Murmansk – Explore the snowland

[Wanderlust Tips January issue 2018] The cold, dry and darkness of -20°C nights could not ease our eagerness to start an unforgettable journey when we arrived at Murmansk.

TERIBERKA – THE ENDLESS DESERTS OF SNOW

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We landed at Murmansk at 1am; the chilly winds blowing on my face made me realize the harshness of nature in the polar region. On the way to the hotel, the driver told us to look at the sky as from this time, we could always admire the Northern Lights. However, we needed to go to an empty space with little electric light and away from residential areas to fully enjoy the splendor of these magical bands of light.

After savouring the hot breakfast at the hotel, we went to Teriberka village, an ancient village dating back to the 16th century. The 120 – kilometre journey along the snow-covered roads with dry trees and rosy sunset made me feel like I was getting lost in the land of fairy tales. Travel cost was about 10,000 rubles, or USD168. It was the time of Polar nights, so there was not any sunshine in the daytime. Teriberka engulfed us in an immense field of snow. Sometimes I could not even figure out the boundary between the sky and the ground as the whole space surrounding me was covered by a pure white colour, isolated from the outside world.

After playing in the snow, we boarded a snowmobile driven by the natives to explore the snowy highlands and then went hiking to the shore of Barents – that remains ice-free year round. Teriberka had some abandoned houses, wrecks along the seashore, and cannons on top of the mountain, reminding of World War II. While enjoying hot dishes, we heard about the village history, the ups and downs that people here experienced. Those were also the reasons why Teriberka, a remote and solitary village, was chosen as the background for the famous movie “Leviathan” which was on the list of Oscar nominations 2015.

The lunch at Teriberka was delicious. We enjoyed borshch with black bread; though the rough crust looked like a rock, the inside was soft. The grilled fish dish cooked from the freshest fish caught in the Arctic Ocean was so delicious and greasy, providing visitors plenty of energy for the journey ahead.

Back to Murmansk when our nostalgia for the snow deserts in Teriberka still remained, we were once again overwhelmed by the unique performance of nature called aurora. From the hotel, we drove about 15 minutes to a vacant area, and all things here seemed to give way to the colourful light dancing in the mesmerizing and fascinating night sky.

SAAMI – A FAIRY DREAM

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If Teriberka left us overwhelmed by its immensity and magnificence, and the nostalgia of its history of ups and downs, Saami, on the other hand, brought us a lot of enjoyable and jolly entertaining experiences in a very cozy, friendly and colorful space of more than 1,000 ethnic people.

The Saami are the only indigenous people in Scandinavia that are recognized and protected under the international conventions of indigenous people. You will have a chance to live in a closely-knit and culturally rich community. Saami people have kept their customs and traditions for many generations. Wearing traditional Lappish outfits with vibrant red and blue, and eye-catching brocade motifs, you can take pictures with extremely beautiful and graceful reindeer. Reindeer love to be stroked, eat carrots or bread, so getting close to them is quite easy.

Being the only indigenous people living in this extreme land for centuries, the Saami have a remarkable physical strength. They also created a lot of exercises to warm up the body; one of these include lasso. Lasso is a rope with a small reinforced loop at one end. Once you identify the target, which is usually represented by a reindeer horn at several meters away, you can forcefully throw the rope and pull it quickly to let the rope tie around the horn tightly. This is one of the ancient skills for hunting animals that is transformed into a game full of excitement. There are other attractive games such as ice skating, playing soccer on snow, or tugging.

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After playing all the traditional games and driving the snowmobile through the forest, the resting place for our team was the kuvaksa with hot local food processed from salmon caught in the Arctic Ocean and dried reindeer meat. In the fireplace, there is always a pot of boiling medicinal mushroom tea radiating aroma, which makes the cold of this land of snow seems no longer scary.

That afternoon was the most enjoyable time we had here. After moving more than 10 kilometres to the Husky farm, we experienced the dogsleds and reindeer rides. Everyone was astonished when these small Siberian Huskies had such extraordinary strength. They could run at 80 kilometres per hour in 3 hours without resting. Heterochromia Huskies, with different colored eyes, were like little children; they were very affectionate and loved to be cuddled. As long as you loved them, they would run wildly. When the night came, the lovely dogs snuggled in the snow to get a sound night s sleep. For me, all people, animals, scenery and experiences in Saami were like sweet fairy dreams.

REASONS TO VISIT MURMANSK

1. This is the perfect place to admire the aurora borealis in Russia – one in eight countries in the world has way to the Arctic.
2. Murmansk is the largest city in the Arctic Circle, the only city with up to 40 polar nights, making it the perfect place to admire the Aurora.
3. Murmansk owns an intact unique and special Saami culture.
4. Flights from Hanoi – Moscow – Murmansk are quite convenient, the tour to Murmansk to “hunt” the aurora may cost you only a half compared to a Norway or Finland tour price (about USD2,500 – USD3,000).
5. Teriberka village in Murmansk is the setting of the famous Leviathan movie that was on the list of Oscar Nominations 2015.
6. Murmansk is the largest area on the Arctic Circle, and is the only starting point in the world to reach 90 degrees latitude.
7. You will have chances to travel by an atomic icebreaker – which is considered a wonder of Russian science. With 13 floors and 7 basements full of facilities such as cinema, concerts, sauna, library, bedroom, smoking room and furniture made of Karelski birch and Karelski pecan, the icebreaker provides enough food for 40 days.

NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

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Certainly, all visitors coming here desire to enjoy the splendid and magical dance of the aurora. The aurora appears most frequently in the North Pole in the winter, from October to early April. The snow-covered wilderness in Alaska, Finland, Norway, Sweden or Murmansk is the best place to “catch” the northern lights.

Here are some tips to “hunt” for beautiful photos of the aurora:

1. Lenses: Although nearly any kind of lens will work for aurora photography, but you should use a wide-angle and fast lens when capturing the Northern Lights since the colourful bands of light will change and move constantly.

2. Batteries: Few things sap the strength of batteries more than long exposures in cold weather. Therefore, it is recommended to bring spare battery and keep it in warm places.

3. Remote Control: An electronic remote control is necessary to prevent vibrating the camera when pressing the shutter.

4. Photographic techniques:

– Place the camera on a flat surface and set the tripod. Consult the way to set camera according to the following parameters if you are a beginner, in which the f/ratio is equivalent to ISO 400, 800, 1600:

  • When the aperture is f/2, the exposure time should be 15s, 7s and 4s respectively;
  • When the aperture is f/2.8, exposure time should be 30s, 15s, 7s;
  • When the aperture is f/4, the exposure time should be 60s, 30s and 15s.

– Choose the Night scene mode (Nikon) or Long shutter mode (Canon), the moon sign.

– Try taking some photos to adjust the metering system and WB for accuracy.

– Taking photos by phone: You can download some applications for mobile phones to capture better aurora such as Camera FV5 or Cameringo + Effects Camera.

5. Aurora photo checklist: Camera(s); Fast normal or wide angle lens; Tool for minor repairs; Memory cards or fast colour film; Lens cleaning supplies; Good remote or cable releases; Flashlight covered with red cellophane; Tripod(s) & release plates; Spare batteries & chargers; Equipment manual for everything; Laptop & backup digital storage device; Knee pad when viewing at low angle; Chemical hand warmers; Gaffer’s tapes.

Hong Nhung | Wanderlust Tips

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