Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



Last night, I went to bed at sunset, which was about 20 minutes after midnight.  I was feeling quite tired after my late walk, so I slept soundly until Di woke me at about 8:30 am this morning.  She had not slept as soundly as I, and proceeded to tell me that the sunrise (at 3:30 am) seemed to be magnificent judging by the glow around the curtains of our room.  She also commented that it never got dark during the three hours that the sun was below the horizon.

When I woke, I immediately saw that the skies were a bright clear blue – fair enough as the sun had already been up for about five hours.  Indeed, I thought that today’s weather was the best we had experienced on this trip since we were in Yellowstone.  The skies remained almost cloudless throughout the day, the temperatures were warm (rising to the mid-20s Celsius), the humidity was low and there was a gentle breeze all day, emphasizing the clean freshness of the air (provided you were not too close to a smoker, which in Russia, means almost everyone).

We clearly had ample hours of daylight to be able to enjoy a relaxed breakfast, which we did in the hotel’s restaurant.  Although poorly presented, the food was excellent, emphasizing fresh, healthy food and, importantly for Di, even good quality gluten-free bread.

It was thus a little before midday before we finally began our exploration of Murmansk.  Our first destination was the site (and sight) that is generally thought of as being Murmansk’s number one attraction, the huge statue of the Soviet soldier on a prominent hill overlooking the city that is known officially as the “Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War”.

Also known affectionately as “Alyosha”, the statue is the second tallest in Russia, second only to the Great Motherland statue in Volgograd.  Part of a memorial to the sacrifices made by soldiers of the Red Army to defend the Soviet North against German Attack during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, the statue is 42.5 metres high, comprising 7 metres for the pedestal plus 35.5 metres for the figure.  The statue can be seen from most parts of the city of Murmansk, and it must represent a familiar and perhaps welcome sight to soldiers on ships entering the port of Murmansk from the waters of the Arctic Sea to the north.

In order to reach the statue, we caught a number 5 bus from a stop near our hotel to the entrance of a large park around the waters of Lake Semyonovskoye, a journey of about six kilometres.  The park was a beautiful area and given the great weather, many local residents were using the shores of the lake for sunbathing, while a number of rides for young children were in full swing, resulting in a wonderful mix of sounds comprising children laughing and the cries of seagulls overhead.

The easy walk through the parklands and along the road to the statue was a little over a kilometre in length, and when we arrived it was immediately apparent why this was Murmansk’s top sight.  The reason was more than simply the scarcity of sights in this city. The view down to the blue waters of Kolsky Bay was beautiful in today’s clear daylight, and the views across the city and its port area were also quite impressive.

In front of the monument is a black stone platform bearing an eternal flame, behind which some large wreaths with patriotic patterns had been placed.  To the side of the monument was a large triangular pyramid that is supposed to represent a flag at half mast, on which inscriptions had been placed.  A little further away from the monument there were two anti-aircraft guns dating from the 1941-1945 period.

It is customary that newly married couples in Russia pay tribute to fallen soldiers on their wedding day.  While we were at the monument, a young couple were doing precisely that, accompanied by their wedding party in their rather extravagant white stretch limousine.

We spent quite a while (I didn’t time exactly how long) at the memorial, and then spent the rest of the day walking back to the city via two other sights, the Russian Orthodox church that I had walked to last night, and the Murmansk Museum of Regional Studies.

The walk to the church was a little over two kilometres, and it was an easy walk with few hills or obstacles.  With its white walls, blue roof and gold domes, the church looked magnificent against today’s clear blue skies, and its location offered a different but nonetheless excellent view across the city and the port facilities.  We ventured inside the church, taking the time to sit and admire the interior, which although simpler than many Russian Orthodox churches, nonetheless displayed an extravagant array of icons and ornaments.  Several worshippers came into the church while we were there.

The area down the hill to the south of the church comprised a long flight of stairs that included several points of interest, including a beacon (lighthouse) tower, a memorial to the submarine “Kursk” formed from the submarine’s cabin, and a large anchor that serves as a memorial to sailors lost at sea.  This area was attracting the interest of quite a few others today, including a group of children who had been brought there as art students to practice sketching the beacon tower.

Descending the stairs further brought us to Chelyuskintsev Street, which in turn took us towards the city centre.  Turning left onto Karl Marx Street, we soon arrived at the magnificent building in Lenin Boulevard housing the Murmansk Museum of Regional Studies.  Commonly regarded as Murmansk’s top museum, the display was spread across three floors.  The ground floor display was mainly photographic, comprising an array of tens of superbly artistic  photographs showing aspects of life in Murmansk and its natural environment in various seasons of the year.

The middle floor housed an excellent display of the Murmansk region’s flora and fauna, including what must have been a couple of hundred examples of stuffed animals (all of which were dead), arranged as though they were in their natural habitats.  Taxidermy is (or was) a major industry in Murmansk, it seems.  Although the descriptions were all in Russian, most sections included a small stand with a description of the room in English, typed on a single A4 sheet of paper.

The top floor display focused on the socio-political history of Murmansk, starting from prehistoric times, progressing through the story of the indigenous Saami people, the Tsarist period, the Communist Revolution and finishing with the Soviet victory of the Germans in the Great Patriotic War.

By the time we had finished exploring the Museum, we felt it was time for a meal.  Di had remembered a little outdoors eating area outside the Meridian Hotel (no relation to the international chain of hotels), so we headed there, managed to obtain a menu in English, and enjoyed a light dinner in the afternoon summer breeze as we watched the fascinating parade of people walking along the footpath.  Di had a Greek salad, while I had pasta with salmon and parmesan cheese.

After some very satisfactory coffees at the most hi-tech McDonald’s store I have ever experienced (that even included remote electronic ordering and paying stations), we walked back to our hotel, very happy with our day’s sightseeing and the seven or eight kilometres walking that we had undertaken.

Day 26 - Murmansk


31 July 2013