Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas day 12/25/08

Christmas day 

Wind 8-10 mph
Light Snow

Christmas day is one of two days that the missionaries can talk to their families; the other is Mother's Day. It started off as the Assistants were supposed to arrive at 7AM for calls to their families on our SKYPE phone line, but at 6:45 AM we get a call from them saying that our "domaphone" doesn't work. That is the call box on the outside of our building near the entry door. Just then someone with a key, coming into the building, let them in and they said they would be right up. I was getting on my sweat pants and ready to go open the door, but they never came. Ten minutes later our domaphone buzzed and it was them, laughing. I buzzed them in and when they came in the apartment they were still laughing; they had rung the domaphone on the wrong building at 6:45 AM.

They said that when the guy with the key let them in, they went to the elevator and got in, noticing that it was a very nice elevator. Part-way up they realized that they were in the wrong elevator inthe wrong building (ours smells like an airport men's room) and quickly exited before whoever was in apartment 40 came out.
Around 9 AM the Zone Leaders came to make their calls because their phone bill had not been paid and while they were in Madrid last week their phone was shut off and not working now. It is always interesting to see what comes from the next call on my cell phone, but we are always ready to respond to their needs. As it happened, four elders asked us to SKYPE their families and get them to change the phone number they were going to call because they forgot to pay their bills.

By around 11 AM we were ready to take our portion of the food and ourselves to the Mickelsen's for the day's activities. President Gushchin drove the 6 of us and we were grateful for the ride through the snow.

At the mission home we played games (the elders played Risk), sang, told about our favorite Christmas memories, and did a white elephant gift exchange. Along with that, Sister Cindy and I gave each missionary a pair of stockings stuffed with candy from America.

Actually, we stuffed one sock, plugged that sock with its mate and tied a ribbon around the end. We stayed up until 3:00 am one night to get them done to be delivered to the cities via the President and Assistants on their Zone Conference rounds and by some elders returning to their cities from visa trips.

The video clip below was started that night after we began to reminisce about our friends and family at home and their sending us the candies that we were now giving to the missionaries. It was such a sweet moment of remembering, missing, and thanking.

After the presents we watched Jimmie Stewart and Donna Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life". I cried through the last half-hour as I always do because it is so touching to be reminded how precious friends are in your time of need. We are not in so much of a need, but we are away from home and remembering what we are NOT doing with those close to us. It is one of the few times that I have really missed our friends & family and the things that have made Christmas a time of joy and celebration. I'm sure that the missionaries feel that even more keenly and we are so grateful to be able to fill some of that void, but no matter, in those quiet hours before dawn, they have to be shedding a tear for those they miss.

As the party ended and we all went to our apartments, we reflected on the day, the occasion, our condition, and the times. We opened the last of our little gifts that family had sent to us and I felt peaceful in our place.

I continue to think of the people of Russia, specifically of Novosibirsk. Whatever frustration and even anger I may feel sometimes at what people do to each other, and to me in the process, it is tempered with compassion for them and the fact that their current condition is all they have. They will not "go home" as I will in a few months, and this is all there is. It must be just as maddening to them as it is to me at times.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real hope for anyone, but especially for people who are discouraged and disheartened. To know that they are children of a loving Father in Heaven can be so life-changing. That fact alone can show you your worth and can give you a new perspective of who you really are. To know that Jesus Christ died to take away their sins, and, if they will repent, they can be clean and whole before God at the judgement. That has got to give the most disheartened hope.

Those who have been baptized and begin to live in keeping with God's laws ARE happier. They look happier and they voluntarily say that they are happier. We see it in the new converts. We see it in the old members who live their lives in keeping with the standards of honesty, charity, brotherly love, chastity, and sacrifice that the Gospel teaches and demands of it's adherents. These people are little lights in a dark place and they are noticed. When they are together, they are even brighter.

I know that God the Father has sent our missionaries here because the whole need no physician. I know that God loves the people of Russia, particularly those who are searching for the Truth. He has allowed us to be his hands and feet to search them out and bring them home to Him. He has inconvenienced a few of us for a few months for the eternal welfare of His children here who recognize His voice in the Gospel. It is a small price.

What a country. What a blessing. What a God.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve 2008 12/24/08

Christmas Eve 2008 

Weather report:
Light snow last night
Wind calm
Temp -18c

If you'd asked me last Christmas what I would be doing at this time next year, I would have guessed many things, but not this. We are celebrating the commemoration of Jesus' birth in a country that is largely a stranger to Jesus the Christ. There are pockets of believers who are acknowledging Him today, but for the most part this is a normal business day in Novosibirsk Russia and His birth and life are far from their minds.

The big holiday here is New Years. In fact, the entire country goes on holiday for 5 days from New Year's eve. However, most people we know take off to Monday the 12th of January. Banks, services, businesses are all closed or working on skeleton crew status.

"In 1929 Soviet authorities abolished Christmas and fir-tree decorations that were declared priest-like customs. The New Year was also abandoned. However, following the article 'Let's Organize a Nice Fir-Tree for Children for the New Year!' by Pavel Postyshev, published in the major Soviet newspaper Pravda in the end of 1935, fir-trees and New Year festivities returned to people's homes on December 31, 1935. Yet, it was not until 1949 that January 1 became an official day-off."

The Russian version of Santa Claus is Father Frost. I quote Amanda Kendle's internet article on him. "Father Frost (the Russian name sounds something like Ded Moroz . . . is purported to look similar to our Santa, only he has no reindeer and doesn't come secretly through the chimney. Instead, he visits children in person at New Year's Eve parties and brings them gifts. He's accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), and both of them spend the rest of the year in residence in the Russian town of Veliky Ustyug."

Last night sister Simmons fed 15 missionaries a Simmons traditional dinner with roast beef (I think), mashed potatoes, Broccoli & cauliflower, cranberry jello, rolls, and red velvet cake/ice cream for desert. They had one hour to enjoy Christmas Dinner before hitting the streets again for meetings and contacting (a street form of tracting). She stayed up (me too) until past 2 AM to be sure it was all ready and we then left the office at 2 PM to get her home to do the actual cooking while I went with the office elders to get haircuts (better this time).

This picture of our Christmas table shows only the faces and cannot show either their hearts or our. Mine, I know, was filled with love for them and nostalgia for my family and our own traditions that many of my children are carrying on in our absence. I am so proud of them and pleased that they value the things we did to continue them in their own homes. Traditions are the cement that join the generations and preserve our culture. I love our traditions and treasure them and the memories of times past with our children and friends.

Today we mix these old traditions with our new circumstances and begin new traditions as we are hosting several elders who will call their families on our SKYPE though the morning. About 11 AM Yuri Gushin will pick us for the Mickelsen's and we will spend the day with the missionaries singing carols, watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and playing games. It is truly a rest day for the missionaries.
These are some of the best people on earth at this time. They have come where they were called, to this dark place to bring some light to those seeking it. They light people's little candle and cast small pools of light into the darkness. As these candles gather together in clusters, they light their little corner of this dark place. Some day they will be torches and bonfires where now they are just small candles flickering in the wind of opposition that threatens to extinguish them. We are here to add fuel to their flames and help them to shield that flame from the storm.

What a country. What a time of year. What a privileged.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Back on the Farm" The office in Novosibirsk 12/20/08

"Back on the Farm" The office in Novosibirsk 

Light snow
Wind 5-7 mph
Temp -18c

By now we are back in the groove and attending a baptism at the Left Bank chapel, the District Christmas program, and having the Gushin's for soup and a game after. The baptism was great as usual.

The District held a Christmas activity including a nativity, skits, a small choir, and a box of chocolates for every adult and a big gold chocolate coin for the children. It was difficult to understand everything (in Russian) but the story is well known to us and the skits were pretty obvious; A great activity.

We later had the Gushchins to our home for dinner and their first game of UNO. They do not play games and this was a new experience. The Tortilla Soup was wonderful and the game was fun. What a nice family. Here is sister Gushchin with her grandson Pasha after the program.

Thinking back, we enjoyed Madrid just as we enjoyed Prague, but we don't belong in either city now. Novosibirsk is our home and these are our members and missionaries.

I do have to comment on some differences between Madrid and Novosibirsk. It is an observation about the spirit of the place. In Novo, when you ride the Metro (underground) the only sound is the train. Almost no one talks or looks at other people on the train. You could be crushed cheek to jowl or in an almost-empty train, in either case there is almost no interaction except possibly young lovers or a couple of babushkas gossiping. On the street it is the same. There you don't talk to people or look at them. The phrase from one of our YSA's is, "Don't bother strangers".

In Madrid it couldn't be more opposite. On the Metro there is an audible hum of conversation with people laughing, and a feeling of simple happiness. On the street, people smile at strangers, give directions when asked, and the spirit is genial joviality everywhere. It is a very pleasant place to be. We even got entertainment on the Metro.

Now in Novo, we got back to work with our office tasks, preparing for transfers on the 10th, and looking forward to Zone Leader Conference. Let me make this clear, we are not unhappy to return here and we are not angry, as we have heard from others, to be back in Russia. This is where we belong and where we can make the biggest contribution to the work. It is not about our own comfort and convenience. It is about service to God and our people.

What a country

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Segovia & the Aqueduct 12/5/08

Segovia & the Aqueduct 

Friday we took a half-day trip north to Segovia by bus. We bought the tickets at the bus station and found that we had specific seats on a specific bus. The Palmers, the Bowdens and us wanted to see the ancient (Roman) aqueduct that was still being used to transport water into the town up until just a few years ago.

After an hour and a quarter ride we arrived at the Segovia bus station south of the main part of town. As we headed to the exit we stopped at a tourist information stall and got a map that was very useful. As we exited the station, crossed the street and rounded the end of a building at the corner, this is the sight that presented itself. The elevated section of the aqueduct really dominated the scene. From where I took this picture, I turned to the left and saw the Church of St. Andrew, above.

The old city is built on top of a long, narrow promontory. It contains many old structures, including the central cathedral, the famous ancient Roman aqueduct, the Alcázar castle, and various churches built in the Romanesque style including San Esteban, San Martin, San Andrew, and San Millan. The old city is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is surrounded by walls built in the 8th century AD on a Roman base and then rebuilt extensively during the 15th century.

The Aqueduct of Segovia, the most recognized and famous symbol of Segovia, ends at the entrance of the historic section of the town. It was built at the end of 1st to early 2nd century BC by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío (Cold River) that is about 18 km away from the city, requiring an elevated section in its last kilometer.

From the internet, "This elevated section is supported by an engineering marvel of 166 arches and 120 pillars in two levels. It is made of 20,400 large, rough-hewn granite blocks, joined without mortar or clamps. Its maximum height of 28.1 m (100.53 ft) is found at the plaza of Azoguejo. A raised section of stonework in the center once had an inscription. Today only the holes for the bronze letters survive."

The stone blocks were hoisted up to stack on one another using scissor clamps, much like a set of old ice tongs, that fit in these holes and provided purchase for the iron clamps. The heavier the block, the tighter the grip on the block.
At the base of one of the central arches is a niche filled with a statue of a woman and child. One is forced to consider the Madonna given the dominance of the Catholic church here, but remember that this was built by Romans well before the Christian era. The UNESCO web site has an interesting video that you may enjoy. To view it on your PC, go to

We walked the town to the west, through the narrow streets to the central plaza in front of the cathedral called "the lady". In this central square we tried to find a restaurant that was open, that we could all agree on. I had chosen two places along the way that the others didn't like, so I opted out of the gastronomical leadership and waited for direction.

In the mean time, we stopped by two gypsy ladies selling shawls and scarves. They said that each was made by hand and was the labor of many hours. When we finally found a restaurant and had eaten, on the way out we passed them packing up into boxes labeled, "Made in China". Well, they may have been hand made, but it probably wasn't in Spain. Here we are with the one that sold Sister Cindy a crocheted and beaded decorative over-blouse. Boy was she a saleswoman. I think she might have been attractive 50 years and 150 lbs ago, but she was just unique now. I think the tooth count was about even; half gone.

After lunch, at a restaurant founded by a toreador (that I had to pick due to inertia in the group) we continued past the cathedral and down the narrow streets to the Alcázar castle-palace perched at the tip of the town's promontory.

It is said that this castle started off as an Arab fort that was conquered by King Alfonso VI at the end of the 11th century. During the Middle Ages, the Alcazar of Segovia was the favorite residence of many kings of Castile, and many of them added new parts to the building, transforming the original fortress into a "modern" residence. King Philip II finally added the conical spires and the slate roofs. A fire in 1862 destroyed part of the roofs, but they were restored in the very same style they were built more than 300 years ago.

On the grounds of the of the castle was a monument to the heroes of the Spanish Civil War. My Spanish was not good enough to read the details, but that was the general description. I am so glad that no one laughed at my attempts at Spanish.

We walked the narrow streets again back to the center of town and waited while the more adventurous ones climbed down the aqueduct from the top to the bottom at the plaza.

On the way back I took pictures of lots of old doors. I am fascinated with doors because I imagine what has taken place at those doors. The heroes who have passed through them, the villains who have pounded on them, the mothers who have cowered behind them, the fathers who have defended them, the children who have played within them, the coffins that have passed through them. Doors are portals to stories yet untold except to those with the imagination to write them.

We slept through the trip home and were glad to be back in Madrid on time. This was the day when we would get what we actually came for; our Russian Visas. We found the building where the visa service offices were and rode the antique, 2 person, open cage elevator to the 6th floor and found the office. After examining our documents and putting them safely in our security pouches, we were off to the MTC for dinner and a visit with President and Sister Hill, the MTC President, and their computers to check our emails.

We had one more night at our hotel and then we could stay at the MTC a night before going home. Tomorrow we would go to the Temple twice. It is such a blessing to again enjoy Temple worship after six months of absence.

What a nice day in this nice country.

A Trip to Toledo 12/4/08

A Trip to Toledo 

Thursday the 4th we and the Bowdens took a bullet train to the old Spanish capitol, Toledo. Spain has a wonderfully modern train system run by Renfe. "Renfe Operadora" is the state-owned company which operates freight and passenger train networks of the Spanish national railway infrastructure company ADIF (Administrador de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias).

Each car has a number and your ticket specifies your car and seat number. These folks are organized. Even the bus we took on Friday sold its tickets with specific seat numbers. This trip took about 25 minutes and goes the 70 km south to Toledo without a stop. That means we were traveling at 145 kph. The Bowdens hardly had time for a nap when the train slowed and stopped at the Toledo Train Depot.

After a false start or two, we found a bus to take us up the hill (one Euro, one way) to the old town center and to a tram that took us on a 45 minute rumbly-bumpy tour of the historic sites on 12" hard rubber wheels across cobble-stone roads around the hills that Toledo is built upon. It just about put Elder Bowden in the hospital because he has some serious back problems from an old injury.

Here is a little background on the city from our old friends at Wikipedia. "Toledo (Latin: Toletum) is a city and municipality located in central Spain, 70 km south of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of Toledo and of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage as one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire and place of coexistence for Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures. Many famous people and artists were born or lived in Toledo, including Al-Zarqali, Garcilaso de la Vega, Alfonso X and El Greco. It was also the place of important historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. As of 2007, the city has a population of 78,618 and an area of 232.1 km² (89.59 square miles)."

The story of Don Quixote is set in La Mancha, this very place, and figurines of the famous don and his side-kick are to be found in every store. His full name was Don Quixote de la Mancha and he is the central icon of La Mancha. The character of Don Quixote became so well-known in its time that the word quixotic was quickly added into many languages. Characters such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote’s steed, Rocinante, are also to be found everywhere. The phrase "tilting at windmills" to describe an act of futility similarly is derived from a scene in the book.

This area was also famous for sword making. Again from Wikipedia: "Toledo was famed for its production of iron and especially of swords and the city is still a center for the manufacture of knives and other steel implements. When Philip II moved the royal court from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the old city went into a slow decline from which it never recovered." It covers several hills, much like Rome, to make it less vulnerable to attack and as you can see it is very tightly packed with centuries-old buildings.

Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces. It was closed now to visitors for the season, but was formidable even at a distance.

The city is surrounded by a wall on three sides and the river on the fourth. It is said that parts of the City Wall are made of Jewish headstones after the Christians decided that Spain was exclusively for Christians. Before that time, this was truly an ecumenical city, with Jews, Christians, and Muslims living together during its Golden Age.
Here we look through one of the city's gates onto one of Toledo's narrow streets that were never intended for automobiles and don't accommodate them very well. At this gate, cars must stop in either direction and wait for the gate to clear before going through.

Here we are posing on another street in the city center as we looked for some curio to take as a remembrance of the city. We finally found a painting of the city with the bridge and castle. It is a little pale, but quite representative of the colors actually in the city. Being made of local stone and plaster, it blends into the landscape very well.

Toledo is not a city to be taken lightly. It is full of history, story, and romance. It also has its own McDonalds, right next to the main street where we ate dinner under umbrellas and those "lamppost heaters". You cannot discount a city with a McDonalds.
We loved Toledo. They have preserved the old city within the walls and kept the modern development outside. Evan the craft fair on the central plaza was devoid of trashy modern items. Here the Bowdens considering a loaf of bread from the baker. Across the isle, several local cheeses were for sale along with roasted nuts, and even the curios were in keeping with the city's historical theme.

It was not until we decided to leave for the train station that we again encountered modern Spain. As we were an hour early for the train, Sister Cindy asked if we could just ride the bus for a while. As it turned out, we rode it into the next town and began to get a little nervous so we got off the bus, crossed the street, and waited for a bus going the other way. We waited, and waited, and waited, getting more nervous all the time. When a bus with the same number finally came, yep, it was our original bus that had made a U-turn somewhere and was headed back to Toledo. We made the train with 5 minutes to spare and had a restful ride back to the train station in Madrid.

I have been impressed with Spain. They have preserved the integrity of their historical sites, at least this one, and not compromised their history, beauty, or uniqueness with tinsel and trash. I sense a genuine respect for the past and desire to show it to others. Our next trip would cement that opinion in my heart.

What a nice country.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Madrid Visa Trip Day 2, 12/3/08

Madrid Visa Trip Day 2, 

Madrid Weather
Wind 7-10 mph
+2 c

We arrived late last night at the Hotel Convencion at O´Donnell 53 in downtown Madrid. This morning we went to the Missionary Training Center in the Pavones neighborhood of southwest Madrid. The taxi driver knew it as the Templo Mormones; the big white building with the angel on the top blowing the horn.

As we arrived, we met our friends the Palmers who were in our MTC class and are missionaries in Yekaterinburg. They came to the MTC two weeks ago to renew their visas, but did not have an invitation to return to their mission. It was supposed to be "in the mail", but never arrived. They hope to have it by the end of next week and be able to go home to their mission.

We checked in on the 4th floor and gave our passports to the administrator, brother Arjona, who would get them to the Currier service that will have our new visas ready on Friday between 5 & 6 PM.

The quick tour of the Temple and MTC square goes something like this. The Temple block is southeast of downtown Madrid on a street called Calle Templo in the Pavones district, but that is the name of only one block and no one seems to know it by that name.

As you stand on that street looking west the three buildings on the square make up three sides of the Square facing the center with the open side where you stand. Directly ahead the Temple faces you just beyond a series of three pools that I suppose have some kind of water spray, but it was all turned off this weekend (maybe for the winter). To the left you see the red-brick 6 story building that houses, starting from the street, the Institute classrooms, the Family History Center, the Distribution Center, and the entry to the MTC with its hostel on the 2nd floor, the 3rd floor Temple Missionary housing, the 4th floor MTC offices & classrooms, the 5th floor MTC missionary housing, and the 6th floor cafeteria facility.

Back on the street, to the right is a two-story, red-brick Stake Center with the large meeting room, gym, and classrooms that you would expect. We didn't go into this building because we attended church with the missionaries. In the center quad are trees in red-brick planters and the pansies that the temples all sport in winter.

Wednesday morning, after dropping off our documents, we got on the Metro and headed for downtown where we got on a City Tour bus to ride the Blue Route and get an overview of things and rest our feet. It is a city of broad main streets and avenues festooned with trees and shrubs still beautiful in the early December sun which quickly faded to gray as the clouds gathered and the wind began to blow. We got on the top of the double-decker bus and had the front seats unchallenged by less hearty tourists. At the tour's end we warmed up with a Starbuck's hot chocolate and prepared for our second tour.

Waiting for the light to change to green at the pedestrian crossing I turned around, looked at the building behind me and thought there were people in the windows looking at me and one another. In six windows there were figures standing or frozen in various poses and looking very life-like. It was an antique store. I don't know what the figures represented, but it was interesting.

On our way across the Avenue to the new Red Route bus, we stopped at some stalls in the avenue park-like area and browsed through some scarves and other woven stuff. Sister Bowden bought a knitted hat and scarf, Elder Bowden and I got longer scarfs to double around our necks on the bus, and Sister Cindy just browsed. Eventually the rain came and we broke out the umbrellas during our exploration of the Red Route that took us into some of the neighborhoods with their narrower streets and older homes and businesses. We tried to spot good restaurants for dinner, but lost our bearings after leaving the bus.

After the Red Route adventure, we decided to try to eat around 4:30 pm before it got too dark. We wanted to take the routes again when the city's lights were on. Now, you have to remember that this is Spain and siesta time between 3 and 5 pm is a deeply ingrained institution there. As we moved from restaurant to restaurant we found small groups of people gathered in these restaurants having an intimate meal, clearly not wanting to be disturbed by some Americans looking for an ethnic experience. After 5 pm, we found a small plaza with a handful of restaurants and picked one on based on the recommendation of some young ladies exiting as we read the menu.

We each ordered something we thought might be good, but still ethnic. I ordered stewed Bull's tail and it was wonderful, with potatoes and a wonderful brown gravy; Very Spanish. Here is my plate after the meal. You can see the tail bones on the side and the left-over potatoes & gravy. It was very ethnic and very good. We later found the same dish in many other restaurants under various names so I'm convinced that it is authentic.

The lights of Madrid are now our focus. We found the bus line again and got our front seats again. This time it is not raining, but it is colder than I remembered. In my wisdom I had left my hat in the hotel because this is Madrid, not Novosibirsk, and I probably would not need it; WRONG! I finally wrapped my new scarf around my head in a feeble attempt to preserve some body heat. I was hoping to not be mistaken for a Muslim terrorist with my big bulky coat and cloth-covered head.

The lights of the downtown area are bright and creative. At major intersections there are net trees festooned with lights of various shapes and sizes. Garlands of light hang across every major street, each one having a different pattern. Here are two different ones. I wish I could show all of the pictures that I took, but these will give an indication of the show this city puts on. The video clips below show some of the moving displays. There was one we saw a couple of times that looked like falling stars running down the side of the building; very impressive.

Madrid is a city alive. It is filled with people who are obviously alive emotionally and mentally. People stopped on the street to help us. They greeted one another warmly and conversed openly. On the Metro there was a buzz of conversation with many smiles and some laughter. The lights, the noise, the laughter, the smiles are all indications of a city full of life and light. Although we were strangers and obviously not Spanish, we did not feel shunned or unwelcome. You felt the energy and life of the city and soaked it up, charging our batteries for your return home.

What a nice country.

Hello Winter 12/2/08

Hello Winter 

This is a series of postings about our Visa Renewal trip to Madrid. This was written in the Madrid MTC and will have pictures added in a few days so come back and see them.

Tuesday, December 2, Elder and Sister Bowden, a Humanitarian Missionary couple from Tomsk, and Sister Cindy and I, left the Novosibirsk airport for Moscow and finally Madrid, for our visa renewal trip. The sign above a local building along the way to the airport read "Temp -28 C". I can tell you from personal experience, THAT´S COLD. It even hurt to breath. President Gushin a native Siberian, even had to admit that it was pretty cold that morning.

The trip to Moscow was pretty uneventful and we slept a lot of the way. I noticed a family a couple of rows ahead of us with an infant and a teenage girl. The mother seemed particularly attentive to the infant, I guessed about a year old, and the teenager was also willing to hold and talk to it.

As it turned out, we met them again while waiting for our luggage and discovered that they were returning home to Indiana from Novosibirsk with an infant that they had just adopted from an orphanage that Sister Cindy (and company) had visited just a couple of weeks before. In fact, Elder Bowden thought he had a picture of that very infant having lunch in the orphanage. They said that the agency was very supportive and helpful, but the government workers and courts made it very difficult. We have heard this a lot over the years with adoptions abroad and we wished them well.

For those who either didn´t know or don´t remember, we have to leave Russia every 90 days to renew our visas. We were sent to Prague last time and this trip was to Madrid, but everything has to go through Moscow. We knew that we had a 12 hour layover so we contacted a friend, our "kresha" (roof, or protector) in Novo and asked if he knew anyone in Moscow who would get us to and from the airport and shepherd us around Red Square and any other sights during that time. We eventually got connected with Igor Pavlov, an LDS university student, who did just that.

Igor was a delightful young man of 19, studying to be a translator. He attends a university in Moscow, but he had the day off because it was ROTC day and he has a military exemption and could skip it.

He met us at Sheremetyevo 1 airport where many of the domestic flights land and got us on the usual bus to Moscow Sheremetyevo 2 Airport (SVO), the international airport, to stow our luggage in a locker room. The attendant must have been an immigrant because he was friendly and jovial. When we paid and left he said, ¨Bye-Bye¨ and smiled broadly. We said dasvedonya and he said bye-bye again so it wasn´t a fluke; immigrant for sure.

Igor got us all on an express bus to the Metro and then on to Red Square where we toured the Armory and walked the Square. We had to jog a little to get to the Armory ticket booth before our noon entry time elapsed, but we made it OK. Several busloads of soldiers in dress uniforms and flags were forming up for a parade of some kind and we saw them on our return trip. We also saw parts of a band that was heading up the group. The tomb of the Unknowns was near and that may have been their destination.

As is usually the case, the ticket booth was at the opposite end of the Kremlin wall from the Metro exit and the Armory entry was even farther around the Kremlin to the south gate where we passed through the metal detectors and into the interior (right).

For those who are unfamiliar with the history of the Kremlin, it was begun as a fort for protection against the marauding Mongol ¨hordes¨ who regularly raided Muscovite cities for supplies while they were burning and ravaging the country-side. Pillage and rape are exhausting work and require calories in this difficult climate. Since the pillagers had little time to till the soil, they depended on the local villages to provide for their needs.

From the web site, ¨History World¨ I took the following excerpt entitled, ¨The Golden Horde: AD 1237-1395¨. ¨Zolotaya Orda, or the Golden Horde, is the name given by Russians to the invading Mongols who sweep through the country starting in 1237 and who subsequently dominated the region for nearly two centuries from their encampments on the lower reaches of the Volga. The name is traditionally said to derive from a golden tent used by the horde's leader, Batu Khan. Most of the Russian cities of any note were ravaged by the Mongols in the two years between their sacking of Moscow (1238) and of Kiev (1240). But the horde then moved south.¨

And from the IUSB History Department, ¨The Mongols ruled Russia for 240 years during the 13th to 15th centuries. One of the greatest effects of Mongol rule in Russia was the rise of Moscow as not only the preeminent city in Russia but also the central power of a large and expanding empire.¨

The first version of the Kremlin, just like the rest of Moscow, was wood and was burned numerous times while fighting the Mongols over 2 centuries. The later expanded stone version was more resistant to invaders and was made of white limestone. The current version, faced with red brick, has stood for centuries.

Inside the Kremlin we find the residence of all the Czars up to Nicholas and the current seat of the Russian Executive. As we walk to the Armory entry, many large black limousines and suburban-like cars whiz by with sirens their blue lights flashing, often in caravans of 3 to 8 vehicles and driving like there was no one else on the streets.

The Armory houses the national treasures of Russia including crowns, weaponry, dresses,
carriages, art, china, silver service, etc. all associated with the ruling class of historic Russia. We visited the Armory in 1990 with our children in tow and it is still very much the same.

As we emerged from the Kremlin, we saw the soldiers returning to their buses. I think that they had some kind of event at the tomb of the Unknown that is located at the north-east corner of the Kremlin wall with its eternal flame and monument. Our way along the path paralleling the wall was blocked by police and we never saw what was actually happening.

As we passed from south-west to north-east we passed an area of fountains, emptied for the winter, but they still made a dramatic appearance. Igor said that people often waded and swam in the fountains during the summer. As we looked from the fountains to the left we passed one of the several temples to western capitalism; McDonalds. Twenty or more people were lined up at the take-out window to get a Big Mac or box of McNuggets because the outside entry was locked, forcing you to enter through the shopping mall associated with this store.

It was getting cold during the late afternoon as we walked to St Basil´s , to GUM´s (formerly the showpiece of soviet luxury) and to a snack at one of their cafes. GUM is an acronym of three Russian words that I don't know, but they stood for the highest quality and most luxury to be found in Soviet Russia. Currently, it is just Sax-5th Avenue on Red Square. It seems that now their luxury comes from the Western World.

As we passed Lenin's tomb, it was interesting to note that NO ONE was in line to see the mummified patriarch of communism. During our first trip in 1990, you had to stand in line for hours to pass by his glass-encased body in an open coffin. Now, the only person at the shrine was a very casual and disinterested soldier who I presumed was a guard, without even so much as a night-stick to guard the tomb. How far the great are fallen. "Who did you say was buried in Lenin's Tomb?

Where the terrible weapons of the "Cold War" once paraded, now stands an ice-skating rink complete with the "Skater's Waltz" playing in the background. It is slightly surreal to imagine those missiles and their surely crews parading in front of Lenin's tomb to the delight of Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the like. Now, a little Jewish fellow from New York charges the locals 100 roubles an hour to skate up and down that same thoroughfare that used to make the West quake. (I don't know if the owner is Jewish or where he/she is from. It just heightened the irony)

Finally we walked again the few blocks to the Metro, rode to the end of the line, hopped an express bus and to the airport. Again, the little immigrant man at the luggage lockers bid us a "bye-bye" and we headed to the ticket counter while Igor headed for the bus home.

We enjoyed the scenery and the experience, but I most enjoyed Igor. I spent much of the time talking to him about his schooling, family, and future plans and forgot to take very many pictures. We all encouraged him to plan for a mission and tried to impress upon him the importance of serving the Lord in these difficult times for American Missionaries. He would be a great asset to any mission.

What a country.