Climbing in Russia, Part 1

I have eaten more cold meat today than I have in my entire life. We are on the seemingly eternal flight to Moscow, Russia. My husband, Stan, and I are going to climb Mt. Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus. Beware, cold meat is served on the hour, ever hour of this flight, with vodka, of course. It feels rather strange flying in to Russia, probably all the brainwashing when we were kids about this country, I guess.

We easily found our guide, the Moscow airport is surprisingly one of the most efficient and logical airports. Hopping on a small bus for a quick trip around Moscow, the driver tells us that he is our “interpretation”. Now I know this is gonna be good! We are whipping around the streets of Moscow at high speed, someone in the group points to an amazingly beautiful building and asks what it is… our ‘interpretation’ replies…. “is building.” OK, now things are rolling. I’m glad this is a climbing trip and not an educational excursion.
The mini-bus pulls up to the Izmailovskaya Hotel where we are having dinner. Oh boy, this makes the tenth meal of the day and guess what…more cold cuts!!! Then the ‘interpretation’ thought it would be good to get some vodka. It only costs eight rubles for a bottle on the street. (exchange is 210 rubles to 1 dollar). We finally finish our 4 course, cold meat dinner and get in the bus to go to our hotel for the night. We are staying at the Zagore hostel, and let’s just say it’s primitive. I’ll start with the toilet rating system. A 10 is like home or any Scandinavian country. The Zagore was around a 5. It would have been a 6, but Stan and I had to fix it, then turn the water on to make it work. There are lots of smashed bugs on the wall…. Hmmmm. By the next morning the hostel was now known as the mosquito Hilton. I must have swatted myself in the face a hundred times, trying to keeps the mosquito at bay.

Luckily we have an early flight to Mineral Nyvody , the closest place to the mountain that we will climb. Well, there’s nothing like Aeroflot! Speaking Russian loudly over the speaker system, a man with a suit and one eye translates for us. Our flight is delayed and we will now go to breakfast. End of story, no decision to be made! Guess what… more lunch meat. We are quickly informed… “we go on tour.” No problem, nobody wants to stick around the airport. On the way into town the bus stops for gas (18 cents/gallon) and then heads for red square. The square is amazing! A celebration is taking place with everyone in native costumes, playing very old instruments. We stopped by the Arbat, you can buy anything including any military uniforms, helmets, it’s a wild place. I won’t even tell you what’s for lunch, because you already know.

Getting back to the airport we are whisked through the metal detector behind some man with 2 huge bags that are nearly knocking over the frame of the machine. The best part, the security guard made him open the bag and he pulls out three cages of live birds! Unbelievable!

Our flight is called and we are ushered onto the tarmac, standing under the huge plane. Out of nowhere, a mass of people from a separate entrance, run and quickly get on the plane.

350 in all I heard. No safety announcement, no “cross check”, no seat assignments and only a few seat belts. One of the climbers sitting next to me, didn’t have a seat belt, so we tied her in with rope. How the damn thing got off the ground is beyond me. Once airborne, these guys came around selling some type of ice cream along with bottles of vodka.

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