Exploring Longyearbyen

Added 30 Aug 2012

There's no rush to get up early this morning, and everyone drifts into breakfast at their leisure. Some of us enjoy freshly made waffles once we've mastered the hotel's electric waffle maker! At around 11am, Richard and Dawn take all guest main luggage to a store room ready for transport directly to our ship. Hopefully, the next time we'll see this will be outside our cabin doors on board the MS FRAM. Lunchtime beckons and we've booked this at the nearby Kroa Restaurant. Kroa was built in 1998 and shows the history of the mining and hunting era. It is decorated with timber, old parts from the mines and seal skins. Lunch is a hearty portion of salmon with a chocolate brownie dessert, not together of course! After lunch we are reunited with Doreen for a 'city tour'. We first visit the Gallery Svalbard which displays permanent and alternating sales exhibitions including paintings by the "Master of Illumination" Kåre Tveter, historical maps, books and notes in the Svalbard Collection. After a glass of sparkling wine and some interpretation from Doreen, we see a short film which has been made exclusively for the gallery about the Svalbard Archipelago. We then have some free time to visit the Gallery ourselves. Purchases are made in the gift shop and we then head to our next stop which is the Svalbard Museum. Doreen give a very informative talk about the region and what we may encounter on our expedition and we also have some free time to do our own thing. More purchases are made in the museums gift shop! From here we drive to Svalbard's Global Seed Vault, a secure seedbank built into the mountainside just outside town. The seed bank preserves a wide variety of plant seeds in an underground cavern. The seeds are duplicate samples, or "spare" copies, of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. The seed vault is an attempt to provide insurance against the loss of seeds in genebanks, as well as a refuge for seeds in the case of large-scale regional or global crises. Construction of the seed vault, which cost approximately £5 million, was funded entirely by the Government of Norway. Storage of seeds is free-of-charge as operational costs are being paid by Norway and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Unfortunately, when constructing the building they forgot to put in an escape route in the event of a fire or an emergency, which means that no-one can visit inside at the moment! Outside, the two locked doors are not overly photogenic! Guests compare the Svalbard seed bank with the one at Wakehurst Place, where you can go inside and it's also a lot warmer! Anyway, all good fun. Back to the dockside, where MS FRAM is waiting. As always, we receive a warm welcome from the crew and are soon settling into our cabins and unpacking. We familiarise ourselves with the ship and collect our complimentary (and bright turquoise) expedition jackets. These will be jolly useful in the next few days as temperatures here are a little cooler than at home. The jackets have the destinations Norway, Greenland, Antarctica and Spitsbergen printed on them and it is very pleasing to know that some of guests have visited ALL of these places with Furlongs Travel. Thank you!

Before we sail we all join the mandatory safety briefing. A buffet dinner follows, and an evening landing! For most landings in Spitsbergen, the ship's guests are assigned to "Polarcirkel Groups". Polarcirkels are rigid inflatable boats that ferry us to and fro. The Furlongs team are assigned group number one so we're first off to explore Barentsburg, a Russian mining settlement. We climb 270 steps from the dockside to join a local tour guide! He is one of only 7 people in Barentsburg who speak English. Having said that, there was a change of personnel at Barentsburg that day and 4 of the 7 English speakers took a flight back home, so now there's only 3 to chat to! We enjoy a very good introduction. About 450 people live here and the mine is in use 24 hours per day via 4 shifts. Wages are good compared with mainland Russia and housing is provided. There's a canteen open 24 hours where the workers have their meals, plus a hotel for visitors, and a bar serving vodka of course. Our next stop is a large theatre building to watch a special folklore show produced just for our ship guests. The show comprises 3 women and 3 men, who sing traditional Russian folk music to a backing track. Our local Barentsburg tour guide is also the M.C. and controls the music backing track! The Russian folk songs are either about a boy and a girl falling in love, or sometimes about a girl and boy falling in love! After about 20 minutes we know the script, but there's another 25 minutes to go! Afterwards, we make our way down the steps to MS FRAM. We head to the bistro for a hot chocolate before bed.