From Moscow, Russia, a very big hello & welcome back! I'm only a stone-throw from the infamous Kremlin in downtown Moscow on a mild winter's night. I'm now roughly 9,200km from Vladivostok, where Justin & I began our trans-siberian trek 7days ago. We were already behind schedule because of the passport fiasco but we were set back even further when our train was cancelled & we were forced to catch a slower second train the following day that was scheduled to arrive in Moscow today (the 16th), which also happened to be the day Justin was scheduled to fly back home. All of a sudden our plans for making a few stops along the world's longest continuous railway in order to visit the local churches & take in a few snippets of Siberian life were dashed. It would instead be a non-stop, 7day train ride. Each carriage on the train has 9 cabins with two double bunks in each & each carriage is looked after for the entire trip by a worker called "The Provinitser". As we approached the train Justin commented that, especially because of the language barrier, we should get on the good side of the Provinitser to make the journey a little easier. As we walked along the platform to our carriage we saw a lady knock on her carriage's door & the provinitser opened up for her, so when we arrived at our carriage we did exactly the same thing. In hind sight Justin & I think that the lady a few carriages up was a perhaps worker for the trains because when our Provinitser came to the door she didn't open it, instead, she opened her mouth with the most severe Russian tyrade the human race has ever encountered (possibly). We didn't understand a single word she blasted out, but we got the point. She disappeared back inside & Justo & I simply stood outside the train in silence, staring at our reflection in the door, trying to make sense of our failed relationship with the Provinitser. Eventually the door did open up &, along with a few gathered patrons, we boarded our home for the next week. The Provinitser was about 5ft tall & she didn't crack a smile the whole afternoon. Late in the evening we'd made a stop at a small secluded town & as I made my way up to the carriage's hot water urn I noticed the Provinitser struggling at the door with a new passenger's over-sized travel case. It was a divine appointment as I was able to carry the luggage to the cabin & although the Provinitser didn't say thankyou she at least smiled at us about 3 hours later. The trip was long. And Russia in winter is pretty similar even over 9000km worth of track - icy, cold & white. Justin & I were joined in our cabin by Alexi & Angela, a father a daughter who were travelling back to their home town just outside Moscow. They didn't speak any english & we didn't speak russian so it made for some animated conversations using mime & pictionary. They were beautiful cabin mates & when the conversation became too difficult to maintain we'd simply resort to sharing food with one another. The Russian towns along the journey provided the only interludes of change as we passed through townships settled by Europeans or Mongolians or even Tatars. The architecture was dazzlingly simply. Does that make sense? Basically, it was really basic, but so interesting. Some towns looked like fairy tale versions of the north pole; small wooden houses camped side by side with pencil-columns of smoke rising from every chimney. The most intersting part of the whole trip had to be the time when the train screeched to a hault sending my water bottles & books flying off the cabins table onto my head as I rested on my bed. We were in the middle of Russian wilderness (east of Siberia) & word was spreading quickly that we may have just hit a man. We were all pearing out our windows & wouldn't you know it, there he was, lying in the snow outside our carriage. He was yelling something & moaning a lot but thankfully we soon realised that he hadn't been hit but instead, was heavily intoxicated. He had apparently tried to wave the train down from the middle of the tracks but managed to just staggered aside before being mowed down. He could see us looking out at him so he picked up a rock & hurled it at the window. The rock bounced off but he had thus earnt himself a meeting with one of the trains engineers who appeared on the scene carrying a hammer. I was a little concerned about what the hammer was going to be used for but after a quick conversation with the intoxicated gentleman, the only thing that was used was his boot. The engineer karate-kicked the drunk man in the chest & then gave him a quick royal boot up the backside & drove him away form the tracks. The last we saw of him he was stumbling his way back up into the forest towards a smouldering campfire. The engineer boarded the train & we started off down the track again. We said a quick prayer for him but there really wasn't much else for us to do. We really were like fish in a bowl, couped up in our carriage for whole week. There were no showers, just a cramped, smelly toilet with poor water flow from the tap. The only space away from our cabin was the space seperating the carriage from the linkage with the following carriage. Justin & I nicknamed it the 'meat-locker' as it generally stayed at the same temperature as the frozen wilderness outside. And for two days in a row, that was -39degC. I ventured out there a few times to do a few sets of push-ups but for the most part it was the smokers closet so between lung-freezing air & cancer-causing smoke I had to pick my time out there carefully. Justin & I also went very close to losing all our gear when we jumped off the train at Omsk, walked forward 8 carriages to the dining cart & re-boarded. We sat down for a meal & upon finishing up, made our way back through the now moving train. Back in our carriage, all mayham had broken loose when the train started up again because the other passengers (whom we'd all meet & begun to know well by this stage) had noticed us leaving the train but not getting back on. They had all been a little up-set that we'd been left behind but the end conclusion was that they'd turf our gear out at the next station. When we walked through the final 'meat-locker' into our carriage we were suprised to be met by a bizzare mixture of confused faces, arms in the air, smiles, laughter & a bit of a stern word from the Provinitser followed by a smile. We were very thankful for having arrived back from dinner before the next stop! That was our 2nd trip to the dining cart. On the 1st trip we'd met Nicholie, who sat down beside Justin, put his arm around him & declared that us Australians were beautiful. I think he was a smart man, but I think it freaked Justin out some what :-) Needless to say, we didn't venture back there for quite a few days, opting instead to eat from teh comfort of our cabin with Alexi & Angela. It was pretty rough trying to sleep in the cabins. The beds were small & the track was bumpy & loud. We also travelled through 7 time zones, which threw us out a bit as well. When I noticed that the sun was rising at 2pm I decided it was time to play with my watch. I thouroughly enjoyed my time with Justin as we prayed, ate, laughed & absorbed some russian culture together but all things must come to an end & Justo is currently on a flight back home to Perth in West Australia. Justin caught a cab from the Moscow train station (it was actually a bit sad saying goodbye to the other passengers form our cabin as well!) & I walked off down the busstling Moscow street into a settling snow shower. I made my way to the hostel I'm now in via Red Square, surrounded by the imposing Kremlin, the stunning St Basil's Cathedral &, in somewhat a sign of the times, an outdoor ice-rink opposite Lenin's tomb. I think the Russian figure skaters may have been training there. I was filming a bit & happened to focus in on one bloke who was gathering speed around the outside. He then launched into a triple-axle & nailed the landing. "Wow", I thought, "who are you?" His efforts gained some applause from the crowd some I'm just assuming he's famous. Does anyone out there follow figure skating? I'll send you the footage... From here I head south-west towards Belarus & Poland. Time is once again against me with the Russian visa requirements being very strict so I will need to get my skates on. All the best for the rest of the week & I'll try to write again on Sunday week. God bless, Sam.
"Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."" Mark 1:38
ps: It's the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity!! As a great "something we can do" please check out www.onedate.org to help along the process for Chrisitan unity & as always pray, pray away!