After sleeping off our time at sea and saying goodbye to J we had a day in Longyearbyen to see the sites and replenish our stores before setting off again to explore. We started with lunch – these burgers were amazing! As was the beer and bloody mary…
Feeling full, we made dinner reservations at a local restaurant and then headed to the tourist information center for tips and possibly weather and ice reports for the next few days. We walked out with all sorts of interesting pamphlets and booklets to read, which I promptly lost. Then we browsed our way through the tourist shops down the “high street”- a pedestrian strip between two roads, which basically comprises the core of Longyearbyen – to the museum. Arriving just in time to wonder around and learn about some of the history and geography of Svalbard before they closed for the day. Still, we managed to make the most of it and learned about the various populations that have moved through Svalbard over the centuries – all of whom sound more rugged and determined than we can even imagine. Or perhaps, as D suggested, maybe it really is desperation that has brought many people here for whaling, hunting, trapping, mining. Now however, there is an effort to establish communities here, in Longyearbyen, Ny Alesund, etc; encouraging the scientific interests, working to preserve the Arctic and welcoming tourists to appreciate and learn about the area. There were also stuffed birds and foxes and the token polar bear, which seems to be a feature of most public spaces! This map was on a wall and it provides a nice perspective of where we are:
The little islands to the right of Greenland. Spitzbergen is the name of the main island we will be touring. There are some smaller islands dotted around, particularly on the northern and eastern sides.
After this, D and I went for fresh groceries and Captain Haddock wondered back to the boat to make sure the massive cruise ship docked next to us didn’t bounce us around too much when it left the marina. I realise I posted this picture in our last entry but I feel it’s so dramatic I need to put it up again!
Anyway, as one might imagine, we wanted to be nearby when she cast off. Interestingly, the cruise ship was spectacular – causing almost no wash as she pushed off. Unfortunately, there was a pilot boat guiding her out, who didn’t seem to care about any other boats – maybe he was having a bad day or something, but he caused such a wake that one of the fenders on the boat next to us burst! Fortunately they had quite a few out so no damage was done to their boat (or ours).
wondering around the town we came across various memorials to the mining industry, art projects (polar bear depictions) and kitsch typical of any tourist town… This must be where all Santa’s letters end up! Perhaps they then get sent to the north pole via airship.
We also couldn’t resist the polar bear road sign photo shoot. Captain Haddock our trusty gunman:
And all of us disappearing into the fog. Not sure we’d have much of a chance if a polar bear trotted along the road.
Interestingly, places like Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund are meant to be polar bear free zones, meaning they’re the only parts of Svalbard where it isn’t a requirement to carry a rifle when walking ashore. However, even without the fog, no matter how far we looked, we couldn’t see any clear demarcation that might prevent or even deter a polar bear from wondering into town. We eventually concluded that generally the polar bears would be put off by the people and traffic. Although we later heard from another sailboat that a polar bear had wondered into the middle of Ny Alesund and could be found loitering outside the marina showers! Fortunately there are people around who are much more qualified than us at managing those situations. While we really really want to see a polar bear, ideally it will be from the safety of our boat :).
As a true winter town, Longyearbyen looks pretty muddy and gritty in the summer time. The gravel mountains formed these brown, mucky riviers when the snow melted. And walking around all day left us feeling like we’d been covered in a layer of dirt. Parts of Svalbard are meant to be green, but this wasn’t one of them!
I was taken by this setup, which we saw everywhere, of summer and winter transport lined up together.
The town has a real industrial feel to it, reinforced by the remnants of mining operations in the area. Up the hill in the fog behind D is an old gondola for transporting goods from the mines. And another photo of the turnaround point.
It is easy to make friends with other yachtsmen – here’e Captain Haddock getting to know the crew of Mae West while helping them ashore in their dinghy. Not everyone bothered to come alongside in Lonfyearbyen, partly to lack of space and partly, as we noticed the second night, because it wwas rather expensive! We ended up casting off around midnight to find anchorage and save a few krona.
We also met a very jovial crew on Rabalda when they were moored up next to us on a precariously rigged pontoon. Capt H served as their official photographer at dinner – in fact he did the rounds of the restaurant for all the tourists! All the crews ended up in the same restaurant for dinner – Kroa. Apparently all the materials were brought over by the Russians from Barentsburg, including a bust of Lenin that sits behind the bar. D was impressed with the booze selection.
There is a fair amount of administration required for boats visiting Svalbard. Captain Haddock did most of this before we arrived but we still had to check in with the Sysselmannen when they opened on Monday morning. This is the Sysselmannen’s office, and a bus stop just down the hill for those snowy days.
We had a quick wonder around the old town, particularly to see a set of steps that locals use to mark the start of summer (spring?). The tradition goes that when the sun reaches the forehead of someone standing on the top steps, a week of celebrations begins to mark the beginning of days. Interestingly, Svalbard has only four to six weeks of what most of us know as day and night. The rest of the time the sun either doesn’t set or doesn’t rise over the horizon. Here are the steps, a remnant of the old town, prior to German invasion in WW2. Unfortunately, despite Norway trying to remain neutral during the war, the were invaded early on by the Germans as Hitler wanted the northern sea routes. Thus they became part of the allied forces and much of Svalbard was attacked and essentially flattened by the Germans. Anyway, these steps to the hospital were essentially all that remained.
All registered with permission to travel from the Sysselmannen, we headed back to Hal to re-fuel and set off. This proved a bit of a challenge as we were at the mercy of a very stressed out harbour master, who seemed to be acting as dock repair man, pilot driver, fuel provider and generall all round disgruntled worker. Eventually he found one of his men to help us out though and we headed off.