Strangely enough, a mild but magical Aurora Borealis appeared on my last night at the Arctic Circle. It happened around predawn when an eerie green glow in the horizon caught my attention. Suddenly before I knew it the mystical Northern Lights or the “Dance of the Spirits” lit up the inky black night sky. A whooshing wave of lime green light came, danced, shimmered, and faded with a breathtaking brilliance. Its departure was as abrupt and shocking as its arrival and I stood there open-mouthed in disbelief. The night was pin-drop silent and not even a clock ticked as I strained my ear to hear any accompanying noise. But except for prickling up of the hair on my arm, I heard or felt nothing. Needless to say, I did not sleep a wink for the rest of the night and was extremely tired for my morning excursion to the historic Kizhi village.

This is how this Aurora Borealis chase began: Arctic Adventure in Russia

The Aurora Borealis after effect and a tired morning drive to Kizhi

My sighting of the famous Aurora Borealis was a mild one, but it was still powerful enough to take my breath away. I vividly remember, my breathing to stop for some time, as the celestial colours twirled in the night sky. Even after the dancing spirits were gone, the edge of the sky remained a dull green for some time before fading into an inky blackness. Thankfully I got my senses fast enough to catch some of its glowing colours and though my photograph is far from being magnificent, it reminds me of one the most amazing sights in my life. Now capturing the magnificence of an Aurora Borealis is not an easy task and when coupled with the surprise the phenomena takes you by with the sudden appearance, it takes a lot of effort for a rookie like me to even capture a fleeting image. As mentioned before, I stayed awake all night rewinding the magical experience and hugging myself for managing to stay awake for the beautiful Aurora Borealis.

The Siberian huskies at Lovozero village

I kept missing the Aurora and discovered a Sami village instead

How to survive the freezing Russian winter?

We left the strange old hotel after breakfast. A long day of driving lay ahead of us with the only stop being for lunch. It suited me perfectly fine since I caught up with my pending sleep and woke up at a truck pit stop for hot lunch. Technically we were heading towards the Republic of Karelia, the neighbouring state or federal subject as it is called in Russia and the flatbed truck filled road was absolutely not photogenic. The behemoth trucks were smoke belching giants, stereotypical of the Russian snow goods vehicles and the drivers were silent, polite bunch. The restaurant served hot meals to the blue collared workers of the region and the food had carb loaded wholesomeness. It came with black Russian bread, beetroot soup ‘borsht’, beef stew, and mashed potatoes. After meal refreshments came in form of a fistful of free garlic cloves, which everyone grabbed in handfuls before going back into the cold. They were handed out in place of the usual minty breath fresheners by the restaurant and were known to be the natural way to keep coughs and cold away.

Ships stranded at Murmansk harbour

Visiting the Lenin Icebreaker in Murmansk

Still missed the Aurora Borealis, but found myself at a Pomor village by the frozen White Sea

 Petrozavodsk, the jumping off base for Kizhi

Our next destination of Petrozavodsk arrived very late in the evening. Located in the beautiful Republic of Karelia, I had visited the city once in summer to spend a couple of days by the lovely lake Onega. Petrozavodsk greeted me like an old friend and our hotel there was a classy one. Modern, with all creature comforts, Onego Palace was a far cry from the relic Kandalaksha accommodation and it stood right on the banks of the frozen lake Onega. The soft bed, flatscreen TV, and a luxurious bathtub made me linger in my room and I realized how much I had missed those comforts of daily life. Petrozavodsk was also fiercely cold, even more than Murmansk and the blustery North wind found its way inside our layered clothing. I had hoped for the temperature to be better since we were south of the Arctic Circle, but the hotel barometer dashed all my hopes. The vast lake Onega lay frozen in front of us and fierce winds roared over its surface. Fed by nearly fifty rivers, the mighty Lake Onega or Onego (in Russian) is the second largest lake in Europe and belongs to the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean Basin. The lake houses around 1650 islands with the most famous one being the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kizhi Pogost.

Reindeer herders and coast dwellers of Pomor village

A Sami reindeer of Murmansk

The open-air museum of Kizhi Pogost

Often referred as the open-air island museum, Kizhi is famous for its spectacular old wooden walled churches. Our last afternoon was planned on exploring Kizhi’s heritage and we shivered by the freezing lake Onega for our ride. A rather run down hovercraft took us to the island of Kizhi and we watched miles of the frozen lake pass for an hour. It was indeed a vast flat monotonous and nothing of its aquatic summer beauty could be seen. We got off at Kizhi under an overcast grey sky and explored the pogost, which was the area inside the wooden boundary fence. I contained two large wooden churches and a very lovely bell tower.

“There was not and will be not another one to match it.”

Much famous for their beauty and longevity despite being made of wood, it is also believed not a single nail had been used in their construction. Documented as early as 1500’s, the Church of Transfiguration was unheated and used only for summer services while the heated Church of Intercession of the Virgin held winter services from October until Easter. The most remarkable part of the pogost was the legend surrounding it, that claimed that the main builder used only one axe for the whole construction. Upon completion of his famous project, he threw the axe into the lake in a fit of passion, declaring the legendary words, “there was not and will be not another one to match it.”

The Pomor village near the frozen White Sea

The last day at Kizhi

The churches were indeed very beautiful especially the wooden shingled domes and the log house museum complete with baby cots and beautifully embroidered hand towels. Being unbearably cold, we stayed inside the heated church exploring its magnificent warm interiors until it was time for hot lunch. The piping hot meal was served inside a traditional Karelian stone house and it was a huge relief to sit by the fire, listening to some more World War stories of the hostess’s ancestors and eat pike fish fresh from the Lake Onega. Although much loved by the Russians, I found pike to be quite tasteless but every winter it brought hordes of snow fishermen to the ice sheets of frozen Russian lakes. Onega was no different and every early winter year it claimed a few reckless ice fishermen who threw caution of thin ice to the wind. Lake Onega, in fact, was quite popular among winter sports lovers and the sight of big colourful parasails and abseiling kites hovering over its smooth white surface like butterflies brightened up that cold Russian evening.

The Aurora Borealis chase ends in arctic Russia

We returned back to Petrozavodsk soon and retired to our rooms after a long dinner filled with conversations. My train to Moscow was the first to leave and I had an onward flight to Barnaul, Siberia. The Aurora hunt had been a beautiful journey, one of the best I ever had and I promised to return again, sometime in my life, to the Arctic wilderness for yet another Northern Lights chase.

Para sailors on Onego Lake

With blustery winds and parasailors on Onego Lake kind of a ride

Hovercraft took us

Church of Intercession at Kizhi

Kizhi Pogost and its Church of Transfiguration.

Kizhi winter

Kizhi winter was harsh

Kizhi museum

And I took refuge in the Kizhi museum.

Inside the museum

Quaint artefacts filled the museum

17th century ways of Kizhi

And reflected 17th-century Kizhi life.

Lunch time

Soon it was lunchtime

The cute rural island restaurant

And we stopped at the cute rural island restaurant.

Karelian Winter

Karelian Winter raged outside

Meat and Potatoes and some more potatoes

As we tucked into steaming meat and potatoes

Time for some urban legends

And local urban legends.

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to Nordic Travel for making my Aurora Borealis dream come true.  Though all the opinion is strictly mine, the photos of this series are copyrighted to Nordic Travel. Reproduction of this work is permitted only after approval from Nordic Travel.