Of course Murmansk airport doesn’t feel like home at first, only after several trips. The trips have all got confused in my mind, rather like A Child’s Christmas in Wales where Dylan Thomas can’t remember whether it snowed for 12 days and 12 nights when he was six or 6 days and nights when he was twelve. By the time you are 12 you know that 12 days’ snow makes a better story. Some of these recollections have grown in the telling. But probably not the amount of snow. Altogether I made about 10 trips at all times of the year between May 1991 and May 1993.
Most travel books give you a lot of background to the places the author travels to, to set the picture before the story. In my case, the background came later. There were no guide books and it seemed there were no facilities. In any case I was not there as a tourist or explorer. Attempts to explore or ask too many questions produced confusion rather than answers. So I developed the sang froid to just see what happened to me and not be a curious westerner.
So for you too (the reader), the background information comes later, with a time lag, just as it did for me.
For practically all the trips I travelled via Moscow, which despite the problems of the airport, always managed to provide a safe haven in a hotel. In 1992 there was rampant inflation, suitcases were regularly opened and stuff stolen, businessmen ripped off, robbed and shot, though men selling one lipstick on the stairs of Detsky Mir were a novelty. I remember my shock and surprise at this sudden splurge of capitalism in Moscow where the streets near the Lubyanka (prison) were suddenly filled with files of people and their customers blocking the pavement, selling one cigarette packet, one bra or one equally bizarre object. This must really have been what Lenin meant by primitive capitalism. And how to accumulate capital based on the profit made on one bra?
Stories abounded of customs declarations of large amounts of cash followed by a tip off to a waiting taxi driver who tricked the driver out of the car half way into town and drove off. At first the Hungarian/Russian translator met me but then I worked out that some hotels sent cars to pick up customers and I had no problems. I was always glad to get back “safely” to Moscow from Murmansk, though nothing untoward ever happened to me in Kirovsk.
I settled into the Hotel Aerostar, which was smart enough for me but not enough for the mafia and prostitutes. It seems several expats lived there, as I saw the same faces in the restaurant in the evening, each of us sitting at our table for one with a book. The restaurant had a pianist who played classical music, so for me that made it a 5star place.