Monday 1 September 2014

Day 1, 21.08.2014, leaving Longyearbyen and visit to Barentsburg

The first day on the boat started with sunny and great weather. After boarding 212 passengers from 16 different nations, Fram left Longyearbyen at 1800 hrs. After getting their new blue jackets handed out, all guests were ready for a great adventure. And it already started after 10 min when we got our first great arctic experience; a curious polar bear peaking in windows on two legs and roaming the area on Reveneset.
After a delicious dinner we came alongside the pier in Barentsburg at 2100 hrs. Barentsburg showed its self from its best side with beautiful weather and local guides met us and took us through Barentsburg history and daily life. This Russian coal-mining township has been known as the most atmospheric old settlement north of the Arctic Circle. Recent months the township has gotten a major face-lift partly because the Russian government wants to increase the tourism.
Grønfjorden, where Barentsburg is located, has for centuries been a resting place for whalers and a camp for hunters. Industrial activity started the first decennium after 1900, with whale-processing base and coal extraction. After that several companies and nationalities’ had been extracting coal, the settlement and the surrounding areas passed on to a Soviet state-owned company in 1932.
The settlement was largely destroyed during the Second World War, but was rebuilt again in 1948 and 1962. During the Cold War the settlement was base to suspicious activity as for example an oversized helicopter base.  Before 1990, there was between 1100 and 1450 inhabitants and included kindergarden, school, a large hospital, a library, a large research centre and a swimming pool. But with the end of the Soviet Union the settlement endured a hard time in several ways. In 2000 Russia started to remember its remote outpost on Svalbard again and its strategic value; more subsides are now given, research is coming back and a new mine is being established. Today the number of inhabitants is around 470.
After ended tour we got some time to stroll around before heading for the Cultural house where the locals, including men from the mine, had set up a very warming and nice folklore show.

After waving goodbye to Barentsburg at 2305, we sailed northwards along Prince Karl’s Forland. Some of the guest went up in the bar to enjoy their first beautiful evening on Fram, while others said goodnight and headed for a well-deserved sleep.