Monday, July 23, 2012

MIssion Trip Part 1: The Former USSR

Back in May Benjamin and I went on a 17-day trip to visit our respective missions in Ukraine and Finland. And I'm finally getting around to posting some pictures. 

Our first destination (by default) was Latvia. I had found some cheap flights within Europe on Air Baltic, so we flew through Riga, Latvia three times. The first night we had a choice of either a 6-hour layover with a 2 am departure or a 16-hour layover with a flight to Ukraine at around 11 the following morning. After a red-eye to Frankfurt, I thought we'd enjoy a night in real beds, so we booked a room in the gorgeous Hotel Monika Centrum right in the historic city centre, about a 15-minute walk to the town square. 

I loved Riga. It was a beautiful city full of turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau buildings. 

We ate Latvian food and were completely charmed by the long spring evening that we enjoyed on our long walk around the city. I was sad to leave. Maybe we'll go back someday, and actually see the country. 

Next stop was Ukraine, where Benjamin served about 7-8 years ago. We visited church in the small town where he started his mission, Kherson. So many of the members there recognized him, even after so long! We got to see the lovely little branch building that was under construction when he served, and he also took me to see the old Soviet kindergarten where the branch met while he was a missionary.

The quaint/sketchy kindergarten
The beautiful new building

It was so fun to see this little city and meet some of the wonderful people that Benjamin knew there.

Next we spent several days in the Crimea. We did a little sightseeing (including riding a cable car up to the top of a mountain with a gorgeous view) and went to the Super Secret Submarine Base in Balaklava. This was such a cool museum. There was a Soviet Submarine Base there that was literally so secret that the town of Balaklava was not on any official maps. People from the town worked in the front end of the base all their lives and never knew what was behind the doors. I spent the majority of the day learning how to say "Super Secret Submarine Base" in Russian. It is now one of my best phrases in that language.

One of my favourite days in the Crimea was the day when we drove to the cable car mountain. It was beautiful and sunny and we took a small highway through the mountains instead of along the coast. We found some hidden gems:

Benjamin buying honey from a truck at the side of the road

An old soviet bunker from WWII
Benjamin insists that it's not sketchy to buy jars of honey form some old man on the side of the road who keep his hives in an old trailer, but I maintain it's kind of random. That won't stop me from eating the honey, though!

We had a quick 24 hours in Kiev, where we visited the temple and ran into some girls from a branch where Benjamin served! Some might call it coincidence, but we felt so blessed that Heavenly Father arranged so many little miracles like that throughout our trip.
Outside the Kiev Temple
The Kiev Temple was beautiful. What a wonderful experience to attend the temple together where Benjamin served.

We left Kiev by night train to the city of Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine. The overnight train ride was definitely an adventure!

Our train compartment
 One of the highlights of our Kharkiv visit was a trip out to the dacha (cottage) of some members that Benjamin had known and loved on his mission. This little cottage was out in the country and had a gorgeous garden. The couple that brought us out to visit made a delicious lunch of borscht, salad, and bread that was some of the best food of our whole trip.

Another wonderful experience in Kharkiv was when we made arrangements to visit another family from the branch. We showed up to their apartment and there visiting at the same time was an investigator that Benjamin had taught and become quite close to. This investigator was from Russia and happened to be in Kharkiv for a few days and on a whim (which we know was a prompting from the Spirit) decided to go visit his old friends at the same time that we had arranged to visit. It was a very happy reunion for Benjamin.

From Kharkiv we took another night train to Kiev and were on our way to Finland. But that's a story for the next post!