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The Northernmost Wild Goose Chase – in Murmansk

Posted by on July 11, 2011

I woke up in the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and figured I needed to work out how to escape. Not that there was anything wrong with Murmansk (that I knew) but after being stranded in Rovaniemi, I wanted to make sure when the transport was. I decided to walk into town, which as it turned out wasn’t too hard – just down the hill for about 25 minutes, walking. I found the bus station that I’d seen the previous night, and conveniently the train station was next door. Brilliant. My head was already hurting from the Cyrillic. This is a theory I have – when I first moved to London I found myself getting a lot of headaches and theorised it was constantly looking at everyone’s faces to see if I recognised them, and there are a LOT of faces. This might also explain why people shut off and don’t speak on the Tube. I feel that with the concentration required to ‘read’ Cyrillic – it’s almost Latin but not quite – so your brain can’t help but try and then try harder (much like when a sign is in the distance and you squint and concentrate to read it), giving you (well me) a headache.

Murmansk, around the hotel

Murmansk, around the hotel


Anyway, theories aside, I stood in the main hall of Murmansk rail station, and stared at the two boards, arrivals and departures. Of course, not being able to read, I wasn’t sure which was which. Or what the city names even said. Mostly. I could read some of the letters, and finally worked out what was likely Saint Petersburg – it had just been abbreviated to further confuse me. Eventually judging by times (early morning is more probable for big day departures) I figured there were actually three departures daily down south. Perfect. I queued up, remembering the six hours it took myself and Pascal in Novosibirsk in 2008 to buy tickets to Moscow, and nervously approached the window. I queried St Petersburg, and times, and realising the language barrier, she wrote the times and prices down on paper. How thoughtful. I pointed at the one I wanted, and she shook her head. I looked confused, so she pointed to the sign above her, which I couldn’t read. “Information”. Then, “Billeti” (tickets) – and pointed outside. The ticket office was somewhere else. She drew a small map, and I thanked her and the bemused person behind me who had tried to assist as well, and headed out.
The hill down to the city, and the local shops

The hill down to the city, and the local shops


It was hot in Murmansk too, and I wandered around following the map, but try as I could, I couldn’t find anything like it. I asked a couple of people too but not knowing more than tickets and train, they either shrugged, or would launch into a diatribe of words and I’d back away slowly. One gave me more directions, but they didn’t pan out either.
City center - Ladas!

City center - Ladas!


Eventually I saw a Telekom building with an Information sign on it, so I hoped they’d at least speak English. They spoke a few words, and drew me another map. This was getting ridiculous. I thanked them and followed it through the park, across a road, and found a closed building, but even so, there was nothing related to trains on it. Despondent, I followed the block around and found myself back at the bus station. And then I noticed the “Kassi” on it (in Cyrillic), which I’d come to associate with cashier or cash or something. Maybe they did both bus AND train tickets?

They did.

Thank goodness.

Memorial to commemorate 'the common fight against Hitler

Memorial to commemorate 'the common fight against Hitler


It took some explaining, and passport, and the information from the woman at the train station, but I eventually secured myself a 27 hour morning train from Murmansk to St Petersburg, and for the first time I’d be taking platzkart class, the fantastic 54 bed communal carriages at the back of the train (Pascal and I took the only available tickets from Novosibirsk to Murmansk – in Kupe or cabin class, with 4 to a cabin).

By now I was feeling quite ill. I made it back up to the hotel after having to pause a few times, and crashed out on the bed for a few hours. I woke later – had to check to see what time it was as the light doesn’t change much, and considering it was evening and I didn’t feel much better, I decided not to try and go out, as I had a big ride ahead of me. I ate the second half of my bag of peanuts, watched some television, and crashed out again.

Too much Cyrillic hurts my head

Too much Cyrillic hurts my head


And such was my visit to Murmansk. I did a lot of walking, and saw a good part of the city, but didn’t manage to get to the ocean. I eventually established with research that the coast is mainly military, and as such a lot of it is closed off, which is a shame. That and it’s basically a frozen north for much of the year.

In the morning I woke early, and with 45 minutes to go asked if they could order a taxi. (“Takshi”). Sure, but it would be 20 minutes. Gulp. After 30 minutes it arrived, and the driver spoke no English, but his Lada’s numberplate said Fresh and there was dice on the mirror. Actually that was just an obvious Fresh Prince reference, this Lada may have fallen apart if there was dice on the mirror, and it barely had a numberplate. If anything I figured I could direct, but after showing my train tickets he seemed to know where we were going, and with 5 minutes to go I arrived at the station, found my wagon (carriage) and hopped aboard. Rather, I had to keep pointing at my ticket and giving questioning looks to people, before I finally found my bed. More on that next time.

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