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Where the NEC tried many times with little result, the Russians thrived, creating a small mining empire under the pyramid-shaped peaks that gave this town its name – Pyramiden.

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It was actually a Swedish expedition in 1910 that initiated coal mining in this remote corner of Isfjord.  However the challenging conditions outmatched the promise shown in early prospects. In 1927, they sold to Russkij Grumant, a Russian mining company. Perhaps it was sheer determination or some crazy front for the SIS, but where most groups had limited or no success, this town persevered and was by and large, successful.

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We found quite a mooring – I think we were up to 9 lines to secure us (and the ladder) to the dock

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That ladder was as precarious as it looks – we used another collection of lines to fix it while we went ashore… At least we were sheltered from the 50+ knot winds blowing off the glacier!!

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As seems to be our habit, we went ashore around midnight to have a quick wonder around. And, as always, our little venture lasted waaaay longer than planned

 

This is the dock we moored up against! And here is a map of Pyramiden idenityfing all the buildings – it really was a small empire…

We obviously went straight for the hotel as that’s where we’d heard the bar was. Unfortunately it wan’t as easy to find as we originally thought.

Captain Haddock found a phone but we couldn’t get it to work very well. We later learned though that this was the best spot to get mobile service extending from Longyearbyen just a few miles away.

While there was hardly any wood about, there still seemd to be a need for sawdust… Here are some photos of the town as we wondered around, still looking for the bar…

Eventually, we ran into one of the 7 people who live in this tiny town. He didn’t speak a world of English but he did know the way to the bar. In fact, we got the vague impression that his role was to find confused tourists and make sure they went in the right direction.

The bar is in the hotel, which apparently still functions as a hotel for some of the year. The rest of the time it houses the few people who keep the place running. As it was well after midnight when we pitched up on the doorstep we weren’t expecting to be let in, never mind served local vodka! Well locally bottled – made in Russia somewhere.

A bit of history – Pyramiden thrived in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Workers came in on two year contracts and supplies were shipped in and provided free of charge. In typical communist fashion, everything was accounted for – sports center, swimming hall, cultural center, schools library, cinema and museum. Wages were good and with the political situation in the Soviet Union it probably wasn’t a bad option for a lot of folk. From 1955 to 1998, approximately 9 million tons of coal were produced. one million was consumed in the local power plant. It wasn’t easy – the coal was several meters thick but broken up by ”dislocations’, that combined with the harsh conditions, resulted in cessation of mining in 1998. The  area was completely abandoned for 8-9 years apart from the odd adventurous tourist. Unfortunately, those tourists did what any explorer might do and take souvenirs home with them. Apart from the ruins occurring over eight years of being left to nature’s forces, there were emblems missing, samples taken from a stuffed polar bear (all his teeth, patches of fur, claws, etc) and other artefacts that had been taken apart one eager visitor at a time. Perhaps that’s part of the reason the Russians came back in 2008. Or perhaps because the area was already well-stocked with radio transmission receivers and well-placed for listening in on America. But that’s just the conspiracy theory in us!!

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It’s hard to see in the photo but those lines were all something to do with radio transmission.

This was a building we found on the outskirts of town, made almost entirely of bottles cemented together. I guess there’s only so much swimming and culture people can handle.

After we’d worn out our welcome in the bar, we walked for another hour or so, seeing as much of the town as possible. We stuck our heads (and toes) in the old swimming pool…

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Then made our way back to the boat. The following morning we had a short walk in the other direction to see the old power plant. It is basically a big abandoned building now although it looks like someone’s pulling apart it’s insides, asbestos and all.

Interestingly, there was a fair amount of work going on near the docks – possibly to make them more accessible for tourists. Or perhaps to recycle all the old scrap metal that was piling up.

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Fortunately we didn’t have to tie alongside this dock:

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We left before we’d overstayed our welcome, and before the next boat of tourists showed up. Day trips are available here from Longyearbyen as well as cruise ship excursions. Time to head back to Longyearbyen and for Dr D and I, home to jolly ol’ England!


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