Regent is offering several different tours around Murmansk. If we hadn’t already gathered from the view from our ship that there was nothing whatsoever of interest in Murmansk, then reading the descriptions of the different tours made it perfectly clear.
One tour offers a class in how to cook a pancake. It is held in the local Radisson Hotel and you get to sample the pancake. How Russian is that. I can’t help contemplating the amount of money we have spent to get here, and wondering if it was well spent.
We pick a tour of the world’s very first nuclear icebreaker. Only Russia would offer such a tour, partly because Russia is the only country to make nuclear icebreakers. I guess there is not much demand for them elsewhere.
But it makes little difference which tour we pick, as the real focus of them all is visiting the important memorials and statues of the city. Important of course, in the eyes of the Russian Propaganda Office. Not so important to anyone else
Our guide is an attractive and cheery 30 year old called Olga. What else would she be called? We are lucky to get one who speaks good English. Some of the other groups couldn’t understand their guide at all and were begging to be taken back to the ship after just an hour. Olga was born and raised in Murmansk. We feel sorry for her already. However she chats with pride about life in Murmansk and seems genuinely happy to live here. It is hard to understand why.
The average winter temperature is -10c. The average summer temperature is +10c. They have one month when the sun never rises and one month when the sun never sets. Sometimes it is hard to tell which is which because they only have 16 days a year when the sun shines. The rest of the year it is grey and miserable. As Olga says “If it isn’t drizzling, it is raining. If it isn’t raining, it is snowing”. She actually manages to laugh after telling us that. I would be crying. She explains how important the sun is to the people of Murmansk. If they get a sunny day everyone rushes outside to enjoy it and it cheers everyone up. It would take more than a sunny day to cheer me up .
They certainly need cheering up. It is so grey and miserable all the time, that the doctors offered the city some advice. The good people of Murmansk were suffering from depression because they never saw colour. Their lives were quite literally grey. The city, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the remedy for this was to paint some of the buildings in bright colors
There, doesn’t that make you feel better. Olga certainly thinks it does.
There are virtually no houses. People can’t afford the upkeep of a house in this kind of weather. Everybody lives in flats. I could use the term “apartments” but there is something slightly upmarket about that term. There is nothing upmarket about these apartments, so the term “flats” seems more fitting. They certainly lack curb appeal, but from a distance they don’t look too bad
But up close it is a completely different story
Some of them don’t look fit for habitation
It is interesting that our tour takes us past so many of these places, but presumably it means there isn’t a nicer route. A little later we drive along some of the shopping streets. You might think that a little retail therapy would cheer us up, but it doesn’t
Most people own their flats as they are quite cheap to buy! What a shock! How can they even ask for money. I would think giving them away would be difficult.
Olga then offers us a little real estate advice in case we are thinking of buying a holiday flat in Murmansk. We are not! But if we were, Olga tells us we should only look in buildings that are more than 5 stories high. If the building is 5 floors or less, there will not be an elevator. More than 5 stories and there will be an elevator. It won’t necessarily work, but it will be there. Quite a selling point!
The flats are tiny and usually just 4 rooms. They keep them small because it helps with the heating which is very expensive. Olga tells us with great pride that they all have central heating. But, and this is quite a big but, it all comes from huge heating generators built in various parts of the city and then pumped into each flat. The system is quite old and needs servicing every year. It takes 3 or sometimes 4 months to complete the servicing and during that time there is no heat available anywhere. Bear in mind that the average summer temperature is only 10c. Last year, Olga tells us, the average temperature in July was just 5c and there was no heat.
If you think that’s bad, just you wait…………..
Inside the flat there is no temperature control and no way of turning the heat on or off. It is on. Full blast. 24 hours a day for 9 months whether you want it or not. And as the flats are tiny it gets unpleasantly hot. And if you have a warm spell it gets unpleasantly hotter.
And if you think that is bad……………
Hot water is supplied to each flat in a similar manner. The good news is that the hot water system is easier to service. They don’t have to turn the hot water off for three months.
The bad news is that they do have to turn it off for a month. So for one month every year no one in Murmansk has hot water.
Did the Russian Propaganda Department really want us to know all this.