Moscow: Day 1

Today was our first full day in Moscow. It also was the coldest day of the winter season in the city, coming in at -19 degrees Celsius. Naturally, we wanted to explore after getting our first full rest. We were ready to go, cold and all.
We have been staying with Captain Julia and her friend Natasha through the Salvation Army. She has been very hospitable to us, housing us for our stay here and providing meals for us. Tonight she made borsch, a Russian staple. After hearing people tell me all about it every time they hear I was going to Russia, I was surprised that I liked it. According to one of the other Salvation Army officers, Julia makes the best borsch.
Today Julia didn’t really have much to do at the District Headquarters, so she accompanied us to our visit to the Red Square. It was relieving to have a guide and to not have to navigate the busy metro with our suitcases. After standing outside in the freezing cold to snap pictures, we checked our bags (you have to) and visited Lenin’s tomb. It was a surprising experience because a.) I didn’t realize we were going there at the moment and b.) The tomb was eerie.
 After going through security checkpoints after checking our bags, we walked to the tomb. The tomb is guarded by military men who stand expressionless, but ready to react if you make the wrong move. Once you enter the tomb, you have to take off your hat and gloves. Photography or any kind of electronic device is not permitted inside the tomb, and must be checked with the bags. Once you descend the stairs to the room containing Lenin, you must not make any noise as you walk around the preserved corpse contained inside a glass box. I am assuming he has been cryogenically frozen. There is little lighting in the room with the corpse. The only lighting is shining on the corpse itself, and it is red tinted. Our visit was brief.
Once we got back outside, most of us went to a nearby upscale shopping mall that caters to tourists because we really had to use the bathroom while Morgan and Julia unchecked our bags. The mall was three stories and very beautiful architecturally. It was interesting to see some familiar stores juxtaposed against unfamiliar ones. While Russian winter wear is vastly different than the States’  (hello, PETA!), everyday wear is different but somewhat similar.
When we reunited with Julia and Morgan we went outside again into the cold and took pictures in front of the iconic buildings at the Red Square. It was surreal to stand in a place steeped in so much history that I wish I knew more about.

After our quick photo-taking spree, we walked to what is supposedly the largest McDonald’s in the world. Honestly, I am skeptical about the claim because Orlando claims to have the largest one and so did the 2012 London Games. Anyways, it was nice to get out of the cold, eat some familiar food (I wasn’t brave enough to try anything new with my dairy allergy) and access wifi. At the apartment we are staying at, there is none, so communication has been spotty.
After lunch, we hopped on the metro and went to the Salvation Army’s district offices where Captain Julia works as a teacher in their training school. We toured their facilities and got to spend time with the Officer there. He asked us questions about the states, and we had many questions for him as well. It was interesting to hear what he had to say when I asked him about the changes in Russia over the course of his lifetime. He said that with the end of the communist era, Russians lost one of their largest commonalities: each other. When everyone is under the same mindset, he said, the relationships among people are better. He added that with the change of the political climate, now that people fend for themselves, there is less concern for the greater good. He likes the freedom, however, because as he said, “Now we have Jesus.” While the church is regulated by the government (cannot have members until the age of 18, etc.), it is active in Russia. He said that his corp (church) fluctuates around 30-60 each Sunday and they also have daily homeless outreach.
Tonight at dinner in our apartment, we got to ask Julia more about her life. She is from Southern Russia closer to Sochi. She has only lived in Moscow for 5 years because of her appointment with the Salvation Army. She claims that her English is bad, but we’re impressed. Julia came to know the Lord after tagging along with her older sister to a Salvation Army church when she was 13. Since that time, she always knew she wanted to be a part of the church’s leadership. She went to university and training school simultaneously and also had her own corp. She was a busy lady!
The various corps in Moscow have had problems surviving, so they all have combined into the one we visited today.
Julia has told us that Russians really love tea, and I completely understand. It’s cold here. After our meal we had black tea and jam. This jam had soft walnuts in it that had been picked when they were green and combined with honey. It was surprisingly good and the nuts were surprisingly soft. The jam is not native to this area, it was a gift from one of her friends in Georgia. A few hours later she made us herbal tea with biscuits and honey. We are unexpectedly getting the royal treatment. It’s a blessing.