written by Janet Starr – Sept. 4, 2013
CCE’s outgoing program took place in Russia this year, Aug 12-21. We were invited by Vladimir Filippov, the vice president of the Moscow Cycle Touring Club. The group included 11 Americans, 2 Italians, 8 Chinese, 1 Turk and 8 Russians. We toured the Golden Ring of Russia starting with a bus hop about 200 kilometers northeast of Moscow to begin a loop which went thru many small historical towns filled with onion domed churches and museums. Vlad and other members of his cycling club put on several bike tours in the summer – Adventure Tours and Comfort Tours.
The Comfort Tour stays in hotels in town with private bathrooms, is served dinner in the hotel and is more expensive. The Adventure Tour stays in ‘cottages’ out of town and cooks many of their own dinners. Cottages are large houses with many bedrooms, a few bathrooms and a kitchen. When there were not enough beds, the Russians camped outside with Frank and Hassan. One of these cottages was the home of an artist and she served us dinner at a long table outside in the garden. One was on a military base that was formerly used as a Communist retreat and looked like something out of Dr. Zhivago. One was a beautiful log house on the Volga River. One was a children’s summer camp with a mess hall. Some of them had banyas (Russian saunas).
Our tour was a CCE style Adventure Tour modified to keep costs as low as possible and include more Russian participants and cultural opportunities. We had the traditional CCE dinner plan where members of each country shop and cook one night. Since we didn’t get to the lodgings till 5:00pm and cooking for 30 people is difficult, dinner was sometimes very late. The standing joke was ‘This is not the comfort tour – no whining’. But there was really nothing to whine about–the food was good and the ethnic food competition was great.
The riding was mostly on small rural roads – some good, some rough and some dirt. The Russians ride hybrid or mountain bikes with shock absorbers. The terrain was mostly flat to rolling so the 30 – 55 miles a day of riding was not difficult. We had ‘food stops’ every 30 kilometers. The sag vehicle would set up a table with bread, cheese, fruit, mystery meat, cookies, Nescafe and tea.
Each day we had a cultural activity stop which would include things like a church with singing, or a house museum with tea and blinis (pancakes), or a musical concert with Russian instruments and costumes. In Suzdal, Albina took us for a night walking tour of some monasteries on the river. We even met with officials in Uglich and the local newspaper and TV station came to document the cultural exchange event.
What impressed me most about the scenery was how vast it is – big sky. There are endless green meadows surrounded by low forests. The colorful old buildings in the towns have carved wooden eaves and window frames and are surrounded by wild, unkempt flower gardens. For much of the time we followed the Volga River. We were blessed with perfect riding weather. It was about 75 and sunny most of the days.
One of our Russian friends would purchase a couple of cases of beer and sell them to us for pre-dinner entertainment. The late dinners were always fantastic and that is when the Russians brought out the vodka. Afterwards, Russian host Andrey Sychev would play the guitar and sing. He even wrote a beautiful song about our trip (in English! in one day! in his head while riding his bike!). The chorus starts with: ‘Just for this ride, Just for this ride, Let us put all our differences aside.’
The Russians were wonderful hosts. They took really good care of us and planned an outstanding trip. After growing up in a time period where the Russians were considered ‘the bad guys’, it is refreshing to learn that once again, the people are very nice, and pretty much just like us.