Last year a friend of mine told me he would travel to Murmansk and asked me if I wanted to follow. The friend finally did not have the time, bit I got the opportunity of a Murmansk trip thanks to Barents Press, a journalist network in the Barents Region. I became a member as a photographer this year.
The project called Redex 2019 has a strong focus on sport journalism and sport events in Murmansk. People who know me may know that I do not care about sport competitions. In this case however there’s a large sport event I’m interested in: the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship. I’m very glad that I was invited to travel and my thanks go to Barents Press for the invitation, for taking all the costs and for the great organisation.
Monday 11 March, 7:00. I just finished my breakfast in a hotel in the Comfort Hotel Arctic in Luleå and we are ready to travel to Murmansk. We, that is five journalists, me, and Sergei, our Russian chauffeur. He came from Murmansk with a Mercedes 15 seater minibus the day before. Good to have a bit of comfort, for we will travel about 840 km which will take the whole day.
Off we go. To Finland it’s only 130 km.
And – swoosh, are we in Finland. You hardly realise that you just crossed a border.
There are different ways to Murmansk. We will take the way via Salla. We make a lunch break in Kemijärvi where we got an extraordinary delicious lunch at Mestarin Kievari with a lot of salat and side dishes and even two different desserts.
At 15:30 Finish time (1 hour ahead) we arrive at the Finnish side of the Finnish-Russian border. Sergei has to make some paperwork and we have to wait, then we all show our passports before we enter the bus again to drive to the near Russian border.
The first check is before we exit the bus: A Russian official gets on the bus, counts us and checks our visas. Then we drive to the custom office where we leave the bus and have to fill out a form, that we have to keep with our passport the whole stay in Russia. It takes some time to fill the form, especially since it’s so tiny.
Then we go through the control, one by one. I’m first. There’s a minor problem with my form but Tim who speaks Russian can help. I wait on the other side where there’s a small exhibition of war memorials found at the border. I say one of the few sentences I know in Russian: Можно фотографировать? Yes, I may take pictures.
Then we are i Russia. Another check of the officials, that we are complete and have our stamps on the forms and in the passports. 20 other km and we have travelled half the distance. The Russian roads and landscapes are very similar to the Finish ones. It’s not easy to take landscape photographs from a bus driving on a bumpy road with a lot of windows reflecting the light. I start to doze.
We stop in Алакуртти/Alakurtti to refuel the bus. We have to wait, because the gas station itself is being refuelled and that takes some time. Anyway it feels good to stretch my legs and to get some fresh air.
After half an hour we continue our trip. We make a short stopover at a petrol station in Кандалакша/Kandalaksha, then we drive on.
It starts getting dark and I try to sleep a bit. It’s still 250 km to Murmansk and our trip takes some more hours, but finally we approach the city.
On the sign stands: “Murmansk, Hero City”, an honorary title from the Soviet times for outstanding heroism during WWII.
Just before 22:00 local time (+ 2 hours) i enter room 838 at the Park Inn Hotel, where I’ll stay the next five nights. So the whole ride took almost 13 hours and I’m really tired. But before going to bed we meet at the lobby and go to a restaurant nearby to get a late dinner. (I remember the food was tasty, but I’m not sure because my brain already had turned on the autopilot.)
The whole route: Luleå – Haparanda/Tornio – Rovaniemi – Kemijärvi – Salla – Кандалакша/Kandalaksha – Мурманск/Murmansk.