The Old Fogies go to Murmansk in Russia

 

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After Archangel, our next port of call in Russia was Murmansk which is a city in the far northwest part of Russia. The city sits on the banks of a fjord in Kola Bay, an inlet of the Barents Sea. The city is 67 miles (108 km) from the border with Norway and 113 miles (182 km) from the Finnish border. Like Archangel, we had to take a bus tour because we had no Russian visa, although the port of Murmansk is near the city and if you do have a visa, there is easy access to the city.

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Murmansk is the largest city within the Arctic Circle with a population of around 300,000 and major port on the Arctic Ocean. Its history only goes back around a century when in 1915, the Russians needed an ice-free location on the Murman Coast in the Russian Arctic, to receive military supplies. The location became known as the Murman station and soon boasted a port, a naval base, and gradually a population grew around the port.

From 1918 to 1920, during the Russian Civil War, the town was occupied by the Western powers, who had been allied in World War I, and by the White Army forces.

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Benefitting from the Gulf Stream, Murmansk’s ability to stay open to shipping has made it one of the major northern Russian ports. The construction of a railway in the early 20th century add to its importance.

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During World War II, Murmansk was a major link to the Western world for the Soviet Union with large quantities of goods important to the respective military efforts traded with the Allies: primarily seeing military equipment, manufactured goods and raw materials brought into the Soviet Union. The supplies were brought to the city in the Arctic convoys. During the Cold War Murmansk was a center of Soviet submarine and icebreaker activity.

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The city is mainly built around the port with a whole series of apartment blocks built above the port. Whilst the port benefits from Gulf Stream, the city suffers extremes of weather with long and cold winters and short, cool summers. The city suffers freezing temperatures from October to May which can plunge to well below -20 °C during the winter.

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The consequence of this extreme weather is that the apartment buildings and roads often look worse for wear. Even though they are regularly maintained, the weather leaves its effect.

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Our first stop was a the State Duma, the Children’s Cultural Centre and a simple wooden cross that marks the founding of the city in 1916. In the nearby local park there were a number of statues, an attractive fountain and a number of gnomes dotted around the park. The anchor is the motif of Murmansk and can be seen everywhere from lampposts to buildings.

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High above the city is the massive 35.5-meter (116 ft) tall statue Alyosha, depicting a Russian World War II soldier which was installed on a 7-meter (23 ft) high foundation in 1974. There is a memorial flame and wall of remembrance, building and odd references to the Russian military dotted about.

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This is a marvellous vantage point to see the city in all its glory above the busy port and across to the apartment blocks. The city is surround with greenery with hills of small trees stretching into the distance, although the countryside looks inviting, most people live in the city because of the savage winters.

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Anther landmark of the city is the statue called  “Zhduschaia” or Waiting,  the waiting woman  looks longingly towards the sea.

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Finally we visited the snow-white church of the Saviour-on-the-Waters, the lighthouse and the poignant KURSK memorial to those who died in the submarine disaster.

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Although this was the end of the tour, the port itself was very interesting with cranes loading ships, trains with a  large number of carriages and a busy flow of ships up and down.

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Leaving, the evening light cast a warm glow over the city and as we slowly departed, we had the added benefit of passing the famous Lenin Icebreaker which was the world’s first nuclear surface ship and the first nuclear civilian vessel.

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More up to date was a Russian navy destroyer and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov undergoing  repairs

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and the base of Atomflot, the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.

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Murmansk was quite unusual because it importance was based on the fact the port remains ice-free year round due to the warm North Atlantic Current. However it was the first place on our cruise that you could see some of the effects of living in Arctic climate. Often children are sent to the Black sea during the long polar winter to get some sun. The continuous darkness of the polar night lasts for 40 days and the “midnight sun” lasts for 63 days. These extremes may be part of the reason that the population of Murmansk is steadily declining.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

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The Old Fogies go to Archangel in Russia

 

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After Honningsvag, it was time to travel across the top of Europe into the Barents sea and then make a detour into the White Sea down to Archangel in Russia. Travelling down the White Sea, the land on either side was very different from the fjords and high rocky cliffs of Norway.

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Here were trees and low stretches of land with odd lighthouse and habitation. This really did feel like the edge of wilderness and we were looking forward to visiting Archangel.

We had booked the cruise only a few weeks before it sailed and therefore did not have time to get a Russian Visa that you need if you want to go freely around Russia. The only alternative is that you can take one of the excursions organised by the ship, these are not always ideal but ultimately if we wanted to go on land we had little choice.

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We arrived at the Archangel port to be faced with a busy container port with some indication of the importance of timber and fishing which is this part of Russia are the main exports. The port is around 30 minutes drive from the centre of the city and if you were travelling on a visa, quite a difficult place to get transport into the city. The only transport seemed to be small buses that seemed full most of the time.

The city is quite unusual because it lies on both banks of the Northern Dvina River near its exit into the White Sea. The city spreads for over 40 kilometres (25 mi) along the banks of the river and has numerous islands of its delta.

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On the exit from the port, there were a number of large wooden houses that seemed either derelict of had burnt down. Obviously these had made full use of the local timber but they seemed poorly constructed. Travelling over the bridges, occasionally you could observe a large amount of timber floating in the water.

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Archangel has a population of around 400,000 people and has a long interesting history, the city was the chief seaport of medieval and early modern Russia until 1703.

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Its former inhabitants included the Vikings and in the 12th century, the Novgorodians established the Archangel Michael Monastery. Archangel was the scene of a number of battles between the Russia and Norway in medieval times before Ivan the Terrible gained control and began to use the port to trade with British and Dutch Merchants.

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In 1693, Peter the Great ordered the creation of a state shipyard in Archangel although in 1722, he decreed that Archangel should no longer accept goods that amounted to more than was sufficient for the town. It was due to the Tsar’s will to shift all international marine trade to St. Petersburg. This factor greatly contributed to the deterioration of Archangel as a port.

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Arkhangelsk’s economy revived at the end of the 19th century when a railway to Moscow was completed and timber became a major export.

During both world wars, Archangel was a major port of entry for Allied aid. During World War II, the city became known in the West as one of the two main destinations (along with Murmansk) of the Arctic Convoys bringing supplies in to assist the Soviet Union.

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On the outside of the city, there are large blocks of concrete apartments which we assumed were vestiges from the Soviet days before you hit the centre. During Stalin’s reign many of the historic churches were destroyed but many have been rebuilt illustrating the importance of religion in the new Russia. We visited the Assumption church which had been rebuilt in 2004 with its wonderful icons and saw the stunning new city’s cathedral, dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Somewhat surprisingly in the centre of town is a large statue of Lenin and an old Tank in a glass box.

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One of the city’s main landmarks are the fort-like Merchant Yards, in the 17th and 18th centuries this large trading centre was filled with luxury items. At one point all the trade from Europe came through this building. Some of the complex has recently been restored with a few exhibition rooms.

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Along the promenade is a series of statues, most famously of Peter the Great who as I have mentioned built a seaport here and then moved most of the trade to St Petersburg which led to Archangels decline.

Interesting fact alert : The monument to Peter the Great, a sailing ship, and the sea terminal in Archangel are depicted on the Russian 500-rouble banknote.

The centre of the city is a strange mix of old buildings and new apartment blocks with plenty of shopping malls dotted around. There are plenty of green spaces and the city has a large promenade where the local walk and enjoy the riverfront.

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In the very centre of town is a pedestrianized thoroughfare called Chumbarovka Street where you walk past old wooden buildings that are copies of traditional wooden merchant homes.

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These buildings are now used for shops, restaurants and bars with a number of strange statues dotted along the street, one had a shiny hand and nose, we gathered that you shake the hand and grab the nose for good luck. For some reason this all seemed rather odd and Mrs Nice was distracted by a small number of street traders were putting away their wares. Mrs Nice spotted one with some Russian dolls and bought a couple. She did not pay a lot but was a little concerned she did not haggle to get the price down.

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Things took a rather surreal turn when a man dressed as an angel on a bike appeared. Mrs Nice immediately began to talk to him, although he could speak no English and she could speak no Russian. Eventually we managed to work out he was wearing this outfit to highlight something to do with trees and the environment.

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This unusual encounter and a ride back to the port led me to think that Archangel is a fascinating mix of old and new. Life on the outer edges of the Russian empire is not likely to be easy especially in the winter but the city was full of life except for the rather glum faces of the people waiting for the local buses.

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As we left Archangel under a wonderful sunset, we began to look forward to our next Russian stop, Murmansk.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.