Thursday, 8 September 2011

Embarkation Day

Occupied and abandoned buildings in Barentsburg
It was a fine sunny morning in Longyearbyen.  For most people joining us today there was a morning briefing in the hotel outlining the plan for today and tomorrow and describing how various systems and procedures function on the ship. 
Lunch was at the hotel which was followed a bus tour of Longyearbyen.  The comprehensive tour took us to a gallery and a museum and gave us a good understanding of what life in a high Arctic community might be like.  We arrived at the ship at 16:30 and before too long we had been issued a photo I.D. card and were escorted to our cabins.  At that point we could choose to open up a cruise account at reception, get a blue jacket (which was included with the trip!) or try on a pair of Muck Boots. The Muck Boots were part of a new boot rental program on board. So far it has been really successful.  People seem to love their Muck Boots.  
Sign in Barentsburg
In the dining room we enjoyed the first of many sumptuous meals to be prepared by Chef Johan Ludwig and his fabulous team in the galley.
At 20:00 we arrived at the pier in the curious Russian coal mining community of Barentsburg. Barentsburg is unique.  From the moment you step on the pier it feels like you have entered another world.  

Fram at the pier in Barentsburg
Mining for coal started here in 1916.  Ownership of the mines changed hands a couple of times but was resold to a Russian company in 1932.  The mines were nearly completely destroyed in WWII by the Germans but were rebuilt in the 50’s.  During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s work was sought after in Barentsburg.  It was very well paid and food was free.
Now Barentsburg is a community of 450 people.  The architecture is Russian.  Many of the buildings are abandoned and in a state of decay.  It has a feeling of a ghost town except people live and work there all year round.
We were met on the pier by two local Russian guides and were lead on a 30 minute tour of the community.  After the tour we were invited to a beautiful old  theatre where we were entertained with Russian folk dancing and singing.
We were reminded to be back on the ship by 22:45 as the ship was leaving at 23:00.