels to Novo unless they absolutely have to in the bitter cold and so all the summer flights tend to book up quick and be more expensive. You will also spend more money because you will enjoy going out in the warm weather visiting restaurants and shops.
*Novosibirsk is very, very fashionable. The women all look like super models, seriously! They are thin and gorgeous and dressed in beautiful dresses all the time. Women dress much more formally in Novosibirsk then we do in the US. It will really not be appropriate for you to wear jeans, or shorts or T-shirts. Skirts, dresses, dress slacks, slack capri's, nice blouses are the way to go. The clothing shops in the area around the hotel are all very high end fashion and are fun to go through but honestly in my stay-at-home life I could never justify the prices since typically I am wearing some prechewed food or snot as accessories.
*In front of the hotel a little ways you will find stairs that go underground, take these. It is a tunnel to get under the busy street and across to an adorable street. Stay on the left hand side as that is where all the good restaurants and shops are. I highly recommend spending some time in these restaurants. They have fun outdoor tables so you can people watch and the food is really good. We especially loved a Chocolate Patiserie. Not only does it have great chocolate but they also have great salads, crepes and sandwhiches. Just to warn you, stay away from the cafe with that is lime green. We ate there (the food was AWESOME) but shortly after we ordered, they brought out big opium hookas and everyone started smoking opium. We ate inside (because the outside was full) and the opium party took place outside so it did not really affect us much but it was quite shocking. There is also a great market on this street that has lots of western products that you will recognize.
*At the end of the street, you will find Lenin Square and a large very nice park. We spent lots of time there because it is a refreshing break from the grind of the city. It also has restaurants. The pizza place in Lenin Square next to the big fountain was not very good at all, stay away.
*Definitely go under Lenin Square! Under the busy streets of Lenin Square is an underground mall in long skinny tunnels. Super different and very interesting.
*We plan on only bringing one outfit for each of the girls on our next trip. Kate showed us a HUGE store for children with great prices. Our plan is to save the luggage space for orphanage donations and take the girls to this store when we pick them up and get them clothes that will actually fit because we can try them on. This place is MASSIVE. Imagine Ikea or Home Depot but with kids stuff. There had to be 150 different kinds of strollers!
*Many public bathrooms do not have toilet paper. Also at the orphanage they use book pages as toilet paper. So it is a good idea to bring some with you at all times.
*Almost everyone in Novo smokes and there are no non-smoking sections to anything but the hotel rooms. I suffered greatly because I am allergic to smoke and it is everywhere. If you are too, I just happened to bring allergy meds and cough drops along and they helped greatly so I would strongly suggest the same. Even still, I have had a terrible cough and burning lungs for the past 3 days.
*In Novosibirsk, all children wear hats or scarfs when they go outside. So make sure you either bring several with you or the HUGE store has HUGE selection of them.
*People in Novosibirsk are BIG on ice cream. Seriously, when you are walking down the street every third person has an ice cream. Ice cream vendors can be seen every 10 feet. I asked Kate what all the ice cream stands sold during the winter and in a confused tone said, "Ice cream! We love ice cream year round!" So yes, even in 30 below weather, they love their ice cream. Consequently, many of the restaurants we found to have amazing gelato. Definitely worth a lick.
*Buy a few water bottles (you can't drink the water). Then at the hotel they have places on each floor where you can fill them up with drinking water for free. The water bottles at the hotel and airport are EXPENSIVE. They are very reasonably priced at the ice cream stands and the market.
*Bring pens with you all the time. We were constantly having to sign things or fill out things and no one (but us) ever seemed to have a pen (including government officials and agency reps).
*Most of Novosibirsk is grey, cement, post-communism, ugly. But as the pictures above show, just when you least expect it, you fill find a little treasure.
I hope that helps!! Feel free to send me any questions you might have.