Travel to Murmansk oblast in winter time
When it is still rainy season in December in Moscow and puddles in the streets push us into depression, the heart of Russian person is searching for real cold and snow 🙂 That’s why we decided to spend New Year’s holidays in the North – Karelia and Murmansk region and I’d like to share with you, guys, our impressions about these wonderful places! After the trip, we made an inspiring video and tried to show you how to spend winter vacation unforgettably cool, active and to save emotions and memories for a long time! You can watch it here: Winter holidays in Russia: Karelia and Murmansk region! Murmansk oblast is the most northern region of Russia, further there are only Barents sea, Arctic ocean and the North pole! The region is located on the same latitude as Finland, Sweden and Norway, so the climate, nature, landscapes entertainments here are the same. Here we have beautiful Northern nature, snowboards and skies, friendly huskies and reindeers, and banya (Russian sauna) with diving into the snow or ice hole, so everything that is a real treasure of the North! And if you want to go somewhere this year, visit Russian North with real winter, cold weather, huge amounts of snow and winter fun 🙂
Ski resorts of Kirovsk – Big Woodyavr and Kukisvumchorr
So at the end of December we packed up our stuff and moved to the North to spend winter holidays 2015-2016. The main part of our trip was dedicated to Murmansk oblast, and on the way back we decided to travel a little in Karelia as well! By the way, about Karelian part of our trip you can read in the post Traveling to Russia in winter. The Magic Of Karelia.
As a base in Murmansk region, we decided to choose the city of Kirovsk. The city itself is very small, but it has a great advantage – it lies at the foot of the picturesque mountain range Khibiny and has a good resort for skiing and snowboarding.
The main purpose of our staying in Kirovsk was 100% snowboarding 🙂 But it is quite boring to ride every day from morning till evening, so we prepared a program to “enliven” our vacation! And, to be honest, we are not fabulous snowboarders 🙂 It was only our second season and only the first season when we did it more or less good 🙂
There are 2 ski resorts in Kirovsk, and locals describe them in this way: Big Woodyavr (the name comes from the lake in the Khibiny mountains) is a ski complex for beginners and amateurs of riding and Kukisvumchorr (the name of mountain) – only for professional riders. My personal description will sound like this: Big Wood – cool ski resort, where you will have a great time regardless of your riding level and Kukisvumchorr is a cruel place for those who want to get some real extreme 🙂 Despite of the fact that Kirovsk is a small city, Big Wood – is ski resort of really high class. Khibiny are not high mountains (about 1000 m height) so the longest slope is about 2300 meters, but we really enjoyed it!
Ski resort has new modern elevators, daily wided slopes are cleaned, there are good lighting, equipment rental and coachs for beginners, nice cafe where you can eat and affordable prices for skiing actually 🙂
And for those of you, who consider to be a real professional and looking for extreme – welcome to Kukisvumchorr. Of course, there are pretty old elevators and bad cleaned slopes, and service level is really poor, but if it is ok for you – you will like it! The trails there are more difficult and steep. We tried it just once, and then barely came down. Kukisvumchorr was too tough for us 🙂 But only for now….
And one more advantage of skiing in Khibiny mountains are stunning views! Due to the fact that Kirovsk is inside of Arctic circle, winter is a period of polar night.
This is a unique natural phenomenon of the Northern regions on our planet, when the darkness stays almost for the whole day. Sunrise in Kirovsk starts around 11 a.m. and sunset already at 3 p.m.!
At the same time, the sun never rises too high! It only shows up over the horizon, passes along the mountain and pretty fast sets down. It means that you have the opportunity to admire super stunning views and watch the sunrises and sunsets right on the slope every day!
Once we’ve been so lucky and have seen very low clouds under us! Just imagine, you are standing on the top of the mountain, and all clouds literally are spread down below like whipped cream! This is just amazing and unbelievable!
That day we had a ride just above the clouds! Really, you ride and see the border of these clouds! Then you come inside of it and ride like in the fog, then you get out of the cloud and everything is clear again. What an indescribable feeling!
Snowmobiling and Snow Village
Snowboarding and skiing are certainly very cool activities, but we can’t imagine winter without one more type of fun… It is Snowmobiling! It is always full of joy and incredible experience personally for me! And if you never tried to drive through snow drifts with snowmobile, it is mandatory for you to do it this winter 🙂
Of course, if you want to feel full excitement of these rides, you need something more than standard time 15-30 minutes of riding during Christmas and New Year holidays 🙂 That is why we usually take snowmobiles at least for 4 hours for a long route! Fresh frosty morning, the roar of the engine and stunning sceneries of the Khibiny mountains around – what a fantastic feeling! To do it, you need to have warm clothes, for sure, and don’t forget your mask!
Most of snowmobile routes in Kirovsk start and finish at the place which is called Snow Village. And if you ever dreamed to open your eyes one day and appear in a real winter faiytale, then you need to come here 🙂
Snow Village is a complex that was made with snow and ice by local masters, all its walls are decorated with snow figures and bas-reliefs in specific theme. And actually theme is different every year! Also there is a snow-tubing rental, cafe and just a huge amount of positive emotions and good winter mood 🙂
The Sami – indigenous people of Kola Peninsula
While traveling around Kola Peninsula, we’ve been lucky to meet and chat with real Sami. This is a small nation, traditionally engaged in reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. Comparing with their neighbors Karels, who always had sedentary lifestyle, Sami used to follow herds of their reindeers. That’s why Sami were much closer to nature, respecting its gifts and worshipped it. And even now when talking with Sami, they still do respect traditions of their fathers, sacred places and really appreciate communication with each other.
Reindeer for Sami people is something like a cow for Russian peasants, and even more. Reindeers are the food, clothes, medicines and transport at the same time. Reindeer’s meat is very nutritious and useful, the fur of reindeer is a very warm material which they use to make clothes and shoes. Also they laid it on the bed and covered with it not to get cold in winter time. They took it in sled as well to be able to ride comfortably through the tundra, and covered the walls of vezhas and kuoksas (kuvaksas) – traditional houses of Sami.
And if in summer time tundra feeds with all sorts of berries – blueberries, cranberries, cloudberries and others, in winter time warm reindeer blood was the only source of vitamins which are so necessary for living in severe conditions.
Before invention and mass production of snowmobiles, sleighs pulled by reindeers or dogs were the only way of transportation across the tundra in winter time. In the northern battles during the World War II, Sami reindeer herders, in addition to be soldiers, had one of the most important functions – the supply in the winter time. Because sometimes battles took places far away in tundra and the only transport that could bring food, medicines and ammunition, was a reindeer sleight.
Another interesting fact that Sami do not eat mushrooms as a respect to reindeers, because mushroom is a favorite “candy” for them 🙂 And also – Sami are amazing herbalists! They know all useful properties of those herbs that grow in tundra and forests of Kola Peninsula. Sami’s herbal tea is an awesome thing! There is no traditional black or green tea in there, but it is a bouquet of different herbs and berries, which give a unique taste and flavor to this tea! I don’t remember all of them but remember some of them – Ivan-tea (fireweed), leaves and berries of cranberries and blueberries, wild raspberries, and even reindeer moss. This moss is a very interesting thing. From the school course I knew that this moss is a basic food for reindeers, which keeps useful properties even in winter time and reindeers look for it under the snow. However, Sami, told me that people also can eat this moss and that it is very rich with protein. That means that in case of lost in a forest, man can survive eating berries and reindeer moss. Also this moss is a natural antibiotic. During the war soldiers had problems with medicines, so they covered wounds with moss and it caused faster healing.
And one more interesting fact – Sami have matriarchy. That means that Sami woman has a leading role in the family and at Sami meetings. And even now, when Sami woman is speaking, Sami men are silent 🙂 Sometimes Sami woman could have up to three husbands. They all knew about each other but met quite rarely. Usually one of them went to herd reindeers, second went hunting or fishing, and third one stayed at home to build or fix the house, to prepare firewood for winter or to do other housework. At the same time, the children were common for all three men. If you are interested to learn more about the Sami culture, I advise you to watch the film “the Cuckoo” or “Kukushka” (Кукушка in Russian)
Unfortunately, we did not have time to reach Murmansk in our winter journey, but we corrected this mistake in summer trip. And since I think Murmansk is one of the key places of Murmansk region, I will also tell about it.
Despite the fact that Murmansk is a young city and don’t have any old architecture (in 2016 it was only 100 years old), the city gave us a very good impression. Let’s start with the fact that it is the largest city in the world (!) which is located inside of Arctic circle with a population of over 300 thousand people! Secondly, the city is located on the hills and on the shore of Kola Bay, so you can see stunning views almost everywhere in the city!
Murmansk is a heroic city and its main attraction is the history associated with the heroic and tragic events during the World War II ! They say that Hitler sent here an army of specially trained Austrian and Norwegian mountain Rangers, who could handle battles in mountainous areas and harsh climate. He planned to defeat Murmansk in 2 weeks, but faced very strong resistance of the Soviet soldiers from all positions: in the land, in the air and in the sea. Finally, these 2 weeks turned into 3 long years. So far it is still unknown how many people left their lives in the battles for Soviet Arctic, but the counting goes on tens of thousands!
As a respect to the heroism of Soviet soldiers in the defense of Murmansk there is a monument to the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic, which is friendly called “Alyosha”.
This 42-meter high concrete statue of a warrior was mounted on a hill of Green Cape, there is an Eternal Flame at the foot of the statue. Alyosha is looking in direction of the “Valley of Glory”, the place of most difficult and cruel combats, the area where in 1941 the enemy came from to this land. Alyosha does not sleep and never gets tired, his gun is loaded and he is always ready to defend his Motherland again!
“The Valley of Glory” is located 78 km away from the city. Here in 1941 a quick intervention of German army was stopped by Soviet Arctic warriors. They were stopped when tried to cross the river Zapadnaya Litsa. Soviet troops under the leadership of Anatoliy Ivannikov, occupied key points in this area, and it helped them to stop attack of the enemy. This memorial is dedicated to all soldiers who took the part in defense of the Arctic. There are navy, air force, artillery, infantry, and tankers. There are reindeer herders in the same list of troops. Besides of the fact that they were pretty good hunters and snipers in time of war, they played an important role to supply our soldiers with food, medicines and weapons. As I mentioned before, in winter time the only transport that can pass northern tundra was a reindeer sleight.
Another undisputed attraction of the city is the world’s first atomic icebreaker “Lenin”!
Its history began during arms race between Soviet Union and United States. The development of the icebreaker was done by best constructors and engineers of the country, and it was built by the whole country for only 3 years! Because there were involved more than 250 industrial enterprises, constructor bureaus and research institutes for its construction. “Lenin” was launched in 1957, and in 1959 it passed successful completion of the testing, it served to Soviet Union for 30 years in the Arctic development and worked clearing sea routes for cargo ships in the Arctic Ocean. The main task, pursued by Soviet constructors was to create a ship which is capable to increase the period of navigation along the Arctic Ocean without frequent refueling, so they did it. “Lenin” could work up to 12 month in the sea without refueling. And because of nuclear energy, the icebreaker was able to cross the ice which thickness was up to 2.5 meters. The main question was bugging me: is this nuclear reactor, installed on the icebreaker really safe? Answer is: Yes, a nuclear facility is safely protected. Today it is “floating” museum, where you can learn more of its unique history, see nuclear reactors, some cabins, the wheelhouse, etc. I advise you to visit it not only for general information but also in order to admire this miracle of engineering!
New Year celebration in the forest!
In this journey we had a very interesting experience – we celebrated New Year in the forest! You know, for Russians it is a main thing to celebrate New Year good, on this occasion we have a saying which says: “The way you meet the New Year is the way you will have it” It all started with the fact that I had pretty strange dream – to celebrate New Year in the forest for a long time. I know, it sounds crazy…. But seems that sometimes our life becomes too predictable, and we want to believe in some fairy tale. I don’t know why but when I imagined the New Year in the forest, my imagination painted images from the old Soviet cartoons or movies about winter. Of course, we didn’t have Santa Claus there or any other winter wizards, but we could spend a very good time there! And guess what! We did it! We had a big thermos with hot mulled wine for not getting cold, had a barbeque (shashlyk) and traditionally we have listened the President’s speech in the radio. After that we decorated a Christmas tree – a real winter forest beauty and exploded some fireworks – this is also tradition here in Russia 🙂 We had this celebration in the harmony with a stunning nordic nature and with good friends. In total, we spent about 2 hours in the forest before we froze over, but this little adventure in winter Wonderland has been settled in our hearts 🙂
Winter nature of Murmansk region
The nature of this region is an independent attraction! Everything here is very relative: to somebody it seems harsh and unwelcoming, and someone will say that it is gorgeous and unique. I believe that the Northern nature is stunningly beautiful despite of the harsh climate in winter and summer. Trees in forest are covered with snow caps, and seems that they are posing waiting for a good shot. Due to this a whole forest look is like some kind of winter Wonderland 🙂
In winter time there is a polar night here, and that means that in the period from early December till the middle of January the sun doesn’t appear in the sky at all! If you go to the south of Murmansk region, the sun rises over the horizon, but for a very short time and does not rise completely, so the impression is that the sunrise blends into the sunset. Also, polar night gives an opportunity to admire one of the most beautiful wonders of nature – the Northern Lights! Of course, nobody can be 100% sure that during the trip to the North you will be lucky to see it, however, chances are quite good. There should be a confluence of 3 factors to be able to see the Northern Lights: frosty night, clear sky and a magnetic flash on the Sun. Now in Internet there are many resources that help to monitor these flashes and predict the time and where is the greatest chance to admire this miracle of the North!
For us the trip to the North became some kind of escape from the rush of big city and a way to move in a real cold winter with tons of snow and real winter entertainments!
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