Woke up relatively early after a good night of sleep, and headed down to the restaurant of the Scandic Hotel to see what breakfast was all about. It was absolutely packed with people, mostly Chinese and Russians based on the languages being spoken.
The buffet seemed to be closer to Russian than Norwegian, with caviar, beets, pickles, and lots of smoked fish that could have been at home in either country. Not exactly what I expected, but a delicious wake-up call that we were about to cross the most northern border in the world!
After breakfast, we still had a few hours for a walk. Since our bus to Murmansk wouldn’t depart until 14:00, we asked the hotel about the possibility of a 13:00 or 13:30 checkout, and without even looking the front desk agent rather shortly told us NO. Checkout is 12:00 sharp. I understand the reason, but it could have been delivered in a much friendlier manner…
Off on the walk, we walked by the ice rink, which was being cleared of around 10-12cm of snow overnight. I was majorly bummed out that we would miss the tournament later in the day.
Walking through the very snowy town, I started to get excited for our upcoming border crossing:
Looking north, towards the Barents Sea. Brrrr…. Temp fortunately wasn’t too bad at about -15, but the snow and wind made it a little less than optimal walking conditions.
The Kirkenes Kirke, or the church…
The Soviet Liberation Monument, in memory of the Soviets fighting to free the town from the Nazis:
Picturesque view back onto the city of Kirkenes…yes, this was noon…
We stopped in the one coffeeshop we found after our walk for a warm coffee and sweet, and you could really tell that China was the theme of the big town festival going on. My oreo brownie even had a little Chinese flag in it. Does anyone know what it says? Google translate seems to think “family?” My reputation must have preceded me to Kirkenes….
Back to the sign, but better view of the snow “mountain” in the daylight. Little kids sledding down the other side. You can see the snow falling a bit in this pic.
Back to the hotel to check out and wait for our bus, and we still had about 90 minutes to kill. Kirkenes is famous for its king crab, and there was a tank in the lobby for the restaurant. I can’t decide if this guy looked scary or delicious…
Very snowy exterior of the Scandic Kirkenes.
About 30 minutes before our bus’ departure, we walked outside, and the bus was already full and waiting – with just two seats left for us. Everyone else on the bus was Russian from Murmansk, so we were the last ones and headed off early.
The border was only about 20-25 minutes away, and soon enough we were there. Funny enough, I had entered the Schengen Area on my work passport, which caused quite a lot of confusion exiting Norway, as I imagine they don’t see a lot of official passports at this northernmost Schengen border. Only added a few minutes, and soon we were all stamped out and back into the bus to Russia.
I debated trying to get a few pictures of this northernmost border in the world, but there was really no opportunity, and soon we were at Russian immigration. Immigration itself wasn’t too bad, although the rather junior agent decided to call over the station chief to have a look at my visa and passport. The giant 96 page passport definitely stood out, and I imagine the colourful assortment of visas in it from all corners of the planet didn’t help either. After a very short chat in pretty basic Russian no problem, stamp stamp.
Given the slight bit of extra attention customs decided they wanted to open and go through my bags, which was no problem at all, and it was maybe 15 minutes start to finish and we were through the northernmost border!
Another 15 minutes, and we came to a rest stop for a bathroom break. I think there might have been food for sale too, but we skipped that in favour of a few photos. It was a little snowy…
Russian AND Soviet flags still flying this far north. Love the contrast of the deep blue sky:
Some sort of Soviet memorial. Even zooming in the text is blurry so hard to tell exactly what to.
Fortunately, the minibus (which only held about 12 of us) had no trouble driving 100+ kph the whole way, despite the rather heavy snow, and we all lived to make it to Murmansk after less than four hours on the road. Bus dropped us right at our hotel, where after a quick check-in we were off to find some food. After missing lunch we were pretty hungry, so set off through snowy Murmansk. Snow was still coming down very heavy:
Monument to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker of Mirliki:
Dinner was at Tundra Restaurant which looked delicious online, but surely this far north in the Arctic the menu would overpromise and under deliver, right?
We started with the salmon caviar and soft cheese on black rice crackers, which was outstanding. Why it’s served on a bunch of stones I don’t know, but…
Next up was the grilled meat platter with venison, marbled roast beef, pork neck, and some sort of arctic berry sauce…again…delicious.
For the main, I went with Kamchatka king crab baked with wasabi sauce. Once again…absolutely delicious and decadent.
Couldn’t resist desert, which was the house specialty of boiled condensed milk served in “wafer tubules.” Extremely sweet and caramelly, but again…delicious.
By this point we were absolutely loving everything about this restaurant, so when in russia…homemade lingonberry vodka.
On the way out after an amazing meal, one last chance to stop and admire the slightly unusual decor:
All that was left was a nice snowy walk back to the hotel, past the monument to the Hero City of Murmansk…complete with Lenin:
After an amazing first day in the Arctic I couldn’t wait to catch up on sleep a little bit, and spend the entire next day exploring this winter weirdness!