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A woman  pushes past me without a word,  and I can hear her black knee-high heels briskly click on the cobblestone sidewalk as she hurries on. Nearly all the woman here wear them, along with skinny jeans, It’s a Russian thing. I smile at a man to my left and he seems a little taken back before he looks away.  Then I remember that people here don’t smile at each other, or say hello, unless their acquainted already. I smile anyway.

I can smell something sweet from a pastries vendor on the street, after 11 hours on a plane without a decent meal it makes my mouth water. I’ll save my appetite though because I know that when we get to our little village we’ll be fed and fed until we are at risk of falling into a food induced coma. Food must be a love language to Russians. If you are a guest you can’t escape huge portions, and even seconds. ”Eat, eat, we don’t want you to go hungry!” Galina will say. It’s a little rude to refuse, so we will, until our pants pop.

I can’t wait to arrive. And be greeted with hugs, real hugs – with kisses on both cheeks – and sit crowded around Vinamine and Galinas little kitchen table, talking for hours while sipping black tea.

”Lets go!”Say’s Shawna, and I snap back to reality. We are half an hour late and I speed up to match her pace as we weave through the crowded street. We are headed for Red Square where we will meet up with Lena, a friend of Shawnas from the village. She’s been going  to college in St. Petersburg. I’ve never met her, but I know already that I will like her if she is half as nice as her family whom I met two years ago the first time I came to visit. After hearing about her growing faith I’m very excited to meet and get to know her.

My pack weighs heavy on my back, but I’m not complaining yet. For now I’m just glad to stretch my legs and soak up the atmosphere. What looks like a salesman yell emphatically to me as we hurry past street vendors and shops.  An overcast sky hangs low, coloring everything in grey and warning of rain. It’s colder than I’m used to, and even though we keep a decent pace I pull my scarf tighter around my neck.

After some confusion and directions from a woman on the street we finally reach our destination. As we look around the square there is no sign of Lena. We are nearly 45 min late, and hoping she hasn’t given up on us already when from behind me I hear ”Hello girls!”

Hugs, hello’s, and laughter follow. I speak in broken Russian, what little I know, and mostly listen. Lena tells us that we must speak only in English to her, so that she will learn more. The three of us walk and talk as we tour the streets of Moscow. Then where do we go? Starbucks, of course, where we meet up with Sasha- another friend from our village. I’m just simply exited and relieved to find out that the barista knows a little English and understands me as I attempt to ask for a vanilla flavored Latte.

It’s just kind of amazing to be sitting together drinking coffee. Getting to know new people, and reconnecting with old acquaintances, in Russia, in Starbucks of all places. Strange to think that yesterday I was in America halfway across the world hanging out with friends and sipping on (American) Starbucks. Sasha say’s ”It’s not as good that you go to Starbucks when here in Russia, you should go to a Russian coffee house. What do they say? When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  He tells us about a coffee house that he knows of and likes.

So we talk and drink more coffee, and walk and talk more as we see the sights. Then drink one last cup of real Russian coffee before Shawna and I get on the train to our village. Before we say goodbye, writing our last messages in steam on the window of the train as it pulls away.

”Goodbye girls. Love you”

So this is it. The first day of three weeks in another Russian adventure. The last thought on my mind before the gentle rhythm of the train lulls me into a sublime sleep is how surreal today was and how good these three weeks will be.

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