Scenes from ‘Leviathan,’ the Arctic Ocean and an encounter with Aurora

This remote place became famous after the 2014 release of the Oscar nominated film “Leviathan” by famous Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev.

This remote place became famous after the 2014 release of the Oscar nominated film “Leviathan” by famous Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Maria Stambler
Taking in the tundra and searching for the Northern Lights continued.

By 10:30 a.m. on our second day we were back on the same road we had been on the night before. Surprisingly there was no sign of last night’s blizzard, a testament to the efficiency of the road cleaning service on the peninsula! The vastness of the absolutely treeless tundra, with white as far as the eye could see, was almost impossible to fully gauge. Two hours and several photo opp stops later, we reached the village of Teriberka at the peak of daylight.

The movie fans among you will need no explanation of what or where Teriberka is. For those who are not yet familiar with it, some 120km from Murmansk, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, lies the tiny village of Teriberka. This remote place became famous after the 2014 release of the Oscar nominated film “Leviathan” by famous Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev. Ever since the movie’s release, Teriberka, with its unforgettable scenes of the Arctic coast and breathtaking views of the ocean, has become a popular tourist destination on the Kola Peninsula.

"This remote place became famous after the 2014 release of the Oscar nominated film “Leviathan” by famous Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev. Ever since the movie’s release, Teriberka, with its unforgettable scenes of the Arctic coast and breathtaking views of the ocean, has become a popular tourist destination on the Kola Peninsula." Source: Maria Stambler"This remote place became famous after the 2014 release of the Oscar nominated film “Leviathan” by famous Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev. Ever since the movie’s release, Teriberka, with its unforgettable scenes of the Arctic coast and breathtaking views of the ocean, has become a popular tourist destination on the Kola Peninsula." Source: Maria Stambler

The first stop was the ship cemetery where 12 wooden ships, presumably from the early 20th century, create a sense of beautiful desolation.

The next stop was slightly more tricky. Our guide that day, Alexey, wanted to take us to a waterfall and to walk along the shores of Arctic Ocean. But because the road ends at the edge of the town, reaching these places of interest would mean more than an hour walk across frozen lakes and deep snow with the freezing ocean wind cutting into our faces.

Luckily, a young man who came back home to visit his babushka (grandma) for the holidays was fiddling with his snowmobile on the side of the road. For a small sum of 500 rubles ($8) per person he agreed to attach a sled to his vehicle and take us where we needed to go.

"For a small sum of 500 rubles ($8) per person he agreed to attach a sled to his vehicle and take us where we needed to go." Source: Maria Stambler"For a small sum of 500 rubles ($8) per person he agreed to attach a sled to his vehicle and take us where we needed to go." Source: Maria Stambler

The ride was bumpy but the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The snowmobile went as far as it could go and from there onwards it was a reasonably short trek across the tundra to reach the magnificent waterfall that flows into the Arctic Ocean. I don’t know how but it wasn’t completely frozen and there was actually water flowing from it! Afterwards, we took in the views of the icy cold waves of the endless ocean crashing against the cliffs with the dusking sky in the background. We also imagined the famous Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov docked somewhere in the distance, as these waters is where the vessel has its base. It took a while before our guide could get us to start heading back towards the village.

On the way back, the friendly young man with the snowmobile let us get behind the wheel - or whatever it is that snowmobiles have - and do some donuts on the frozen lake. Upon getting back to the village and our minibus we were all sufficiently frozen so a tea drinking ritual was most welcome before we had a look around Teriberka and the places where the exterior scenes of “Leviathan” were filmed.

"Upon getting back to the village and our minibus we were all sufficiently frozen so a tea drinking ritual was most welcome before we had a look around Teriberka and the places where the exterior scenes of “Leviathan” were filmed." Source: Maria Stambler"Upon getting back to the village and our minibus we were all sufficiently frozen so a tea drinking ritual was most welcome before we had a look around Teriberka and the places where the exterior scenes of “Leviathan” were filmed." Source: Maria Stambler

Before heading back to Murmansk, we popped by the post office (which in Teriberka also doubles as a mini-market with cookies, coffee, chips, etc. lining the shelves) to send someone a postcard with a stamp from Teriberka. I didn’t know anybody’s address off by heart apart from mine so I will be the proud recipient of that postcard - whenever it arrives.

The road back to Murmansk was designated nap time. By the time we arrived back, we were pretty famished and ready for a proper meal, not just tea with cookies whenever we sat down for a few minutes in a warm space. All the locals that we spoke to unequivocally recommended the aptly named “Tundra” restaurant. The meal there turned out to be a real feast: Kamchatka crab, fish soup, halibut, cod and seaweed ice cream for dessert! The Arctic waters are certainly rich in fish and seafood.

Lounging around was limited to about two hours, after which the “hunt” for the Northern Lights continued from where we left off the previous day. Skies over the Kola Peninsula were pretty clear that night so already our chances were better than on our previous outing. But the actual activity of Aurora Borealis was rather low.

"Skies over the Kola Peninsula were pretty clear that night so already our chances were better than on our previous outing. But the actual activity of Aurora Borealis was rather low." Source: Maria Stambler"Skies over the Kola Peninsula were pretty clear that night so already our chances were better than on our previous outing. But the actual activity of Aurora Borealis was rather low." Source: Maria Stambler

Our super experienced and mega enthusiastic photo guide, Alexander Stepanenko, was keeping a very careful eye out for any activity in the skies as we drove away from Murmansk. Eventually, we stopped near a large field and everyone marched through the snow to the spot that would serve as the vantage and photo point. There were about 30 people that evening eager to see the Northern Lights that night. And see them we did!

Of course, they weren’t as strong as we would have liked them to be and we did end up spending about 4 hours standing around in a snowy field in the middle of the tundra but it was still an incredible experience. Alexander took some stunning photos with his professional camera that show much more than the human eye can see. In addition to producing light, the energetic auroral collisions transmit heat, which is dissipated by infrared radiation. The human eye cannot see infrared but a camera, on the other hand, can.

"We stopped near a large field and everyone marched through the snow to the spot that would serve as the vantage and photo point. There were about 30 people that evening eager to see the Northern Lights that night. And see them we did!" Source: Maria Stambler"We stopped near a large field and everyone marched through the snow to the spot that would serve as the vantage and photo point. There were about 30 people that evening eager to see the Northern Lights that night. And see them we did!" Source: Maria Stambler

By the time we were done it was already past midnight and our huge group trampled huge circles and other shapes on the snowy field so from up high, these patterns resem bled something UFO’s usually leave behind in movies. As was by now tradition, on the way back to Murmansk we were treated to tea, cookies and fun facts. And just as I thought that bed was no longer in the distant future, Alexander saw another light in the sky and insisted that we stop and check it out.

By now our group consisted of only about 7-8 very tired travelers. Everyone reluctantly got out of the warm minibus back out into the cold for the photo opp of a lifetime. But Alexander’s enthusiasm and tirelessness were infectious so in a matter of seconds we were gladly posing again and following his professional instructions. About an hour later, I was reunited with my best friend: the bed.

Polar Diaries, Part 1: Arrival in Murmansk, traditional Sami village and hunt for Northern Lights

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