Thursday, 15 August 2013

Welcome to Svalbard. We are from Russia

Longyearbyen wasn’t much like an Arctic desert today. Rain was pouring down when our new passengers entered the ship. The adventure started with a guided bus trip around Longyearbyen. The community here on 78 degrees north has only 2000 inhabitants, but it was a lively scene this rainy Thursday. Students at the university are starting a new semester these days, new roads are being built, a research station is building new satellite antennae, miners that are off duty are enjoying their free time, and kids that has been on the mainland for summer holiday are skating in the city centre.

Onboard the ship everybody was quickly checked in, got the blue expedition jacket, participated in the mandatory emergency drill and Fram was ready to set sail for the Russian settlement Barentsburg. Dinner was served on the 2 hour sail while Captain Rune Andreassen welcomed everybody onboard. For a week we will all be curious explorers under his command. On the pier in Barentsburg local guides where waiting for us to give us a tour around their town and sharing stories from their daily life. It's funny how you just 2 hours from the multicultural Longyearbyen you can be in Russia. Without presenting your passport at any border suddenly the population speaks Russian. Both Longyearbyen and Barentsburg are under Norwegian sovereignty where Norwegian laws apply.

Our guide explains that the locals never use cash in Barentsburg. They have their own Barentsburg card which they use for all purchases here. This would be a great souvenir to bring back home and one of us asks if it is possible to get this card. With a smile on his face the guide answers that the only way to get this card is to sign a 2 years contract with the mining company running this town. After completed a contract they do get 2 months holiday and flights to Russia for free. According to our guide this is a good place to be and many of the inhabitants has already been here for 10 years. Many of the building here have been renovated and look very impressive. One of this is the hotel where we enjoy some time in the hotel bar, where we are also offered localy brewed beer.

For the grand finale we are invited to a folklore show in the community house. The dancing and singing is very impressive and going down the many stairs back to the ship we are all humming on the song “Welcome to Svalbard. We are from Russia”.