As soon as I take my motorcycle helmet off, I get bit by a mosquito. And I immediately wonder – was that a Russian or a Norwegian bug? A message chimes in on the phone: “Welcome to Russia.” But we are most definitely on the Norwegian side of the high border fence, in Skafferhullet, Kirkenes. Ten metres away, a yellow post marks the end of Norway, and five meters past that is a red and blue marker: the start of Russia.
“Don’t step out of line, they are definitely watching. If you pee here, you’ll be arrested within three minutes”, warns our guide Ulf Hildonen.
No cameras with long lenses are allowed – the Russians have a lot of military equipment by the border. On the Norwegian side, a watch tower surveys the area, and on the border fence, a sign warns of camera surveillance. On the Russian side, you see only woods that look suspiciously like Norwegian trees. But not too far away, Russian soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs patrol the forest.
If the idea was to take an excursion to see something new, we’ve accomplished our mission by riding four-wheel drive ATVs to the Russian border in Kirkenes.
The driving is relatively simple. We learn the ABCs of our ATVs in just five minutes, led by patient and competent guides. Easy movements on the gas and brakes. Extra careful in roundabouts, as the Russians are used to a different style of traffic safety. Both hands on the wheel. Smile. Because this is probably the only time you will do this in your whole life.
Photo: Marcel Kissmann
My 11 year old son rides with me, smiling behind the visor on his helmet, leaning forward and shouting:
“Dad, look! Signs in Russian!”
Shops and street names are shown in both local languages, the Russian with Cyrillic letters. There is a close relationship between the border towns of Murmansk and Kirkenes.
“Are the Russians allowed to come to Kirkenes? Does Putin let them?” asks the eleven-year-old.
Russian citizens must apply to leave their own country, but the border agreements of 2010 between Norway and Russia allows those who live closer than 30 kilometres from the border to cross without a visa.
The border between the two nations is 196 kilometres long, but there is only one crossing station: Storskog. During the Cold War, this was part of NATO’s front line against the eastern bloc. Mines and bombs from WWII are still buried in the area.
We drive our ATVs over the Pasvikelva river to the border station. Workers and newly-rich Russians in expensive cars stream from Murmansk towards jobs and shops in Kirkenes.
We buy a Russian doll in the souvenir store, strap on our helmets and drive to a viewpoint overlooking Kirkenes, the fascinating town that lies at the same latitude as Tromsø, but, improbably, is also east of Istanbul.
If you wish to create your own voyage in Norway, you can select which ports you want to travel from and to.
Using Hurtigruten as a basecamp gives you the best possible starting point for exploring everything the Norwegian coast has to offer – from fjords and iconic towns to northern lights and midnight sun.
They come in busses, they come in cars, and they come in campers, on bicycles and on foot. Thousands of people want to experience the North Cape.
Discover your inner explorer on an active journey along the Norwegian coastline, guided by Hurtigruten’s true adventure experts.
Hurtigruten’s voyage along the Norwegian coast not only offers a whole host of incredible experiences and wondrous scenery, but is also a culinary journey.
The Classic Round Voyage with Hurtigruten is a 12 day journey, but there are also shorter options available.
Find out what to expect on a Hurtigruten trip, including cultural highlights this spring and what you may see on the menu to news about the refurbishment and the brand new ship MS Spitsbergen.
Sailing the Norwegian coast is like navigating in a big box of chocolates. There are tasty bites everywhere. For many, the Geirangerfjord is the best of the lot.
Experience the northern coastline in the footsteps of the early arctic explorers.
Teeming bird rocks in Hornøya, a snow hotel, dramatic war stories and a witch monument in Vardø are among the attractions awaiting visitors in Kirkenes and Eastern Finnmark.
Combine a 5-day voyage in search of the mystical northern lights. Sail through beautiful Vesterålen and the Lofoten Islands and stop in scenic towns such as Bergen, Tromsø, Ålesund and Trondheim.
Planning your trip well helps you get what you want and find the experiences you wish for, without risking your hard-earned days off. And if you don't know what you want, we're happy to help you find some ideas.
According to ancient legend, the name Norway comes from the old norse word Norðrvegr, which means “the way north”, a name given to this long and craggy coast because it was largely ice-free in the wintertime.