We return to the ship over an hour later than we are supposed to. It has been a long day, but I must admit Olga has been great. Many other groups returned to the ship as fast as they could. We have seen the sights we wanted to see and a lot more that we didn’t, and we were free to wander around as much as we liked, as long as we didn’t leave Olga’s line of vision! She has enlightened us to life in this City and I suspect told us rather more than she is supposed to.
We are now looking forward to our next two ports of call, both in Russia, but this time in the White Sea some way further east from Murmansk. Very few cruise ships make it to the White Sea and it is these two ports that most of us on board have joined this cruise to see.
Tomorrow we go to the Solovetsky Islands, famed for its stunning fortified 15th century monastery and the ghosts of the 20,000 prisoners that died there in the early 20th century when the monastery was turned into a Gulag. Now it is being transformed and restored to its former glory and a few monks have returned. In 1992 it became the first Russian site to be placed on the World Heritage list .
It will be the highlight of our cruise.
But when we return to the ship, there is an announcement. There is a huge storm centered over the white sea with wind speeds of 40 to 60 knotts and waves of 20 to 30 feet. It will be impossible to land at the Solovetsky Islands.
And if that isn’t bad enough, we will ride out the storm tied up to this God forsaken dock in Murmansk and there we remain until tomorrow afternoon. And to add insult to injury, the Russian Officials will not allow us off the ship. They have already refused to let the ship’s crew off the ship at all. There is a a lovely Russian bartender on board by the name of Tatiana (what else) and Murmansk is her home town, and the officials have even refused to let her off the ship to see her family. We are all in our very own Russian jail, albeit a luxurious one.
So for a day we sit on board and look out at the view
So the plan is to sail off to our final Russian port the next afternoon. This will be Archangel, or as the Russians call it Archangelsk. It is slightly more interesting than Murmansk as it has a fascinating Architectural museum, a park setting full of old wooden structures rescued from other parts of the country and brought to Archangelsk
Bu the bad news keeps on coming. The storm in the White Sea has worsened and the winds are now hurricane force and we cannot go to Archangelsk.
But the ship is rife with rumours. No one can find any reports of these winds and high seas on the on line weather sites. We check acuweather and there is nothing out of the ordinary in the forecast. The ship destination officer tries to quell the rumours by showing us all their radar maps which clearly show a huge storm over the White Sea. It is hard to imagine the Cruise Line not being truthful, but it is not hard to imagine Russia manipulating the weather maps. Could it be that the Russians don’t want us in the White Sea – and if so, what could be their reason?
Meanwhile the staff on board spend the morning desperately trying to find alternative ports of call for us to visit. Russia is completely unavailable as the paperwork for docking at any Russian port is horrendous and it takes a minimum of three days to get approval. Amazingly, the ship manages to arrange three new destinations in Norway for us to visit over the next three days. They do a wonderful job arranging excursions in each one.
Now all they have to do is to arrange for us to leave Murmansk. It is not that easy. We have to have clearance from Russian Immigration. The same officers that checked us in will be checking us out. But they have already learned that the longer they stay on board the more food and drink they get.
The captain is anxious to leave by 3pm so that he can get us to the next Norwegian port in the morning. The Russian Officials are anxious to keep us in dock for as long as possible. Later, we are told by the ships destination manager that “the rumours that we had to donate the ship’s entire supply of whiskey to the Immigration Officers is completely unfounded”
But we leave on time
The ports in Norway are charming and far more beautiful than the ones in Russia. The welcome the Norwegians give us is far warmer than anything we would have received in Russia. We have now been to 9 Norwegian towns, each one more picturesque than the last. The scenery is stunning, the towns and the people delightful .
But I know that in the years to come it will be the day in Murmansk that I will remember more than anything else. Not because I want to return. I most certainly don’t. But because somehow it is more stimulating, and to me anyway, more interesting than endless days of lovely scenery. I learned more in that one day than in the two weeks cruising the Norway coast. In all that time I only managed two blogs on Norway, and yet I wrote three blogs on the one day in Murmansk. And I could have written more. I haven’t even told you about our visit to the nuclear icebreaker – which was fascinating. But enough is enough and at this point I am closing the blog on this trip.
But just as I am about to sign off, there is a breaking news story
“Russia’s nuclear agency on Saturday said an explosion at an Arctic missile testing site had killed five of its staff after the military had put the toll at two.
The accident on Thursday happened during testing of a liquid propellant rocket engine at a missile test site in the far northern Arkhangelsk region.
In a statement, Rosatom said the accident killed five of its staff and injured three, who suffered burns and other injuries.
The statement came after authorities in a nearby city said the accident had caused a spike in radiation levels but the military had denied this.”
And then a further update from Reuters
Russia closed off an area of the White Sea to shipping for a month after the fatal explosion of a rocket engine on a military testing ground in Russia’s north earlier on Thursday, Interfax news agency cited the port of Arkhangelsk as saying.
We all know that Russia is economical with the truth and it is certainly quite possible that this accident happened days before they say it did.
Was there ever a storm in the White Sea?
Could this be the real reason we never got to those Russian ports?
Where we just hours away from being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation
Inquiring minds need to know
Or do they?