Kirkenes – Заполярный (Zapolyarniy)

No rain this morning, yeah!

Clearing Norwegian customs was easy enough. One gate, one guy, one minute, and I was in no-man’s land.

On the Russian side, I got the immigration card at the first gate. Then I had to leave the bike at the second gate, fill in the immigration card, hand it over to some officer along with my passport. It took him ages to give them back to me, and he hardly looked at me at all (I’d thought of getting rid of my beard to make me look more like the photo in my passport, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all). Then the actual customs counter. Nothing to declare, of course. The guy asked me if I’d cycled here from Germany and muttered something into his well-shaven beard when I acknowledged, prolly ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’, or something along those lines. Same for my where-to. Then we stepped outside and he had a look at the bike. He wasn’t really interested in my bags; all he wanted was alcohol! Regrettably, I hadn’t brought any. He seemed to understand, though, and let me go anyway. The third gate was just for show. I was in Russia.

And Russia greeted me with rain.

First port of call: Никель (Nikel). An ugly assembly of run-down typical Sovjet rectangular multi-story buildings. Next to it, a huge and desolate-looking nickel plant and smelter, with their chimneys rearing their fuming heads high into the sky. The rain and the low-hanging clouds made everything even more depressing.

All of a sudden there she was. A long-legged beauty, standing in the rain at the curb, waiting for some cars to pass so she could cross the road. I felt like ripping off my fake beard, and asking her, begging her, to marry me, if only to get her out of that miserable place. Of course, things weren’t that simple, mostly because the beard wasn’t fake.

Found a bank and pulled a small fortune from the банкомат. Also found a book shop and went in in order to ask for some maps of the region. The lady behind the counter looked at me as if she was about to throw something sharp and heavy at me, and I realized that I was dripping wet, too wet to be allowed anywhere near anything made of paper. So I retreated, from the book shop and from Nikel as well.

The landscape is very hilly and so far was mostly green (pines, etc) and yellow-golden (birches, etc). Here, however, near the nickel plant, the hills were mostly bare and the grey-brownish sand and rock lay open for wind and water to play their mighty games with them. There’s also some black stuff that looked like it used to be, uhm, some sort of plants, maybe. In the last century, maybe. ‘Scorched Earth’ was the first expression that came to my mind.

Zapolyarniy isn’t much different from Nikel. The same type of buildings and a massive nickel plant in the backyard. Checked into a hotel (the hotel?) to get my first registration stamp, and had a 5-course dinner for a very reasonable price.

Some of the Russian which I’ve learned for 6 years back in school, is slowly coming back to me, however. English seems to be helpful only to fill in the most important bits.

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