The road to the border takes just 15 minutes from Kirkenes. The Norwegian border station was deserted at 08:15 when I walked in. A counter window opened, and a mix of blond Viking Ken and Robocop greeted me, a ton of equipment hanging on his belt, all black, but no weapon. “Hello. Norsk?” “No”. “Passport.” Click click on a keyboard. “Good luck on the other side.” Total time: under five minutes. Nordic efficiency.
The Russian passport control agent had a kid’s face and was very friendly, asking his questions with a soft and polite voice. He called a supervisor to help with the input of my data into their system. “Why do you have a business visa?” “I write and do research for a project.” Whatever. The fact that my unlimited entries visa, that exists only for business, wasn’t possible to get in the short time back in Barcelona, and therefore I had to get only a two entries visa, wasn’t the best discussion to start here. The customs official had a bad day and was grumpy. I had to fill out a form, that he then corrected, and made me fill it out again, in two copies. It was very similar to the one in Belarus, if not the same. This time I wasn’t up for taxing my wine stash, and I had drunk less than half a bottle since Belarus. The signs in Norwegian and Russian indicated the same rules on three liters of alcohol max. But technically I don’t understand either language, so I have an excuse of sorts. Another officer came in to go check the Mini on the parking lot with me. I had to take out my bags with the clothes and pass them through the X-ray. He checked almost every other piece in the car, especially the food. He asked me to open my bag where I had stored the drone, but had no complaints about it. Then he found one bottle of wine, and another one. “How many?” “No idea, about four litres.” He checked the bottles for quantity and alcohol content. We were pretty much done, when he asked me to take back the driving seat. More bottles behind. “Problem, one moment.” He went back to the building, and another officer came out. “How many bottles?” “Seven, that’s five litres.” “Vodka?” “No, only vino.” He left. A bit later yet another officer with more stars on the epaulettes came out. “How many bottles?” “Seven, only vino.” “OK, remember, only three. Go.” I packed the car again, and was about to take off when the first guy came back out. “No Vodka?” “No no.” “OK.” I needed to get out of here fast before they would change their minds. I drove to the last gate, another officer came out, checked my passport and those of another three cars, and then opened the gate. Exactly one hour to pass the border, incl. Robocop.
Entering Russia the road was brand new and perfectly tarred for several kilometers. The landscape was the same arid tundra as in Norway. I left the highway to take a detour on a smaller road. The old Soviet border post was now abandoned and got a make over by sprayers. Right after it was the first of many WWII memorials of the day, this one with a bright green howitzer and fresh flowers. The smaller road lead through what seemed a military zone, on both sides of the road there were triple barbed wire fences, floodlights every few meters, cameras and other equipment. From afar I could see the chimneys of the mine in Nikel fuming. Against the background of a bright blue sky on this sunny day, the factory was in stark contrast. The closer I got, the clearer the man made destruction of the area became. The ground was black. The ice fields on the slopes of the hills were black. There were mountains of black sand all over the place. The dams of the roads were black. The trees were black and looked like they had burned. Debris and trash were everywhere, as well as man made massive mounds of rubble. The town of Nikel is an agglomeration of Soviet residential blocks made of prefabricated panels a log time ago. In the middle of them is a huge mine or factory that looked pretty desolate and crumbling from afar. As I kept driving, more mines came up, and the mountains turned up to be a mostly man made accumulation of grey and black gravel with square black silhouettes. I drove for about one hour through this wasteland. The scale of the destruction of nature was baffling. The next town was a military garrison, with lots of trucks of all types standing around neatly parked, and also some covered up tanks and APCs. Soldiers where everywhere. Same thing in the next town, Sputnik, just bigger and with more vehicles. The following town was mining again, and one more of military. This is border and frontier territory, things are rough around here. Most buildings and shacks were from Soviet times and crumbling. One more passport control passed with no further issues.
After a while nature started to look a little less destroyed, although the lakes seemed bigger and several were created by dams. On the horizon a mountain range with snow appeared. The closer I got, the more it became clear that the next destruction of nature was approaching. More mines, chimneys, crumbling buildings. Only the road was decent.
I reached Murmansk at about 13.00. Down a hill, the city opens up along the other side of the river, and is an endless row of docks, factories, ships of all shapes, sizes and ages. The bridge across the river looked modern from afar, but driving over it revealed a patchwork of tar and I had to drive slalom like everybody else. Entering town, a “commercial zone” welcomed me on the left of the road. The car spare parts market was a collection of containers on a field. Then came another market of these, and more. The buildings had probably seen better days in the fifties and sixties, the Soviet tristesse was all around. Everybody was driving slalom around the potholes. At some point I had to stop at a train crossing. I waited and waited and waited as several locomotives passed in both directions, and was about to turn around as already other vehicles had done, when after 20 mins in line the crossing opened and we moved on. The centre of town had nothing interesting to offer, so I found my way up the hill to see Alyosha. To get there I had to pass residential areas and could see the crumbling Plattenbauten from closer by. Depressing.
Alyosha is a 35.5 meter high concrete statue of a Soviet soldier, machine gun shouldered, that is looking over the city. An eternal flame and fresh flower bouquets broke the grey monotony. From up here there were good views of the entire city. It reminded me of Vladivostok, the frontier port city in the Far East, where I had started my way back from Eurasia2013. I tried to get a Wifi modem from an MTS shop for an hour, but my lack of Russian killed the conversation and I had to leave without it. On the way out of town I fuelled up, and drove back to the highway.