Winter journey 2018

Day ½ of the winter journey 2018

Good morning.

This is how my sleeping room looked like yesterday:

As you may guess, I’m about to travel.

The journey had already started yesterday. After packing everything into the car (now equipped with a roof box) Annika and I travelled to Solberget where we arrived 23:50.

3 hours, 45 minutes drive. The first half: E4 and some trucks almost impossible to pass. Both boring and tiring. The second half: winter wonderland with a snowy road (we were the very only car), snow covered trees, some reindeers, at least five elks, full moon and polar light.

Today we’ll visit the market in Jokkmokk. The first event in my 6-7-week-journey.

A foretaste of what is to come: market in Jokkmokk — a bit of Solberget — a ski tour with a German friend – Kirkenes together with Annika and much more …

Sometimes I’ll be online and write articles and show photos in this blog, sometimes I won’t.

Anyway, stay tuned …

/Olaf

A starry night at Solberget

Day 1 of the winter journey 2018

After a first day on the winter market in Jokkmokk Annika and I enjoyed the cozy sauna at Solberget, my very favourite of all saunas I know. I was really tired after the sauna but just had to make some photos of the beautiful surroundings in the moonlight.

And while I made photos of the window of the sauna hut even the polar light increased a bit.

Today Annika and I will head to the Jokkmokksmarknad again. Yesterday we got a lift, today we’ll take my car.

Jokkmokk Church

Day 1 of the winter journey 2018

This is the (new) Jokkmokk church. It is a wooden church but it looks more like it was made of ice, or meringue, especially on a winter afternoon, when it’s already dark and the church is illuminated.

Impressions of the Jokkmokk Winter Market

Day 1 and 2 of the winter journey 2018

The first time I’ve been on the Jokkmokksmarknad – the Jokkmokk Winter Market – was 2005. As many other tourists I strolled over the market looking at the many products, everything between fox furs, Sami handicraft and plastic tools for the everyday life.

Since then I’ve been on the market several times, last time in 2015. And I still enjoy the market. Some random impressions:

But my focus has started to change. More and more I want to talk to all the people on the market. With the old guy from Finland trading with fur products, with the American artist building objects from weaving looms, with the Sami women selling grammar books about “lulesamiska”, with the people selling double-walled sauna tents. So many interesting people, all with their own story.

Another way of storytelling I witnessed at 4 o’clock. Sofia Jannok, a famous Sami singer and songwriter presented her current program, which is very political from a Sami perspective. As a musician however I had a strong focus on the music, which I enjoyed very much even though it wasn’t the music I use to listen to. I asked Sofia after the concert if I may publish a photo and I may:

I could tell more but the laptop battery is almost empty and dinner is served in 15 minutes. Two strong arguments for closing the article. We’ll hear soon …

 

A cold and crisp winter day

Day 4 of the winter journey 2018

This morning was cold, clear and crisp with temperatures round -25 °C. The snow glittered and the sun slowly started to illuminate the snow covered trees. Today Annika would travel back to Umeå and our main plan for that day was to not have any plans at all.

Dirk, the owner of Solberget asked me however if I could have a short photo session to make pictures of his reindeer sledges in action – one of the attraction of the wilderness retreat. And I gladly accepted. Here’s a first selection of the photos i made.

When I later took Annika to the nearest train station Nattavaara the temperature dropped to temperatures round -30 °C. Good to know, that the small station in Nattavaara has a small heated waiting room where you can wait for the train.

Her train was several hours late (I’ll come back to that topic later …) but thanks to internet and mobile app we already were informed about that delay and hadn’t wait too long until the train arrived in Nattavaara.

Annika will be away for two weeks until we’ll meet again and start our main winter journey. Meanwhile I’ll do a ski tour with Jonas, a good friend from Germany who should already have arrived the day before. Which he didn’t. Well, the train delays – I promised you to come back to that topic.

Due to a snowstorm in Gävleborgs län all trains to Northern Sweden had been cancelled. Jonas had been stuck in Stockholm. He couldn’t take the train the next day neither since it was fully booked. Therefore he was forced to wait another day and then take the night train with a scheduled arrival on Monday, 7:38. This train however was stuck in Vännäs for many hours due to technical problems. Instead of arriving on Saturday, 12:40 as originally planned he arrived on Monday, 17:00. That’s more than 52 hours delay!

But finally he arrived and tomorrow we can plan our ski tour which we’ll probably start on the day after tomorrow, 7 February.

 

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 1

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 7 of the winter journey 2018

I’m really glad, that my friend Jonas and I managed to realise a ski tour this year. It’s our 3rd ski tour together, but the last one was five years ago. A long time. Actually we had planned for eleven days, but due to severe snow falls between Gävle and Sundsvall two weeks ago the whole train traffic was cancelled and Jonas arrived more than two days later than planned.

On Wednesday, 7 February we left Solberget and took my car to Jokkmokk, where we bought food for nine days. Anything from muesli (with powdered milk), tea and chocolate to pasta with pesto, salami, potato mash and much more. Have a look:

After taking a lunch we continued to Kvikkjokk. The weather was sunny and the temperatures sank below -20 °C. In Kvikkjokk we packed our pulkas, transport sledges you carry behind, locked the car, put on the skies and started our tour. First along a road, then on a snow mobile track. We didn’t come long when we met a local with a snow shovel who asked for our plans. He looked at our heavy loaded pulkas and mentioned that we would have a hard time in pathless terrain. He said, that it was 100 cm of snow in Kvikkjokk and 150 in the mountains.

I reparked my car – another tip of the local – and we started our tour again. With his permission we used his private snowmobile track that led us to the river where it joined a larger snowmobile track. It already had been starting to get dark and our plan was to find a place for our tent quite soon. We weren’t alone on the river – two moose (mother and calf) stood on the river some hundred metres away. We waited until they left and continued. The river slopes were quite steep and after we had decided to leave the river we had to put off our skis and drag the heavy pulkas up through hip deep snow. Exhausting! At least we found a nice little clearing in the forest for our first night in the tent.

As usual we started to tramp down the snow with our skis to make it stable enough to bear the weight of tent and ourselves after some time. This snow however was so loose that it seemed impossible to us to erect the tent on top of it. Therefore we digged down half a meter (making round 6 cubic meters of snow to dig) and erected the tent in the hole. The temperature had continued to fall, now down to -25 °C. Finally the tent was “ready for occupation” and we were eager to eat something warm.

After Chinese noodles with some asian ready-made sauce we left the tent and watched the amazing clear starry night. The milky way gleamed over half the sky and Sirius had just started to rise on the eastern horizon. What a wonderful first night!

… and a cold one. When we started to sleep the temperature had fallen to -30 °C. Jonas and I have huge down sleeping bags and we had it warm and cozy anyway. I just had problems to sleep because I don’t like sleeping on my back and always have trouble to fall into sleep the first two, three nights when tenting.

Next morning: Clear blue sky, some feathery clouds that just started to colour purple. Jonas’ thermometer at the pulka showed -34 °C. It was completely calm and we decided to cook outside. Cooking in the morning mainly means boiling water for tea and for making milk for the muesli. I was glad about my warm mukluk boots, down pants and my puffy down parka. And finally the sun rose over horizon and trees.

Today we would continue westward to the mountain lodge Njunjes and probably sleep there.

Photo #1 and #6 in this blog article are made by Jonas Balbasus.

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 2 and 3

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 8 and 9 of my winter journey 2018

After the first night in the tent (it was a cold one!) we were eager to continue the tour. The tent was packed and so were the pulkas. We started by skiing through powder snow – a slow movement. I guess I hardly reached 2 km/h in average and I definitely was much slower when I had to go uphills. We looked for a good place to access the river again since it was much easier to follow the stable snow on the snowmobile tracks. After a while we found a good place to enter the river bed. Mostly the winter trail followed the river, only twice it continued on land where the river is narrow and had open water.

After some kilometres the river bent southwards and our trail left the river to continue more westwards. We continued the snowmobile tracks that led through forests and over smaller bogs.

We started to think about reaching the mountain hut Njunjes but weren’t at all sure if we would reach it before darkness. Anyhow, we didn’t had any pressure, since we had anything with us which we need for tenting:

  • a tent (of course)
  • down filled camping mats
  • very warm sleeping bags and vapour barrier lines
  • warm clothes from head to foot
  • a lot of food
  • a paraffin oil driven cooker
  • … and much more …

The way was easy but the pulkas were heavy loaded and after hours of walking I started to get tired and exhausted. That’s one of the reasons why I hardly made any photos. Another reason was that both my cameras refused to work in the morning with temperatures round -30 °C. It became warmer, but it was still round -25 °C, although it had become cloudy and overcast that day quite early.

Beside of a longer and a shorter rest we continued skiing, now with the defined goal to reach the hut. It started to get dark but we knew that we only had to go another hour or a bit more to make it.

After a while it went so dark that we skied with headlights. The buildings of Njunjes had come into view but they were on the other side of the river. When we were on a level with Njunjes we realised that the river became a quite deep ravine, probably with open water and quite impossible to cross …

… but we were really lucky: there was a metal chain bridge that led over that very ravine. It was quite a fight to climb up the slope after crossing the bridge, but with a lot of pulling (and without our skis) we managed it.

Soon Jonas found the open winter room with was made for people like us who like to travel off-season. A stove, wood, a bunk bed for two people, hooks for drying clothes, a table and two stools – anything to stay here for a night or two.

Day three was a day off. It was warmer than the day before and mostly dim and cloudy. I took pictures of the chain bridge, the mountain hut and the landscape (as far as it was visible)

 

After breakfast we attached new climbing skins to my skis and took a ski tour. First cross the river again and right to the sun. Then up some minor hills through sparse birch forests and eastwards to meet the branch to the hut that we had missed the day before. The skins worked well but it was almost a pity to have them attached to my skis since they slowed me down when skiing downhills through the loose powder snow. The sun was hardly visible through the clouds and the landscape almost looked sepia – like an old black and white photo.

First it only snowed a bit but when we finished our tour and arrived at “our” mountain hut snowfall increased. While Jonas was busy sawing and chopping wood I took a small nap.

In the evening we planned to continue to Tarrekaisestugan the next day – the next mountain hut in the west – and probably to continue and tent again in the wintry forests.

Photo #2 in this blog article is made by Jonas Balbasus.

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 4

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 10 of my winter journey 2018

After two days in the Njunjesstugan Jonas and I continued our tour in the mountains west from Kvikkjokk, The weather continued to be grey and dull with temperatures round -11 °C and last night’s snowfall brought five to six centimetres of downy snow.

The winter trail led through forests and hills – one of them so steep, that we hardly managed to ascent it by foot. I guess, that some of the people marking the way prefer the snowmobile before the skis and adapt the trail to that …

Soon we reached the lake Darrávrre which we followed to the mountain hut Tarrekaisestugan. We made a rest, not to stay there but to simplify the continuation of our ski tour. The next tour would lead uphills and we wanted to reduce weight. Therefore we left food, paraffin oil and some spare clothes in the wood shed and took only food for two days with us. After two days in the higher mountains we would return to the hut.

We carried on. By crossing the lake Darrávrre to the west we left the hiking trail Padjelantaleden. On the other side of the lake the trail climbed up the hill. It was not as steep as feared and even if the ascent was quite exhausting for me we managed to get up to the tree line.

We reached an altitude of approx. 680 meter. Here we left the trail and erected the tent in the twilight between some birch trees. This time the snow was stable after tramping it down with the skis and we hadn’t to dig down as three nights before. It had become even warmer: -7 °C and it snowed. Both of us were longing for clear, crips and sunny winter days but it didn’t look like we would get better weather. At least it wasn’t as stormy as forecasted.

 

Crossing three borders

Day 19 of my winter journey 2018

Whilst I still haven’t finished the blog articles about my ski tour with Jonas, life (and holidays) went on. Jonas and I had arrived at Solberget on Thursday evening and Jonas went home yesterday (on Sunday). This morning I packed the last things, stuffed them into the car and went to Nattavaara Station, where Annika arrived with the 7:38 train. With this reunion another stage of my six and a half week winter journey had begun. Destination: Kirkenes and Varanger, the easternmost parts of Norway.

Today we started with a travel day by car. We travelled 600 kilometres and crossed three borders.

Stage one: (Solberget) – NattavaaraGällivareSvappavaaraVittangiÖvre SopperoKaresuando.
And the first border: Sweden – Finland.

Stage two: Karesvanto (Finland) – Palojoensuu (Finland) – road 93 …
Second border: Finland – Norway.

Stage 3: … road 93 – Kautokeino (Norway) – Karasjok (Norway) – Karigasniemi (Finland).
The third border Norway – Finland. And since it was dark and I was tired we directly continued to our destination for an overnight stay: Giellajohka (Finland).

The temperatures had been between -20 °C and -28 °C for the last hours and the weather was bright and clear. The new fingernail moon shone above the eastern horizon and the first stars came out. Good conditions for polar lights. And we had polar lights actually here in Giellajohka but unfortunately a thin layer of clouds approached and therefore the aurora was less impressive. A photo anyway:

Tomorrow we will continue to Kirkenes to visit friends. It’s a smaller distance to travel than today, just 209 kilometres.

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 5 and 6

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 11 and 12 of my winter journey 2018

After our second night in the tent (it was 20 °C warmer than the first night) I woke up at 7 o’clock. My thick isolated sleeping bag was much too warm and I was glad to get out of “bed”. Time for some photos of our tent and the surroundings.

Today we wanted to leave the trees behind and ascend to the kalfjäll – the treeless mountains region. Since we already were level with the treeline we soon came to the place where you hardly see anything more than snow, some rocks and the winter waymarks.

Jonas is interested in many things, among others bouldering. When we came to a nice large boulder after some hours of skiing, he took the opportunity for a (very) short bouldering session. Here’s the evidence photo:

After that short break we continued our tour over the kalfjäll. It snowed and it was quite windy. The boulder was quite near to the mountain shelter Kurajaure, where we arrived half an hour later.

The wind had grown stronger and stronger and we were glad to enter the shelter. We took the pulkas in, too. These mountain shelters aren’t made for overnight stays beside of emergency situations. We however decided to stay in this shelter anyway for some reasons I won’t reveal here.

Of course we didn’t use the woodstove and firewood. We took our own paraffin stove, prepared food and slept in our sleeping bags, since unheated the shelter was as cold outside as it was inside. But there was a big difference: We were protected against the strong snowfall and the rough winds. I went outside anyway to take some photos in the dusk.

This time we did something new: we set the alarm clock for the next day. We wanted to reach the mountain hut Tarrekaisestugan which we passed two days before and suspected that we had to ski through a lot of fresh snow against rough headwinds and strong snowfall. Since we didn’t know how much time it would take we had set the alarm clock to 7 o’clock. The plan was to leave 8:30, but it became 9:20 when we started our 6th tour day.

It was -12 °C and quite stormy. I guess the windchill was round -30 C. I closed my fur trimmed hood as much as possible and later I took even a buff over mouth and nose to protect against the icy snow that the wind threw into my face. I used three pairs of gloves and mittens – one over the others – to protect hands and fingers. Here’s a selfie of me (left) and Jonas (right) made on the kalfjäll.

There was a lot of new snow, probably 10 to 15 cm. All snowmobile tracks (and our own from the day before) had disappeared. We returned the very same way that we went the day before. Although weather was rough, skiing was easier than expected, because we went more down- than uphills. The steep part however was a real disappointment. This stage had costed a lot of efforts to climb the day before, now it took less than ten minutes to ski down. After a passage over the frozen lake Tarrekaisestugan came into view.

It took more time than expected to cross the lake, but the most exhausting part was the slope by the lake that we had to climb up to reach the mountain hut. Here at least 30 cm of fresh snow had been falling and even the deepest snowmobile tracks were hardly visible. After we arrived and removed our skis I removed ice from the outside of the window. I had to plunge through hip deep snow to reach it. The snow depth behind the hut was at least two meters.

After two cold nights we were glad to dry both sleeping bags and clothes and hung up mittens, jackets, boots, caps and much more and to heat the woodstove.

Our dinner: couscous with roasted salami, dried tomatoes and ready-made champignon sauce. Tasty!

The two photos showing me on skis are made of Jonas Balbasus.

 

A trip to Murmansk – prelude

This article is part of the series “2018-02: A trip to Murmansk”.

Day 21 of my winter journey 2018

I think, I know northern Europe quite well, especially when it comes to Sweden and Norway. There are many gaps to fill as for example Iceland, the Faroe Islands or Greenland, but thats all island only reachable by plane or by ship.

There is however a huge arctic area that is reachable by land, although with minor difficulties. I’m talking about Russia.

The journey started two months ago with an idea. When Annika and I planned to visit Chris and Ørjan in Kirkenes, why shouldn’t we cross the Norwegian-Russian border and visit Murmansk, the world largest town north from the polar circle. Chris and Ørjan were as interested as us, so that we were four people on that short trip to Russia.

Unlike the other countries we use to visit we would need a valid visa to cross the border and travel to Russia. Even though we used the help of a travel agency in Kirkenes that helped us with the visa application it took some efforts until the visa were ready.

Two month later – or four days ago – we started our journey. At 2 o’clock we entered a small bus in Kirkenes and drove to the border, which is only 15 km away. First stop: the Norwegian side. We showed our passports and entered the small bus again. Next stop: the Russian border. Here things started to take more time.

We had to fill out a form in two copies, that was as small as the passport. Therefore some lines were so tiny that the letters hardly were three millimetres high. Even with instructions it took much concentration to fill out these forms and since we only had one ball pen it took a long time till we were ready with the form completion. After that we had to show our passports and the forms to the frontier guard. Motto: don’t smile! That took time, too, but after this accurate border check we were ready to enter the bus again.

I’ve never been in Russia before and I was really curious to see this country that is near in geography but remote in my mind. The first part of the bus tour however didn’t reveal anything new. Mostly we could see snow, hills and birch trees – the very same landscape as on the other side of the border. Even the street signs seemed to be alike beside of some Cyrillic letters.

But when we came to towns like Zapolyarny (Заполя́рный) or Pechenga (Печенга) it was quite visible that we had left Scandinavia. No wooden houses painted in red and other colours were visible, but large rectangular concrete buildings.

After some time it begun to get dark and it started snowing. The snowfall quickly intensified and the bus driver who was very cautious slowed down. When we reached Sputnik (Спутник), the buildings were hardly visible anymore in the snowy dusk.

Soon after Sputnik we took a ten minute break. I would have loved to go to the toilet but they took (a) 25 Rubel and (b) only cash. We hadn’t any Russian cash and therefore couldn’t use the toilet, but at least Annika succeeded to buy some kind of pizza with credit card.

It became dark and I started to get tired. I love to travel by train but I consider it exhausting to sit in a bus. Soon I started to doze off. But finally Murmansk (Мурманск) on the other side of the Kola Bay (Кольский залив) came into view. We left the E 105, crossed the bay and drove through the outskirts of the town.

Two other passengers were brought to another hotel, then we four to our hotel Azimut. Internet reviews taught us, that you have a good view from the upper floors and were lucky to get our hotel rooms in floor 16, the floor right under the “Sky Bar”. The internet was right, the view was great:

Next day we would meet at 8 o’clock local time (Moscow Time) which is 6 o’clock Norwegian time. Two whole days of exploring Murmansk lay before us, but before that we had to sleep and rest.

A trip to Murmansk – day one

This article is part of the series “2018-02: A trip to Murmansk”.

Day 22 of my winter journey 2018

tl;dr Alyosha monument · old concrete buildings · Church of the Savior on Waters · view over Murmansk · restaurant Tundra · nocturnal Murmansk

Alyosha (Алёша)When we arrived in Murmansk the day before it was already dark and we were tired. Today after breakfast we were eager to explore. We ordered a taxi to our first tourist attraction: The Alyosha Monument.

“Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War” (Защитникам Советского Заполярья в годы Великой Отечественной войны), commonly called Alyosha (Алёша) is a monument to Soviet soldiers, sailors, and airmen of WW2.

It was build in 1974 and it’s the second-tallest statue in Russia. The 70th aesthetics and the communistic concrete appeal didn’t help to make me like this statue, but I always have difficulties with war memorials. I’m a pacifist.

I enjoyed however the view over Murmansk. It was visible, that it’s a large town (it has 300,000 inhabitants) with a large port and many concrete high-rise buildings.

After we visited Alyosha we started to walk back into the center of Murmansk, where our hotel Azimut was located. We turned right into the street Ulitsa Aleksandrova. To the left there were old concrete buildings. They were extremely rundown and I was shocked to see these building and imagine people living here. Maybe the inside would look nicer, but the outside was horrifying.

In many directions you could see these high-rise estates with rectangular concrete buildings. But we could see something else: a Ferris wheel. We went on and came to a permanent amusement park, located beside the lake Semyonovskoye (Семеновское озеро). Of course the lake is covered with ice and snow in wintertime and some locals used the ski tracks going round the lake.

From that place the next destination was quite near: the Church of the Savior on Waters (Спас на Водах), a small Russian orthodox church, built 2002.

When we came to the church I could see some people leaving, going backwards and making the sign of the cross again and again. It is allowed to enter the small church but not to take pictures. I’ve never been in an orthodox church before and I was stunned. The walls were covered with icons of saints and incense was burned. Some elderly women were lighting candles and immersed into deep prayers and almost seeking physical contact to the icons and other objects. I felt deeply touched by this lived religiosity although I’m not religious by myself. On a table some food was placed. Bread and fruit, among others a bag with three lemons. Sacrifices or donations to the priests?

I have to admit that I felt like an intruder and completely at the wrong place. I have to read more about this religion and a bit about how to behave.

We continued our promenade back and passed the Memorial Complex to the Soldiers and Seamen Who Died in Peaceful Time.

We left the memorial behind and entered the streets of the center. We walked back to our hotel and took a short rest. We passed an old theatre, painted in bright indigo but more a ruin than a building. A pity, I think it must have been beautiful in former times.

Then the hotel. I had twisted my ankle one week ago and was glad to rest the foot a bit. Time for shooting some photos from the 16th floor.

Some hours later. We decided to eat dinner and Annika and I found the restaurant Tundra (Тундра) that got excellent reviews in the internet. And excellent it was. The restaurant was fully booked but we were allowed to sit in the bar. In Russia the food is quite cheap compared to Scandinavia even in really good restaurants. The dishes are not as huge as in many places in Europe. I like that because it gave me the opportunity to taste different things: borscht and caviar with seaweed. Both very tasty!

After a nice evening at this great location with fantastic food we went back to the hotel. Murmansk is definitely not the most beautiful town in daylight but it wins a lot when it gets dark because many places, streets, parks and buildings are illuminated with lights of all colours.

We have seen a lot that day, both the beautiful and less beautiful facets of this arctic Russian town and I was as exhausted as I use to be when strolling through a big town for a whole day.

We were glad however to have another day to explore a bit more.

Some other random pictures of the day:

A trip to Murmansk – day two

This article is part of the series “2018-02: A trip to Murmansk”.

Day 23 of my winter journey 2018

When we came home from our dinner last night it started to get quite foggy und it became colder. The fog intensified and the city started to smell smoggy.

This morning however was clear and some millimetres of snow dust had fallen over night making everything looking white and fresh. It was much colder than the day before (Murmansk airport reported -29 °C) but the hotel doesn’t have a thermometer so I don’t know how cold it was in town.

After breakfast we went through the Park Zhertv Interventsii (Парк Жертв Интервенции), a small park directly at the hotel.

Then we continued through the streets and across the railway to the port.

We wanted to visit the atomic icebreaker Lenin (Ленин) and check if we already could buy tickets. Lenin was the world’s first nuclear-powered surface ship and launched in 1957. She was decommissioned 1989 and subsequently converted into a museum.

Two big ships lay at the pier: Lenin and Vladivostok (Владивосток). Parts of the water surface were covered with ice but most of the water was open and steaming in the cold. The other side of the Kola Bay was hardly visible in the fog although only one kilometre away. The small ice particles in the air made the air feel quite cold.

A man left the icebreaker to meet a french couple at the pier, that had booked a tour. Unfortunately we couldn’t follow with them since this tour was privately booked. The man could speak a bit of German and we learned that the outside temperature was round -22 °C and that we had to wait for the first public tour at 12 o’clock.

So we went back to town, this time crossing the railway by a pedestrian bridge. Large chains of good wagons, some empty, some filled with charcoal were seen on almost all tracks.

While Chris and Ørjan went their own ways Annika and I went to the center to find a book shop. We knew that we had to follow the Lenin Alley (Проспект Ленина) and we found several book stores where I among others bought a pictured children dictionary English—Russian.

We continued the alley and finally came to Murmansk Mall (Мурманск Молл), a large shopping mall. Here both local stores and many international shops as e.g. H&M were found. The mall was extremely tidy and a huge contrast to the many rundown concrete buildings.

We’ve been in another mall the day before where you mostly could find Russian fashion for women. And that means mostly fur coats, partly in very fancy colours, high heeled boots and a lot of accessories in pink, silver and glitter. Some of them looked like plastic toys made for four-year-old girls, but in adult sizes. A fashion quite different from the informal one in Germany or Sweden.

I was really irritated when I entered some shops. People in Murmansk don’t smile or even laugh in public unless they know each other quite well. When you enter a shop the salesperson will stand up and observe you and even follow you through the shop. They won’t take contact with you, they won’t smile but will instead look stonily at you. I felt treated completely unwelcome and more like a thief than a customer. Strange and irritating!

Annika and I went back to the hotel and passed a Lenin figure and a house painted in bright turquoise, a colour that seems to be quite popular in Murmansk, as some other houses were painted the same.

We met Chris and Ørjan at the hotel and continued to the port together. Although it had become warmer it was still quite cold and some of the water that was open in the morning had frozen over in the last hours.

We arrived at the port at half past eleven and were the first one’s for the guided tour through the icebreaker Lenin. Shortly before twelve Annika and I could go aboard but most other tourist pushed to the front so that Chris and Ørjan were left behind. Later we realised that they attended another tour just some minutes later.

The following hour was one of the most boring experiences for long and made me remember some of the dullest school lessons. We were guided in a crowd of people by a Russian guide that loved to speak in a monotonic language without a split second of resting. Since he was so eager to talk another group behind us fenced us in so that we could hardly move and we were really glad to be able to sneak from the icebreaker before the guided tour was over. I guess, that most tourists are Russians too and so are able to understand the guide but even then I consider this kind of guiding as extremely boring and almost narcotic. My personal advise: Look at the boat from the pier but avoid the tour.

Some pictures from the inside anyway.

After this experience we needed fresh air and a café. We went to the Café Yunost (Кафе Юность), took some sweet cakes and after that we returned to the hotel to rest for a while.

In the evening we went to Terrasa (Терраса), another restaurant, though not to the White Rabbit (Белый кролик), our preferred choice. First it was Friday and then it was a holiday: Defence of the Fatherland Day. Therefore many restaurants had been fully booked. We enjoyed the food, went home to the hotel to take a short drink. Then we went to bed early. Next morning the alarm clock would ring at 6:15 local time, that’s 4:15 Swedish time.

When being in the hotel I took pictures from above. Here you could spot almost all places and attractions we visited the last two days, among others Alyosha, the Church of the Savior on Waters and the icebreaker Lenin. A good summary of the last two days.

Meanwhile in Kirkenes …

Day 25 of my winter journey 2018

While I was busy writing articles about the trip to Murmansk it wasn’t the only thing I did the last days.

Yesterday Annika and I unpacked our cross country skis and tested a local ski track near the Kirkenes Snowhotel. The weather was a bit strange. 7:00 it was -12 °C outside, twenty minutes later only -4 °C. The rest of the day we had temperatures round -3 °C and eight centimetres of snow fall until this morning.

Today we went to the Pasvik valley by car but I hardly made any photos. Temperatures were round -10 °C, a bit of snow in the morning and fair weather for the rest of the day. Later I went out by my own and took some photos near our friend’s house where Annika and I are staying for some days.

I love snow showers falling from a blue sky (even though I always wonder where the snow comes from) and took a photo against the sun trying to show the effect. As usual reality is more beautiful.

It’s still quite warm here while the cold weather is more south and west. In Hemavan, Sweden it has been round -40 °C this morning and in Kautokeino – 400 km in the west – -31 °C. I’m a bit jealous and hope for colder weather in this area.

 

A snowshoe promenade

Day 27 of my winter journey 2018

Today our current host Chris took half a day off and we (Chris, Annika, I and two dogs) made a trip into the valley Pasvikdalen. There’s a small place called Strand where we parked our cars at the former boarding school, nowadays a museum. Here we started a small small snowshoe tour up the Brattberget.

Brattberget means the “steep mountain” but first of all the mountain is more like a hill and then the way up is not steep as all. First we went through denser forest, then then forest and the view opened a bit. Soon we were up on the top of the hill.

There’s a toilet and two benches on the Brattberget. While the benches were covered with snow, the toilet was still visible.

The weather was nice and we had a great view. To the north and west of the lake LangfjordvatnetUhcavuonjávri, to the south, remote in the distance of Russia.

After a short rest in the sun and some photos we descended the same way we went up and soon were at our parked cars again. A short and nice snowshoe tour through the hilly and wintry Pasvikdalen.

A trip to Murmansk – trip home

This article is part of the series “2018-02: A trip to Murmansk”.

Day 24 of my winter journey 2018

After two days of visiting Murmansk we were prepared for our trip back. The bus arrived shortly after 7 o’clock local time (5 o’clock CET) and we started our trip home.

We left town and crossed the Kola Bay. It was still dark.

Then I fell asleep. I woke up shortly before our rest at the small shop, that seems to be located in the middle of nowhere.

Meanwhile it was as bright as day. We followed the E105 that would bring us first to the Russian-Norwegian border and then back to Kirkenes. Some images taken from the bus:

Finally we came to the border. We had to leave the bus with all our luggage. I bought huge winter rubber boots in Murmansk and some books and was curious what I would have to do at the customs, but since I stood in the queue “nothing to declare” no one cared.

Next station: showing the passports. Chris, Ørjan and Annika had already went through, now it was my turn. I gave the passport to the border official, trying not to smile – no one seems to smile when communicating to strangers. The man looked at my passport for several minutes, typed things into the computer, looked at the passport again, stood up and left. He came back with a woman discussing something in Russian. The woman left again, the man continued working. Again he left, again he came back with the woman. I didn’t understand a single word and started wondering what the problem could be, I guess it was computer problems. It took round 15 minutes until I got my passport back with some Russian words, probably an apology or an explanation about what went wrong.

I climbed into the bus and we were driven to the Norwegian customs. What a difference! The handling was not only much faster, but much more friendly. The Norwegian border officials smiled, made some friendly small talk and hardly a minute later we were through the customs and again in the Schengen Area where you can move between countries without needing a visa.

Some very brief observations from Murmansk:

  • The difference between poor and rich, cared and ruined is quite visible
  • People won’t smile at you, especially the officials and salespersons
  • The food in the restaurants we visited was extraordinary good
  • Many people don’t speak any English. Exceptions found in our hotels and restaurants
  • I felt like 4 year old when I tried to decipher the Cyrillic letters.
  • I didn’t feel welcome every second, but safe all the time

Travelling to Murmansk was a very interesting experience and I would love to see more of Russia. Next time I would like to use internet services as e.g. couchsurfing to get into contact with the locals. I guess I would get another view of Russia.

 

 

Travelling to the Varanger peninsula

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 28 of my winter journey 2018

Yesterday Annika and I said good-bye to our friends Chris and Ørjan who live near the Snowhotel in Kirkenes. We wanted to continue to Vadsø on the Varanger Peninsula for an overnight stay. After breakfast, packing and saying good-bye we left at 11 o’clock. We followed the road 885 coming from Bjørnevatn and turned left into the E6 in direction Alta/Narvik. Right before the turnout to the airport we came to a stop. Some cars before us had stopped, one driver talking to a policeman. The other cars turned and we stood in the front. There we spotted a huge road sign “Closed, info telephone 175”.

The policeman told us that the E6 had been closed for some hours due to an avalanche that had to be blasted away. That could take some other hours. The E6 is not only the main road through Norway, it’s also the only way from Kirkenes to the Varanger Peninsula. So we returned to Kirkenes.

We ate some lunch, visited some shops and the library and waited for the road to be opened again. After some time it looked like the road would be opened round 14:00 so we gave it another try, were stopped again and told that the snow removal could take some more hours. We returned again, this time to our friends house ready to stay.

We went to the Snowhotel and told Chris about the road closure. Just after we told her that we would stay for another night the website informed us, that the road was usable again. I took a picture of the beautiful entrance hall made of snow and ice by a Russian artist, …

… we said good-bye one more time and took the very same roads again a third time. This time we were lucky, the road was opened and completely free of snow. We followed the E6 to Varangerbotn where we took the E75 to Vardø. Some hours later we were in Vadsø where we had our first couchsurfing experience.

Couchsurfing is a platform where people can host other people for free. It’s both great for finding a place to sleep and interesting people to meet. Our host, Nils Õun from Estonia was a really great host. He’s a professional cook and he made us a creative and gorgeous dinner. We talked and talked many hours and Annika and I were really glad to had the opportunity to meet him. Just a snapshot of the best chicken I ate in the last years, part of his dinner:

As I mentioned before was Nils a great host. Aitäh, Nils!

(Sneak preview: today we continued to Kiberg where we’ll stay for some nights. One of the nice and special places on the Varanger peninsula.)