The decision to go to Murmansk was pretty much spontaneous.
We were going to have a long weekend (Monday was Defenders’ Day)
Eric randomly popped out the idea of going to Murmansk for the long weekend after class and asked who wanted to join him
the next day, 6 of us bought tickets to Murmansk, without having much clue as to what Murmansk was and what it had to offer, except that it was pretty far away (27 hrs train journey)
So where is Murmansk? Murmansk is located at the northern part of Russia, the largest city north of the Artic Circle. its located in the Kola Peninsula which is an area made up of tundra, forest, lakes, bogs and low mountains. During Nov to Jan, the sun hardly appears. the temperature in Murmansk is usually -20 to -30 (!)
Team Murmansk at the train station! 5 of them plus me!
our living quarters for the next 27 hrs. armed with food
We talked to some of the Russians in the train, and when they found out that we were going to Murmansk, they all gave us a unanimous action, they laughed their heads off. every single one of them! they just found the idea of tourists, going to Murmansk for a holiday, unbelievable! and this joke can entertain them for several hours…. it was unbeliavable
the view outside the train. it revolves around snow, trees, snow, trees, sometimes a lake, and more snow, and more trees and ....
and...a NUCLEAR PLANT! woah, this was shocking. it turned out that there were heavy industries located in Murmansk, including nuclear energy, metal, iron industries etc, making Murmansk a rather well off state. (the average income in Murmansk is slightly more than the national average)
and after the 27 hr ordeal in the train, being bombarded by the repetitive images outside the train, squeezed in a small compartment, eating junk food all the way, and being laughed at by the same kind of jokes, we finally arrived …..
Behold, the sight of Murmansk!
a dead town. this was a Friday night. This was the sight right outside of the railway station. one of the largest hotels in Murmansk, Hotel Artika, closed down. on the streets, no one.
Okay, so maybe now we understand why they were laughing at us..
The next morning, we trooped down to the sole attraction at Murmansk, Aloysha
Playground and Soviet styled apartment flats at the backdrop Soviet era apartments littered around the city
Oceanrium. they have seal lion or sea seals performances 3 times a day. this is totally bizzare
and we finally catch a glimpse of Alyosha!
Team Murmansk trooping up the slope. the wind was really very strong. it was so cold. I could actually hear the wind howling. it was scary
and finally, we met up with Alyosha! Alyosha is a 42m tall statue built to commerate the valiant soldiers during the WWII. this trip coincides with Defenders' day on Monday which is also known as Men's' day, or during USSR times, Red Army Day
the sea view from Alyosha's feet. amazing
the rest of the time was spent visiting the museums, one of which, the Museum of the Northern fleet, was fantastic. they had stuff of the russian navy since the Tsarist times to the cold war era and even recent stuff on the russian navy! the aunties at the museum were also very cute, they took photos with us and gave us a free tour (even though we were supposed to pay for that) and were very delighted by our international background. they were also very bemused as to why we came to Murmansk. Attempted to try skiing and snowmobile on one of the days but it was just too cold and the area in which you can ski or snowmobile was just too small hence not justifying the cost.
On our way back to St Petersburg, we had an interesting conversation which lasted more than 3 hours with a pastor and an ex-convict (jailed for 10 years). when we told this to our professor when we got back , (our professor whos an expert in the mafia and organized crime) he deduced that that guy most probably participated in some murder. all of us got a shock when we heard this!
My professor then elaborated that Murmansk used to be a ‘closed’ town in the sense that entry to Murmansk was very restricted, even for Russian nationals because it was a military base and that the peninsula was very strategic. Not to forget, Murmansk was home to home port to Atomflot, the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered ice breakers!
Although Murmansk might seem uneventful, less vibrant as compared to St Petersburg or Moscow, i guess this humble city provides an alternative view on our perception of Russia. it shows us a different side of Russia, a Russia which is less busy and urbane, reflecting a harsher side of Rusia, Russia in its raw form. Yet despite these conditions, the people in Murmansk were always ready to help us ( in the trolley bus when we asked for directions, the lady conductor actually led a bus disucssion with the commuters, to help us find out the way to the museum. Also, the ex-convict guy bought for all of us beer and even gave us a share of his pork sandwich!), that all of us were very grateful for.
not to forget the great company I had, Team Murmansk!, it was a TBTL-like (team bonding team learning) session and made me know my classmates even better!
So i guess sometimes, decisions made spontaneously, can indeed lead to adventures with pleasant unexpected results!