How we got to Russia was primarily from what wanted to see the northern light. And Murmansk just happened to be the most reasonable place for us. To me, I needed to get out of the US for visa requirement. It could be anywhere but Russia was more convenient for the other Thai friends since no visa required for Thai to enter the country.
We got three nights to try our luck on sighting aurora. It wasn’t the best timing, unfortunately. However, as the nights were evolving, something else got me realised aurora hunt was more than it was meant to be. That happened on the daytime ramping up to the night as well.
Night 1: Arrival and Get Going
The Thai friends arrived on the night before I did. They had a chance to explore the city on the day. Whereas, I spent most of the day at Sheremetyevo Airport, connecting flight to Murmansk.
I finally joined them in the afternoon just to learn that aurora hunt would start tonight and we’d be on the road from 10 pm. So, there wasn’t much time for me to wind down from travelling across the Atlantic.
Before the night ride, we decided to get dinner from a supermarket nearby. Of course, my eyes were on the local beer and we picked some local IPA. At the checkout, a security took them away. We were perplexed but didn’t make any noise. It must have been the legal time limit to buy alcohol out. And our guide confirmed it. So, my first night in Russia was sober.
I met our guide, Angelika, for the first time, when they picked us up. She would take care of us until our last night.
The weather was snowy and cloudy. We drove to three distant sites but there was no luck. Still, the night landscapes of the city and roads around were foreign and captivating to me.
Suddenly, Angelika told the driver to stop the van and pointed us to something faint behind the snowy clouds. To be honest, I was sceptical. It was easy to mistake city lights reflecting the clouds with aurora. I realised the luck wasn’t just on Kp-index but also on the weather on the location as well. And in this weather, you’d need local expertise to spot it.
That faint aurora was just a tease. It lit us some hope for the two nights to come.
We got back to the hotel. I was tired and needed to rest.
Night 2: Staying in at Aurora Village
After an epic day trip to Teriberka, we didn’t go around like the first night and stayed at Aurora Village.
Before that day trip, we needed to stock some food for the night and for the morning. Now, that we knew, we lingered in the supermarket until 11 am to be able to buy some alcohol. So, we got a bottle of vodka and some beer to supply the night.
We, five of us, stayed together in the same cabin. Half of it was made of transparent plastic into a dome so that the sky was visible.
Later, another group of guests arrived. Apparently, they were all Thais.
The forecast would be a window of the clear night from 10 pm to midnight. Actually, while we were waiting for a drive to get to the cabin, the clouds were dispatched and the sun appeared for the first time in the day. That sounded very promising.
Unfortunately, after midnight, the sky still wasn’t clear. We drank all the booze we bought. I was the last one standing and the only thing to drink was complimentary sparkling wine. It was terribly too sweet but kept me going, watching wood fire burning away. I needed time on my own to recharge my introvert battery.
Until around 3 am, the sky cleared up and the stars were visible from the cabin. I went outside with a little hope, of not something happened at least, to enjoy the stars without city lights.
Then, I noticed a pale white stripe across the sky. That, I haven’t seen before. I’d be just happy if it was the Milky Way but it wasn’t a strip of clusters of stars. To make sure what it was, I walked to the staff cabin to ask someone. There, he was ploughing snow on a walkway (do they sleep at all, by the way?) but we couldn’t see the strip there because of the cabin light.
At the guest cabin area, without fluorescent light interference, he saw that pale white strip. There, he showed me his mobile screen, translating his Russian, “It’s aurora.” At once, I got back to the cabin to wake the others up. He also knocked on the rest of the guests.
It appeared for about ten more minutes. A friend of mine saw it turned green at one end of the horizon. By that time, I was a tad drunk and overwhelmed by how the night was unfolded. I didn’t bother myself to get the DSLR or even tried to take any photo with the phone.
What we saw wasn’t like in typical aurora photos. It wasn’t as spectacular as one would normally expect. Nonetheless, to me, it fulfilled the mission, technically. All and all, I could say I’d seen the northern light. Beyond that, it was a good deed to get others to see it.
Night 3: More about Drinking
We checked out of Aurora Village and still had one last night for the hunt. We were back to a night ride again but with less enthusiasm. And there was another person joining us in the van. He was Thai.
It wasn’t as gruesomely snowing as the first night but still too cloudy. The chance of seeing aurora was very slim. So, the night was shifted into something else.
Angelika offered us a shot of vodka. Then, a coach arrived on the scene. It was a bigger tour group. They equipped with snacks, wine, and vodka.
Since then, the night wasn’t about just aurora hunt anymore.
They kept getting me more vodka. I had a fair amount of drinks and interesting conversations with the other group.
Eventually, we had to get back but I still need more drinks. After they dropped us off at the apartment building we stayed. I determined to keep going and explore the city at night. That was after 1 am when I decided to go out by myself.
It took me about 20 minutes to a bar. No one was on the streets. It was very quiet and I didn’t feel there would be any harm.
I was able to get two more beers before the bar was closed. And I was the last customer there.
However, it was more difficult on the way back. The buildings looked similar and I got to a wrong one on the other side of the street. It was almost 4 am when I finally found my way back to the right apartment.
Those were the three nights in Murmansk. Each night we stayed in a different place with a different experience. Even though aurora we saw wasn’t as what we expected, I got the feeling that we got more than what we expected of it in those nights.
The next morning we would get to Moscow for another three nights, another interesting adventure.