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Norway and Russia
Norway and Russia
Certainly one could have driven directly from Innsbruck to Moscow in a few days. But if you have three months to spare, you prefer to take the route across the North Cape under your wheels
Far and wide not a soul.
For hours I have been driving through a breathtakingly beautiful mountain and lake landscape, and an icy wind is blowing through my open visor around my nose. That’s exactly how I always imagined Norway to be, and my tent will be up shortly afterwards. Wild camping? No problem in this part of the world. Put the gas stove out, noodles in the water and then quickly into the warming sleeping bag of my one-man luxury suite with a lake view and a starry sky. I lie awake for hours, enjoying the view, the loneliness, the incredible silence around me, and I can literally feel a thin layer of ice slowly forming on the tent. 1000 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, the nights are already refreshingly cold in mid-September. For some it seems unusual to start such a tour at this time of year, but for me autumn is the best time to travel – I’ve been on the road for six weeks. Via Innsbruck, Oslo and Bergen past the glaciers of the Jotunheimen National Park, to the Geirangerfjord, then on to Trondheim. In the Saltfjell National Park I finally switched from my motorcycle to mountain boots, walked with a tent and backpack for five days through a red-orange glowing landscape, then the Lofoten. Has been on my wish list for a long time. On the way there, the land changed, became more barren, until the trees had almost entirely given way to undergrowth. The warmth had long since passed from my fingers. I sat like an icicle on my motorcycle, my bum frozen on the seat. At least that’s what it felt like. Sometimes I hopped around the roadside in full gear, flapping my arms, so as not to freeze into a pillar of ice. Thank goodness not many people drove past … Arrived at my destination. And my schedule? in danger. Instead of three days, I stayed two weeks, and it almost became longer, and that was the fault of this small youth hostel in Stamsund. A stroke of luck, as it turned out. Great people and a great atmosphere. But in the end I really had to make my way to the North Cape before winter finally set in. Maybe a bold plan will work out: instead of going through Finland, I could travel back through Russia. I have just requested the required visa by fax from Lofoten at a travel agency in Kirkenes, which is near the Russian border. Maybe I’ll be lucky, the weather is getting worse. The further north I get, the more violently the harbingers of winter can be felt. In order to shorten the way to the Cape a little, I decide to take the mail boat from Hammerfest to Honningsvag. This not only saves me time, but also the sinfully expensive toll through the Nordkapunnel, which connects the rocky outcrop in the Arctic Ocean with the mainland. When I arrive in Honningsvag, the weather goes completely crazy. But now it’s only a few kilometers to the cape. Jacket on, helmet on and off you go. The wind is now blowing so strong that even when driving straight ahead the footrests almost touch the asphalt and my poor Suzuki is blown off the stand several times while parking. I even have trouble walking the last few meters to the North Cape globe in this storm; even stones are thrown into the air. After all, I am at the northernmost point of Europe, at the 71st parallel. Despite the bad weather it was a crazy feeling. In addition, completely alone. The huge parking lot at the visitor center gives an idea of how things must be here in summer. With a queasy feeling I turn on a road that seems almost eerie with loneliness to Kirkenes, located at the very north-eastern tip of Norway. My thoughts revolve around the visa? that they actually show me. I now have two weeks to travel through Russia. I can hardly believe my luck. I quickly get myself a petrol can in town. 450 kilometers should be possible without a supply. I can even find a halfway usable map. I had a travel guide including a small phrasebook in my luggage just in case. Nevertheless, I have a bad feeling in the stomach area as I approach the Storskog border crossing. But the formalities are done in two hours, then I take the miserable road to Murmansk under my wheels. I will have to get used to the frequent checks by the military. The next day I reach Murmansk, drive through run-down suburbs, get to the main street, the »Prospect Lenina, which takes me straight to the center. My Suzuki disappears into a well-guarded parking lot and I look around the city by the Arctic Ocean. But gray Murmansk doesn’t offer too much. After just two days, I am drawn further south, to St. Petersburg, 1,500 kilometers away. On the busy country road I sometimes have to torment the heavily loaded 650 to overtake the numerous trucks, the condition of which defies description. Various Audi or Mercedes cars race past me more than once. All without license plates. Which reminds me not to leave my motorcycle unattended for five minutes. Soon I’ll be glad to have the spare canister of petrol, as the quality of the fuel can hardly be estimated at the petrol stations. Sometimes there is only 75 octane broth that I want to spare the poor single as much as possible. Then I need food myself and, hungry as a wolf, stop in front of a restaurant. But nothing. Closed. A man speaks to me and uses sign language to invite me to tea. I follow him to his “house” ?? a discarded floating crane. The only “room” in it is only lit by two tiny portholes. The Russian seems to see that I am quite hungry, because shortly afterwards he serves me a large plate of borscht ?? the traditional Russian cabbage soup with meat. With vodka. Not from schnapps but from glasses of water. My arguments that I couldn’t drink alcohol because I still had a long way to travel didn’t impress him. He insists on clinking glasses with mr. Hardly drunk, he fills my glass to the brim again. Resistance is futile. We can’t talk, but after two large vodkas we somehow understand each other. A glass later, despite the dim feeling in my head, I get back on the motorcycle. The wind is good. Hindered by this break and the subsequent rain, it is already the dead of night when I arrive in Petrozavodsk, quite exhausted. After three glasses of vodka, around 700 kilometers and eleven hours in the saddle, I treat myself to a day of rest, take a trip to the Khizi Museum Island to visit the famous wooden churches and farmhouses that are several hundred years old. On the trip with the hydrofoil I get to know Jakuv from Moscow, who after a couple of glasses of vodka ?? a real Russian always seems to have a bottle with him? invites me to come to Moscow one day. Not a bad thought. No hangover in the world can keep me from continuing my journey the next morning, the longing to finally get to St. Petersburg is too strong. Only a few hours later I am already rummaging through the traffic in the old tsarist city, passing the Winter Palace and taking the boulevard »Nevsky Prospect« straight to the center. There is also a youth hostel there, where there is even a place for my motorcycle in the aisle. After luggage and machine have been stowed away, I walk through this fantastic city. In St. Petersburg, Russia shows a completely different side that was previously unknown to me. At least in the center there is lavish splendor, and one seems proud of the attribute of the »westernmost city in Russia«. Sinfully expensive boutiques, noble jewelers, fine restaurants and exclusive hotels with the corresponding luxury cars line the Nevsky Prospect. Unfortunately, the authorities are far less cosmopolitan. For whatever reason, my visa will not be extended. A piece of information that I rush from office to office for a whole day. Unfortunately, time is of the essence, so I’m going to Moscow for another marathon stage. When I arrive late at night, I really dare to call Jakuv. He is very happy and takes me in immediately. The Russian hospitality is exceptional and unobtrusive at the same time. Of course, Jakuv insists on showing me “his” city the next day. I am more than happy to have this company and we go over everything: Red Square, the Lenin mausoleum, the beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin. It’s a crazy feeling to be here. Later Jakuv shows me the huge GUM department store, formerly a symbol for empty shelves and long queues, now a superlative shopping center. I could cry at the thought of my visa expiring tomorrow. But I have no choice but to set off again straight away and tear down the 700-kilometer stretch from Moscow to the Latvian border in another stage of violence. I crossed the border almost at the last minute, pitched my tent on Latvian soil, a little relieved, before finally reaching the Lithuanian capital Vilnius via Riga. Despite my passable experiences with the Russian visa, I am trying to get a permit here to be able to drive through Belarus. The procedure ultimately takes a week, but at least I get the visa. I notice from the tough border formalities that the mills in Belarus grind a little slower. The control extends over several hours. I also have problems with the forms written in Russian, which the officials don’t care about. After all, I just copy some of the stuff off of another traveler’s sheet. The following tour through countless offices to get various other stamps is like a scavenger hunt. The next afternoon I reach Minsk. It’s not easy to find an affordable hotel, but I finally find a room a little outside the center for 17 US dollars, which I have to share with a Russian roommate. But we make friends quickly. Not least thanks to the vodka, which I now always have with me. Apart from a number of Lenin statues and some magnificent Soviet buildings, there is not much to see in Minsk. But the bizarre mix of post-communist and western-modern elements alone is worth a visit. McDonalds is hard to miss, and Western fashion boutiques, especially Levis and Nike, dominate the center. On the other hand, many shops, in which the majority of Minsk people shop, have hardly changed since the communism era and make a poor impression. At best, you can only buy the bare essentials here, and I’m slowly pulling back home. At least I want to be back in the mountains at home before the onset of winter. Hopefully the Suzuki will hold out. Because meanwhile the engine is making terrible noises. The balance shaft rattles and rumbles, Warsaw, Prague, Innsbruck, but the Suzuki packs it. After 13,000 kilometers and three months, we will be back home on November 1st.
Northern Europe at its finest ?? a trip to the North Cape and then via Murmansk and Moscow can hardly be described otherwise. Especially since as a motorcyclist in northern Russia you can almost feel like a pioneer.
You can get to Norway with various ferry companies (FDS, Color Line, Stena Line, Fjord Line), which cover the route from Kiel, Friedrichshafen, Hirtshals and Amsterdam to Oslo and some other destinations in southern Norway (Egersund, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen) . The shortest and cheapest crossing is the one from Hirtshals to Kristiansand, the cheapest option for one person and a motorcycle from 26 euros. Further information: Color Line, phone 0431/7300300; www.color-line.de. An overview of Europe’s ferries can be found in the MOTORRAD issue 10/2001 or on the Internet at www.ocean24.de. Travel time In northern Europe and in Russia, travel is best between May and September. July and August are the warmest and least rainy months, but during this time you meet ?? at least in Norway ?? most of the tourists. The North Cape is a popular travel destination, especially during the midnight sun (mid-May to the end of July). DocumentsIn Norway, an identity card is sufficient, while for Russia, a tourist visa is required, which is only issued for a maximum of one month if either proof of accommodation (including private invitation ) or receipt of booked hotels. For example, the Berlin tour operator Lernidee Erlebnisreisen, telephone 030/786000, www.lernidee.de, offers help with obtaining a visa. Accommodation in Norway is not a problem. Campsites, youth hostels (Vandrerhjem) and simple huts (Hytter) can be found everywhere. In addition, the so-called everyone’s right, provided that one behaves properly, allows wild camping for one night almost anywhere. Camping is more difficult in Russia, but enough accommodation can be found even in remote regions. Are you very cheap? and often kept very simple. In Moscow, St. Petersburg and Minsk the hotels correspond to western standards and prices. RefuelingNorway has a dense network of petrol stations, but a liter of petrol costs around 1.40 euros. In Russia, at least along the main roads, petrol stations are dense and almost all have premium gasoline (95 octane). The further north you go in both countries, however, the greater the distances between the fuel pumps. Occasionally, however, fuel runs short. Finances In addition to the ruble, the most important means of payment in Russia is the US dollar. There are ATMs in every major city, and some of them can also withdraw US dollars. Credit cards are also a common method of payment in larger cities. You should only carry traveler checks with you as a reserve, as exchanging them is very tedious and the exchange rate is poor. A good choice is the Apa guide »Norway« for 19.95 euros. The GEO Special of the same name provides information about this country in the well-known good quality, price: 6.65 euros. Anyone planning a trip through Russia should definitely take a look at the corresponding issue of Lonely Planet. The book provides reliable information on almost every corner of the country. The Scandinavian map from Michelin is a good choice, despite the large scale of 1: 1.5 million, if you want to travel all over the country to the North Cape. For Russia, we recommend the “CIS” map from Marco Polo on a scale of 1: 2 million. Time required: three months, route length: around 13,000 kilometers
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