||Time for another long travel day, out of Terskol to Mineral Vody for a flight to Moscow. The majority of this trip was like a rewind-version of our trip into this mountain hamlet. However, we had a bit nicer of a van taking us from Terskol to Mineral Vody. The cool mountain air gave way to much more oppressive lowland heat as we made our way along crowded roads to Mineral Vody. The trip down was mostly quiet -- in large part due to the inebriations from the previous two nights. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that the group was a bunch of lush drunkards, but the celebratory air of a successful climb and the fact that Russians seem to keep vodka handy for any occasion whatsoever did take it's toll.
At Mineral Vody's air "port" (I'm telling you, it's a bunch of Tuff Sheds!), there was another lunch held in a rickety lounge, a few more administrative hoops to get tickets and passports processed, and then another mass-transit bus ride to our rickety old plane, parked in the middle of the cracked, pockmarked tarmac. The 3-hour flight to Moscow was a cramped and stuffy affair, helped not at all by the fact that we seemed to be sharing the plane with somebody's basketball team.
Once we landed in Moscow, I experienced possibly the longest plane-taxi experience of my life, to the point where I was sure we were either leaving the airport altogether or getting ready for a second lap. We passed a number of planes parked off the tarmac on the sunflower-dotted fields, in various states of disassembly. We all raised eyebrows and wondered if perhaps our flight was the last for this old rustbucket of a DC-10, and we were just going to deplane from it's final resting spot. Finally we rolled to a stop and took yet another creaky old bus back to the terminal area.
After the wait for our luggage, we bustled with the teeming crowd out to the front of the airport and into our bus for the trip to our hotel. It finally felt a little like modern civilization -- we boarded a brand-new touring coach and quickly merged onto a major highway. I was immediately struck by how "western" things seemed as we drove on. Roads full of late-models sedans and SUVs (both European AND American brands!), and suburbs with new, sprawling home developments and apartment complexes. McDonalds'es seemed to live on every corner, and all of them were packed with people. We could have been driving into Cleveland, were it not for the Cryllic text splashed across the billboards!
As we approached the interior of Moscow we got a few glimpses of what you expected to see in Moscow -- onion-domed churches, historical spires and blocky communist-era buildings. Finally, after an hour we rolled up to our hotel - it was a Holiday Inn.