“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Mr. Twain certainly had a way with words and these few simple words sum up how traveling with new people can change your life.
Early experiences of travel abroad with my parents ignited my travel bug early on. That inspired me to start saving money. I kept a scrapbook, with photos of all the places I wanted to see, dreaming my way toward them, as my travel fund grew.
When I was older, I became more adventurous. Only once have I ever opted to travel as a part of a group, but the experience was so instructive. It’s the basis for this post.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
Back in the days when Berlin’s most striking feature was a wall dividing the eastern part of the city from the western part, I decided I needed to visit the former Soviet Union. I saw a tantalizing advertisement in the local paper for an arts and history tour exploring Moscow and what used to be called Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
I booked myself on the tour. It was to take place in early February and while I’m no fan of the cold, the thought of seeing these iconic (almost forbidden) cities in the snow filled me with excitement. Visions of Anna Karenina danced in my mind.
To say the least, my tour group was an interesting collection of people. There was Mike and his daughter (of Russian descent) traveling to their ancestral home to see how those left behind lived. There were the Kellers, who complained incessantly about the food. Then there was the team of young women who, like me, were dying of curiosity. We were a diverse group, to say the least.
Some of the most interesting people of all were the ones I met in Moscow and Leningrad, where I broke from the pack from time to time, much to the consternation of my tour hosts – soldiers, ticket takers, flower vendors.
Masha and St. Peter.
Masha was our guide in Moscow and someone who made a tremendous impression on me.
As we toured the Andrei Rublev Museum, gazing in wonder at the icons crowded soberly on its venerable walls, she pointed out an icon of St. Peter, which featured a rooster.
In a small, quiet voice, she recounted to me the biblical story of St. Peter and the rooster. As she spoke, I realized she was sharing her Faith with me – a Faith not accepted under Soviet Communism.
In a small, subversive way, Masha let me know that she was one of many and that those many would see their freedom to worship restored. I felt like a dove with an olive branch that day.
I’ll never forget Masha, or her almost whispered tale of St. Peter. She taught me that people connect in mysterious ways, in strange places. It’s from her I learned how traveling with new people can change your life.
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