I went to Kirkenes to find out whether it’s possible to get a visa for Russia. There’s a Russian consulate here, but I went to see the two local travel agencies to ease and speed up the process.
One of the agents told me quite daunting stories about the (lack of) freedom one enjoys when traveling in Russia. It would be necessary to stay at hotels as opposed to camping or staying at private places. And cycling in Russia – oh me goodness – that’s absolutely impossible. That contradicted some of the info I’d read previously, and the image the other agent painted was more friendly (not exactly great, though). Apparently it is still necessary to stay at hotels every now and then to have a track record of one’s journey, or to get such a (fake) record by other means. In any way, I applied for a 2-week-visa to go to Мурманск, the world’s biggest city north of the Arctic Circle.
Tried to find road maps of Western Russia or the Kola peninsula in the local bookshops, to no avail. Went to the library and the friendly librarian dug out a map of the region right next to the Norwegian/Finish border. It turned out to be Cold War material: a “Joint Operations Graphic (Ground)”, compiled by the U.S. Army Topographic Command in 1969 “from best available sources”. There were several white or whitish spots on the map where the sources weren’t all that good, apparently.
David and I were thinking about going to the Øvre Pasvik National Park while the consulate is processing the visa application. The park is said to have a lot of bears, and also hosts the point where the borders of Norway, Finland, and Russia meet. The idea is to cross into Finland with bikes, which may be difficult, and cycle back to Kirkenes to pick up my passport, hopefully containing the visa.