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Love from first sight…or my travel sketches

by Elena Moskal

The St.Petersburg-Murmansk flight was an hour late. That means one more hour at Pulkovo airport - an hour of impatient waiting, an hour of hopes, an hour of wearisome idleness. But in my mind we were there already, in that snow-covered, cold, strange city - the city that we had known before only from photos, books and TV. How we wanted to get to that kingdom of snow and northern lights somewhat quicker!

The plane's undercarriage touched the snow-clad airfield. In a few minutes our friends would meet us; we would smile anew to each other, look into each other's weary eyes and be together again. Now we are on the threshold - the threshold of an acquaintanceship with a new city and new people.

Finally, after all the necessary formalities are behind us, and enveloped in darkness and white snow, we go to the city. Just a quick history note about Murmansk: it was founded in 1916 as a big trade and fishing port on Kola Bay (a non-freezing bay, thanks to the Gulf Stream). It is made up of three districts (Leninsky, Oktiabr'sky and Pervomaisky), and therefore the very first impression of Murmansk is of one beautifully alight, tapering at different heights, almost tottering at the edge of the Earth. The surrounding hills are covered with modest vegetation here and there, interlaced with lakes and rivers. And the scarlet fire of ash-berries is amidst the winterland of trees and snow.

How I wished it was the morning! I'd like to see the city in the sun light! But, in a couple of days the polar night will come which lasts from December 2nd until January 10th. Anyway, we were promised a few light hours so that we could look around and become familiar with our surroundings, and then rest at the Congress-Meridian Hotel, which is in the very centre of city on Pyat' Uglov ('Five Corners') Square.

The view from my window was really amazing - harbor lifting cranes, hills, Kola Bay seeming boundless and snow, white, clear, sparkling everywhere. It was frosty outside, but the frost isn't "serious" for the North, so the weather won us over, and we were able to stroll about. Passing by the Semenovskoe Lake, the place where Murmaskians rest in summer, we approach Zapoliar'e (affectionately called Aliosha by the locals), a great monument dedicated to the defenders of the trans-polar region. At the foot of the monument there is an eternal fire, and no nip from the northern winds or snowstorm could extinguish it. Days and nights are alight against a background of flags at half-mast, in memory of those who remained in this rocky landscape defending their Motherland. And even on this slightly stormy day we saw live flowers at the monument… an expansive view of Murmansk along the Kola Bay is open from the peak of Aliosha's hill.

Murmansk is the city of seamen. On Cheluskintsev street a lighthouse soars high into the sky, now used as a museum to commemorate perished seamen - there's also a book with their family name to honour their bravery. Next to it there's an observatory decorated with a real ice-breaking anchor, while a bit further up there's a Church called Church Savior-on-Water. We passed by in silence, as no words could express our thoughts and feelings, we felt that we should only just listen to this shrill silence, and only just stop and glance back -while we live, the memory lives.

Traveling by bus, we noticed that the age of changes that rushed past in Russia during the 1990s, didn't alter the names of the streets in Murmansk. There is still a Lenin Prospect, an October street, a Pioneer side street, a Dzerzhinsky street; there are also lots of streets named after heroes.

After our long excursion, we visited an aquarium, where a real, bearded seal with fabulous whiskers and charming eyes performed. Seals are lazy, judging from their appearance, and we marveled at how these deep-sea inhabitants could be trained. How they could dance! How we wished to come and stroke their wet, warm back tenderly and look into their round hazel eyes. We didn't feel pity for the animals, as the trainer's gesture or word was filled with warmth and tenderness towards these uncommon actors. Naturally, they were greeted with a storm of applause.

The tour came to an end. What were we thinking about? Murmansk is an amazing city. It is relatively young and at the same time the feeling of confidence and strength ascends. It is as substantial, light and reliable as our Northern Fleet, yet it's a fairy tale city shimmering with thousands of lights during a long polar night, and it's a magician city scintillating with the hot sun rays on a long polar day.

Alas! Time is inexorable. Work is work, and we had to interrupt our visiting Murmansk and its outskirts.

We were disappointed at having to leave so early. Firstly, we didn't have time to get to know it better. Secondly, we didn't see the northern lights. Thirdly, we desired to go up a snow-covered hill and observe the surroundings. We can write fourthly and fifthly and so on. We were just so sorry we had to leave Murmansk! But the main thing is, and you probably got it, we realized that we would come here again for sure, definitely! We still haven't gathered mushrooms in the tundra and we haven't seen the boundless waves of the Barents Sea - however, we fell in love with this land, its severe nature, and the generosity, warmth and reliability of its people. This trip convinced us of love at first sight.

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