Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’ve been chatting to the lovely Vivian Lee , or Wei Xin (which is her Chinese name), the blogger behind Miss HappyFeet. Vivian is a 23-year-old 5th year medical student, battling a chronic disease of itchy feet. The only cure for it is to keep exploring. She is born and raised in Penang, Malaysia and moved 4500 miles to Russia in order to pursue a degree in Medicine. She is also a magazine columnist, freelance writer and contributor to a few digital magazines.
Hi Vivian! Tell us about your trip…
Aurora Borealis have been sitting in my bucket list unchecked since forever, unfortunately I never save enough money for an expensive trip to Scandinavian countries. So last winter when I was told that it is possible to catch Aurora Borealis in Russia itself, I did not think twice to plan a trip up to the extreme Northwest of Russia. I am glad I did, and there we were, a group of 5 medical students making our ways towards the Kola Bay after semester examinations. Before departure, I contacted the person in-charge from vLeto (a tour company in Murmansk), and our activities there were pre-organized.
READ MORE: Murmansk is also pretty near to the Solovetsky Islands so if you’re in that area, you should consider a trip there!
Extreme Northwest of Russia. I’m guessing it’s pretty chilly there?!
The mean temperature was about -9 degree Celsius, we were actually loving this until it started becoming windy near the Barent Sea. It was so cold to the extend that we felt the wind penetrating our bones. but after awhile everything went back to normal and we continued our journey.
Ouch! Did you have somewhere cosy to shelter from the cold?
We stayed in the city centre. We actually did not stay in a hostel or hotel, instead, we rented an apartment. The apartment is a stone throw away from the tour company which organized our trip. It is close to everything: from the bus station to the best breakfast place in town to the central square.
What did you get up to?
I am so excited to answer this question. Even thinking about it 2 months after the trip gives me goosebumps. If I were to conclude this trip in one sentence, it’s be “Surprises after surprises.” First thing first, I saw Aurora Borealis dancing right outside the window on the plane! I know! It was so magical, I was wide-eyed bewildered. When I finally arrived in Murmansk Airport, everything looked lovely, covering in snow. Just like the scene from Narnia. The next day we went on a day trip to Teriberka. Have you ever heard of this place? It is the setting of the Oscar-nominated Russian Movie “Leviathan”. I think this movie won the 2015 Golden Globe. It was half-deserted during our visit, I am not sure if it has always been this way but It was totally exquisite. The city tour in Greater Murmansk was so much fun: we visited an Ice Breaker which was converted into a museum. It is called the “Lenin”, providing us interesting insight on how energy was generated by nuclear power. The statue of Alyosha is fascinating too, although I think I was a bit numb to tall statues already since I come from the city with the tallest statue in all of Russia— Volgograd. I recommend everyone to check out the Snow Village in Kirovsk. This entire “Village” is built by Ice and Snow, it melts every spring and will be rebuilt during the next winter.
WOW! That all sounds so amazing! Can you choose a highlight?
One of the highlights of this trip was our visit to the Sami settlement. Making wishes at the Shaman Poles , interacting with reindeer and some colour-changing polar fox, it was a blast. On top of that, we got a chance to ride a reindeer sleigh! After our visit, we headed straight to the nearby Husky Farm where we were surrounded by cute Siberian puppies. Huskies are such intelligent creatures, a Husky even “talked back” to it’s owner when being scolded for climbing the fence.
Where did you have the best food in Murmansk?
Well, I’d recommend a Salmon dish, preferably wild Salmon! I think Seafood in Terrasa restaurant is beyond amazing. For as low as $8, we got a mouth-watering fresh seafood platter meal! If you asked me to rate the place, I’d say 9 out of 10. Service was great, food was delicious, plating was beautiful and the ambiance! Winner!
Can you recommend any unusual things to do in Murmansk?
Unusual activity… I would say is the Aurora Hunting Tour. I mean, it makes sense that Aurora Borealis could be seen in Murmansk since it is located on the Arctic Circle, however, it is overshadowed by other more popular Aurora hunting grounds like Norway and Finland. Little did we all know, it is one of the most affordable place on earth to hunt for the Northern Lights! People is either oblivious to the fact that Russia is also a country within the Arctic Circle or they just do not know that a hunting tour of equivalent quality is available in Russia. We paid only $19.30 for the tour that last 4 hours . Honestly, I’d never heard of Murmansk before being introduced to it last year.
I hate to admit it – but I’d never heard of Murmansk before you sent me this Postcard! Do you have any tips or advice for anyone who wants to head to Northwest Russia?
If you don’t speak Russian, it may be a problem for you since Russian rarely speak English. But if you do meet one who speaks English, I can almost be 100% sure that he/she is a friendly caring russian who owns the brightest smile in the land (Russians rarely smile on the streets, I do not know why). So, my advice is, contact a tour company prior to your trip. I know vLeto has good english tour guides. You can google up the company. If you are going for a city tour, I highly recommend that you request Yaroslav Lukomskiy as your tour guide. This Russian gentlemen is very fluent in English and knows Murmansk in depth!
Time for some questions about you, now. What’s your favourite travel read?
My favourite travel read to this date is a book in Mandarin by Malaysian traveller Lim Yue. It is a compilation of travel stories by quite a number of travellers from Malaysia. I love reading about other people’s experiences before a trip.
Last but not least: what do you love most about travelling?
What I really love about travelling is that it widens up our horizons, exposing us to various cultures and experiences, meeting us up with different people that we’ll probably never gonna cross-path with, EVER… and then it turns us all into story-tellers. I am sure you can relate to this!
NB – Unless otherwise stated, all images are owned by Vivian Lee.