Zapolyarny with a population of 18,640 is a town in Pechengsky District of Murmansk Oblast, Russia and belonged to Finland in 1920-1944. It was founded in 1956 as Zhdanovsk and was granted town status and renamed in 1963. You get there by an hour bus trip from Kirkenes city, the county of Finmark far north in Norway. After attending the Norwegian Computer Society’s (NCS or DND) annual meeting on Friday/Saturday, we had a guided tour on Sunday through the cities Nikel and then Zapolyarny. Even if getting a visa now is just a formality, it’s still exotic for a Norwegian to go by bus directly through the border from Norway to Russia. I was there for the first time 11 years ago as well, but still feel humble about giving a report about a country quite different in culture, religion, traditions and habits from ours. It’s easy to fall into the trap of generalising and stigmatise, but I try my best in sharing my observation on this adventures trip.
After getting through the passport control, you reach the boarder gate – can only be done by car or bus as you’re not allowed to walk around in the area by foot (click all the pics to bigify and enjoy):
We are at 68° north – in a part of the Siberian tundra – it was a just above freezing with a bit of snow. After half an hour, out of the forest and hills, we spotted the city of Nikel:
The Murmansk Oblast is very rich in natural resources and has deposits of over 700 minerals – nickel is one of them. The main industries of the region are in the sphere of raw material extraction and basic processing. The largest industries are metallurgy (36%), electric power-production (23%) and food-industry, including fishing (14%).
At Nikel, we passed the cemetery; an example of differences in culture and traditions:
There was a table at almost every grave and they sat there, eating and drinking (yes; vodka too) as to remember and honour their loss.
After a little less than an hour more by bus, we reached to the city of Zapolyarny and surprisingly took part of their beginning of Easter Celebrations. The whole town was partying and the town square or parade place in front of the culture house was overcrowded:
There were all kinds of performances, like musicians, singers, and dancers in their regional costumes:
I took a lot of pics, so please check the rest in my Flickr group here.
To give you a sense of the atmosphere and see them live, I even made a movie (taken with my Nokia N82):
The standard of living had increased quite a lot over the years since I first was there 11 years ago and once inside the stores (not many signs on the buildings or window posters), you find all you need from clothes to groceries:
Our guide said you could by almost the same of everything here as in Kirkenes. There are some tourists specialities though; mostly crystal, porcelain and of course all kinds of Russian souvenirs:
They also have a big marked in the city, with all kinds of fabrics, clothes, shoes and boots as well as souvenirs and porcelain:
But let’s reflect a bit about the party and my observation at the town square: I found that this was less about religion and more about having fun, eating and drinking; they where celebrating the end of the winter season and were soon ready for spring! The performances at the podium set the standard of course, but also they served kebabs. At one side of the square, I found an improvisatory table and took a picture:
Then I experienced the Russian’s hospitality; their openness, kindness and eagerness to share. We could not understand each others language, but I was soon convinced I could have as much as I wanted of food and drinks:
There is a lot more to this blast of a feast and the city of course, but let me end this post with another observation: Their willingness to pose – if you ask nicely and show them the result afterwards:
Teenagers in Russia dress quite similar to Norwegians in the winter time and if you look closely, you’ll see we had a snow fall too.
Our guide was the one and only: Kurt Wikan at Pasvik Turist who was experienced, very nice and humoristic, but most of all an excellent story teller sharing a lot of facts and history on our rounded too!
Now I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this ‘short report’ about my adventures in Russia – as much as I enjoy sharing with you. Like I said, there is a lot more pics on my Flickr and if you like to read about my adventures 11 years ago, you’ll find the post here! And don’t forget to come back: I’ll report more about Kirkenes later, including our stay in a Snow Hotel and when we met reindeer!