Saturday, July 5, 2008

My Last Day in Russia

Russian Beauties

I never tire from looking at the Russian Orthodox churches. I’ve made Scott and Justin and whoever else is with us, enter so many of them, much to their dismay at times. They said once you see inside ten, you've usually seen the same thing, but somehow entering these places of worship still interests me and helps me get a little better feel for the structure of these people's faith. Many say that the churches are more beautiful on the outside than the inside…and I’d have to agree with many of them.

Here is Christ’s Church which is pretty incredible on both the outside and the inside. When you walk inside most Russia Orthodox churches, you can usually see icons of the Holy Mother Mary or other Saints lining the walls or in clumps in parts of the church. Pictures of Saints and more recent church leaders, which might also be considered icons, decorate the inner walls of the churches too. Candles and incense are lit and fill the churches with an old, musty sort of smell. Some churches we visited seemed more in touch with the stories found in the Bible than others. I loved it when they were.

A few times, as I was passing one of the churches, I would hear beautiful singing and so, of course, had to go inside and check it out. The music consisted of singing/chanting by one of the priests and a chorus. It was really quite lovely sometimes. I may have mentioned it before, but when a woman enters these churches she must cover her head. It was really neat to enter the churches during a service as I did a few times. Either way, the believers do a series of bowing and crossing themselves at different points in the service or as they approach various icons.

St. Petersburg’s Finest

I was able to go to St. Petersburg for three days, and visit a part of my brother Joe’s mission. Not having him with me was sad, but being where he’d served and loved the Russians for two

years was priceless. Scott, Merilee (Scott’s mom who came to visit his mission and travel with us for the last 10 days of our trip :), and myself were able to visit the Hermitage, the Cathedral of Spilled Blood, Peterhof, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, as well as many other sites. We even attended a night of folk singing and dancing called, “Feel yourself Russian.” So amazing and beautiful! St. Petersburg is such a lovely city – Merilee and I were impressed with the cleanliness and the beautiful architecture. Peter the Great built this beauty with the hope of making it look much more like the cities of Europe because he didn’t like the older and less refined look of Moscow. And, there is a definite difference. Personally, I still also love the more communist and possibly rougher look and feel to Moscow.

While in St. Petersburg, Lena (Joe and Rachel’s friend) did a lot of the sight seeing and

research with us. She’s absolutely pure gold! Lena had me at her place, about an hour from St. Petes by metro and mashrutka. She was soooo kind and nice, and she even helped me on our project, going on all the metro lines, counting beer advertisements and alcohol

brands, as well as counting advertisements and alcohol and cigarette sales on the streets. Meeting Lena, was very special for me because of her connection to Joe and Rach. She introduced me to others that knew Joe as he served his mission in St. Petersburg which was a blessing for me. But, getting to know and becoming friends with Lena was even more zdorava (wonderful)! I was so impressed with her great dedication and pure goodness. Many of the Russians who share the same faith with me have also been such good examples of this to me and it has touched me

deeply to witness their faith in action.

Russian Buildings

As I mentioned in my first post in Russia, I love the Russian buildings. They speak of the communist era and are lined with character! Here is a picture of a typical apartment door with two major locks on it. As soon as you open that door, you shod your shoes and usually put on some type of indoor slipper. Most apartments I’ve been to consist of a small kitchen area, bathroom, and one to three bedrooms (usually one or two).

As if your front apartment door wasn’t secure enough, the front door of your apartment building also has a security set up in order to get in. There are some of the most interesting and cool elevators in the Russian buildings too! Usually they are covered in graffiti or other messages and they are often quite small :). When you arrive at your floor, you have to wait a second while the elevator actually decides to stop and then eventually the doors open, and you’re off! One elevator I used was so completely not new! A wooden box traveled up and down the floors in what looked like a wire encasement with a metal door.

Living in one of these apartments has really helped me realize how little space I need to live in…makes me want to get rid of anything I don’t need :). Millions of people throughout the world (the amount floors me every time I think of it) live in apartments like the ones I’ve described, and yet I’ve always imagined living in a house. Really though, you can live in much less than a house – its just that many Americans are able to choose the house and therefore think that’s the way it is for most folks.

The Most Amazing Moskva Metro

Moscow has just about the most amazing and largest metro system in the world and you believe it when you use it. Besides the fact that there are over 11 lines with stops being created all the time, and the fact that 8 million people use the metro everyday in Moscow, and that it connects the center of Moscow to the far reaches of the city boundaries (traveling about an hour or more to the end of each line from the center)… All that, and Moscow’s metro is incredibly decorated too! Statues of Lenin, other leaders, great writers and poets, etc. decorate the halls of various metro stops. Mosaics of Russian victories, the communist people and important symbols decorate the halls and ceilings of the metro stations. Gorgeous carvings of the same also line the walls and ceilings. Great history lessons could be taught by bringing students on field trips to these stops! I feel I learned something about the Russians or their past every time I traveled through those halls. I loved looking up and also seeing the beautiful chandeliers hang from the ceilings of many metro stops.

Living in Moscow this past month has really made me re-think transportation in the US! Not only is the metro an atleeshna (excellent) way to travel, but when you walk outside, you have available any form of transportation you’d like to your next destination; there are mashrutkas, buses, electric buses, taxis and of course, walking!

When people travel outside of Moscow, as I have done several times now, they choose one of the many types of trains for travel. I’ve taken the night train a few times and let me tell you, we seriously need to invest in something like that in the US! You turn your bench into a bed and rest while you get to your next destination…and it doesn’t cost too much either! I loved it. You can also meet all kinds of people while traveling on the train...and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll even sing few songs with them too.