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Published: September 4th 2011
It really is too Russian to be true. Tanks and military enforcement everywhere. Not long after I came out of the 20 kilometer so-called control zone after crossing the Norwegian border 15 kilometers outside Kirkenes. In this control zone there is absolutely nothing and it is prohibited to go there without a visa to one of the countries in mention.
Nothing really happened before 40 kilometers after, when suddenly a medium-sized city of concrete apartments erected from nowhere. Until then it was only the road and bushes. Zapalyani was the name and besides the soviet residential areas there was two 24-hours supermarkets. I tried both as it was getting chilly outside. In the second one I got one of the lady cashiers to heat up some water for me, so I could get a cup of instant coffee from a single portion bag. Now that is service.
It was still light all through the night here, but cold as frozen-over hell. As I decided to drive through the late and early hours, a thick layer of fog was competing with the midnight sun for the ambiance. My bike eased through what seemed to be one giant military complex. I
also passed a closed military city with the name Sputnik. Tanks to the left. Big green infantry trucks to the right, and so on.
Now I was reading a book called ‘the Moscow Vector’, where a Putin-like character is trying to recreate the Soviet Union by military force. The drive from the Norwegian border gave me a hint that Russia could easily bat Finland or Mongolia in a one-on-one battle with all the military equipment hidden away from the big cities.
The sun won at three o'clock when I finally was too tired to continue. That was also the time where I found the first particularly appropriate place for camping.
As soon as I crossed the border from Norway there was not a single reindeer in sight. Instead I was acquainted with the first pack of wild dogs. A riveting chill spurred though my body at the first glance, but as it seemed like they had their own interests to attend to I relaxed and put up my tent.
The traffic in Russia was different. The first night had been pleasant, but the next day, the closer I got to Murmansk, the cars came closer and
faster and the drivers were seemingly indifferent about my presence. The street signs in Russia are funny. Sometimes funny like milk tasting funny, other times as funny as getting alcohol on a fresh wound. One time I passed a sign telling me, there was 89 kilometers to Murmansk. Half an hour later I passed a sign telling me that I needed to pass 98 kilometers. Funny in either case was it.
Murmansk’s infrastructure is oddly shaped. I did notice a big city on the other shore from where I was driving south along a big river. I guessed it was a suburb or another harbor city. Then there was a big-ass bridge - three kilometers long. I had arrived to Murmansk 30 kilometers before I expected, and I asked three people before I believed that I was in Murmansk.
I was relieved, but then I had to drive 10 kilometers north on the other side of the shore to reach the city center, which was – yes – the harbor-suburb I passed earlier on. So why not place a bridge closer to the center or a bridge on either side of the city? Because we are in Russia,
My host Sasha is an awesome human being. He beats my own host abilities with several lengths. Maybe because I was only his third surfer he gave me the whole package (no, not that package, you scum!). Starting by buying me a full list of groceries I thought we were going to cook together. Then he took me to his very downtown apartment and equipped me with a phone with Russian SIM and took off to his girlfriend’s, where he was going to stay during my visit.
I was almost paralyzed by Sasha’s hospitality, as I had just got my mind on a hot shower and some sort of bedding. But now I had centrally located lodging and some days to do nothing more than just relax in it. Last time I showered was at the camping ground where I sneaked in two days prior reaching North Cape. Those stints of hot water were some of the best I ever felt. I had a lot of relaxing to get done and so it went.
Besides being an awesome host, Sasha also communicates in a short and concise way. Usually each communication is followed by a
big smile. I took a liking to his girlfriend and him. They showed me around the harbor and bought me a meal at the Chinese restaurant in town. There I tasted kvas, which is a Russian wheat drink tasting like a mix of lemonade and beer - very thirst clinching in hot summer weather.
One of the few things Sasha said was about his former surfer – that he came to see ‘the real Russia’. The real Russia is – I guess – what is different from St. Petersburg and Moscow. There are a lot of things in St. Petersburg, which are ‘real’, but I know where this idea is heading. It has something to do with the tanks I saw earlier on and old Ladas fuming smog in dense traffic. It has something to do with ‘the real Russians’.
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