My best Arctic trips ever: Part I

There’s something about COVID-19, with its imposed lockdowns and social distancing—and advice not to travel anywhere—which makes me, as I sit in a two-week isolation, think of the trips I have taken: the good and the not-so-good.

I’ve gone almost nowhere recently. One year I remember taking 44 flights (I counted them) and since this past March I have taken none.

But, first, I want to get the worst trip (or one of the worst) out of the way here: it was a train trip that started in Finland taken when I was still in my teens.

I learned I could travel all the way from Helsinki to Vienna through Russia, with a two-day included stopover in Moscow, for $50.

I wanted to go on holiday after having worked all summer in the Marimekko clothing store in Helsinki. It was a hot summer and we sweltered between the racks of brightly-coloured dresses in the store, whose windows didn’t even open. On those steamy weekends, I would either spread myself out on the rocks by the seashore within the city or take a four-hour bus ride to the summer cottage of the friend I was staying with. It was located a small island called Nagu or Nauvo in Finnish near Turku. For a couple of days there we lived on a diet of fish and cucumbers and then headed back to the city.

That place was like paradise but the trip through Russia seemed like a good deal to me because 1) I had no money and 2) most visitors were still only allowed into Russia in groups. I’d been to St-Petersburg with a school group a few years before, but this time, I would be an independent tourist. Yes.

From Helsinki to Moscow, I shared a berth with two girls from Tokyo who were on their way to catch the trans-Siberian train. They spoke almost no English. but they shared their food with me and later they would send me postcards which I couldn’t read.

The Metropol in Moscow. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Once in Moscow, I was deposited by a guide at the Metropol Hotel, right around the corner from the Red Square. There was really no problem with the hotel at all: it was elegant and my room was enormous. That was good.

There bathtub was in the corner, I think. No hot water. The toilet was down a cold hallway: a woman, who sat on a chair, guarding perhaps, handed me sheets of newspaper to use as tissue.

She and no one else there spoke English or any other language I spoke at the time. So I don’t recall how I found out that the little tickets I had been given as part of my train trip also included a free bus tour of the city and two breakfasts at the hotel. I made it to the tour bus. But the patter was nearly all in Russian. I had no idea what we were seeing, the university? the Kremlin? And we visited many churches, one decorated with what looked to me like gold.

And soon I was back out on my own, at the hotel, with the rest of the day ahead of me. I walked to Red Square and somehow, because it was obvious I was a foreigner, I was put at the top of the long queue of people waiting to see Lenin’s body. We walked by quickly. He was under glass, his hands were folded over this chest and waxy.

The gaudy and gorgeous St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

I walked over to St. Basil’s Cathedral. Its decorations were painted on! Strolling around the Red Square were many people dressed in their traditional clothing, one with a huge knife hanging from his belt, I recall (but of course I had no camera.)

I stepped into the large building, the Gum bazaar, then a dark maze of shops. I peered down into the metro. I wanted to go down the long flight of stairs to see where it would lead but all the signs were in Cyrillic letters. How would I get back?

I was only nn observer. My memories are vague, maybe because I was in a bubble, just looking and not understanding.

I watched as people went to a metal dispenser of liquid opposite my hotel that held a glass. They went over and over again. To me, the sign on the dispenser looked like it said “vodka” but it maybe was water. The people used the same glass over and over.

And somehow I managed with the little money I had to buy several buns at a kiosk: some were filled with cabbage and others with a sweet chocolate. That’s all I would eat for the next two or three days when I finally got back on the train.

The good part of the train: the endless hot tea I was served. The bad part: the Russian soldier who attacked me after I had chatted and then shared a cigarette with him (in retrospect a bad move on my part.)

Then, somewhere along the way, the train stopped for a long time. A nurse went from seat to seat with a big needle, vaccinating people or giving them a shot of some sort: I said “nyet.” She was insistent. I said no: I hadn’t yet learned about the dangers of sharing needles, but I had the feeling that wasn’t good.

I have no memory what I read or if I kept a journal or how I passed the time other than looking out the window. Every time we passed a village or town there were walls along the tracks, so I couldn’t see much. And finally, the trip, at a time of my life when I had too many hours, little life experience and hardly any money, ended.

My lessons from that trip included watching my back, making sure I had some money and learning the language of where I was.

I also learned to improvise, which would help me in the 1990s when I started to travel in Canada’s North.

But, let’s flash ahead to 2006. That’s when I decided to drive from southeastern Finland to Murmansk in Arctic Russia. (I never made it to Murmansk because I found out I couldn’t go over on a day pass as Norwegians did.)

But while I have no photos from that early Russian journey, COVID-19 has given me time to look over the photos I took in 2006…

I started after Midsummer with my Finnish family… we stood by the kokko fire far into the night.
Late June in Finland when you can go out at 3 a.m. and it looks like this scene from 2006 by Lake Saimaa.
Sometimes we sat inside, but usually only if it rained or the bugs were too bad.
I rented a small car and started driving north, stopping only for reindeer.

And then…

To be continued

Siku girl encounters Covid-19…on paper

Where did the time go? Since the beginning of March to now there has been one story in my life: COVID-19.

Here are all stories I wrote for Nunatsiaq News, which I am putting here as a reference as much for myself as for anyone else who is interested in the infection, or fear of the infection, throughout Canada’s North. It’s affected the entire region: people, education, travel, mining…

At a later time, I will probably organize these stories by themes. But for now, you can follow my reporting about COVID-19 from the bottom to top along with some of the photos I posted on Twitter.

Nunavut government urges residents to take “staycations” this summer

Face coverings become mandatory for airline workers

Federal funds to provide urban Inuit with country food

Nunavut monitoring health of elders in Ottawa facility after two staff test positive for COVID-19 

Ottawa announces $650M more for Indigenous needs during pandemic

Agnico Eagle plans phased return of Nunavut workers to its gold mines

 Montreal’s reopening increases COVID-19 risks for homeless, says Indigenous coalition

The cold and hot spots of COVID-19 in North America

Arctic conference considers the challenges posed by COVID-19

Western Nunavut businesses crying out for government help, says chamber of commerce

Plans to replace Kugluktuk’s new power plant delayed

Canada moves to bar most pleasure craft from Arctic waters

Baker Lake’s Abluqta Society sends out food for the hungry

Staff member tests positive for COVID-19 at Ottawa seniors home with Nunavut residents

Nunavut resident on medical travel tests positive for COVID-19

Canadian North “temporarily” suspends seat selection on many flights

Western Nunavut eatery reinvents itself to survive the pandemic

COVID-19 pandemic delays construction of Nunavut elders facility

To boost COVID-19 prevention efforts, more Nunavut hamlets adopt booze bans

Lost your job due to the pandemic? Quebec housing corp. to help with rent

Nunavut’s Hope Bay goldfields to be bought by China’s SD Gold

Nunavut teachers’ union criticizes premier’s recruitment plans

Food arrives in Nunavut’s Clyde River 

Nunavut’s Kivalliq communities adopt more COVID-19 preventive measures 

Aurèle St-Amant, a pioneer of Nunavik’s co-op movement, dies at 83 from COVID-19

Temporary shelter offers homeless Inuit in Montreal protection from COVID-19

Increased Nutrition North subsidies take effect in Nunavut

Build an inuksuk, show your strength, TI urges urban Inuit youth

School’s out in Nunavut, and one mother says the kids are alright—most of the time 

Ottawa Inuit organization focuses on food security during pandemic

 Migratory geese and ducks are free of COVID-19: researcher 

In Cambridge Bay, schools reach out with activities and food

Nunavik health officials declare two more COVID-19 infections in Puvirnituq

Warrantless entries not justified to enforce Nunavut’s ban on gatherings, says official

When travelling by air, northern travellers now need masks

 Nunavut musician Becky Han steps onto Alianait’s virtual stage on Friday

 Subsidy keeps Agnico Eagle’s Nunavut mine workers on payroll

Nunavut’s ban on gatherings goes too far, says civil liberties watchdog

 Food for the hungry in Cambridge Bay

 COVID-19 restrictions move Inuit arts workshops online

 Canadian Rangers ready for patrol in Kuujjuaq

 Western Nunavut town moves to enforce COVID-19 bans

 Nunavik’s Raglan mine reopens despite outrage from Makivik Corp.

 In COVID-19 measure, Gjoa Haven bans sale of homemade baked goods

 Nunavut government worker’s creation lands on territory’s telephone book cover

 Coronavirus reaches Nunavik community of Inukjuak

Nunavik co-op workers gear up for COVID-19 prevention

After COVID-19 self-isolation, Nunavut student restarts his life

Nunavut canteen chef helps feed the hungry during COVID-19 hard times

 Inuk artist Asinnajaq wins a 2020 Sobey Art Award

 QIA commits $1.5M to aid small Inuit-owned businesses during pandemic

Keep schools closed, teachers home, says Nunavut Association of Municipalities 

Feds announce millions to help the North deal with COVID-19 

Nunavik declares tenth COVID-19 case in Puvirnituq

Nunavut mayors to discuss GN’s decision to recall teachers from outside territory

 After 11 COVID-19 infections, Greenland plans to slowly reopen Nuuk

Quebec may call back Nunavik school staff to help in health care 

Iqaluit man faces charges in connection with weekend firearms incident

Updated: Nunavik declares its 10th case of COVID-19

Under Nunavik’s COVID-19 lockdown, only charter flights travel to the region

If COVID-19 strikes, this Nunavut community is ready

Mining company helps fill hampers in Nunavut community

Nunavik’s COVID-19 alcohol restrictions lead to long lineups in Kuujjuaq

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Creative SocialDistancing: many Nunavut residents have been getting outside and using snow to make great sculptures. This colourful drummer by Bernard Walsh of Cambridge Bay.

Nunavut asks out-of-territory teachers to return by April 21

Kivalliq Inuit Association directs COVID-19 money to elders, traditional activities

Canadian Rangers step up during COVID-19 crisis

To fight COVID-19 spread Greenland erects tent camp for homeless

COVID-19 could have big implications for Nunavut’s mining industry

Nunavik declares three more COVID-19 cases

Southern teachers in Nunavik remain on standby to leave region: union

Nunavut legal aid offices remain closed, but you can still call

Kitikmeot Inuit Association announces support for elders, on-the-land activities during pandemic

Studies underway to see if TB vaccine lessens COVID-19 symptoms

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Remarkable #COVID19 generosity: Erik Hitkolok of Kugluktuk filled his sled with more than 200 frozen white fish and went on social media to offer them to people in his western Nunavut town.

COVID-19 leads to more Canadian North schedule changes

Northern airlines trim passenger service to the basics

Studies underway to see if TB vaccine lessens COVID-19 symptoms

Cambridge Bay bans alcohol imports for two weeks, citing COVID-19 concerns

Qikiqtani Inuit Association rolls out pandemic support plan

Western Nunavut gold producer TMAC reduces operations at Hope Bay

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SocialDistancing during COVID-19 pandemic: Thomas Akilak won this weekend’s snow sculpture contest in Baker Lake, Nunavut: “It is important for us as a community to remain physically active and now that the weather is warming up we can enjoy time outdoors,” the hamlet said.

Greenland introduces temporary ban on alcohol sales in three communities

Snow sculptures keep Nunavut community creative during COVID-19 shutdown

Nunavut RCMP to don masks, gloves during COVID-19 pandemic

Nunavut mine goes into “lockdown” to reduce risk of COVID-19

Nunavik declares its first confirmed COVID-19 infection in Salluit

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A terrific snow sculpture from Arviat, Nunavut where the hamlet organized a community-wide competition to get everyone out of their houses, respecting COVID-19 social distancing: here a large owl by Thomas Aniksak and a polar bear over a seal hole by Angie Curley.

Baffinland continues measures to keep COVID-19 out of Nunavut

Montreal day shelter offers lifeline to homeless Inuit women during COVID-19

Amid COVID-19 restrictions, TMAC keeps Nunavut gold mine going

Inuktut book titles available online for free during COVID-19 school closures

Quebec’s COVID-19 measures force Agnico Eagle to reduce operations in Nunavut

Nunavut artists will take a hit from this year’s Arctic cruise ban

Nunavik’s Raglan mine put into care and maintenance due to COVID-19

Canadian North changes schedule following new COVID-19 measures

Cambridge Bay pulls together to fight COVID-19

Passengers on Canadian North jets face new screening questions

Nunavik’s Raglan mine plans to send northern workers back home

Nunavut RCMP will ask callers about COVID-19 contact

Nunavut air travellers will face restrictions under N.W.T. travel ban

Nunavut mining company tries to quell concerns about potential for COVID-19

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Love this bunny by the family of Jeannie Evalik in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

COVID-19 prompts Air Inuit to cut back flight schedule

Nunavut tells post-secondary students not to book travel home

To prevent COVID-19, Agnico Eagle will let Nunavut workers go home

COVID-19 closes Inuit organization offices in Nunavut

COVID-19 concerns prompt suspension of church services in Nunavut, Nunavik

Nunavut workers at TMAC gold mine will head home to avoid COVID-19

Quebec COVID-19 measures mean Nunavik man can’t visit his mother

Ottawa’s Inuit orgs batten down the hatches during COVID-19 emergency

Canadian North, Air Inuit reduce Arctic air services

Nunavut RCMP takes measures to reduce spread of COVID-19

Canadian High Arctic Research Station acts to reduce COVID-19 risk

Airlines serving Nunavut, Nunavik tighten COVID-19 prevention efforts

More Nunavut communities take measures to keep COVID-19 at bay

Nunavut’s Baffinland gears up its crisis management plan for COVID-19

Stay home and healthy, says Nunavut’s chief medical officer

To fight COVID-19, Nunavut mining company plans to screen workers

Three Nunavut communities ask visitors to stay away due to COVID-19 concerns

Nunavik’s regional airline steps up measures to prevent new coronavirus

Canadian North ramps up coronavirus plan

Nunavut Mining Symposium cancelled due to coronavirus

Nunavut mining company updates infectious disease plan for coronavirus

Greenland evades coronavirus for now

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