Pyramiden and Nordenskiold Glacier

 

Our second full day in Longyearbyen started with us setting off early this morning on a ten hour boat trip traveling north of Longyearbyen along the fjord to Pyramiden and Nordenskiold Glacier.

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Pyramiden is an abandoned Soviet owned coal mining town that is listed as number 7 in National Geographic’s most interesting abandoned towns – it lived up to its name. Pyramiden was started in 1927 by the Soviets and remained in operation until the early 1990’s, when, as a result of the Soviet economic collapse, coal mining ceased here. The town was completely abandoned by 1998 with everything, including a grand piano in the entertainment complex, being left behind. One of our group members played that piano during our visit. Although out of tune, the sound drifted through the hallways of the building and provided a suitable backdrop to our wandering through the echoes from a different time.

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Pyramiden was designed as a true Soviet workers town complete with residences, a gymnasium and swimming pool, a cultural and social complex, cafeteria and the requisite bust of Lenin looking over the town square towards Nordenskiold Glacier. Apparently this is the most northerly located bust of Lenin in existence. He did look a little cold.

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Our guide in the town was a wonderful young Russian man from Siberia who was full of information, articulate and a pleasure to listen to.

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After two hours in the town which went far too fast, we reboarded our boat and headed for Nordenskiold Glacier. We had an excellent reindeer stew lunch while watching the approach of the magnificent ice field.

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Our visit was highlighted by sightings of our third and fourth polar bears on this trip,

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together with the magnificent ice structures, growling and cracking in the process of calving off from the main glacier.

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Although beautiful and awe inspiring, Nordenskiold glacier is a sobering reminder of the changes that are occurring in the Arctic. Two of the photos above show a mountain in the middle of the glacier. 50 years ago that mountain was invisible (covered with ice) and scientists have measured that today the glacier extends 2 km less distance out in into the fjord.

The glorious sunset on our way home highlighted the glaciers adjacent to Adventfjord.

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The perfect end to a perfect day was a group of Minke whales that appeared to lead us home 😀😀😀

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Tomorrow is our last day here, we board our Expedition vessel tomorrow afternoon. The weather forecast is glorious!!!!!!

 

Longyearbyen

The morning sunrise greeted us through our hotel window at 3:30 am. Still finding our sleep patterns 😴 – but the coffee machine yielded an excellent  brew and the view is world class from our room 😀 We are at the Polar Blu Radisson. If you go ask for a main floor room in the main building overlooking the fjord. Also don’t forget to take your boots off when you come inside the hotel – there is a huge boot rack to your left as you enter the hotel.

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Longyearbyen is the world’s northern most city (at 78+ degrees north ) with more than 1000 inhabitants. Just over 2000 people make this city, located by the Aventfjorden, their home.  The average age is 25-44, apparently no one over the age of 66 is a permanent resident. This is not a retirement Mecca. The mining industry which was the backbone of the economy here has moved elsewhere and tourism has replaced it. The town was evacuated during WWII but was returned to following the cessation of hostilities. It is now home to a University satellite campus as well as the Svalbard Global seed bank which contains millions of seeds, brought here from many countries, stored in case of global catastrophe. How people are going to get here to access the seeds if TSHTF poses an interesting question. That aside, good is being done as some seeds have already been withdrawn recently by Syrians attempting to rebuild agricultural communities destroyed by the ongoing civil war. The permafrost conditions make the seed vault invulnerable to power outages.

The geological history of Svalbard is fascinating – the rocks and sediments that make up this area are both world and time travellers. Some of the oldest rocks on earth are here. Carol sent me a cool chart that summarizes everything from a geological and evolutionary perspective.

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Our trip today was with Spitzbergen adventures and our guide was Erica. The day was excellent and we highly recommend both the company and our guide Erica as resources during a trip to Svalbard. Spitzbergen adventures can be reached at http://www.spitzbergen-adventures.com . Our explore Longyearbyen  trip took us from one end of the adventfjord to the other.

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Erica – a multi-lingual Italian expat who like so many people here came here fell in love with the place and came back to live – was an informative, awesome guide who filled us in in the history and biology of the area. Some interesting tidbits include the fact that no one is allowed to die here. Victims of the Spanish flu in 1918 that were buried here were perfectly preserved by the permafrost, unfortunately so was the flu virus that killed them. Since that time onwards all burials or cremations have been carried out on the mainland – some long time residents do have their ashes brought back to rest here.

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We were lucky to see reindeer, arctic bunting and barnacle geese today, plus incredible scenery and a couple of sled dog teams pulling carts – who knew????

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An added bonus was a visit to the Svalbard global seed bank. You can’t go in but we could go to the entrance. The compressors were humming away like a giant broody hen which I guess is a fitting analogy.

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The weather gods were with us as well. All in all a fabulous day😀😀😀

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Our flight to Tromso and on to Svalbard went smoothly. Got some photo ops on the way – out the window.

Approach to Tromso
Approach to Tromso

Once we landed in Tromso we had to deplane to clear customs ???  So I did finally get my passport stamp 😀. Then we took a circuitous route back to the plane. One passenger never did get back to the plane – we left without her – hope she enjoys her time in Tromso.

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Tromso

During my visits to Norway as a child we saw a lot of incredible scenery on the side trips into the mountains that we made but nothing like this place where we just landed. Svalbard (old Norse for cold coast) also called Spitzbergen (sharp mountains) was stumbled upon by oceanic explorers at the end of the 16th century when a Dutch mariner landed here. The old Norse and Icelandic sagas, which are fascinating reads, mention Svalbard as early as the late 12th Century. This place is absolutely stunning – I hope the few photos here will give you some kind of an idea of the raw natural beauty of the area.

 

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Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen

We have two full days in Longyearbyen (pronounced longyouben – I remember it by thinking of how long u been) before boarding our ship. Longyearbyen has a long history of whaling and coal mining activity. We are looking forward to a walking tour of the city and plan to explore the Svalbard Museum and area, as well as take a boat trip along the coast to Pyramiden an old mostly abandoned Russian coal mining town. Hope for some wildlife and other photo ops.

Hunting was the main economy post european contact with whales, walruses, seals, polar bears and foxes hunted from the 1700’s into the 20th century. Whaling probably peaked here l00 years after the Dutch landed. Once the whales were depleted, the Russians arrived after walrus and seal, then the Norwegians came targeting polar bears and foxes. Coal mining followed the cessation of hunting, mining’s decline was followed by tourists, with both winter and summer tourism now a driving economic force in the area.

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We have a wonderful hotel room with a view of the Fjord and the mountains. Have had a stroll around town – it is snowing – and plan to try reindeer for dinner. Will let you know how that goes 😀😀😀

En Route

After twenty hours of travelling we are in Oslo. Found Carol in Reykjavik airport and we travelled on together. the final approach into Iceland was stunning and I am really looking forward to exploring the country in three weeks time.

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Reykjavik airport is interesting. If you go here is the drill. If you are changing planes and heading on to the UK you will stay in area one right where you deplane and pick up your next flight. If your destination is somewhere else you will have to go through passport control and on to your gate. Washrooms are available but generally are just one stall and the lines are long. Best to go before you leave the plane. There is one place to get coffee in the area we were and the line stretched back to passport control. An interesting touch was the lack of any boarding call at our gate. A blue light went on and people started to move – we moved right along with them. The flight to Oslo was about 3 1/2 hours. Customs was virtually non-existent in Oslo, first country I have been to that didn’t stamp my passport or require any documentation.

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Our hotel – the Park Hotel was a three minutes easy walk from the airport. Turned to be a good thing as Carol’s bag didn’t make the offloading but ended up in the bowels of the airport baggage area due to a mis tag. After a light supper and some Syrah plus a nap at the hotel – 4 hours later back at the airport we had the bag and headed back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep. The weather is lovely and cool here, a welcome change after the heat and humidity of the last couple of weeks at home. Buffet breakfast at the hotel was like coming home in a way. Brunost (sweet goat cheese) pickling herring in sour cream, bread like Mom used to make, jams, other cheeses, sausages, eggs. All things my mother used to buy in European delicatessens while we were growing up. It is also nice not to look so different. Here we fit right in. In Vietnam/Cambodia , Africa and South America we definitely did not 😀

Longyearbyen here we come!

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The Arctic

I can’t believe I am finally going. Some false starts and a lot of planning and now I leave Saturday on a trip I have dreamt of since I was a child. While growing up we spent summers in Norway with my Grandparents who had a farm/homestead at Voss. The old farm is long gone, covered with houses, and Voss is no longer the sleepy lake town I knew and loved in the 60’s. However the Scandinavian/polar bug has always been with me.  For those of you who are interested in my route I have included a map for you. I start by flying to Oslo this Saturday and meeting up with my long time traveling companion Carol Peavey. We then travel to Tromso and from there to Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen north of the Arctic circle. We spend three days in Spitzbergen, touring the area looking for wildlife and exploring the old mining towns of the past. We then board our expedition vessel which will spend 15 days cruising the Arctic ocean , exploring the east coast of Greenland and finally docking in Iceland where we have three more days of touring before flying home.  I hope to be blogging as I travel – internet dependent. Blog posts should pop up on Facebook. In case they don’t,  my travel blog can be found at   http://www.travelswithanne.wordpress.com   I am looking forward to sharing the trip with you all!

 

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