As usual we did our morning ritual of car trunk tetris after having had a shower and then left Kirkenes for the border to Russia. To avoid any potential problems and potentially slow down our immigration process we didn’t take any pictures at the border. First we were leaving Norway and drove through no-man’s-land to the Russian side of things. Our car was pointed to a spot by a rather grim looking lady and we were left standing there with no further instruction.
There were quite a few other cars from colleagues, most of them deserted. We eventually found one colleague who informed us where to enter what building, which we then did.
Passport control in Russia, always an event for itself.
It is of utmost importance to stay calm and earnest and not to make jokes, smile profusely or anything like that. The border police take their jobs very seriously and are not be messed with. Either they refuse your entry or they provide entry to a place where you will be very hard to find. We saw one of our colleagues being refused entry because he had tried to mend his slightly worn passport with some cell tape.
Keep your calm no matter how long it takes. The moment of relief always is the sound of your documents being stamped.
And it worked. Eventually we heard the sound and we got our stamps.
Then again, we were left with no further instructions.
After a while we found out that passengers, in our case Franz, can just move on whereas drivers, in our case Jörg, have to manage the process to temporarily import the car into Russia. Three forms needed to be filled. Jörg was assisted by a very friendly and smiling(!) lady explaining what to put where. The forms then were handed over to another lady who then entered the information into a system. After a while a printer spat out a sticker which was put on the document, we got our necessary papers and then walked back to the car.
Guess what, when we there no further instructions.
But we could see from our colleagues what would be coming next – the search!
Another lady came to us after a bit of waiting and instructed us to open the car and get all bags and boxes out of the car. She asked for drugs and we showed her our pharmaceutical repertoire, which seemingly was ok.
Then on to the food and booze.
She counted all beer cans in our cooler box and then found the box in the floor compartment of the trunk and re-counted everything and said that it was too much. We asked her what we were supposed to do now. With a hard to define gesture she said it was ok. Then she didn’t like the potatoes, the chicken and the eggs and again said we couldn’t take that with us. We asked the same question and got the same answer.
Then she found the two bottles of whisky, pulled one up and worryingly asked: “Why, why, why?” and then she send us on our way. Was it leniency due to the World Cup, laziness or flexibility that let her to let us go? We’ll never know…and we didn’t dare to ask.
Another passport and visa control and then we were in Russia. The whole process took about an hour and 15 minutes and considering what we had heard about the experiences from previous years were quite happy with it.
Initially we had planned to try to get to the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest hole in the world with more than 12 km depth. The story around the stopping of the drilling because allegedly there were voices coming out of the hole and people had feared that they might have drilled a hole directly into hell are of course only a myth. But still a good story.
We drove by the mining town of Nickel to get there. An area and a landscape which has been transformed by man that it looked being on the moon or more like: how many different ways are there to leave scorched earth behind.
On our quest to find the hole we seemed to have missed an exit and were getting back on the main road. In another mining town, Sapolyarnyi, we’ve tried again but turned around in front of a closed check point and police.
Ok, let’s go on to Murmansk then.
On the way we’ve passed a couple of check-points where we had to show our passports. They tended to look at my passport and Franz’ face and vice versa and were happy with it. Well…
If a picture says more than a thousand words, how many words does a sculpture or monument say. As warning signs the Russian authorities often put up crashed cars on poles or buildings. But then Russia has the one of the highest number of deaths in traffic in relation to their population so this might actually be a good thing.
Speaking of monuments, when driving through Russia you will inadvertently come across many monuments, be it for places, achievements or most of the time places of remembrance, especially in areas where a lot of fighting has taken place during WW2. They are always signposted if they are not directly next to the road like the one for the front line between the Sowjets and the Germans, where we made a stop.
It seems that this remembrance process is different to how we do it in Germany. It’s not that we don’t remember things it’s just that we do it less with monuments, which considering our latest history over the last 100+ years may be a good thing. We have to find a way how to make this remembrance part of our culture in order to never have to experience those atrocities and that suffering again, which still affects us all. This of course doesn’t mean that Russia’s way of doing things is better. There have also been quite a few atrocities done by them but they are completely ignored. You’ll have to try to look at the full history and truth and not omit certain unpleasant and uncomfortable facts in order to remember correctly and learn from the past.
The rest of the drive to Murmansk was rather uneventful, the usual forests and lakes but when we came to the river-turning-into-a-fjord where Murmansk is located the first impression we got is that of innumerable residential buildings from the 30s to the 50s. And getting closer also that of a general state of disrepair, working obsolescence and run-down infrastructure. The only modern thing that struck us at first were the LED traffic lights, all equipped with countdown functions in all directions, cars and pedestrians alike; really quite useful and you ask yourself why we don’t have these in Germany.
We then made our way to the hotel that we had booked in advance. The Azimut hotel appears to be the tallest building in Murmansk and as we’ve learned later it’s actually the tallest building north of the Arctic Circle, We got a nice room on the 15th floor, which coincidentally cost the the same like our rancid cabin in Norway from the day before.
We unpacked and went out to walk the streets of Murmansk, which was very interesting. We were also aiming to fulfill the task of the day, which was to find Lenin.
Not any picture or statue of Lenin but the Lenin, the first nuclear powered ice breaker. As opposed to our expectations Murmansk appeared to be quite ok; nice would be too big of a word though. We made it down to the port, found the Lenin, which is a museum now but by the time we got there was unfortunately already closed. We took the obligatory pictures and of course and as usual when it comes to the task of the day we met some of the other teams there, and also Peter and Torsten of Team MNK47, who were still being followed by the camera team of the NDR. Strolling back to the hotel through different streets we saw a lot activities happening that day for kids. We then took the car and made our way to other Murmanskian attractions, in particular an old orthodox church and the Alyosha Monument. Both were quite impressive in their own right and from the monument’s location we had a very nice view on Murmansk and its surroundings. We also witnessed a weeding party who had just arrived with their stretch limos to take some pictures.
Having returned to the hotel we went to the bar on the 17th floor and had a Gin and Tonic. In this actual case what we got was a glas of pure gin, a bottle of tonic water and a small bucket with ice. Nothing more, nothing less. And you bloody well mix that for yourself.
We then planned for our dinner and picked a restaurant called Tundra, which was well rated and reviewed. It was a bit more than 15mins of walking time to the venue and we walked through the backyards of Murmansk to get there. And when we got close we were not quite sure that it was a good choice just looking from the outside. We entered the premises nonetheless and were pleasantly surprised. Nicely decorated and young people as staff and guests. The food was really extraordinary, local produce prepared with a twist and very delicious. So far the best food we had on the trip.
We then strolled back to the hotel, had another drink at the bar and again we were able to enjoy the midnight sun, the eternal sunset and the light was really very special. Eternal sunset again. We also witnessed some professional ladies trying to do some business. And called it a day.
We only did 252km that day and spent less than 6 hours for the trip.