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Team reaches Moscow

Early morning in the Caucasus found us loading our duffels into the back of our van and heading from the base of Mt. Elbrus towards Mineralnye Vody. The three hour drive brought us out of the mountains and into the broad sweeping farmlands to the north, the craggy hillsides gradually replaced by fields of wheat and expanses of sunflowers. The road was a bustle of activity, with the markets in little towns we passed brimming with people, their cars parked number to bumper along the edge of the road. And like our drive to the mountain a week ago, the cows once again idled lazily in the lanes like moving road blocks, causing traffic to swerve around them.

Check In at the Mineralnye Vody Airport is a true mad house, hundreds of people jamming towards two check in counters. The concept of a line is a forgotten thing as people jostle their bags for position in the stiflingly hot air of the cavernous room. Once again, thanks to some “creative route finding” we got our bags checked and escaped to the “calm” of the waiting area - which thanks to air conditioning, made the wait much more bearable.

After an uneventful two hour flight we emerged from the plane in Moscow. The reports of stifling heat and thick smoke led us to have some trepidation about arriving, but we found the skies relatively clear and the temperatures quite reasonable. After collecting our bags we raced unto the city, past decaying communist era housing blocks and shiny car dealerships. In the oncoming lanes cars packed the expressway as Muscovites sought to escape the city foe the weekend, but the driving for us was quick and easy.

Passing the Kremlin and crossing just over the Moscow River we arrived at our hotel. After dropping our bags in our rooms we strolled back across the Moscow River and alongside the walls of the Kremlin to Red Square. The perfect summer evening brought locals out in force and the pedestrian walks were crowded with people lounging on benches and chatting casually.

The entrance to Red Square is always stunning, with the onion shaped domes of St. Basils Cathedral standing on the horizon, the giant expanse of cobblestones flanked by the red brick walls of the Kremlin and the ornately decorated facade of the GUM, the former State Department Store turned high end shopping mall. We strolled across the Square, examining the boxy marble mausoleum where Lenin still resides, beneath the colorful domes of St. Basil’s, and passing over the painted lines drawn across the Square to direct the military vehicles during state parades. It is a special experience to spend time in a place that remains both fascinating and elusive in our collective history and we were awed by it.

After eating dinner we walked back across the river and through parks packed with young Muscovites socializing amongst the trees and fountains. We found it interesting that the play sword fighting seems to be a popular activity right now amongst the younger generation, as does Iron Maiden t-shirts and black eyeliner - certainly a change of pace from the rural mountain towns of the Caucasus where we have been spending our time recently.

With the sun setting and night arriving we returned to our hotel. Tomorrow we return home and end our trip here. It has been a fantastic adventure and a wonderful climb.

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