I have a confession. See, I have a bit of a problem. I have a hard time booking a “normal” trip, even why I try. The closest I came was booking a week long trip to Germany earlier this year…but even then I hopped around to like five different cities.
Right, back in the spring a travel friend casually says to me “hey, I got this great mistake fare into KL and out of Beijing. It’s only three nights, but feel free to join if you want.
Well, the fare was economy, so hell to the no, but then…I started playing. Nothing exciting with awards, but found a couple of very interesting fares that would get me TO Asia in the general neighbourhood of KL and back to North America not terribly far from home.
At this point…my trip was 8 days on the ground/10 nights while his was 3 and 5.
Seeing we were going to be in KL, was it really much of a detour to go to Bangkok for dinner at Gaggan before it closed? Convinced the friend, so that detour was made.
Then, I could have just bought a simple Toronto to DC ticket and been home in 8 days. But why would someone fly home on a Wednesday when for two more vacation days they could have four more days on the road? I starting thinking about side-trips from Toronto.
Somehow, my two-year desire to finally drive the new road in Arctic Canada from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk won out…because that made sense. At this point…I was up to 18 days. Oops. Remember: this was all started by a friend taking a five day trip.
I need better friends.
So, how did this thing end up looking?
Right, as I said, I have a problem.
Trip’s over, so I’m to start cranking this one out. I think I’m going to do something new and leave the actual parts a surprise until they’re ready, but always give a tease preview. Like this:
That should get you sufficiently convinced I’m insane. You say insane, I say AvGeek. Potato, Poh-tah-toe.
Sit back, grab your popcorn and a PDB, because here. we. GO!
It was pretty nice to wake up with no big plans for our full day in Murmansk, so we were able to sleep in a bit and take the morning slowly. Walking to the elevator to go down to breakfast, past the big neon sign that didn’t let us forget which floor we were on:
Look out the windows while waiting for the lifts…it was -18 with a wind temp of -26, and looked pretty cold and barren:
We had passed on breakfast, not sure if we’d wake up on time…and oddly enough when we got to the restaurant they were not able to charge it to our rooms…and insisted we pay by credit card. I think that’s a first for a hotel breakfast buffet!
Back up to the rooms to get ready to head out into the freezing temps, another view from my room onto cold, cold Murmansk:
There was no Uber in Murmansk, but I chatted with the front desk and they called Yandex Taxi (which is basically the Uber of Russia) and arranged an hourly rate with them. It wasn’t all that far – we would probably walk five miles or so in total, but in these temperatures a car would be a must. First stop, the Alyosha statue – a 42 meter tall commemoration of the Soviet defence of the Arctic during World War II:
Supposedly it is common for wedding parties to visit and leave flowers, but in the arctic chill today there were none.
Looking back towards the city. You know it’s freezing when you see the steam layer turning to frozen mist over the city:
Memorial wall of the Hero Cities of the Soviet Union:
Anti-aircraft gun at the Aloysha Statue…soooo…cold….
Praise to the wartime workers of Murmansk!
It was actually still before noon, but the sun was still low in the sky when we visited the Monument to the Waiting Women, dedicated to the spouses of the Soviet Arctic Fleet awaiting the return of their sailors.
Lovers locks on a fence near the Monument to the Waiting Women:
Looks. So. Cold.
Getting artsy with the Monument to the Waiting Women
Church of Our Saviour on Waters….are you catching the theme in Murmansk? Everything was focused around the navy.
Lighthouse at the Memorial to the Sailors and Seamen who Died in Peacetime. It was closed today, but contains artifacts and memorabilia from those soldiers.
Memorial to the Sailors and Seamen who Died in Peacetime, many of whom died on the Kursk in 2009, it’s become a bit more of a memorial to submariners as well. Again….so much snow and ice…
Yes, it was THAT cold…on the hill next to the memorial.
Looking back towards the lighthouse, with groundcrew trying to keep up with the snow that was somehow falling from a blue sky:
We were frozen after a couple of hours of touring, despite the car. The driver was wonderful, and chatty despite speaking zero English. All those years of Russian lessons came in handy, however, because we got between all the sites we wanted to see in about two hours, and then even made it back to the place we had dinner the night before to have some lunch. Yup, hot apricot brandy drink sounded (and was) wonderful:
The super tasty Tundra pizza with venison, wild mushrooms, and northern berries. Yum!
…and what better on a cold day than some more lingonberry vodka along with pistachio and vanilla ice cream! Seriously, this city is a delicious foodie paradise!
After lunch, back to the hotel for a bit, before walking the mile or so in the freezing wind and snow to the Nuclear Icebreaker Lenin. Unfortunately, tours were fully booked, so they told us to try back in an hour. Fortunately, Ian spotted a cafe where we could get some hot tea and wait, and when we went back in an hour, it took a bit of pushing and shoving to maintain our spots in line, but finally we were let in:
Guided tour, Russian only, but was able to get the gist of most things. When you have a boat that big, and you’re away from shore that long, you have to be prepared for everything. Operating Room in the medical clinic:
The reactor room with a mockup of the previous nuclear reactor that powered the ship…complete with mock
Inspirational words from Lenin himself…it IS his icebreaker after all!
View from the deck onto the port of Murmansk.
View of the deck – I love how the snow made little “pillows” and there’s still a Soviet flag on the side of the ship:
Ian, hanging out on the bridge:
I decided to get a very cold picture outside, instead:
Port of Murmansk building. I love this blue colour, which you seem to only find on buildings in Russia:
Port of Murmansk, 68+ degrees north and 33+ degrees east:
Walk back to the hotel from the Lenin was past the train station….even the train station looked barren and frozen:
Of course I had to pose in front of the northernmost McDonalds in the world as well:
Found a little antique and souvenir shop in our hotel, where I found 10 Ruble notes with Putin on them. What an amazing souvenir!
So, Tunda Restaurant the night before was amazing, but there was another restaurant that looked just as good, the “Tsar’s Hunting Lodge” – so we grabbed a Yandex Taxi there (seriously, the app is just as easy to use as Uber) and were rewarded with a homemade vodka sampler! Lingonberry, cloudberry, and I think blackberry?
Starter of Pelmeni – siberian dumplings – filled with meat and served with sour cream:
Venison leg meatballs with wild mushroom spelt – this was absolutely amazing!
Yeah, there were giant, random stuffed bears in the restaurant:
…and some sort of other critter pelts sitting above our table:
Yeah, the guy working the coatcheck made me take a picture with this awkward bear display in the lobby:
For dessert, a “Murmansk Charcoal” – a cheesecake made with black currants and bog whartleberries. Don’t ask what a whartleberry is – I have no idea either – but it was delicious with the homemade honey vodka.
An absolutely amazing meal, and I was thrilled how interesting Murmansk was. I’m sure it would be amazing in the summer as well, but there was something extra-special about seeing it in the winter. Off to bed, because we were off to Moscow the next day…fortunately not TOO early!