Dates: May 19-29, 2002
Monday, May 20th (84 photos taken)
We arrived in Helsinki at 8:30 a.m. (12:30) body clock). Although we had just four hours of sleep to run on, this city of 250 islands just had to be explored after settling in the hotel. I ran out to get tickets to Carmen -- sold out -- bummer. Undeterred we boarded a boat for an hour and a half. The scenery was idyllic, even if the windy sea breeze blew at 50 degrees. The Baltic Sea freezes in the winter so that huge ice breaker ships have to plow through three feet of ice to make a channel for the cargo ships. This city is surprisingly cosmopolitan, high tech, and clean. very friendly people and a safe place. After a late afternoon meal of reindeer steaks and salmon, Steve and I ventured out to see if we could snag any unredeemed tickets to the opera. We failed. However, that gave us the opportunity to explore the 1940 (52) Olympic stadium as well as the majestic Lutheran Cathedral and the mystic Russian Orthodox Church. We got lost on the way and had to ride the #6 tram all the way to its terminal-- turn around and came "home." It was an unexpected delight and an inexpensive city tour at 1.5 Euros. Helsinki, the gateway to the west, has been a delightful precursor to our Russian adventure.
Tuesday, May 21st (164 photos taken)
We arrived in St. Petersburg at 11:00 a.m. after a 40 minute flight from Helsinki. The airport was small and dingy for a city of this magnitude and beauty. We were warmly greeted by Tanya, a woman hired by Mark Cathy for a mere $30. She literally walked us through customs. We were nervous about the ease with which we passed. By 1:00 p.m. we were settled into our rented apartment. Mark took us to the store for groceries, a delightful experience, and called our guide, at our request. About 45 minutes later we were on our way to the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul, the origin of the city with our capable (albeit somewhat verbose) "friend" Ludmilla. She showed us the very place Dostoevsky was imprisoned. We saw the Fortress/church where he Romanoffs were buried, the Senate House, Statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine, Arvot Hotel and dined at the Stroganoff Palace where the dish was first prepared. Oh Yea, on the way we encircled the majestic Cathedral of St. Isaac. The cab drivers are insane, the builders of the city incredible, its artists unparallel. This city of 354 bridges has captured my imagination.
Wednesday, May 22nd (265 photos taken)
We began the day with a trip to the orphanage and "half-way" house. Our purpose was to consult with the staff -- all five of them showed up and seemed to be genuinely appreciative and encouraged by our consultation. They were mostly interested in how to handle disobedient children. I'm not sure our advice was so good, but that we listened was important. We met back at Mark Cathy's house at 2:00 p.m. and made our way to the river Neva where we bought tickets to the Peterhof, the Grand Palace on the Baltic Ocean that has hundreds of fountains, powered purely by gravity from a couple of diverted rivers. This intricate complex of pipes was designed 300 years ago by Peter the Great himself. What struck me most was (1) the statues of Greek Gods. They all tell stories, most of which I'm ignorant of but Peter was very familiar with. (2) He was not only a brilliant engineer, he was a prankster, designing fountains that drenched unsuspecting passersby. He loved to tease those who acted too presumptuously. We rode the hydrophoil back and ate at the Literary Cafe where Pushkin ate his last meal before going out to duel a nobleman accused falsely of sleeping with Pushkin's wife. He was shot in the stomach and died several days later. We were serenaded during dinner with live piano, violin and opera -- Fabulous! On the way home we stopped to exchange Rubles. I used the ATM and discovered I have more than 175,000 Rubles in my account. That's nice.
Thursday, May 23rd (468 photos taken)
We began our day with a trip to the store to get eggs for breakfast. They were brown, fresh and delicious. At 9:00 Lada (Ludmilla) showed up and we hailed a cab to the Hermitage. After an hour exchanging money at the bank (I actually had to open and then immediately close an account) we were off. The museum opened at 10:30 and that's when we arrived. Lada was a bit overbearing because she wanted to show us and tell us (in depth) about her favorite things rather than letting us enjoy it on our own. I can understand this since she loves this place and rightly so. Even so, it was one of the most magnificent days of my life. Oh the architecture, surpassed by the art (we saw rooms full of Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso, Michelangelo, Raphael, etc. The floors were wood, marble and mosaics -- master pieces. The walls were ornamented wood and marble, overlays of gold and scenes by masters. The ceilings even were delicious to the eyes so when one collapsed form exhaustion from looking at the art, s/he leans back in the chair only to discover a whole world leering from above. The sculpture, antiquities, jewels, vases, thrones, basins, en the Regal and lofty open spaces bombard your senses. It will take years to assimilate in my mind what passed through my eyes today. On the way home we stopped to get souvenirs at a flee market by the church of spilt blood and in a china shop with beautiful tea pots. We returned early to the apartment at 7:30 and I threw together a European style meal of ham sandwiches, herring in shrimp sauce, nuts, cheese and chocolate for dessert. I thank God that he created us in his image with a delight for beauty and diversity, the penchant for creating it and a hunger for imbibing it.
Saturday, May 25th (649 photos taken)
Yesterday was Catherine's palace at Pushkin, supper at the cabin in the woods and an evening of the Nutcracker at the Marinski Palace theater. It couldn't have been more lovely. We then took our stuff to the train station and boarded at 11:00 p.m. to arrive in Moscow at 6:50 a.m. There was a fourth person in our cabin and he seemed put out to be in such close proximity with "illiterate" Americans. But other than that it wasn't nearly as frightening as we had heard and read about. From the train station Max Goins led us to the apartments. I stayed with Max and Steve and Bob with Rex and Sue Wolfe. We rested for an hour and then were off to teach. I went from 9:15-11:00 a.m. and Bob from 11:00 - 11:45. We broke for tea. Several business people wanted more of Bob so they went to another room. We both lectured from 12:15-3:30. My translator, Constantine is excellent and is very interested in translating the Life of Christ books as well as the internet class C.D.'s. This cold get real interesting. May God be honored should these become the standard LOC texts of the great nation of Russia.
Sunday, May 26th (682 photos taken)
We got up about 8:30 and spent the morning shopping with Rex and Sue Wolfe in the flee market. I bought Joshua a military police hat and a knife. We ate shish kebob for lunch in the 82 Olympic park area. The afternoon was filed with a three hour graduation and church service. During the first hour I helped pass out diplomas for the graduation that was followed by a two hour worship service during which I preached to the three graduates with 120 or so spectators/church members. Afterwards Cornelius and I with with Denise to get a cup of tea and talk about translating the Life of Christ works into Russian. These are exciting times in Russia and I'm glad to be a part of it vicariously through my books. We joined the group for a late dinner (9:00 p.m.). Now I'm in bed at 12:10 and looking forward to seeing the Kremlin and Red square tomorrow.
Monday, May 27th (748 photos taken)
We got a late start but made our way to Red Square by 11:30. there we saw the GUM, Lennin's tomb, the Kremlin, and of course, the church of St. Basil. We took lots and lots of pictures. It was deeply moving to be in the center of the Soviet Power and realize that it has at each end of the square a church. The cross of Christ never ceased to fly above the communist empire. Back at Max' apartment we were treated to a gourmet dinner of duck and Russian salad. We got to the train station at 10:00 p.m. and left at 11:00 p.m. on the dot. We thought we had a cabin to ourselves but a late comer was thrust upon us. Bob shouted "NYET" when this straggler tried to enter. Sullenly he went away only to return with the conductor. Our privacy and security at been penetrated. Our very subdued companion went to sleep right away. At 6:30 a.m. we were back in St. Petersburg.
Tuesday, May 28th (805 photos taken)
Our day started early at the train station and never slowed down. We packed at the apartment and then Steve and I took an hour walk by the Neva rather than sleep. At 11:00 we met at Mark's apartment and went to lunch with Paul so he and I could talk theology. We spent the whole day together and I found it fascinating. We talked a great deal abut the gospel of John, about East/West thinking and about the future of the protestant church in Russia. It is guys like him that will be the future of Russia spirituality. How this country needs the true gospel of Jesus Christ. How I want to participate but for now I must be resigned to send, not go. It was good for us to visit. I'm not sure which of us carried away more from our consultation. After lunch we took Bob to buy some art, Steve and Pavel and I went to the flee market by the church of spilt blood. Then Pavel and I went on alone to St Isaacs, the Sphinx and to dinner at a Chinese Restaurant to continue our conversation. After dinner we met up with the group again at the Russian fold dance. We sat on the very front row which afforded me the opportunity to be pulled on stage and dance with the Russian ladies -- man was I good! It was such a fun show and a perfect way to end our adventure. It is now less than 36 hours before I see my wife and kids and my heart is ready to explode with longing. Phone lines out of the country have been out so I keep playing her voice in my head. I hear laughter and I long for embrace.