(Most of this trip was written up back in 2009, and I am not going to re-write it much)
In year 2009 I had my good job for two years, my empty international passport expiring in about a year and enough money to spend on a good trip. But I had no idea where to go and just how someone arranges a trip. I was aimlessly thinking about it, when I run on LJ on a blog of some Moscow group, that was organizing for a trip to Ruka, Finland. They were going skiing and snowboarding, I had no experience with either. But they agreed to take me along and teach me once we are there.
Out of the whole group I had the second longest trip to make. And to top it of I also had a choice between arriving to Moscow at 7am or at 10pm on Friday 13th and nothing between them. As our train was leaving at 1am next day and I still had to collect all of the travel documents I could only choose 7am flight. Leaving me with a full day to spend in Moscow. It wasn't much of a problem - I like to walk and after I bought a map I was reasonably sure that I'd be able to find my way if I get too lost. There was also a little fact that I had to get to airport at around 5am, while my father who before always insisted on driving me when I needed it usually don't get up until 8am. I'm still not sure how I managed to win the right to take a taxi both on the way there and when I'll come back.
So I did the tourist thing - went to Red Square, watched the Change of the Honor Guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden, spent some time in GUM - mostly looking, as it is an overpriced tourist-trap. Then walked around just looking at the buildings and sometimes exploring side-streets shops. I didn't take many photos as I have over a thousand from last year (trip to aunt in the Ukraine). I didn't go into any museums despite that I wanted to initially - it was too nice to simply look around. I have to admit that having a map didn't save me from getting lost. Twice. But thanks to it I was able to get to some metro station and orient myself.
Saint Basil's Cathedral
Change of the Honor Guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden
A break in GUM
First meeting of our group was at midnight under the Lenin monument on the Leningradsky Train Terminal. I got there around 8pm and at first stayed on the first floor. That was something I have paid for later as I got my first brush with cold. I've also managed to find a pay-by-minute mobile phone recharger and for some unknown reason it was even working. By midnight I had a phone that was supposed to last at least two days and I was more then ready to drop on something horizontal and fall asleep - as long as it was warm. And I saw at least 5 other skiing/snowboarding groups gather under the Lenin monument and leave. Finally by 12:30am we all met, raided the shops for food and went to board the train - considering that everyone but me in our group (20 people) had skis or snowboard that was one hell of a task. Plus we were all in different cabs. So, as I do have a bad memory when it comes to names/faces, I did my best to remember three of the girls I would live with and then spent my time on train reading a guide to Finland, taking photos just to have something to do and catching up missed sleep. Oh, yea, and my phone battery died after only 24 hours when we hit a no-signal zone.
From train's window
We arrived to Kandalaksha early in the morning. From there it was 6 to 8 hours on bus - depending on how long we would spend crossing the border - it was a valid concern as all had a lot of luggage. I was lucky to get one of the front seats and could listen to our guide as he was telling about Finland - it was just a (somewhat) private talk with his friend but it was very interesting. We crossed border with no problems - one bout of stupidity doesn't count, one of the girls didn't read warnings and went down the wrong way stating that she had to fill out the declaration (if this phrase doesn't make sense, wait till evening. I'm not sure how to say it in English and will recheck it from home with dictionary). After a stop at duty-free shop where I didn't buy much - there was few things there other than alcohol and chocolate - we were on our way. Most impressing was difference in the forests - you don't need a border to know that you are not in Russia any longer - all forests were clean, no sign of dead trees or overgrown shrubs. And the funniest things were side-roads with mailboxes on them and no houses nearby.
In Ruka we arrived at 2pm. There we found out that nobody knows just where were our houses. So we have pulled out our things from the bus as driver said that he won't be able to get us further, and started exploring. About an hour later they were located and we rushed in. Or tried to. Turned out there was a mistake in our papers and check in wasn't until 6pm. Fortunately for some reason one code worked and we put our things there. Then everyone went to the slopes not wanting to waste time. One of the girls stayed behind as she managed to catch a cold and I went to rental.
Unloaded in Ruka, no idea where to go next
That was when I made a mistake. I decided to try a snowboard. After renting it some of the guys who didn't leave yet tried to show me but it was a fail - I couldn't catch my balance. And when I tried to get down a baby-slope that doesn't even count as a proper one I fell several times all hits unpleasantly echoing in my back. When I fell face-down, didn't get my hands to soften the fall and bounced my head of the ground hard enough to get one hell of a headache I decided not to tempt fate and switch to skis next morning.
When codes to other suits unblocked and people started to sort out who and where would move turned out that there were some changes and I was staying in other group where most were younger then me and much more rowdy. I think normally I would have been able to deal with it - by staying out as much as possible - but on that evening I had a minor breakdown when my first attempt to switch to another suit with only four people failed - turned out they have paid more to have only four people. It took me some time to calm down and I was resigned to be miserable for the whole vacation - we didn't have anything in common and I hated their music. But suddenly it all worked out - a brother and sister in that four-people apartment found out they had same taste as the company in mine. So they have agreed to switch with me.
On that evening while I didn't know if I would be able to move or not, I hid with the girls I was supposed to live with in the beginning. It was fun, even if I don't know what they thought of me - as usual I stayed quiet and mostly listened. They all are far more skilled then I am and all of them are in that sport where they jump, slide over rails and so on - I don't know even Russian terms for most of it, I'm not going to guess at English ones.
Main room of the apartment
In the end I went to my suite - that immediately gained the term "home" from me - and crashed.