I cannot say that we are moving at our fastest pace, yet I somehow can't find time to blog and upload photos. I apologize. In the last two weeks we:
-Took a sweltering 17-hour train ride from St. Petersburg north to Kem. The town has nothing to offer except being close to the White Sea, where we took a 3.5 hour boat to Solovki Islands. There are half a dozen islands, just below the Arctic Circle, where a monastery has existed for several centuries. During soviet times, the monastery was turned in the infamous prison camp of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. We stealth camped in the woods, and we paid the Russian far for the boat ride instead of the foreigner fare. Read the full blog post
-Spent another night on a train, heading further north into Arctic. We found two awesome towns, Kirovsk and Apatity, where the people were just super friendly and helpful, beyond anything I had experienced elsewhere in Russia. We camped a few days in the Khibini Mountains, which rise just above 1000 meters but have some pretty gnarly weather that nearly took down our tent. It was also light enough outside that I could read until midnight. I loved the long days here! Read the full blog post
-Celebrated our one-year anniversary in Murmansk, the largest city in the Arctic. We ate a lot of cake, got a tour of a nuclear icebreaker (one of only six in the world), and had a great time hanging out with our couchsurfing host. That was, by far, the most north we had ever been. Read the full blog post
-Flew from the very northern tip of Russia to the southern. The people in the north told us not to come down here, to the Caususas Mountains, as the people weren't as nice. However, we are finding generosity even beyond what we experienced up north. Everybody is interested to meet us. Like in the north, there are very few travelers here and we are kind of like celebrities.
We are now heading into the mountains for a three-day backpacking trip. Nothing too extreme, that's for sure. But we'll be topping out at over 3000 meters and will have a grand view of Mt. Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe.