Elbrus, the Europe’s freeriding Mecca

Panorama of the Caucasus, view from Elbrus

North Caucasus. Elbrus and Cheget are the two mountains, which slopes are covered with hundreds of thousands tones of fresh powder every year. Such snow conditions make it a true paradise for snowboarders. The trip itself to this place takes three and a half days. We take the challenge and get on a train which will take us to Kabardino-Balkaria, a land located in Russia, east of the Black Sea.

The trip begins at the northwest Poland. We take the train from Szczecin to Cracow. This is the first part of the journey. On this stage I don’t even try to think about how long will it take for us to arrive at the Caucasus. In fact, the first ten hours is only access to the official takeoff station. Time goes by quickly and we arrive to Cracow in no time. It is a good opportunity to get together with Ewelina, a good friend who lives in the city.

We get to know Bartas and Kuba, the other two guys in our team. It is a bit strange, however when I originally planned the trip there has been a lot of people interested. As the time passed and the intentions needed to become actions, most guys gradually chickened out of taking the trip. The result was just me and Remik left. The whole trip was called into question until the help of the Internet. I got to know a passionate snowboarder Bartas and a freeriding skier Kuba, both of them completely by chance.

Currently we have an hour to catch the train to Kiev. We sit down comfortably in the Galeria Krakowska for a beer. So begins the conversation. All guys are full positive energy. We get into the Ukrainian pojezd (train) with sleeping places. Once crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border we have to fill out the Ukrainian immigration card five times, because customs officers keep on having some reservations against the way we fill it out. It worked. We are in Ukraine.

A delightful ambience in Kiev

It’s hard to talk about sleeping well last night, because there has been a party going on all night long on the train. In the morning we arrive to Kiev and here comes the first problem. We don’t have a ticket for the next part of journey. Problem solved. Two very kind Kiev girls helped us out. We have tickets to Kharkov, a city which can be considered halfway through the journey. Now we have a few more hours before the train departures. We quickly leave the luggage and head out to make most of our stay in the capital of Ukraine.

Two Ukrainian girls in Kiev

The are plenty of babushkas at the train station. They sell various products: smoked sausage, homemade bacon, roasted peanuts and tanned cattle hides. It comes to be a high contrast with a modern city in the background. The take subway to the city center. The entertainment begins with me and Kuba sliding down on the escalator handrail leading to the subway station. I manage to avoid some dangerous situations, but the speed on this very slippery, polished surface is considerably too fast. There is an accident. The outcome is my forearm crashed onto escalator steps and a forefinger of the left hand fell out of my joint. This is a situation requiring rapid action. In one fell swoop, a courageous and strong motion, I am able to put it back into place. Fortunately the finger is not broken. The toll is the physical defect would be a burden for the whole trip and a few following months. We finally take the subway to get off a few stations later in quite an interesting place. The city center is lively and colorful. We meet some lovely girls, one of which, named Natasha, has definitely made the best impression. Just a bit further there is a breakdance show. On Independence Square some guys are practicing various tricks on their skateboards. I seriously love those spots full of positive people doing interesting things. On the way back, we come again to see Natasha. It is a pity that our train is leaves soon, but the snowboarding mission takes priority. We get on a train that will take us to Kharkov.

We reach the Caucasus

Two vertices Elbrus (5621m and 5642m)

We get to know lots of interesting people on every train we get on. It is worth to mention that we had a chance to have a drink with a considerable part of them! In Kharkov, we miss our train to Rostov-na-Donu, happily it turns out that there is another one. This one takes us directly to Mineralne Vodi. Just before departure we visit train station bistro with a huge, old-fashoned samovar. Once on the train we come to a fantastic car.

I ask the lady selling beer on the train for an opener, she says, A wy  odkryt neumiete? (Can’t you open it?). Then she takes our bottled beers in hand and pressing it against the edge of her trolley with food and drinks, she successfully opens it.

We share our compartment with a Russian couple and their twelve year old daughter Alexia, who can touch the hand with her thumb and bend the fingers 180 degrees backward. In the meantime our skier loses his t-shirt in the bet on how old are the girls we met in the restaurant car. Ukrainian trains are very cheerful, so the time passes pleasantly.

Lots of time to enjoy ensures there is no hurry. A whole day on the train seems to be less than half an hour city bus ride with sad, pokerfaced people staring at the ceiling.

Very early morning we reach the final destination, Mineral Waters. It’s cold, it’s raining and it’s dark. The local transport mafia comes by immediately, offering their services. We conclude to come back later after having done a few things in the last city we visit for the next week. Eating takes priority, then we might change dollars for rubles and finally see what’s next.

A few police officers at the station are clearly looking for a pretext to receive bribe. The outcome of our negotiations is just being reported in the great suspicious visitors’ book. I also might have been just an ordinary train station visitors’ book. There are several banks in Mineral Waters. Only one accepts worn out and old-type dollar bills. Not much, but unfortunately we have a few of those. The foreign currency exchange is an interesting procedure. Someone looks at us through the rectangular peephole. On the signal "dolery" a powerful bolt moves aside and a heavy armored door opens. I enter the tiny individual service room. I try to negotiate more favorable exchange rate for the old banknotes. In return I hear decisive, nonnegotiable answer: "Do not negotiate. This is a bank". The transaction for used banknotes will be proceeded at 10% commission.

Our jump on Mt. Cheget

We buy an advanced ticket to Moscow, a plackarta type, because a higher standard kupe is three times more expensive. The case settled, off we go to Terskol, a Caucasian village. We negotiate the bus ride price with local transport mafia, so from the original $100 per person we end up with $100 for all four of us. After nearly three hours on the bus we arrive on the spot with no idea on where to sleep. I ask our driver if he knows any place to find nedragaja gostnienica (a cheap guesthouse). The driver calls two different places and drops us off at a random location in Terskol. Just in front of a two-storey building there is a warmhearted babushka greeting us and smiling. Her husband also shows up, both seem to be a happy marriage in their 70s. We strike a deal to get the whole flat upstairs just for us. Narrow hall, two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. We live next door to Lisa and Sasha, a German-Russian couple, the most popular freeride snowboarders throughout this part of Russia. At the same time probably the best high-altitude mountain guides in the region. Everything clicks into place. Our GPS indicates that we are at an altitude of 2165 m.

Unfortunately it’s too late for snowboarding. Instead I take a shower, a well-deserved one after more than three days on the train. We go for a walk to Azau, a small village at the bottom base of the mountain Elbrus. The distance is about 40 minutes. We meet Felipe, a Belgian guy. Looks like it is already the second half of April and due to the difficult weather conditions so far no one has climbed to the top this year. We are optimistic, because in the next few days the weather is expected to improve. During the walk we all feel quite dizzy. I have slight pain in the back of my head. These are the symptoms of a longer stay at a height of over 2000m. This is just the beginning.

The apartment is rocking, feels like being on a ship. I accidentally fall on my bed while taking off shoes. It’s the cumulative effect of changes in altitude and a fatigue after the long journey. Interesting and strange experience. The next day things return to the normal state.

Snowboarding at Elbrus

Tuesday, the first day of snowboarding. Although we still have to deal with a mandatory registration, we take a taxi and go to Azau. Our first mistake is not taking the old worn-out gondola lift to the top. Instead we choose the more promising, newly built lift. It turns out that the new lift ascends only at a height of 3000 meters.

Helicopter on a blue sky

We quickly use the purchased tickets and then switch to an aged gondola made of solid Soviet steel. Definitely doesn’t look like a latest invention, however takes us from the height of 2200m through 3000m intermediate station as high as at 3500 meters. The couple of tickets we buy in a ticket office to discover after a while how easy it it to bribe a lift guy and thus enter about 30 rubles cheaper. This is our lift-pass for the whole trip.

Snow conditions are excellent. Especially in the upper part of the slope, however the visibility is somewhat limited. Several slope rounds just to warm up and we are ready for off-piste freeriding.We find quite a few interesting routes. Fresh powder freeriding in one of the ditches I consider by far the best of the day. With no long-enough acclimatization a small 150-meter approach at an altitude of over 3000 meters takes us at least 20 minutes to reach our start point. At the top we find a few guys from some other team, they seem to have a moment hesitation and finally decide not to follow us. It is a very technical trail. There are lots of stones, however they are big enough to spot and pass them by.

A successful day lies behind. For such an innocent foggy weather I used just a regular protective cream instead of UV filter cream. After just a few hours of snowboarding I burned my face pretty bad. Never do it again. For several days several parts of the face skin stay burned, emitting small bubbles of yellow liquid. You simply touch the face with a handkerchief, the bubbles burst and leave trace on the handkerchief in form of small yellow droplets. This experience speaks for itself. If you are in the mountains above 3000 m always use a proper cream with a filter.

In the evening we come to the only bar in the area, located downstairs in the hotel Cheget. Looks like early 80s. If some people arrive and a good music with snowboard films on picture tubes above the bar is played, a significant change occurs. The stiff socialistic creation of a square tables covered with a plastic tablecloths becomes an unusual decent place with majority of people interested in different snowsports. Makes quite an enjoyable place.

Lisa, our Cheget guide. In the background Mount Elbrus

The next day we visit OVIR, a Russian registration office. This is standard, obligatory procedure for all foreigners traveling to Russia. The nearest OVIR post is located in Turnauz. Typical landscape in this city is grey blocks of flats mixed with beautiful mountains in the background. The whole registration procedure costs a little, takes a while however in the end goes well. We are registered and our stay in Russia has become legal from now on. Let’s go back to the slopes.

This time we choose to go to Cheget, the neighboring mountain. Unfortunately this is a short day of snowboarding and the weather is perfect. After the lifts are closed we construct a snow jump a little bit above the Cheget top station. The landing is in the fresh powder. Our GPS points to 3096 meters above sea level. Remik wins by drawing the right to make the first jump. Later all of us jump as much as we want to land on a fresh powder. As long as the short breath allows to climb up in a deep snow at that height for the next jump. Our skier has one big flight and an incredibly harsh landing. As a result he dislocated his shoulder, which he kept setting into right place at the party.

In the meantime I heard two loud thundering noises, sounding just like a jet aircraft. It turned out that it was an avalanche coming down the neighboring mountain. Visibility deteriorates to the extent that the last descent to the bottom station takes us about an hour. In the lower part of the route I do not see anything.

No visible tracks, nor the orientation points.

Walkie-talkie helps a lot to avoid getting lost in the misty abyss of Cheget. Luckily, we reach the bottom. We head straight to the bar for soljanka soup, most likely the best soup in the world.

The next couple of days the weather is perfect. We practice off-piste freeriding, try out hidden, inaccessible tracks visible only from the gondola lift. I take delight in the magnificent landscape of Mount Elbrus and surrounding mountains in the background. We keep on riding all day, non-stop! The ideal visibility and very good conditions to ride stay until late afternoon. We come back totally exhausted. Now is a time to have a drink, relax, play poker and hit the Cheget party after a hard day of snowboarding. For the next morning we arrange freeriding session with Lisa, a German guide living nextdoor.

The fabulous Freeride spelled with great F

On Friday morning I did not know yet that this day will go down in history. We are going with Lisa to Cheget bottom station.

The best freeride in Europe

Before entering the top we have an avalanche safety and rescue training. Lisa explains the principles riding in a group. When there are others standing below, never ride downwards the group, traverse instead. Otherwise it is easy to take down the avalanche on all the group. We also learn how to use the avalanche Pieps them to look for people under the snow. To find and dig up an avalanche-covered person we have just a few minutes. Pieps signal is disturbed by the mobile phones and walkie-talkies, therefore these devices must be switched off. Quick coffee and a cake at the top lift station, we attach Pieps under the jacket, take shovels to backpacks and set out.

There is a considerable approach towards the summit. Small distance, but the height and the deep snow make you walk slowly or make a stop every few meters. We are short of breath, but the vision of snowboarding down the completely intact giant white ground suddenly releases additional supplies of energy to go. After several minutes we ascend to the place from which you can see only hundreds of thousands of tons of intact Caucasian powder spread over an area of several square kilometers . An amazing view, I have never seen a better scenery for snowboarding, not even on a movie. Feeling the taste of adrenaline in my throat I start the first descent. Such feeling can not be described – something I have not even been dreaming about!

Crossing the various mountain passes, valleys and rocky gorges at the traces of avalanches, makes me understand what really the word “freeride” means. I know that it has been the best snowboard ride in my life. Precisely just for this one descent it was worth to come to the Caucasus. Much more to go. Our tour ends at the place located half an hour walk from the bottom lift station. The transfer comes easily, because it is flat and at lower altitude.

Time for the second descent, this time we climb up even higher off the top station. Second time seems to be easier, despite the fact that the final section of the ascent is going over the rocks. The approach takes about an hour this time. We start from a much higher point. Another new track and it is us, once again, to descend leaving the first mark on the snow.

I love that feeling. Lisa suggests an interesting route. This time we take a bit steeper slope. The question as to whether it is worth to take a guide needs no answer. As little as two hours later there has been an average-size avalanche going down next to our tracks from the first ride. Lisa says that avalanche probably might have been dangerous. It is good to be in the right place at the right time. One part of the descent is quite steep and narrow so it is rather side slipping rather than actual riding. Unfortunately we do not have enough time for the third ride. Including lifts, climbing, meetings and bottom station transfer every single ride takes at least a few hours.

The Caucasus mountain guide

We take a sit in a bar with Lisa. Surprising to hear that she has already climbed up Elbrus more than 70 times. Lisa comes from Germany, the last 15 years she has lived with her Russian husband in the Caucasus. A typical day off is climbing up one of surrounding mountains. One mountain may take up a whole day, effort worth one freeriding descent. She tells about their two-week approach to Lenin Peak, a 7134 meters high mountain located on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. She is really fit. During the day we were completely exhausted and short of breath while climbing up, she just smiled and said with a cheerful voice: “What’s up guys, having problems?”

On the way up to Priut 11 ruins

Priut 11 ruins

On Saturday there is more traffic on Mount Elbrus. The upper lift running at 3800 meters is open. It is just before the rocket fuel barrels, a station-shelter, a place where it is recommended to stay several days for acclimatization before attacking the summit. We get together with the second Polish expedition, which we read about on the Internet just before leaving. We ride together a little bit between 3500 and 3800 meter stations. We have a lot of fun riding under the lift. Unfortunately the snow is a little bit worse than the last time and there is no fresh snow on the regular slopes. Despite poor visibility, we decide to hire a Pisten Bully to take us further up. Unfortunately due to the difficult weather conditions and lots of ice in the upper part of the mountain (at the height of the Pastuhov’s rocks we manage to ascend only to the former Priut 11 base (about 4100 meters). At this altitude I feel respiratory difficulties. As tiny thing to do as attaching the bindings makes me short of breath. It is a pity we have such a poor visibility. You can barely recognize the ruins of the hostel located hundred meters away, not to mention the beautiful mountains landscape far away. It is worth coming here just for the feeling of being at an altitude of more than 4 thousand meters, also to breathe in frosty air. The descent from the this part of Mount Elbrus imposes some limitations. Important thing is to keep close to the track left by the Pisten Bully, due to the presence of dangerous glacier cracks.

The charming Kabardino-Balkaria

Our ride down takes us straight to our favorite bar. Fatima, a pretty Kabardino-Balkarian girl works here as a waitress. This day it takes us exceptionally long to come home from the slopes. It is impossible not to join if Fatima, her family and aunts begin dancing in this extremely crowded, but cozy inn. Seems like everybody is enjoying that. The owner’s private table is full of all variety dishes, salads, dumplings, pancakes and lots of alcohol. Just before we finally leave, the lounge host stops at the doorstep and draws our attention talking while pouring a glass of Russian vodka Parliament. "It is not possible for us not to drink together” – he says, breaking off a piece of pancake and rolling it in a roll with his tubby fingers. He hands me the pancake, a piece of lime and a glass of vodka, saying "Now we drink". True hospitality. That’s Kabardino-Balkaria.

Rocks at the top station Cheget

The next day we wake up a little later than planned. We decide to ride Cheget today, because of smaller queues. It turns out that our walkie-talkies have surprisingly long communication range. With no a problem we can talk with people who are a good ten miles away on Mount Elbrus. Again, after the lift closing time we want to practice on our self-made jump. Unfortunately right after a few jumps we draw liftguy’s attention. He says that he is the last one on the mountain and we all need to go down ahead of him. I ask myself a questions: Since when in Russia there has been any attention to safety? Pretty bad, I assure that there was nothing that could have been done to convince that guy. In fact, the Russian had persistently been repeating the same thing for twenty minutes.

Ride in the fog

The rocket fuel barrels, 3800m

On Monday, the second to last day riding we hire a guide again. This time it is Svetlana, a Russian girl recommended by Lisa. We have some more people in our group, so Svetlana’s husband joins us as an assistant-guide. The main problem is the way to the place where we meet together. Today we have a Russian holiday, which automatically means a gigantic queues at the lifts! Getting to the top station takes ridiculously long two hours. We meet in the bar at 3500 m. As the last time, we take avalanche rescue equipment and head out. In total there is nine of us, including two guides and an additional group of three, Russian girl and French guy – two snowboard proriders and Jerome Wilm, once A-Snowboards supported rider, now a professional photographer who works with Nike ad campaigns worldwide. Here we go.

This time the approach to the start point takes only 10 minutes from the upper lift station at 3800 m. There is hardly any visibility with snow and sky forming one solid white unity. Horizon line is invisible, we are going in the misty, fluffy milk visible only to your fingertips. It’s a very strange experience. At all times you can not determine whether someone is below or above you. A really unusual effect. Labyrinth is really confused.

Everyone falls down every few attempts to successfully ride down. What seems to be uphill in reality comes out to be a downhill and the opposite. It is very easy to bury yourself down in the snow. On the other side it is extremely difficult to determine the steepness of the track. At times I feel that I’m standing still on my board, but I’m not and it costs me another fall.

Which way is the track? Is Jerome above or below me? How is it possible that the Russian girl gets more speed by riding uphill? Why I’m not able to slide down? Am I standing still? Or maybe everything else does and I’m on the move? These are questions without clear answers. In a truly deep fog everything is relative. But this is not the end, as we approach the second part of our ride.

It becomes much more technical, also more scenic. It’s a monumental travel inside deep canyon. Rocks on both sides, mountain creek to the left and two meters wide path, the only safe way out. On the right side of the cliff  I discern huge granite rocks hanging over our heads. Majestic atmosphere feels like being put inside the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The great unknown about what would happen next is exciting. The massive rocks add adrenaline all the time, as it leaves the impression that any time a piece could break off and crush down. The only, in fact irreverent, drawback of this trail is that in some places we have to take off snowboard and pass some narrow rocky areas, being at the same time extremely careful when stepping on fragile layer of snow on the brook. In the lower parts of the mountain the thaw sets in. We finish in Azau, a few hundred meters from the bottom lift station.

In the evening we all meet together in the bar. This is a nice time talking about today’s experience. An extraordinary day spent with first-class company. I love snowboarding which involves cruising wild mountains.

24 hours on the train to Moscow

It is hard to believe that this is our last day. Unfortunately. We prebook transport to Mineral Waters in the afternoon. It is the last last half of a day to say goodbye to the Caucasian snow. It has been snowing all night long so we get an extra half a meter of a fresh snow. Needless to say, snow is perfect, even on the regular slopes.  Riding below the lift and more off-piste is fabulous.

Each time I leave a new trace on fresh powder. For the last ride we roughly estimate azimuth where the Cheget village could be. Just in case Kuba has a GPS device. The route is almost as good as the one with Lisa a few days ago. Complete, unlimited freedom. The powder in the upper part of route is simply perfect. Snowboarding with absolutely no restrictions. The slope steepness is optimal. As we come down, some rocks and other obstacles are emerging. In the lower parts you can already see some areas with grass, which is still not too bad as for the beginning of May. The last few hundred meters, however, we must take off the boards and walk. After all it was a beautiful ride, a perfect ending for the snowboard season.

The remainder of the day is less pleasant, our babushka becomes a bit impatient as we still have to clean our entire house. Teamwork goes smoothly and in an hour we are ready for the return journey. We take seats in plackarta, an open-space car full of sleeping places with no individual compartments.

Cathedral of St. Basil

This arrangement inside the car is the best possible for random acquaintances. It like a social, inhabited area. The wagon is being vacuumed twice a day, every few quarters a lady takes a walk with a trolley offering tasty food, beers and liquor. In addition, the other needed products can be bought at main train stations. During the journey we get to know interesting people from different parts of Russia. It happens that we are the only foreigners in our car. The reaction of one babushka when we take out a one liter bottle of Nemiroff, a premium Ukrainian vodka is particularly noteworthy. Not five minutes passed and the old lady serves us cucumbers, tomatoes and home sausage, all of them cut and placed on a plate. That’s pretty amazing.

“I lived in Moscow”

We arrive to Moscow. A representative of the hostel Godzilla welcomes us on n the platform. If we were to find this hostel hidden in depths of Moscow streets, in addition after the nightfall, it would take probably a couple of hours. It turns out that our hostel is located almost in the city center. It’s already late, so instead of wasting time, the first thing to do is to explore the legendary Moscow’s nightlife. Our first plan is to visit nightclub “Propaganda”. Apparently the place is not so far away, so we walk. Kuba as usual took his GPS, which in fact we found to be quite useless. There must be something wrong in Moscow which doesn’t allow GPS to capture any satellites. We walk through the city. On the way we pass lots of top car models, most of them Mercedes.

Historical Museum on the Red Square

The absolute show off  record belongs to the club in front of which there is a dozen of luxurious cars. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus. Across the street I can see a limousine version of Hummer with tinted windows. On the premises there is a bunch of fat guys in suits, talking at the table, all of them being accompanied by much younger ladies. Moscow underground leaders or maybe an ordinary alumni meeting? I guess there is many more such clubs in the city.

The next day we start exploring the capital. We kick-off with a subway ride. This time, unlike in Kiev, I’m not going to ride down the handrails. The Moscow Metro is renowned for the lines running deeply underground. It is meticulously completed, in fact some stations are quite impressive. During peak hours some lines run every thirty of seconds and it still might be crowded. Single journey costs 17 rubles, however just to make use of our useful skills, we bribe the subway guard to enter for ten rubles each. Living in Russia may drive bribing into an everyday habit.

We visit the Red Square and the Cathedral of St. Basil. I expected the square to be slightly bigger. Still, no matter how you look at it, it actually easily can host a big army of tanks and lots of troops, as Russia did to demonstrate its military power to the world. Cathedral and adjacent to the square of the buildings is impressive. We drop in on McDonald’s and move around in the Kremlin. I pass the park, lawns, fountains and statues. Everything is very neat. It is an outright commitment of the authorities to create a good image of the city center.

View of the Kremlin

Now we are at the busiest intersection I have ever seen. It has a total of 14 lanes, the crossing of which in one fell swoop with all the cars moving would be a surely suicidal attempt. We approach the Church of Christ the Savior and from there take a walk to the bridge to contemplate the view on entire Kremlin – Moscow’s pride, indeed, the pride of Russia.

Very large, recreational park in Moscow is located away from the center. Here we find everything. Socialist eclecticism with tiny glimpse of modern art and suppressed influence of the western architecture. Besides, park has lots of activities to do, a funfair, plenty stalls or even go-cart tracks.

We admire the architecture which is utterly out of the blue. Gilded statues, various fountains and buildings with hammer and sickle emblem. My favorite one is a giant space rocket standing vertically to impress the public. The whole area is also a good place to relax and drink beer.

We return by train to Warsaw through Belarus. If only it had been a train back to the Caucasus… There are no problems with transit via Belarus. Is this Warsaw? Or maybe it’s all has been just a dream? It’s hard to believe that the whole journey was real, it’s even harder to accept the fact that it has come to an end. The Caucasus is one of the places I necessarily would like to back go again!

Babushka style kiosk in Moscow

A few interesting facts:

  • girl known on the train told us that she lives nearby Moscow. And where precisely? – 400 kilometers away from the city center. It’s quite strange, but almost every Russian when asked about the same says that he is from Moscow, or that at least that he has lived in Moscow for some time before
  • contrary to popular belief the babushkas selling foodstuffs are present on many railway stations. Both in Russia and Ukraine. You can get everything from beer to homemade dumplings, dried fish and pastries
  • the journey from Szczecin (north-west Poland) to Terskol (Caucasus) took over 75 hours in total That makes 6 days on the train for a roundtrip
  • it happens to see cows and goats grazing between the ruins of buildings, as well as horses eating from the garbage bins
  • the best soups are borsz and soljanka, highly recommend because of their intense flavor, there is a bunch of varieties you may be served
  • we taste all the local dishes, with some of them being quite original, for example chicziny z mjasom (something like a big fat fluffy pie stuffed with meat)
  • the Russians are very hospitable and sociable; it’s easy to meet and get to know interesting people
  • giving a bribe instead of paying fee does not need to be in the exact amount. You might happen to give 1000 rubles, say "for two" and you get the remaining 900 rubles back
  • the toilet paper usually should be disposed of into the trash standing next to the toilet

Some information

Our team: Rad, Remik, Bartas and Kuba

Route: Szczecin – Krakow – Kiev – Harkov – Mineral Waters – Terskol – Mineral Waters – Moscow – Minsk – Warsaw – Szczecin

Local Currency: 1 RUB = 1 ruble = 100 kopecks

Dates: 20 April – May 5, 2007

Duration: 16 days

The total cost of trip: about US$1000

Dollar is the second currency in Russia (if not the first). Most of the money changers have a very favorable exchange rate with a very small spread between bid-ask prices. Which in fact means if you go to Russia, take your dollars with you

The trip we made

Sample prices:

Transport and accommodation

A ticket on the route Kiev – Harkov 56 UAH (about 12 USD)
Plackarta ticket on the route Mineralne Wodi – Moscow 1500 RUB
Night in an apartment rented from babushka 300 RUB / person / night
Taxi between Azau, Tersol and Cheget, aflat-rate of 100 RUB
A night in Godzilla hostel in Moscow $ 25 / pax
Pick-up from the train station in Moscow, RUB 200 / person

Services and facilities

Single lift ride 80 RUB (or 50 if you bribe)
All-day ski lift pass 450 RUB
The Pisten Bully ride to the Priut 11 ruins at the height of 4100m 400 RUB
Hiring a guide for the day, including Pieps and shovels 1000 RUB / pax
Billiards in “Cheget” (1h) 200 RUB
Go-karts in Moscow, 250 RUB

Food and drink

Pate in a shop 30 RUB
0.33 liter Cola-Cola 12 RUB
Beer in a shop 18-25 RUB
Beer in cafes and restaurants near the slope 30 RUB
Beer at a party in the Hotel Cheget 40 RUB
Small beer at a party in Moscow 50 RUB
Mutton meal 120 RUB
Soljanka soup 70 RUB
Half a liter bottle of vodka with some limes and sugar at the party 220 RUB
Russian ravioli with meat (fat, very good cake) 40 RUB
Cake in Mineral Waters station 8 RUB

I also invite you to see photos from the trip