Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Murmansk – Festival of the North

When people think of Murmansk, they think of the cold port up north. They think of the sailors who lost their life when the submarine sank in 2002. The Russians living in Murmansk also get more benefits and privileges from the government for living up north, a place where most people avoid.

Festival of the North was the reason why I went up to Murmansk. And on 3rd and 4th of April at Cozy Valley, there was reindeer races and ski competitions. The Sami people from Lovozero were bringing their reindeers up to Murmansk to compete! A mix of cool sportsmen and ethic people!

My host in Murmansk is a Russian girl ,Katya.Amazing, chatty and sociable girl whom you can easily mistake for a foreigner because of her perfect English, dress sense and even her apartment design.Lucky me! Katya and her boyfriend drove me up to see Aloysha , the lighthouse and church, so i didnt have to struggle with directions and public transport to get there.

On the day of my arrival , her friends invited themselves to her apartment for a dinner gathering. One of the girls returned back from the UK and it was the first time in 5 years after graduation that all of them were meeting together with a bottle of whisky. So I met some really interesting Russian girls who spoke perfect English. They were studying in the faculty of foreign languages back then.
It is really strange how my impression of Murmansk is a bright cheery and exciting. The Kola Peninsula actually offers some really cool sports and activities for everyone to indulge in both in winter and summer. All it takes is to spend 2 days with a Russian girl who is totally in love with her own hometown to change your first dull impression of Murmansk.

The train rides were long and there were a lot of opportunities to practise speaking Russian. But it was a pure struggle.Anyway some of them said some really interesting things
Petrozavodsk – Murmansk train time: 20 hours
Dedushka Nikolai : Are there camels and a lot of fruit trees in Singapore?
Andrei in his late 20ties “Singapore is near Morocco.” ,Deduska Nikolai huffed, “your geography is so bad.”

Murmansk – Petrozavodsk: 25 hours
I spent the whole morning trying to writing and rewriting my homework about my trip to Murmansk.
At 12pm: Friendly Man, “Why are you always writing? Stop writing, your head needs some rest”
Friendly Man prepares tea. Tea bag, hot water, sugar …………and some vodka
“In Russia, vodka is our national drink, how about Singapore?"
(Do we have a national drink in Singapore?) Stunned by the question, I said, “tea”
Everyone laughed.
He stirred his alcoholic black tea and said, “Do you want to try some Russian tea?”
…..An hour later , he makes more “tea”
“Are you sure you don’t want to try Russian tea?”
He consumed 7 glasses of “tea” with vodka and a whole pack of cigarettes between 8am and 730pm on the train.

After clocking more than 220 hours on the train last year shuttling between Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Siberia, I swore never to take trains for a long time. One year later, I have so far clocked 69 hours on Russian trains in 1 month .And as my head throbbed along the long journey , I kept asking myself why I put myself through the 40+ hour pain to quench my desire to explore the rest of Russia.