Russia 2019 day nine : Flying to Murmansk

4:45 is a stupid time to wake up, especially when you’ve paid for breakfast every morning and you’re not going to be able to eat this one. And this is the convenient flight, the rare one that doesn’t dump me into unknown Arctic Russia at 4am.

I’d asked about getting to the airport for an 8.30 flight and the receptionist was adamant that the metro to the airport bus was the best way. He even got out a city map to show me how to navigate there on the metro, as if I haven’t lived underneath St Petersburg for the last three days.

That said, I did jump off in the wrong place. It’s just not fair to have Moskovskie vorota and Moskovskaya three stops apart on the same line. Bus 39 was waiting when I emerged at last and although the orange machines wouldn’t accept my smartcard, the conductor was right there and she sold me the sort of paper ticket I’ve only seen in Kyiv and on the Moors Valley railway.

I had to go through basic security just to get into the airport. I checked in online yesterday but I checked in again to get a paper boarding pass. Then through real security, which was fine except that I had to also go on a conveyer belt through a scanner. The operator clicked his fingers every time it started moving as if he was trying to convince us he was working it by magic.

Now I’m sitting at my gate with a bottle of pear Fanta. My opinion is broadly that it would be nicer if it wasn’t fizzy.

Gate change! I get comfortable at D02 which is on my boarding pass and the screen and then suddenly a flight to Sochi is going from my gate and I’m supposed to now be at D08, which the announcer voice is pronouncing as V.

To be continued from Murmansk. I hope it’s cold because I’m carrying a big coat that’s been most inappropriate for the weather so far.

The flight was uneventful except that I was stuck in the middle seat and the person with the window seat spent the entire flight wearing a sleeping mask. We got given a biscuit-thing and a cake-thing which I haven’t sampled yet – it’s been a long time since I’ve been given free food on a plane.

We landed and the pilot announced that we’d landed so people started to get up only then the cabin crew went marching down the plane ordering them to sit down and slamming the lockers closed. Were we being held hostage on the plane? What was happening? What was happening, as far as I can understand, was that we were reversing just far enough that we’d require a bus to take us to the terminal. (We absolutely did not need a bus. It was right there).

Getting through the airport as a domestic arrival with hand luggage took all of twenty seconds and then I declined several offers of taxis in favour of the bus – by which I mean marshrutka, battered old minibus. I sat in the back corner which turned out to be a very good decision because we picked up a lot more passengers than we had seats on the hour-long drive into the city and you can’t give your seat to someone in more need if you’re wedged in the corner. Just try not to lean on the back door because i have zero faith in that withstanding any pressure.

Murmansk is a grim dirty little mining/port town, just like Narvik, redeemed by its location, just like Narvik. I bet it looks pretty magic in winter, if unbearably cold. We drove up the east side of the Bay of Kola which looks like a perfect dark blue Arctic fjord surrounded by hills just made for snow. Here’s the frontier feel I looked for in Kiruna.

The station where the marshrutka dropped us is only about 200 yards from my apartment but here came the logistical problems. First, I had no idea where no. 22 is and the nice girl in the jewellers (well, if you’re going to approach a stranger in a Russian Arctic frontier town who isn’t going to speak English, that seemed the least threatening option) didn’t either. She’s on the same road but doesn’t seem to know what number her shop is in. Then I found it but it’s an entire building, home to half a dozen shops and 70ish apartments. Where’s the door? How do you get in? You phone the place. The person who answers doesn’t speak English, of course. You text. No response and you wonder if the number is actually working. And then the answer is Russian. I took to my guidebook’s language section and went for “I’m in front of” and eventually got the full address including apartment number. I’d been about to go to the big international chain hotel up the road – they would surely speak English and if necessary, it’s a roof. More expensive than the apartment but it’s an option.

I found the door and rang the bell. About four times. No answer. No answer to my “Да, я здесь” text (Yes, I’m here). It’s now about 1.15. I arrived at the station around half past eleven. I haven’t eaten today. My bag is heavy. I went to the hotel. Trainee Maria was wonderful, once she’d realised my booking wasn’t at her hotel. She phoned my landlady in Russian and five minutes later, I was standing outside the door again, being let in at last. We’d met before. When I’d first phoned, I’d gone looking for someone looking for a visitor and she’d looked like she was looking for someone. But when she spoke to me and I failed to understand a word, she apparently took that as meaning I wasn’t the person who’d just phoned her and not understood a word.

Anyway, arrival, check-in, payment and quick tour was done somehow with no mutual understanding, although I did get straight on the wifi and use the Google Translate app. She’s not very good at typing and I’m not convinced she can see very well either.

But now I have an apartment in Murmansk for three nghts. It’s kind of old-fashioned – in Soviet Russia apartment decorates you, that sort of thing. This is definitely not a major modern cosmopolitan city like the two I’ve just left. But I have a bath and a kitchen and more space than I’ve had for weeks and despite the difficulties, I like Murmansk.

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