Europe Trip, September 2017

The best way to get away from the crowds in the Seattle area during Labor Day is to fly to another country. We had a direct Delta flight to Paris where we disembarked and went through French Customs. The last time Linna and I went through Paris customs back in May it was a major cluster fuck, we spent over two hours in line and missed our next flight. This time there was potential of the same shit, but this time we just left the roped off area and went for a line that was 5 people deep versus 300 deep. So, now we are thinking we out smarted the Paris airport but only to get delayed in baggage claim for over an hour. What is going on with Charles De Gull airport…I have flown into this airport over 20 times and it was always smooth sailing.

After checking into our next flight for Budapest, we found the nearest Skyteam lounge and found refuge. Linna convinced me to take a shower at the lounge, I blamed my body odor on my favorite hiking shirt I was wearing, I think it carries many sweaty hikes with it. After our easy two hour flight from Paris, the Budapest airport was clean and easy to navigate. I picked up an Avis rental from the airport and drove about 20 minutes to our hotel which was located in city center. We decided to shower and get out, if we napped we risked the chance of not getting up at all and waste the evening.

We headed out around 5:30 p.m. and walked toward the Danube River. We stopped and took a few picture of the Shoes of Danube and kept walking toward Chain Bridge for some night shots. It started to rain on our way back to the hotel, which we had planned for with rain jackets. It was a nice easy rain and not so cold….in fact I was wearing my go to flip flops. We got lucky and found ourselves on a street filled with restaurants and picked out a busy traditional restaurant.

Spain Trip, May 2017

The last time I was in Spain was maybe 16 years ago….when camera’s were still using film and where my camera was stolen along with my film. We invited John Biltucci and his wife XiuYun Jiang for this short 8 day trip visiting Barcelona, Madrid and Segovia. This was their first trip to Spain…and Linna’s too.

Norway Trip, February 2017

Really? A Norway trip during the winter….just what I thought when my wife Linna wanted to visit the Lofoten area for her February birthday. We invited a couple of other friends, Mike Curry and Emelie Espling to enjoy this winter wonderland with us.

We spent two nights and a full day in Oslo before flying up to Leknes via Bodo. More than two days in Oslo would be just a waste of time.

3 Peaks, United Kingdom, June 2016

Like any major group event or accomplishment, it starts off with someone throwing out the idea in the first place and the 3 Peak conversation actually started 3 years ago over dinner in Germany. The 3 Peak Challenge is a major hiking event in United Kingdom where you attempt to summit the highest mountain of Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours. The total distance walked is estimated at 26 miles with a total ascent of 3,000m or 9,800 ft.
Ben Nevis (1,344m or 4,409ft.), the highest mountain in Scotland
Scafell Pike (978m or 3,209ft.), the highest mountain in England
Snowdon (1,085m or 3,560ft.), the highest mountain in Wales

I had a direct flight from Seattle to London where I picked up our 9 passenger Volkswagen van that we would end up sleeping, dressing and eating in for nearly two days. I drove up to Glasgow where I would meet up with the rest of the “Fantastic Four” squad. First team member and most important was Cyril Hodgson from England, UK. His role was crucial and most demanding…he was our driver and mountain guide. Second team member was Jeremy Davis from Wales, UK. He coordinated the dates, times and brought the “Fantastic Four” together. Third team member was Ilka Plöhn from Germany. She made sure the men remained humble, she made Germany proud. Last but not least, I was the Fourth team member representing United States.

There is a reason why they call this a “Challenge” because summiting 3 main peaks in 24 hours with inclement weather and driving 10 hours in heavy traffic is very demanding mentally and physically. Our Fantastic Four squad was successful because our transport driver Cyril Hodgson was dynamic and steadfast on his driving….a professional rally driver for sure!

I completed the 3 Peak Challenge in 23 hours and 40 minutes with only 20 minutes left-over! Even though United Kingdom (Jeremy Davis) and Germany (Ilka Plöhn) reached the finish-line before me…my mind, body and soul was overwhelmed with happiness. We were successful on our first attempt because our team was essentially equivalent in physical stamina and determination, there was a large percentage of teams that came up short.

Europe Trip, May 2016

We didn’t have great weather on this five country European adventure, but we did have eleven rewarding days of wining, dining and some culture gathering. This was a true plane, train and automobiles adventure with four planes, five trains and three rented automobiles to conquer five countries in a very short period. Our Seattle group consisted of Jim & Ione Darmiento, Emelie & Erik Espling and my lovely wife Linna Freeman. This trip came together for various reasons…Emelie wanted to spend her 50th birthday in Nice or Monaco and Jim and Ione wanted to explore Europe for their first time and Linna and I just love to travel.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Our vacation excursion started and ended in Amsterdam mainly because of the direct flight from Seattle. We all had the same Delta flight into Schiphol except for Emelie, she skipped Amsterdam and flew to London to run the renowned London Marathon for her first time and would meet us in Paris later.

We rented a 3 series BMW for the five of us (tight) and headed to our first Airbnb two day rental. Our home away from home was a cute farmhouse few minutes from the airport in the countryside. The ride should have only took us ten minutes, but we managed to double it because of the challenging navigation system we had.

After a speedy luggage dump and fresh jet-lag bodies we drove through heavy Amsterdam traffic to walk around in a daze and stupor among the other tourists for a couple of hours. One needs to be mindful of all the bike riders that goes zooming by you in this concentrated bike filled city, one wrong misstep and you are damaged goods. It didn’t take too long until the nap syndrome came on, so we headed back for a siesta. The problem with naps during the jet-lag stage…you tend to sleep much longer then you should. I was able to pull myself from a death sleep to wake everyone else for a much needed dinner…especially before everything closed for the evening. We found this great Italian restaurant very close to our farm house, the Bistro Nice bistronice.com.

Our second day in Amsterdam we explored the Red Light district (of course) and spent the evening on a private boat ride rentaboatamsterdam.com cruising the numerous canals with Captain Mark aboard the Admiral Heijin. I did this same boat tour three years ago with some highschool buddies and we had identical weather…damp and cold. I totally recommend a private boat tour…it’s personal, romantic, entertaining and makes site seeing stress-free.

PARIS, FRANCE
We had first class train seats from Amsterdam to Paris…speedy, peaceful and quiet. We met up with Emelie, she just ran the London marathon and her train came in 5 minutes after ours. Our Paris apartment rental was close enough to walk from the Gare du Nord train station, we had a great location but a shitty apartment. This Airbnb was probably the worst vacation rental I have stayed in with all my travels, only one bath, sluggish internet and beds sized for children.

We only spent one full day in Paris and of course it wasn’t enough time to see much, but we did make sure Jim and Ione went up the Eiffel tower to see the city. We didn’t have rental cars with us in Paris, but shuffled ourselves around using Uber Van, this became an economical way of transport…averaging 4 to 5 euros per person.

Paris was mainly cold and wet but we succeeded to find a warm spot to spend a couple of entertaining nights. Our first night we met Nicholas Darde, the owner of Café Bar 21, he was just closing his establishment when we walked by after dinner out and he invited our group in for a personal festivity. We might have had a little too much celebration, we didn’t leave our dreadful apartment until the afternoon the next day. For an encore, Nicholas invited us back for a personal chef fixed menu feast. We were totally overwhelmed with his creativity and presentation of dishes coming from his petite kitchen.

NICE, FRANCE
From Paris we all booked the same Air France flight down to Nice and took Uber to our hotel for only one night stay. For being the fifth largest city in France, it seemed really small to me, but we only walked around our neighborhood and down to beautiful Mediterranean coast. I fell in love with a pair of eye glass frames along our walk to the water and became the only large purchase I made for the entire journey.

Erik booked a Michelin restaurant for Emelie’s 50th birthday, it was fantastic food and presentation but the tone was more on the stuffy side compared to the night before in Paris where the venue was more stimulating and buzzing. It became a leisurely night especially after two late nights in Paris and flying during the day, I suppose our minds, bodies and souls were exhausted. We rented two cars the next day and headed for the most densely populated country in the world…Monaco.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO
Driving twenty minutes to get to Monto Carlo, Monaco was easy, but driving around one way streets, tight turns and finding parking the next twenty minutes wasn’t easy. At this time, Jim opted out of the fun and headed for our next destination…Cinque Terre, Italy. Too bad for him and Ione though, they missed out on one of best lunches we had on this European journey…the Beefbar monaco.beefbar.com.

CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
It’s not recommended to drive to or within Cinque Terre, but our group did anyway and it’s probably a good thing our Airbnb house was located at the westernmost village Monterosso al Mare because some of the roads to the other villages were closed to rock slides. We found out the hard way, we drove over thirty minutes on our third day heading to Riomaggiore when we came to a closed road and had to turn around. We decided to take the train instead which was dirt cheap anyway…in fact free if you don’t buy any tickets and just hop on.

We spent three nights in Monterosso and was able to catch up on our laundry, our house was located on the old side of town away from the noisy tourist area. We hiked over to the next village of Vernazza on our first full day and I was surprised by the steepness in some areas, but totally worth the sweat and highly recommended the hike for the views and photo ops. After a few cold beers and a pizza we took a 30 euro personal water taxi back, I wouldn’t recommend this especially when you could train back for free.

We ended our last night stay with a two hour boat tour of all five Cinque Terre villages. I truly enjoyed this and highly recommend this to get a full perspective from the water and provides abundant photo ops too.

LAKE COMO, ITALY
We had a three hour drive to our next destination, Lake Como for two nights. Like Paris our Airbnb in Como was in a wonderful location, we had shopping, restaurants and the lake within walking distance. Unlike the Paris apartment, this apartment was magnificent with large comfortable bedrooms with your own balcony, two bathrooms, new appliances and fast internet. Linna and I wasn’t a fan of Lake Como, but we really didn’t adventure out much either. We did have a splendid dinner our first night at Osteria, just a ten minute walk from our apartment.

We dropped Eric and Emelie at the Milan airport and the rest of us headed towards Chamonix, France hoping to take the tram up to view Mont Blanc up close, but just like last year’s visit for Linna and I…it was covered in dense cloud cover. No worries though, we had an enjoyable lunch along with some shopping in the quaint ski town of Chamonix.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
We continued onto Geneva, Switzerland to catch our flight to Amsterdam. We spent the night at the Hilton airport and flew direct to Seattle the next day.

Overall it was an exceptional trip with good friends, lovely dinners and cool cities.

Germany Trip, April 2016

This trip started with an upgrade to business class on my Delta flight from Seattle direct to Amsterdam. I rented a car from Sixt at the Europe’s fifth busiest airport (Schiphol) and headed for Cologne, Germany for my first night. My hotel was a minute walk from the famous Cologne Cathedral…a very cool Gothic twin spires medieval church. This church averages 20,000 visits a day and I was part of that crowd.

Being in Germany one needs to take advantage of the autobahn and the proficient drivers that drive it. Living in Seattle for the past 20 years I have experienced the slowest and incompetent drivers than any other city I know. So when I have a chance to drive legally at a high-rate of speed…I do. I tried with my Kia Sportage rental on my way to Grenoble, France with the pedal to the metal I was able to reach 114 mph / 184 kph and I didn’t let up until I hit traffic. What a pleasure it is to drive fast in an organized manner and at the same time it’s actually safer than weaving in and out among the lethargic Seattle drivers.

After a visit in the beautiful town of Grenoble, France I was off to the most stunning city in the world where my good friends Benoît Clerc and his soon to be wife Audrey live…Annecy, France. Not only did they prepare a home cooked meal, Benoît opened up a 1999 Chateau de Puligny Montrachet Monthelie wine to go with it. Benoît and Audrey are climbers and adventures and understand the importance of travel…my kind of people.

After another long day of driving I was in Munich meeting up with my good friends Michael Williams and Andre Nevell. Due to an enormous event in town we ended up staying in a hostel, this was my first stay in a hostel so I was a little apprehensive at first. Even this hostel was charging 400 Euros per night per room.

Czech Republic Trip, September 2015

My preparation for a vacation consist of buying an airline ticket and booking a hotel for my wife Linna and I. We have showed up many a time in another country with no inkling what the hell we are going to do or see, but one thing we do well is stumble upon remarkable restaurants and discover the cool spots in town.

The flight from Seattle started in good fashion with me receiving a new seat assignment of 2C to Amsterdam. Well…it was marvelous for me, but my wife was still stuck back in comfort plus. I tried to convince (really) her to exchange with me but she insisted for me to keep it. We all know there is a major difference from sleeping flat versus upright!

Our destination was Prague, Czech Republic with a blank itinerary. This is our first trip to the Czech Republic and we spent most of it around Prague. Our hotel was centrally located and just a short walk to the Old Town Square and train station. We did a lot of walking which is the best way to see Prague of course. We visited all the local stuff…started off in Old Town Square, Charles Bridge and then onto the Prague Castle our first full day. We finished our day with a Thai oil massage and a late dinner.

We had heavy lunches and late dinners and usually found a semi-romantic dinner spot around 9:00 p.m.. We would focused on outdoor dining knowing the inside could be a little smoky…those Prague people love their cigarettes; plus we love to people watch too.

We pretty much completed Prague in three days so we decided on a day excursion to Dresden, Germany. Dresden is just over the border of Czech Republic and was completely destroyed during WWII by the controversial heavy bombing by the British and Americans. Dresden has been reconstructed and now Germans consider Dresden as their country’s most beautiful city.

Italy Trip, May 2015

The last time I was in Italy was 1995 and I have forgotten most of what I have seen or done, so this trip was a nice recap. My wife Linna put this trip together and invited her friend Xiuyun Jiang and her husband John Biltucci and a long-time friend of mine Mike Curry. Xiuyun did an excellent job of planning an itinerary for us in Rome and Florence, our two cities we rented apartments in.

We flew to Rome via a connection in JFK in New York on Delta Airlines and Italia Airlines to Rome. Note to oneself…skip the connection and fly direct to Paris and then bullet train down. Not only is JFK an old grimy airport, you end up flying two long legs. I will never fly Italia Airlines again, my Delta diamond status had no prominence with this Skyteam Alliance airline. It all started when I checked in and my seat all sudden went from a comfort plus up front to a cramped window seat in back with audio equipment utilizing all of my leg room. My wife Linna with no flying prestige was well situated with a four row seat all to herself, she was nice enough to ask me to join her. We were able to get some decent sleep on our way down to Rome.

Our group rented an apartment in the heart of Rome www.vrbo.com/1131096ha with all the beautiful amazing attractions surrounding us. Even though we were all pretty hammered by our flight we mustered enough energy to walk to the Spanish steps and found a perfect outdoor café for lunch and then shopped before we walked back our apartment. After a well-deserved shower we had dinner at a local café right below our apartment.

France Trip, September 2014

France might be my favorite country to visit with its beautiful countryside and historically old cities. I usually make a trip to Europe once a year and since Seattle has a direct flight to Paris it will always be the first city we explore. Linna and I flew over Labor weekend and we didn’t miss a beat once we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. We flung our luggage in the rental car and took off to our hotel to quickly freshen up and then drove over to the city of Versailles to visit the Château de Versailles or also called the Palace of Versailles. When the Palace was built in the 1600’s Versailles was a country village and now it’s a wealthy suburb of Paris. This is a very cool area, we actually stayed in Trianon Palace Versailles, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel about 3 years ago.

After a nice sleep we were off the next day to the Notre Dame Cathedral or locals call it “Our Lady of Paris”. The cathedral is considered one of the best illustration of French Gothic architecture and one of the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world. Linna and I walked up the 387 steps to the top to get a fantastic view of the city and the lovely Eiffel Tower. We were still in tourist mode so we started walking along the magnificent Seine River running through the heart of Paris. Passing the many Love Padlocks bridges and eventually stopping for a long overdue lunch. I wanted to end my day at the Eiffel Tower for a few night pictures. This will be my third trip to the most visited paid monument in the world. It’s memorizing when you are on top looking down at the glimmering city lights with the glow of the boats cruising the Seine River.

Paris was complete and the next day we took a bullet train to Lyon where I picked up a rental car and drove over to Lake Geneva. My Hilton hotel was actually located near the shore in the small city of Évian. Its home to the Évian mineral water and hosts the Evian Championship women’s professional golf tournament every year. I was off to Grenoble, France for the day and later we drove down to the most beautiful city in the world…Annecy, France. We had dinner with Benoit and Audrey Clerc…a charming couple I met during my climb of Aconcagua in Argentina in 2012. We had a few beers and dinner later along the Thiou canal and near the Palais de l’Isle castle which was built in 1132. Benoit suggested we drive over to Chamonix, France the next day and take the aerial cable car to Aiguille du Midi an elevation of 3,842 m / 12,605 ft. to view the famous Mont Blanc up close. Well…there was no view the clouds were thick as soup. On the way back to our hotel in Évian I was pulled over speeding and had to pay 90 Euros on the spot.

The next day we were back to Lyon for a peaceful train ride back to Paris. We stayed downtown in the heart of the shopping area and found a romantic sidewalk café for dinner after hours of shopping. We both had flights the next day from Charles De Gaulle but in different directions, I was off to London and Linna was back to Seattle.

Europe Trip, April 2013

How many times in your lifetime you get to meet up with a couple of high school classmates in Amsterdam and then train down to Frankfurt, cruise through Austria and Southern Germany. Well….it doesn’t happen without effort and planning. Jerry Story, Brad Wilcher and I started planning this trip last year and it finally came to fruition. Jerry and I landed in the morning with Brad coming in the early afternoon, when he came out of customs….we had a cold beer waiting for him.

After a brief train ride to city center we only had a 5 minute walk to our hotel and off to the Red Light District for a few drinks we went. That night we booked a two hour boat ride through the canals….I will book this same boat company with my wife Linna on our next trip.

Europe Trip, March 2013

I think Europe is my favorite place to visit, well organized and very clean. More to come…

Paris Trip, January 2012

I usually fly Delta Airlines direct into Amsterdam when I am visiting Europe, this time I had the urge to start my trip off in Paris and end in Paris. I flew Air France direct into Paris early morning and took a taxi to my Hilton hotel near the Arc de Triomphe. My room wasn’t quite ready, so it gave me time to catch up on emails and have a little breakfast in the excutive lounge. After getting settled into my room, a nap was in order; I slept a couple of hours before my co-worker Martyn Crouch met up with me later at the hotel. Martyn took the Eurostar train www.eurostar.com from London to Paris, a little over two hours of stress free train ride. It’s common knowledge that the trains in Europe rock….lots of comfort and speed.

We headed out for dinner, a ten minute taxi ride to the Notre Dame Cathedral neighborhood. We had dinner at Mon Vieil Ami www.mon-vieil-ami.com, a very cozy place. In fact, it was so cozy that we were seated so close to people that we were literally touching elbows. The food and atmosphere more than made up for the tight seating. After dining, we headed for one of the most famous monuments…..the Eiffel Tower. I was surprised that Martyn living in the UK and just a couple of trains away, this was his first time visiting the Eiffel Tower in person. The last time I was here with my wife Linna, we just missed the last elevator ride to the top, but I didn’t miss it this time. This was my first time heading to the top and it was incredible. It was a clear night, but it was extremely cold; France was getting hit with an artic blast coming in from Russia.

Next day was a train ride to Grenoble, France….a city in southeastern France, known as the “Capital of the Alps”. When you are in France, you ride the TGV trains www.tgv-europe.com. French trains maintain the highest average speed, they move up to 322 kph (201 mph). With Paris as its hub, this high-speed French network interconnects throughout Europe making it an attractive alternative to the plane. Due to traffic and a slow taxi driver, we missed our train departure and had to catch the next train. We had a meeting in Grenoble that I had to move out to the afternoon. After our meeting we headed to the Park Hotel www.park-hotel-grenoble.fr, I have been staying here for the past 10 years. This is an older but eloquent hotel and they serve a great breakfast. After checking in, we heading out for dinner. Due to the extreme cold, we didn’t walk to the center city where I love to wine and dine at all the many restaurants and shops. About four blocks away from our hotel we landed at this this pizzeria that was fabulous.

Next day was another TGV train ride to Lille, France. Martyn and I met up with another co-worker at the Lille train station, Sophie Brouillet a French native that has lived in the UK for the past 14 years. I rented a car from Avis at the train station and we headed toward our hotel Au Tonnelier www.autonnelier.com located in Bergues, France…a very northern city. The next day I was in the UK visiting Ipswich and Leicester. I finished my trip off with a train ride back from London to Paris followed by an Air France flight back to Seattle the next day.

Denmark Trip, September 2011

Linna and I wanted to visit a new country in Europe and we chose the Denmark area. We flew into Amsterdam and started our adventure in our rental car. We actually had no set plans on where we were going or where we were staying, in fact…we booked our first night hotel after we landed. Even though I didn’t sleep at all on the flight, I decided to drive to Bremen, Germany for our first day and night stay. By the time we checked in and showered up, it was dinner around 9:30 p.m. Our hotel was located in a very cool area near the river, the buildings and churches were glowing with the flood lights on them.

Next day we were headed to Esbjerg to see the “Man Meets the Sea” and then wanted to drive Northeast to end up at Aarhus for the night. About 1/2 hour out of Bremen, we got stuck in heavy traffic and delayed our schedule quite a bit, so we just headed to Aarhus for the night. I rented a Opel Sigma , not a bad car, but it takes awhile to get up to left lane cruising speed; I eventually got the Opel up to 145 mph. I got passed by a 7 Series BMW today in a no speed limit zone, but….I eventually passed him later in a restricted speed zone; he was abiding the law and I wasn’t. With a population of more than 300,000, Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city and was founded by the Vikings in the 8th century. We took off walking after breakfast and headed for “Old City”, but…..along the way we noticed a cool circular walkway on top of a building. So we headed over and found out it was the ARoS Museum. The “Your Rainbow Panorama” was just added this year which was super entertaining. After a three hours of enjoyment, we headed to the “Old City”….this was actually pretty cool to see.

Now on our third day, we headed toward Copenhagen, it was actually our main destination for this trip. It was a three hour drive over from Aarhus and a $65 bridge toll! One thing we found out about Denmark….it’s damn expensive and it could be one of the most expensive cities in the world. We arrived to our hotel “First” and got checked in around 6:30 p.m., the plan was to take a nap and get up around 9:00 p.m. and head out for dinner….well, we slept through and woke up at 3:00 a.m. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up and worked on my emails and my blog until our 6:30 a.m. breakfast time. After breakfast was tourist activities, shopping on the famous Stroget street, we checked out Castle and the Winding Tower. The next day we checked out Carlsberg Beer and the Church of our Saviour, the famous corkscrew spiral staircase that ends at the very top. This church was completed in 1695 and is known for its baroque architecture.

After our three days in Copenhagen, we took off after breakfast back to Germany. To shorten our route, we decided to take a 45 minute ferry ride ($104) from Rodbyhavn into Germany and then we drove into Bremen (again) for the night. Bremen was only a resting stop for the night, after breakfast we headed toward Amsterdam for our last night.

We took country roads to Amsterdam, which is my favorite way of driving anywhere in the world; you gain a sense of the local culture and you get a quite peaceful ride with beautiful scenery. We got to our hotel room around 7:00 p.m. and we decided to take a nap before we headed to the Red Light district downtown Amsterdam. By the time we got up and got going into the sin city it was 11:30 p.m. Parking is always tough, it took me a good 15 minutes to find parking…we ended up walking 10 minutes into the heart of the Red Light District. On the way in, we walked by so many “coffee shops”, the sweet marijuana smell was permeating the night air. This was Linna’s first time seeing “woman for sale” standing in the windows and all the live sex shows in the area; we did some window shopping and had a few drinks. We got home about 3:30 a.m., the same day as Linna’s flight back to Seattle.

Linna headed back to Seattle and I flew later to East Midlands, United Kingdom for some work in the UK, France and Belgium with my co-worker Greg Tebb. He lives in Lincoln, UK….a very quaint city, it’s dates back to the 1700’s. I stayed at the Washington Borough Hall http://www.washingboroughhall.com a 300 year old mansion Bed & Breakfast in Lincoln, it was probably the best B&B I have ever stayed in.

Mt. Elbrus Climb (Russia), July 2010

Day One – Flying & More Flying
Flight to Moscow (SVO) via Amsterdam went well and my friend Zhenya and his friend Vasya picked me up.  We got in Vasya’s car, he drives a Ford; there are actually quite a few Fords on the road in Moscow, there is a Ford assembly plant in Russia.  Moscow has the typical traffic like any other major city and we got into some typical rush hour traffic…so it was slow going from the airport.  We listened to local Russian radio stations playing all sorts of music….also listen to a couple of stations that only played English rock n’roll songs.

Zhenya insisted I stay with him and his wife Oksana the first night….which was alright with me, I didn’t have to spend $400 plus on my Hilton room that night.  Zhenya and Oksana live in apartment/condo on the fourth floor fifteen miles from Moscow downtown or the Kremlin area.  Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world.  Olesya was waiting for us at the apartment/condo and provided a warm greeting when I walked in.  Zhenya took off to buy some vodka and Olesya took off for the local market to buy groceries for dinner.  I was able to get in a little nap while they were out.  Olesya got back and started to prepare for dinner right away; it was a wonderful dinner shared with new friends.  During dinner we poured shots and shared stories and myths about each other country.  We also pulled out the computers to share pictures of each other’s life and culture. 

Day Two – Checking Out the Sites
Slept quite well….not sure if it was the jet lag or the local vodka we had with dinner last night.  I started my day off with a shower and two cups of instant Starbuck’s that I brought with me.  Breakfast consisted of a Danish and leftover food from last night….delish.  About 9:00 a.m. Zenya brought out a local beer, since I was on vacation I thought it couldn’t hurt.  We started watching some ESPN Sportscenter on the television as we waited for Zenya’s friend Vasya to come around.  After a couple of beers, Vasya showed up and we took off for some site seeing.  We heading toward the Kremlin area and of course parking was tough to find; we walked about 4 blocks to get on the Red Square.  The Kremlin was much bigger than I thought; almost reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing for the size of it.  I provided a few poses in front of the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral.  We walked over to Old Arbat Street for some people watching.  I came close to purchasing an oil painting; I try to buy a painting of some sort from each new country I visit.  Zheny’s wife met up with us and we headed toward my hotel so I could check in.  This Hilton was established in a landmark building in 1954 and belonged to the legendary Stalin Tower.  After check in we headed out for dinner, we decided to walk….we didn’t realize how far the restaurant was, because we walked nearly 45 minutes.  After dinner…we took the subway back to the hotel where I said farewell to my new friends.

Day Three – Chilling & Relaxing
Today I was on my own, so I slept in some and by the time I got around it was brunch time.  I headed out for some local shopping and finally made it over to Gorky’s Park.  I made it back to the hotel to finish up on some work emails and after a hotel dinner and wine I made it to bed early.  I had an early fight out the next day to Mineralnye Vody to start my Mt. Elbrus excursion.

Day Four – Heading to Mt. Elbrus
Upon check out, I found out that Hilton charged me for the first night anyway; hopefully….as I am writing this my friend will be able to get my money back.  After checking in and paying extra for overweight luggage at the airport I waited in the gate area for my flight.  I thought maybe I would see a person from my group; I was looking for hiking boots or a person that might look like a hiker.  Actually, there was quite a few people with hiking boots, they were all heading to Mineralnye Vody as I was and this is mainly a mountain area.  When we landed in Mineralnye Vody, our guide was waiting for us.  There were a total of four flights that all carried our group; consisted of 3 from Sweden’s, 2 from Belgium, 1 from Austria, 1 from the Netherlands and myself.  I was pretty excited to meet everyone and it seemed to be a great bunch of people. The mini-bus ride was little over 3 hours….beautiful scenery the whole way; we were dodging cows for most of trip that were slowly walking on the road.  The lodging was actually quite nice; I had a single room (highly recommend) that overlooked the ski-lift/cable car with two single beds. 

Day Five – Warm Up Hike
We all met for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and met up outside for our first altitude warm-up.  We hiked a mile or so over to a single chair-lift that took us up to 3,000 meters and from there we hiked up through snow and rock up to 3,400 meters/11,400 feet.  We had a 360 degree of some fantastic views at the top; the east/west peaks of Mt. Elbrus were sticking out like a sore thumb.  My heart rate peak hit 171 and I burned nearly 3,000 calories.  After coming back down, we had a great local lunch down at the village where we started at the chairlifts.  A little nap was in order in the afternoon as soon as I got back to the room.  We met up for beers before dinner around the lobby television to watch some world soccer.

Day 6 – Heading to Basecamp
Woke up to rain….which totally sucks.  Today we start our accent to Mt. Elbrus by taking chairlifts up to the first set of barrels.  First we will have breakfast and take off at 8:00 a.m.