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.