Polar Day



After St. Petersburg, our next stop is Murmansk – the largest city northwards from the polar cycle. The sea never freezes here because of the Gulf stream, so it is also one of the major Russian ports. But first things first. We relatively quickly reached the area of the polar day. We will be a bit confused during “night” as we won’t know whether we’ve just gone to bed or whether it is actually time to get up already. On the other hand, we no longer have to worry about not setting up our tent on time, while it is still light. The weather is still nice so while crossing the polar cycle we can make nice photos of our car in just a T-shirt. By the way even the locals come here to take pictures of themselves. The only difference being they come from the north…  Between the forests we can already see first snowy hills. Wonderful landscape…. it however soon transforms into a hard to describe Moon-like environment with a few blackened trees. The ignorant mining and processing of ores during the Soviet Union era has taken its toll. The worst situation is in the city of Mončegorsk, located in the center of this apocalypse. It reminds us of the Steel city from Jules Verne.

The next day after getting up in Murmansk (the cheapest, yet in our opinion still quite expensive, hotel) we are already welcomed by the real polar spring. The temperature reaching 3°C, light rain and strong wind. We head for a city tour. From Aljoši – a 35m high statue of an unknown soldier standing on one of the hills, is a nice view over the entire city and port. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the nuclear icebreakers, which have Murmansk as their home port. They are probably all transporting tourists to the North Pole. If you are also interested in such a trip, don’t hesitate. It is possible to get a price as good as 17000 dollars, but the places are booked out long time in advance. Next stop is the museum of the northern flotilla. After a short search we find it, but unfortunately it is closed. The coast northwards from the town is closed for the public (there is a major base of the Northern flotilla and a few submarine bases) and the weather is really bad so we leave Murmansk and head towards the southern part of the peninsula to enjoy some camping in nature.

The weather is getting better as we expected and we leave the main road and drive along the Whitesea coast. We spend the night in a forest near a lake with a few ice blocks floating on the water level. We then arrive to Varzuga, a village where the 240km-long main road ends. It should be a paradise for the fisherman as the salmon season is just beginning. Unfortunately neither of us two fishes. Instead we spend time photographing churches and watching the locals, who phoning friends while waiting for the transfer over the river. On the way back we build our tent on the sea coast. We can still see the Sun while cooking dinner, shining through holes in the clouds, but the next day we are already building our tent in a strong wind and snow. Our next stop on the way back south is the Soloveck islands. This place actually has quite a long history, beginning with a monastery from the Middle ages, later a tsar colony and also one of the most brutal Soviet gulags. Unfortunately we are unlucky again. The sailing season begins on 1st of June so right now the only connection with land is by a plane.

After a few normal days spent camping near the Onez lake (disturbed by the local fishermen running around our tent for most of the night while taking their little boats) and a visit to the (in the Russian view small) city of Vologda (295 thousand inhabitants), first problems arise. We find that the bumpy roads damaged one of the screws supporting the right part of the front axle and that the second one is only half attached. Of course we were unable to buy this sort of spare part here, so we drive with the guy from the tire service to his house and after a short search in his house he finds the right one! (of course heavily corroded). Then after 10 minutes of hard work, everything is fine. He refuses any money so we just thank him and give him two cans of Pils and leave.

The next problem is that they refuse to let us into a hotel we booked in Nizni Novgorod because we are told our visa is expired. Every visitor must register in every city where he or she stays for longer than 7 working days. Not long ago it was just 3 days and the lady at the reception desk thought that because our last registration is from St.Petersburgh, a week old, we don’t have the correct documents. She even refused to call her boss and resisted on not accommodating us. We therefore called the Czech embassy in Moscow, where our vice-chancellor assured us we are right. However, he also wasn’t able to persuade the woman and suggested we find a different accommodation and also said he will raise a complaint against this hotel to the federal migration service of the Russian federation. This whole thing lasted for almost two hours. We would therefore like to thank Mr.Petr Jesensky, the vice-chancellor for the time he spent trying to help us even outside of his normal working hours.

In the next hotel we were welcomed by a smiling receptionist and accommodated without any difficulties. But we soon encountered another problem. While parking our car in front of the hotel, the stabilizing rod ripped away on the front wheelbase and it was almost impossible to steer. And to make things even worse, the hotel is fully booked so we must leave the room by 11:00 the next morning. We therefore put all our stuff into the car, remove the damaged rod and head towards Toyota service to get a new one. Our Russian/Czech communication doesn’t make it very easy to explain what exactly it is that we need and when we finally manage to do so, we are of course told they don’t have such a spare part. We therefore go to the service department. Fortunately, one guy here immediately disappears with the rod and after about 15 minutes comes back with the rod fixed. Again he refuses any pay. We can only hardly imagine this happening in a Czech authorized service…  Fortunately some places also vacate at the hotel where we stayed, so we spend the next night there again.  Seems like things are getting better again.

Hopefully we will finally be able to see Niznij Novgorod today. So far we’ve only seen it from the windows of public transport vehicles. In the evening we will head towards Volgograd and Astrachaň

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