Alright, here’s the plan: I am going to use three segments (over the course of three days) to recount my time in Russia. I’m sure this surprises all of you, but I have a lot to write about after ten days traveling Russia…okay, so it’s no surprise at all. But, on the train ride from Russia to Lithuania, I kept thinking about how in the world I could accurately describe my experience in one blog post, and decided it was impossible. A series seemed like the best plan. Besides, it will be fun…like a TV series that ends with “To Be Continued”…twice! :)
Let me begin by saying this: Life is beautiful and God is beyond brilliant. You may be thinking, “Wait…I thought we were talking about Russia…” Well, hold your horses. It all starts with the 4-hour bus ride from Klaipėda to Riga, and the over 15-hour train ride from Riga to Moscow. We made a side trip as we traveled to Riga last Saturday and stopped at Kryžių Kalnas (The Hill of Crosses) in Šiauliai, Lithuania. This place is a primary example of the resiliency of Lithuania. People began putting crosses there in remembrance of loved ones, but when the Soviets took control of Lithuania, it was bulldozed. However, people put up new crosses. Even after several attempts to destroy it, the number of crosses kept growing. Now, people from all over the world place crosses on the hill. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of crosses now in place. It is an awe-inspiring atmosphere. I walked among the crosses in silence and solitude, taking in the sounds and sights around me. There were many small crosses hanging from larger ones and they sounded like wind chimes when the wind blew threw them. It was such a beautiful sound of hope, courage, faith, and peace. Thanks to some influence from my mom, I have always thought of wind chimes as whispers of love from heaven. Though this Hill of Crosses is completely symbolic, it provoked thoughts in my mind about what it means to be in Christ…even though the world tries time and time again to tear us down, nothing can take away our hope in Christ. His cross gave me purpose. His love is stronger than any destroying force.
Fast-forward a few hours to the train. Picture this: a sleeper car with 54 beds full of study abroad students and staff. To some, this may sound TERRIBLE. But I loved it! It was so much fun to go to different cabins and talk with different people. I had some incredible conversations and forged deeper friendships with a few people. It was wonderful to see God using this opportunity to bring us together. What could have been an awfully uncomfortable environment provided the perfect setting for testimonies, laughter, smiles, and life to be shared.
Sunday morning, March 9th, we stepped off the train, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, onto Moscow soil (actually, cobblestone). Thus began our exploration of Russia and my subway surfing career. (It’s true…I found my new talent. I’ll explain more in a few minutes.) And before I knew it, I was standing in Red Square staring up at Saint Basil’s Cathedral’s brightly colored onion domes. This was just one of the hundreds of times that the word “wow” came out of my mouth over the course of the week. We started with a tour of the Kremlin Armory. We got to see all kinds of articles that belonged to royal Russians…everything from underwear, shoes, wedding gowns, and crowns, to thrones, dinnerware, giant carriages, and the horses’ bejeweled saddles. All I can say is that I now have a dream to ride in an old-school horse drawn carriage. That will probably never happen but a girl can dream, right? We polished off Sunday with the Russian circus performance of “Емоции” (Emotions). Once again… “Wow….” This is definitely one of my favorite things from the entire trip. Unfortunately, I got yelled at for taking pictures (because I couldn’t understand the announcement in Russian of “No photography during the show”) so I won’t have very many pictures to share. But, they didn’t confiscate my camera and delete the ones I did take, so I have a few. They had all different kinds of acts: every form of acrobatics you can imagine (and probably some you can’t imagine), extreme juggling, gymnastics off the backs of galloping horses, ribbon dancing (Google this one…it’s not what you think of as “dancing”), lions and tigers jumping through hoops, backflips off human-sized hamster wheels 40 feet in the air, and so much more. I was thoroughly amazed at these performances of what the human body can be trained to do.
Back to my new hobby (that will be completely useless in Bryan, Ohio): Subway Surfing. Basically, this means riding the Metro without holding on to anything. The Moscow Metro trains go extremely fast. It’s quite a challenge to stay standing when they burst into full speed from a dead stop. I discovered that I really like the challenge of maintaining my balance and moving with the train around curves and through stops and starts. My group leader, Tomas, dared me to try it during our first Metro ride and I never went back. According to him, I am surprisingly good at it. We had a contest to see who could stand the longest during an eight-stop ride (about 30 minutes)…neither of us fell or touched anything. He didn’t believe me when I said I had never surfed before coming to Moscow. I think he was secretly embarrassed that I was as good as him. :)
Still to come in Part 2: more Moscow adventures, kisses from a gold-toothed old man in the market (the suspense!), a visit with a dead man, and so much more!
- TO BE CONTINUED -