The time has finally come to write about one of the most eventful parts of our trip so far – crossing Stavropol Krai (Ставропо́льский край), Kabardino-Balkaria (Кабарди́но-Балка́рская Респу́блика) and North Ossetia-Alania (Республика Северная Осетия — Алания), but mainly to write about the people we met there. The latter federal subjects of Russia would rarely be found on a tourists’ wish list nor would they be the first choice for travellers’ routes if other options were at hand. With all the literature and information given to us and advises that the regions might be dangerous and a little wild, we were still pretty excited to be closing in on the North Caucasus.
It was well after midnight when the ferry approached Russian port “Kavkaz” and all of its passengers rushed to get back to their personal vehicles, buses or cargo trucks. I was the only cyclist on board and as soon as the gate opened I was ready to head into the unknown. I could only guess what is waiting for me there – how many kilometres I would have to pedal tonight to get to our camping spot and what will locals think about the flying Latvian flag (we had an impression that a lot of Russians do not like Latvians very much).
I had to encounter the first surprise right after I left the ferry – it turned out that the passenger terminal is located on a narrow and long strip of land and I will have to cycle for approximately eleven kilometres to reach the Russian mainland and thus our camping site. Fearing no darkness and exhaustion I headed to the coast. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the asphalt is of decent quality and the road is lit by countless lanterns. Most probably the road has been renovated to accommodate the increasing flow of transport after the annexation of Crimean peninsula. This comparatively short cycling trip was notable for mainly two reasons – the annoying headwind and the late hour of day. At the very end of this land strip I was greeted by Russian police at the police checkpoint – it was really a pleasant meeting as they allowed me to continue without any interesting questions (they were really friendly and humorous). I waved goodbye to the officers and cycled on to look for our camp site.
Despite all the warnings directed at us and rumors about all that could go wrong with our intended ferry trip from Crimean peninsula to Russia, all was well and simple. The ferries run all night long with regular intervals (we arrived to the port around 11pm) and we didn’t have to wait in any queues because we were ‘pedestrians’ (and one cyclist). There was a queue for cars but it didn’t look tremendously long. Since the annexation of Crimea in March, the number of ferries operating between Port Crimea and Port Caucasus has been increased and now there are in total about 10 vessels (including train ferries) navigating back and forth from these destinations.
The only thing that took longer than expected, was the ferry ride itself. It was supposed to take 30 minutes but we ended up floating in the Kerch Strait for at least an hour. So, as the Greek ferry “Γλυκοφιλουσα III” was slowly drifting about, the main deck filled with Russians, a few foreign tourists and at least one Ukrainian, it finally felt like we are closing in on the real Russian Federation. Continue reading
Morning in Yalta and climbing Gaiziņkalns
As Ivars and Laura perfectly pointed out our resting place in Yalta was in no way ordinary. In the same vein the following day was not ordinary. We were already late (the usual morning ritual took us more than expected and it was already 12.30 when we were ready to leave) and thus there was no more time to waste, I had to jump on the saddle and pedal away.
Before leaving Sevastopol, I had spent some time looking over maps of Southern Crimea to understand what exactly I should expect there (I was particularly interested in elevation profile of the peninsula). For this purpose there is an excellent tool – cycleroute.org. In this simple and intuitive web site you can see the elevation profile for you chosen cycling route – all uphill and downhill sections are highlighted, you can see how steep and long is the climb. In our situation the practical significance was not so evident as we had already decided upon the chosen route. All I could do was to check if my worst fears corresponded to the reality. This time it was what happened – I found out that I will have to battle with several hills higher than the highest “mountain” in Latvia – Gaiziņkalns (312 meters above sea level).