Well, it's been a great week. Bree (name slightly modified - though this is what her mom originally wanted to name her but her actual name has a bit more "oomph") and I are great travel partners! Although perhaps we encourage each other to drink a bit too much, we were always up early every day and off exploring.
We started the journey with a flight to Murmansk. This is the largest city in Russia (though maybe the world??) north of the Arctic Circle with just over 350,000 residents. Our flight was quite easy on an old Aeroflot plane. If you pushed an empty seat forward it fell flat. This was the source of much amusement to me. The flight from Moscow is just about 2 hours. Our bags arrived with us, everything was great. We waited in the snow for only 10 minutes, waiting for the bus that was parked only a few feet away. Ah, Russian systems. Of course, the people waiting for the bus have to stay out in the cold. Anyway, our bus ride was only $1.50 and in just under an hour we'd made it to our stop. It was a short, but uphill, walk to our hotel.
This is actually on our return to Murmansk, but you get the idea.
Also at the airport, me with Putin.
Once inside, we didn't want to venture out into the cold again, so we stayed in. We had a lovely dinner in the hotel actually with vodka, pickles, trout and salmon. The next day was exploring Murmansk. This is a cute port town. Parts of it reminded me of Oakland with the big port cranes, Monterey with parts that resembled Cannery Row and South San Francisco with the apartment buildings all close together. Another nice thing that we noticed was that there were many birds! I hadn't realized the absence of birds, other than pigeons and huge crows, in Moscow until we were surrounded by tweeting. It was really nice.
Lots more graffiti in Murmansk.
Alyosha, a WWII soldier looks over the city.
We only had half a day in Murmansk, but that felt like enough time. There's not really all that much to see there. So we headed back to the airport. Originally, the plan had been to take a shuttle bus into Kirkenes. However, our diplomatic visas restrict us to where we are allowed to leave and enter Russia. The border with Norway is not one of those places, however, the Murmansk airport is ok. So, we return to the airport only to find out that our flight has been canceled due to ice in the originating city and the airline is going to put us on a shuttle bus. We explain our visa situation and are assured that they'll call ahead to the border to explain. Sure enough, we get to the border and are only detained 10 minutes by the Russians. Amazing!
Plenty more photos in the Murmansk photo set