Let's meet Elena Ulko

Just a little bit about myself... for those who care :)

I was born in Saint-Petersburg on November 27, 1981 to a family of a pediatrician and a sailor. My parents are the most remarkable people I can think of and thanks to them I am who I am. My father taught me how to be strong and willful to be able to reach whatever goals I had and will have in my live, while my mother taught me how to be a woman, loving and caring, sweet and almost perfect in everything. We still live together and now thanks to their support and help I am able to do my favorite work.

I graduated from high school in 1998 and went to study at Saint-Petersburg University of International Relations, Economics and Law. I chose the faculty of Linguistics because I felt special attachment to languages, although my parents tried to persuade me that being a lawyer or an economist presented far more options in life than being just an interpreter. Anyways, I'm very happy about my choice now. I majored in English, and

my minors were German and Spanish. Finally, in 2003 I got an honors degree in Linguistics! Hurray!

During that my last year at the Uni one of my professors mentioned that she worked as a tour guide during the high season and I thought to myself...Why Not? So, I got enlisted into one of the leading guiding schools, called Gid-Intour. 

The education was quite costly and my parents covered most of it, but when it came to obtaining guiding permissions at various museums they couldn't afford it anymore, and to help me get what I needed my boyfriend Vadim sacrificed his own studies and went to work. Thanks to him I was able to finish my studies and I got my Guide's Certificate just a month before the University degree.

2003 was my first season (and besides, St.Petersburg celebrated its 300th anniversary!) and I met a lot of interesting people during those months. I still keep in touch with most if them. 

July 14, 2004 was one of the happiest days of my life! 

Vadim and I got married in the most beautiful Wedding Palace of Saint-Petersburg and had a church wedding in the loveliest church of the suburbs - Peter and Paul Cathedral in Peterhof.(see photo) This was a long and tiring day for both of us but I will never regret doing what I did that day.   

2005 was another year that I will always cherish memories of. Our daughter Diana was born on April 8! A little earlier than we had planned, but she was a healthy child so there were no worries about that. By the end of May I could no longer resist my temptations and got back to work. Of course I couldn't have as many clients as I would have had before but well, Don't we have to sacrifice some things?           

2006 passed by as quickly as any year while I was getting more and more experience and falling deeply inlove with my beautiful city. Late in 2006 I started planning the most exciting event of 2007 - I decided to travel to the States sometime in fall: I had never been there before and had always wanted to go the US but being unmarried left little chances of getting an American Visa. So, 2007 was a perfect timing.

Thanks to all of my previous clients who have become my true friends I was able to put together a challenging itinerary and then implement it into real life! On September 13, 2007 my husband Vadim and myself flew out of Saint-Petersburg and headed to New York via Helsinki, Finland. During 25 days we visited New York, Philly, Baltimore, Washington DC, Florida (Tampa and Saint-Petersburg(!) area), Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas. There we rented a car and had it for a week exploring the beauty of Grand Canyon(see photo), red rocks of Sedona, Santa Fe and the Annual Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque! I guess I could write a book about our travels and about how much impressed I was with the natural beauty of the country…:) 

Upon our return back to Saint-Petersburg in mid October we got a bank loan to be able to buy a condo (to finally get our own place to live) and since then Vadim and I have been working really hard to pay it back. I don't think I will get a chance to travel anywhere else till we are all set with the bank, so I'm awfully glad I had gone to the US and made one of my dreams come true.

2008 flew by as quickly as any other year did BUT with some really delightlful events:) We finally bought a large SUV (as I live in the suburbs it's really necessary) and in May 2008 I realised that we were going to have a new family member in 2009. 

January 26, 2009 made us all very excited about the arrival of the new baby! My son Vladislav entered this world as a healthy screaming baby.. Now, I'm a happy mom of two very noisy little creatures that sometimes drive everyone crazy but at the same time make all us us so happy! I was able to resume guiding quite in May and had another exciting season meeting lots of people from all over the world. In September 2009 we got another car for myself - to be able to drive the kids to school and to do some independent shopping - you know how most men hate it! For some it's easier to get a new car:)))

2010 started as a regular year, myself being busy with the kids and answering customer inquiries and arranging tours for the new season. In may 2010 my husband was finally able to get a break from work and we flew to Dubai,UAE for a lovely 2 week vacation leaving the youngest member of our family at home with my parents. Dubai was truly hot, I had never experienced such hot weather before, but this was quite an experience and I will never hesitate if I get a chance to return there again! I fell in love with the place!

Once the 2010 cruise season was over, I decided to pamper myself and my family and we flew across the ocean to Florida and settled down in St.Petersburg, where UlkoTours has a branch. From September 23 till December 7, 2010 my husband was attending ESL courses, Diana was going to Pre-K so that she wouldn't get completely bored, while me and Vladislav were  answering customer inquiries, enjoying the beach, walking, shopping, cooking and just having fun.                    

2011 became the year of full flourish for UlkoTours because we have reached a new very high level running up to 20 tour groups a day. I had to get 3 additional managers to handle inquiries as well as managers of operations to make sure all the tours were running smoothly and were impeccably organized.

Now, in the peak season, I'm doing office work non-stop without any days off becaue I want to personally make sure that everything is perfect, I'm a perfectionist, didn't you know?

But again, during the colder months, October through March my family will be residing in St.Petersburg, FL again. This time I will be busy with work while my husband will be taking care about the kids!

Please don't hesitate to contact me with your questions and I will be happy to help you organise your tours around Saint-Petersburg, Russia!:) 

Of course in this Story of my Life I have covered only the most important events, and there's much more to tell about myself than just facts and places. But I won't do that, let's leave it till we meet in person…-)

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April 18, 2017 - I haven't really written any updates on my life since 2011, so it's hard to put back together all the events that took place in my life since then. But I will try :) My husband says I live in my office and he desperately wants me to be a mother for our children, but when I get carried away with development projects and furhter business goals it's just so hard to stop.

Anyways, looking back at 2012, after we had lived in St. Petersburg, Florida for a second term (from November 2011 until March 2012) and knew we would be coming back to Russia for indefinite time (at least we thought so back then), we had decided to hire an au pair, a young girl from Sacramento, CA who came in to live with us in August 2012 to play with kids and to speak English with them. My main goal was to keep the language alive for Diana and Vladislav. Kids had fun, mom was at work:) Ulkotours was growing and 2012 was a bomb!

We went to celebrate New Year of 2012/2013 to Singapore and took a cruise to Malaysia, which we had  enjoyed greatly!

Upon our return from the trip, the following day my beloved grandfather had left us for the better worlds and I still break out in tears whenever I think of him. He was the man who taught this little girl to use a hammer, a saw and not be afraid to fight with boys!

In March and April 2013 I had extensively tarveled around the US and Australia and participated in various B2C and B2B Travel Trade Shows, one of the most important being Cruise Shipping Miami.

August 7, 2013 was one of the toughest moments in my life, and in the lives of all people who had been living together under the same roof. In the sunny afternoon of that day our house burnt down almost to the ground. 18 people had lost the roof above their heads. We had no place to go. The house was all we had. It contained our clothes, our personal items, our savings, our documents, our everything. 

But what still pains me most  - our memories were destroyed by that fire. Hundreds of photos, printed and saved on CDs, videos of kids and us, those little things that we cherish so much.          

The good news was that at least we all stayed alive! You might be wondering about the 18 people I had mentioned:) Well, here comes the list: My parents (2), my husband and I (2), my to kids (2), my sister and her husband and their daugher (3), my brother and his wife (2), my grandmother (1), my uncle and his wife (2), their two daughters (2), husband and son of one of them (2). The house was a duplex, originally built for the families of my mother and her younger brother.

Thanks to the assistance of local authorities, we all were able to get new IDs very quickly (in Russia it can be a real pain in a butt). However, that fire had changed our plans greatly. At that time me and my husband were really looking forward to finally buying some land and building a house (since we never moved to that condo we bought in St Petersburg, because it was way too small). The contract was on the way and we were supposed to sign it any day. Then we were informed that one of the sellers (there were two of them) had walked out of the contract last minute. Surprisingly, we were not upset. We still had no place to live while waiting for the new house to be built, like normads we were staying with friends, renting small places here and there, while kids were staying with my in-laws and had to start school year living separated from their parents. 

Meantime, ULKOtours did our first professional photoshoot!

October 2013 brought the answer. 

My husband was granted a 3-year work visa in the USA and we packed whatever things we had purchased after the fire into one suitcase and left Russia. Kids and us.          

I am grateful to all of my friends who had supported me and my family during those difficult days of uncertainty. Special thanks goes out to Marina Wilson, who kindly let us live in her house until we could leave Russia.

Once in the US we had once again settled in the area which was very familiar to us - St. Petersburg, FL. 

Friends, the sun and the gulf of Mexico healed our broken hearts and we started coming back together as a whole. Kids started attending their school, that openheartedly welcomed them in, while I was busy with ULKOtours again.          

All of 2014 we had spent in St. Pete, and had only visited the other Saint Petersburg for a short period of time in the summer (I had to be in our main office for a while).

In May 2014 we discovered that there was another ULKO baby on the way, and in December 2014 our Christmas baby Alexander was born at Babyplace, St. Pete, FL. We became a family of 5 and were super excited about it.          

The growth of ULKOtours in Russia acted as an anchor for us and in June 2015 we had decided to return to Saint Petersburg, Russia. 

Selling our beautiful white SUV in Florida was the hardest part for me, as I love white things and coming back to the gloomyland meant that we would have to buy something black. We packed all our belongings into 13 HUGE suitcases and 5 carry-ons, shipped 8 boxes of toys and home stuff and finally arrived back to our homeland. Tanned, happy and willing to make something new.

Since 2015 I had been busy at work like never before. 18 hour days, 7 day weeks. It was tough but it was  worth it.

2016 brought an expected growth boost for the company which meant even more work, but with the excellent team that I have I was able to spend more time with my three kids. No traveling, though, as we had a great goal set.

Now, with the start of 2017 I can proudly say that Part 1 has been successfully accomplished and now we are working on Part 2. I will be more than happy to share in person :)

April 2017 has also brought the launch of our new website, which we have been working upon since August 2016! Check it out and let me know what you think!



Questions? Call us right now 1.855.866.8773 or email booking@ulkotours.com