Alol', St Petersburg and Moscow
25.07.2013 - 04.08.2013 20 °C
It's 7am on Saturday morning and the sun is beaming in the big window of the corner apartment we have rented for the duration of our three day stay in Moscow. Up here on the 7th floor we are largely above the noisiness of the Moscow inner city streets. Our view out the window is of the rusty brown rooftop of the adjacent apartment building and we catch glimpses of every day Russian life every now and again, through the windows of the many surrounding buildings.
We arrived in Russia nine days ago, travelling on a bus that had been specially arranged by the organisers of the World rogaining championships. From Riga, the bus took most of the day on bumpy Latvian roads to take us to the rogaine venue in the Russian forest, close to the town of Sebez in the very south western corner of Russia. The border crossing involved a series of stops in a queue of cars -the trucks had a queue of their own, which seemed to be moving much faster. First the bus driver needed to show papers for his vehicle exiting Latvia, then we all needed to show passports to Latvian officials to obtain an exit stamp, and then we were provided with entry-to-Russia documents for completion. Following this, the bus waited in a queue that infrequently proceeded forward past a boom gate booth when a green light was displayed. This seemed to be where vehicle papers were checked again. After not moving much at all for half an hour, suddenly our bus was allowed to jump ahead of six cars and pass through, to the next checkpoint where we unloaded all our gear and took it with us in to a building for the entry-to-Russia passport control. Here our visas and documents were checked and stamped, and theoretically our bags would have been x-rayed but the machine wasn't working. Once the bus itself had finished being searched we loaded it up again, hopped back on and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we were now officially in Russia.
The world rogaining championships is a 24 hour long competion where teams of between two and four people navigate their way through the forest, choosing their route to visit checkpoints worth different point scores. Maps are provided a couple of hours before the midday start, so that teams can spend time measuring up the distances between checkpoints and working out where they think their route should go in order for them to collect the greatest points score over the 24 hours. Although every team receives the same map, there are different age and gender categories within the competition, with classes ranging from the Open category (age 21 to 40) up to Ultra veterans (age 65 plus).
The competition forest was quite complex with many small knolls and hills, at times entirely surrounded by marsh. My team mate Zara and I planned our route to take in the best value points per kilometer that we could see on the map. If there were tracks nearby we used them, but between some checkpoints we had to go fully cross country through the forest and marsh. In some parts our route took us across the grassy fields of abandoned farms, or past small clusters of inhabited houses, but generally the area felt quite remote, and a bit like time had stood still for a long time. Overall we came 52nd, and 7th Open women's team, beaten by four Russian womens teams and two from Estonia. Our route was the most efficient, as we travelled fewer kilometers than many teams, but it was also a slow route on account of the amount of cross country legs we did. We learned lots from the experience. The social team of Lachlan, Emily and Duncan had their own set of experiences too, becoming confused in a marsh labyrinth and not finding any checkpoints for three hours. It was tough out there!
That was all a week ago now, and we've left behind the mud and mosquitoes of the marshes, for the glitz and glamour of the big Russian cities of St Petersburg and Moscow. St Petersburg was almost too awesome, with its extensive ornate architecture. Enormous cathedrals and palaces greeted every turn of the head and it was hard to regard the city as a genuine place that common people live. The streets were busy with people and in our travel clothes we contrasted greatly with the local crowds, who all seemed to be well dressed, even if some of them were Russian tourists. St Petersburg is comprised of a series of islands as the city is situated on low lying land. We took a canal tour by boat, which was a good way of seeing a lot without walking the pavement and feeling out of place next to all the fashionably dressed Russian tourists. The guide told us that there are only 20-30 sunny days per year in St Petersburg, so we had more than our share.
Here in Moscow we have a better chance of fitting in, although our footwear will always give us away as locals don't go around wearing hiking sandles or running shoes on the street. There is a different feel in Moscow compared to St Petersburg. Athough there is still the air of a mighty city, the footpaths are full of university students rather than the well heeled. Riding the metro system is a fun thing to do. The satisfaction of interpreting the metro map is part of it, as stations at the same geographic locality have different names depending on which line you are arriving on. The other part is the spectacular artistry in the station architecture, such as mosaics in the roofs and bronze statues in the hall walkways.
Today we are off to visit the Kremlin, which might occupy several hours. Our favourite big name site so far is probably Gorky Park, which had a lovely relaxed atmosphere when we went there on our first evening in Moscow...locals were out riding, or learning to ride bikes and roller blades, or walking and talking, and you were even allowed to sit on the grass.
Tomorrow night we start our journey out of Russia, to Astana in Kazakhstan. This will be a sixty hour train trip, with the four of us (Zara left us in St Petersburg, to head home to Australia) in a small cupe together! You'll hear about it in the next email no doubt.
Big thanks to everyone sending news from home, I do like to know what is happening back there and how you all are, it's much appreciated. Take care all,