Murmansk: Travels to the Arctic Circle

A couple weeks ago, two of my classmates and I traveled to Murmansk, a town of 300,000 in the northwest of Russia. It's the most populated city north of the Arctic Circle. Due to its location, the climate is subarctic and it can get really cold. Also between December 2nd and January 10th, Murmansk experiences polar nights where the sun doesn't rise above the horizon. Beyond being really surprised at how much there was to do and see in Murmansk, this trip really made me realize something about Russia overall: there are so many amazing places to visit. This country is huge, with so much history, culture and beauty that I'm looking forward to continuing discovering.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, as they say, so here are some pictures of our trip!
On our way from the airport to the city. The snow-covered landscape with the occasional trees dotting the way. Beautiful.
We rented a really nice apartment through airbnb. Unfortunately I didn't really get any pictures of it from the inside. The woman who owns the place was really friendly and suggested a bunch of great places to visit while we were here

One of our main hopes for this trip was to see the northern lights. According to the online aurora forecast, our first day there held the highest chance of visible northern lights. Also, our host suggested that the farther north we went, the likelier we were to see the lights. So that evening we hopped on a bus (like the one in the left of this picture) and drove a little under 3 hours north to the little town of Teriberka. 
It was completely dark by the time we got there. After settling into the crappy little apartment we managed to find online. we bundled up and set out to the sea.

The Barents Sea, which eventually spills into the Arctic Ocean in the north.

Had to get the gopnik squat.
All of these images are blurry because we had to set a 15-second shutter speed in order to have brighter pictures since they were actually taken in total darkness. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the northern lights this time around (the weather was too warm and the sky was too cloudy), but that means there's a reason to come back!
At 7am the next morning, we hopped on the bus back to Murmansk. There weren't any sunny days while we were there, but at least it wasn't too cold (Somewhere around 0 C/ 32 F). 
Government building
Lots of snow everywhere, packed down by people walking around the city. The warm weather melted some of this snow and then promptly turned it into ice, making the sidewalks and parks slippery.
Lots of monuments and memorials in Russian towns
Railroad station we had to cross to get to our super cool destination

The port
In the background is the Lenin Nuclear Icebreaker. It's a decommissioned and renovated icebreaker that today serves as a really cool museum. Here we are practicing our Russian smiles.
On board the icebreaker
Once inside the icebreaker, we were led on a tour around all the important areas of the ship. There were so many machines like this everywhere. Around 200 sailors served on this ship at any given time.
Pretending to be important
I don't remember what those levers controlled (maybe the engines?) but I do know that the icebreaker could travel through 2 meters of solid ice.
Captain Dima
There was only one area of the ship where workers had to wear protective suits to enter. Remember, this was a nuclear-powered icebreaker. The uranium rods in the nuclear core powered the reaction that heated up water. Lots of layers of lead, and cement were used to prevent any radiation from emanating from the reactor.
The steam entered the into  turbine  (shown above but without the black capsule that normally enclosed it). The hot steam caused pressure to build up and spun the turbine, which in turn powered the generators that created electricity. Or something like that (:
There was also a medical ward aboard the ship. I know it looks scary today, but back in the day it had state of the art technology and the best medical specialists. Sixty percent of the people treated in the medical ward weren't actually sailors but people from the villages the icebreaker would stop at, who had heard of the excellent medical facility aboard the ship.
The fluorescent light, yellow walls, and green floors of the medical area weren't particularly reassuring but hey, back in the day this was the best.
Anatoliy Bredov statue. Hero of the Soviet Union due to his courageous acts and sacrifice during WWII.
How clever is this lady pushing a stroller with skis instead of wheels!
After wandering through another museum and several other monuments, we decided to stroll through the town. They had lights still up from the holidays, creating a pleasant and cozy atmosphere as we explored downtown Murmansk.
In the Arctic Circle, Christmas is a year-round occurrence. 
Since Murmansk is a port town, lots of fish and seafood is available fresh and cheap. We found a restuarant, where I ordered fresh halibut that melted in my mouth. Pictured here is a big calamari (no, not the typical overprocessed and deepfried stuff you normally get) stuffed with shrimp and served with pesto sauce.. The price? About 400 rubles, or a little over $5.. Oh, and don't mind the purple lighting. The restaurant we found happened to have a party of drunk middle-aged Russian couples raucously celebrating a birthday and dancing to Russian pop music complete with disco ball and lights.
The next morning we rented a car and went on a roadtrip. Along the way we stopped by Kola Bay pictured in the background.
Another WWII memorial in the city of Kola
We ended up on a beautiful road that few cars traveled through so we decided to stop and take a few pictures.
Ninja 2. Look at those clouds though.
We traveled to a Sami Village  to learn more about the Sami, an indigenous group of people found in Scandinavia, including northern Russia. We had just a great time there and took so many pictures that I'm going to write a separate post about it, I promise. But here's a picture of just one of the cool things we did: riding on sleighs pulled by reindeer.
Okay, one more teaser picture for you. Us dressed up in traditional clothing.

In the evening we drove back to the city to the top of a hill. Murmansk is pretty at night.
At the top of the hill was this famous monument of a soldier, dedicated to the "Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War." Informally, it's known as Alesha Monument. It's the second-tallest monument in Russia, standing 116 feet tall
Saluting Alesha
According to Wikipedia, "The soldier faces west, toward the Valley of Glory, where the fiercest fighting of the Arctic Campaign occurred when the German invaders were turned back from the approaches to Murmansk in 1941."
There is an eternal flame at the foot of the statue. Almost every Russian town I've been to has at least one eternal flame burning year-round in honor of the Great Patriotic War (which is a term used by Russians to refer to the period of WWII fought on the eastern front between 1941 and 1945). 
Boys posing
The final morning we woke up early to get in some more sightseeing before our flight. This is the monument for the Waiting Woman, or simply Ждущая in Russian. She is a symbol of are women waiting for their beloved.
The Waiting Woman looks out over this port, sending out the ships and eagerly awaiting their return
Young couples place locks near the Waiting Woman as a symbol of their loyalty and eternal love to each other.
For your entertainment. Layers on layers of snow :)
Ft. battle of car versus snow
Statue of a relatively famous author from Murmansk
Murmansk Lighthouse
I never imagined that so many people would live in such a cold, arctic climate where the average winter weather is -17C/7F.. This city was definitely larger than I expected. 
Thank you, Murmansk, for your hospitality! It was a pleasure exploring northern Russia.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned to hear about my continuing adventures exploring Russia.

Popular Posts