For getting a hotel room, it is advisable to not show up in the middle of the night. I did. Although my plane landed around 11 in the evening, it took some time for the luggage to be hauled from the airplane. I wanted to get to town fast and although there supposedly was a bus service going, I opted for a cab and paid way too much. I thought I was going to be the only guy in the cab, but it turned out I was sharing the cab with a Russian couple. Probably they paid something, and I paid twice that, earning the driver a neat profit.
Back in the plane, a girl that sat next to me, whom I had a conversation with, thought that I was a sailor, returning to my ship. Okay, I hadn't shaved in a week or so, but a sailor? I mean, she couldn't even see any of my tattoos!
I arrived at the Meridian hotel (across from the very luxurious Arktika hotel) way after 12am but was happy to find the place still open. I could get a room without any problem and even had TV, and a private bath and toilet. What bugged me though, from the moment the plane landed, was, that the skies where quite bright, although clouded, making for a normal (albeit gloomy) day. At 12 o'clock at night, that's pretty remarkable. In the town center, children were still walking around and people were working on their houses, painting and such.
Murmansk very much resembles any other Scandinavian city. Not only are most signs in Russian and Finnish (or only in Finnish for, for example, the buses), the people also look Finnish and the center of town could be any other Scandinavian city, with its pastel colored, four story houses. The difference being that the pastel colors where in drab shape and that around the city center, the familiar Soviet style gray, concrete apartment blocks rose up as a cancer around the old town. As in Finland, people do speak a little bit of either German or English, which makes for easier communication, although in the evening, speaking English with a couple of locals almost got me.
On my floor in the hotel, there was a bar. Just before dinner, I went up and ordered a beer there. Minutes after me entering, a gorgeous girl came in, eying the people in the bar, me. She sat down behind me but soon came up to me, asking for a light. I had one but when she noticed I was foreign, she asked if she could sit down. Figuring she was just after a couple of free drinks, I figured it being okay.
Soon, however, a girlfriend of hers came in, who also sat down with us. Two girls, Lena and Ina, wanting free drinks. Hmmm. We started talking, partly in English, partly in Russian, and it turned out that the first girl had been married to a man twice her age and was now divorced. The second girl was still married, but her man was now in jail, serving a four year sentence, after committing a crime she didn't want to disclose. She did say, various times, how stupid he was. At first I figured I would have a chance at getting a shot at them. After these stories, I didn't even wanted to try. Then they drugged me.
I had gotten something to drink for the second girl and had come back to the table again. I didn't immediately notice that my beer had gone 'dead', and happily drunk it away. It soon hit me. Almost immediately falling asleep, I really had a hard time staying awake, and even a harder time trying to talk. After waving my head hence and forth a couple of times, the first girl mentioned that it was okay if I would go to my room. I said I was fine and would go in a couple of minutes or so.
It became clear to her that I wouldn't go to my room with them present and they soon backed off. Saying goodbye and leaving me at the table. Only then did I stumble back, enter my room, fell on the floor and slept for two hours. In my conversation with the girls, they mentioned that they were going to visit this big disco, the 69th parallel, just out of town and would hopefully talk to some foreigners there. No doubt, they had the same plans for him as they had for me. Maybe they were testing how much they needed for drugging someone.
One thing that did surprise me when talking to the two girls was about the city's 24hours of daylight in summer. I, for one, would love to live in such a place (taking as a burden the 24hour night in winter). The two girls, remarkably, weren't happy at all with the long days and long nights. They would much sooner live someplace where day and night would obey much more 'normal' patterns. Evidently, these remarkable day lengths aren't too good for your state of mind (witness the high suicide rates in northern Europe).
During the day I went to see Alyosha. A concrete soldier, looking out over the bay of Murmansk. The soldier was erected in the eighties, when Murmansk joined the string of Soviet Hero Cities from the Great Patriotic War. The thing is REALLY huge, but what was more interesting, was the 360 view from the top of the hill on which Alyosha is standing. When I was there, the weather wasn't great. In fact, it was terrible. Every 10 minutes or so, the weather changed from raining and wind to sunshine or vice versa.
From the top of the hill, you could actually see the storms floating into the bay from the sea up north. Several kilometers apart, you could see the storms drifting in. So, on top of the hill, going from the complete south to the north, you could see some 5 areas of sunshine with another 5 storms in between. That was pretty cool!
Close to the statue, a bit down from me, I suddenly noticed a remarkably Dutch looking guy, with a video camera, taping a gorgeous girl, looking very Russian (black fur collar, black and very short skirt, black stockings, black high heels and blond dyed hair). Coming closer, I noticed they were talking English. I started a conversation and found out that they lived together, although not married, that she was from Murmansk and that her name was Natasha, and that he was called Hans, from Holland and that he had driven all the way from the Netherlands up to Murmansk with a TV in the back of his car. Friendly people, they gave me a ride back in to town.
I also got myself a train ticket to St. Petersburg. I figured that, since this being something of a remarkable version of Scandinavia, everything would be a tad better organized than in the other parts of Russia. Unfortunately, it wasn't. At first, I was sent via three ticket booths in the train station to the long distance ticket office, just outside of the train station. After waiting for several 'technical breaks' I finally was able to secure my ticket. To find out that the only real option for leaving again was going on the first train in the morning, leaving at about 7am, arriving in St. Petersburg the next morning. In the train station, some signs actually were also in English. The exit to the city was labeled 'Exit in a city'.
Besides Alyosha, another thing worth visiting in Murmansk is St. Nicolas Church. With a lively history, the church is currently being rebuilt and when I visited, not only where some 12 beggars (11 women and one man in a wheelchair) waiting in line at the gates, all union-shaped domes where lying on the ground, ready to be replaced.
In the church, two men where, what seemed, being baptized. With holy water, their temples, wrists and ankles were cleansed by the bishop, under heavy chanting by a choir of two. The bishop also cut away four pieces of hair from both men before leading them away to the back of the church, disappearing behind heavily decorated doors.