To Russia with Love

(All photos of town below are of Barentsburg)

The USSR, currently Russia, established a couple of towns in the archipelago; Pyramiden was abandoned in 1998 and Barentsburg, which is still an active town today. Both are accessible by boat or snowmobile in the winter. We had hoped to go to Pyramiden but boats were unable to dock.  During this time of year, the ice loosens and moves and can block the dock and prevent the boats from anchoring. It’s a great time to take a boat ride though, you might catch a walrus, seal or polar bear floating by on icebergs.

There is a certain mystery surrounding Pyramiden.  It’s as if it was abandoned over night. Some say that a plane crash killing 141 residents contributed to its rapid descent and eventual evacuation.  But it happened over a period of several months and the weakened economy was also a factor. Many things were left as if people just walked away and never returned.  A few Russians now remain in the town to operate a hotel to accommodate visitors overnight. You can read more about it in this interesting article.  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/soviet-ghost-town-arctic-circle-pyramiden-stands-alone-180951429/

 So instead of Pyramiden, we headed off to Barentsburg.  There are no roads that lead there.  It’s accessible by boat, snowmobile or helicopter.  We took the boat from Longyearbyen and across the way to  first see a glacier before heading to Barentsburg. It was a full days trip. To give you a reference, it was a two hour leg from Barentsburg to Longyearbyen.

The boat cut through ice to get as close to the glacier as possible. 

At a certain point it stopped, going as far as was safe to go. The boat was now wedged into the ice.

To my surprise, the boat crew lowered a wooden ladder from the side  of the boat onto the ice. 

That’s me!

Passengers had to put on life vests and were welcomed to walk on the ice. It was incredible!  That was my second highlight of the trip! 

Once we were all onboard, the boat had to backup out of the ice. We were then enroute to Barentsburg.  The crew BBQ’d whale and salmon on the deck and lunch was served. 

Once we docked, we were greeted by an old, I’ll assume, Russian bus…correct me if I’m wrong in the comments.

We had a walking tour of the town from a Russian woman who shared the history of the town and pointed out the architectural features.  Many of the buildings are painted bright colors.  So much of the year the landscape is white and colorless.  The colors and murals add splashes of cheer. 

The town’s size is approximately 400 people but can reach 550 during its peak season.  The main industry is coal, as was Pyramiden.       

On the day that we arrived , so did the Russian priest…it was just a coincidence!  He lives full time in Oslo, Norway but comes to town several times a year to deliver special services.  Although the towns people had their own special Easter celebration on Easter, they were able to finally gather for an official service with the priest a week later. 

My favorite building in the center of town is a small, wooden church.  It’s really too small for many people to gather in so they hold most services in the community center. 

Groceries and supplies are delivered to town every 2 months.  That requires a lot of planning ahead.  I’d probably starve to death if I had to buy food that far in advance. Luckily there’s a restaurant in town that many people frequent because the prices are very affordable and they have the opportunity to catch up with friends and neighbors.  Speaking of neighbors, I ran into one myself. 

How awesome is that!  We live 20 miles away yet meet in a small town in the arctic circle. Barrett, his brother and two Norwegian friends were off on a four-day snowmobile adventure.  

After walking through town, we took a short, entertaining bus ride back to the dock. The bus was rocking to the beat!

The visit to Barentsburg was too short.  Although the town is very small, there was a lot more to explore. I would have enjoyed a drink in the local pub and perhaps a lively conversation about Putin andTrump!

There is a hotel in town for those who would like to visit overnight.

During the boat ride, I had the pleasure of meeting Ingunn Solberg Sandholm. She’s a 65 year old teacher from Levanger, Norway.

When asked:

What’s the best thing about Svalbard?

She had come to visit her nephew who is living in Longyearbyen  but is also drawn to the mountains and the nature in Svalbard.

What makes you unique?

I was actually surprised by her response.  Earlier in our conversation, she shared with me that every Friday morning at 8 AM she joins a group of friends and goes swimming in the sea.  Keep in mind that she lives in Northern Norway.  She has been doing this year-round for eight years.  In the winter, since it is dark all day, she wears black clothing so when she leaves it to swim, she can easily find it contrasted against the snow.  To most Americans, this would stand out as unique.  When I lived in Southern California, people thought you were daring if you went in the water during the winter there.

What is also unique about Ingunn is that she makes women’s clothing.  You can check out her designs at http://designingunn.blogspot.com/

The views from the boat were spectacular!

I didn’t catch the history of this little abandoned building in the middle of nowhere…imagine!   Here’s a link with a little bit of information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumant

I would love to get a peak into the lives of others…hmm, reminds me of a German movie I love.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lives_of_Others  (Well worth watching!!)

“Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.” –Mikhail Gorbachev (Russian Politician, Environmentalist, Social Activist, 1990 Nobel Peace Prize Winner; b. 1931)

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