Cruise to Barentsburg...

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
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Trip End Jul 07, 2006


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Sunday, July 2, 2006

I was aching all over when I woke up on Sunday morning, and I could quite happily have stayed in bed, but I had a full day cruise to look forward to so I eventually got up. For the first time since my arrival, the weather was quite poor with thick clouds and light rain in the air, but surprisingly I wasn't too despondent because it wouldn't affect the two main attractions of the cruise, namely our visits to the Esmark glacier and the Russian settlement of Barentsburg.

On the bus to the harbour I got talking to the two ladies who had to retire from the previous day's walk, as well as another smiley Norwegian lady who was travelling with them. I assured them that they had made the right decision as it was pretty tough, and they seemed relieved to hear that.

There were more people on this tour than on the cruise to Tempelfjorden, though it was the same boat. It wasn't overcrowded though, but it was very cold outside so straight after the safety briefing, I headed inside to secure a seat. I was joined by the three older ladies and we spent the rest of the trip together, making it much more enjoyable for me. The smiley Norwegian lady in particular was a real character and whipped out a bottle of Jagermeister soon after we'd set sail, and we all had "one for the road" even though it was only 9.30am!

We had 3 hours to kill before we reached our first attraction, but it flew by thanks to my older companions. We were joined by a German lady after I noticed her standing because there were no more seats available, and she later bought me a beer which was very kind of her. I don't think that she was short of a bob or two though, as she'd been to so many places including Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand and South America to name but a few. It was interesting to hear about her experiences but again, it just made me want to travel even more!

Soon after midday, and after scoffing down another delicious barbecue lunch, we reached the vast Esmark glacier. Just 5 days earlier, a polar bear had been spotted swimming in the water here, so we all kept our eyes open but I was more than happy to just see the glacier itself. This time we sailed right up to the glacier's face which was between 20-30 metres high, and was very impressive. I've seen a few glaciers in recent times but the way that this one led into the sea, and the sheer size of it, easily made it the most dramatic.

We continued for a further hour and a half before reaching the Russian settlement of barentsburg at about 2pm. This turned out to be a very interesting, unique place and our visit began with a short tour with an English speaking Russian guide. He showed us around the settlement and talked about its history, before we had about an hour to explore ourselves.

Naturally we went to the bar and had a shot of real Russian vodka, which was very very strong and created grimmaces all round. i also bought some Russian beer to take home, then headed over to the still standing bust of Lenin and the tiny community church that was built to commemorate the successive tragedies of 1996-97.

The first disaster involved a plane crash near Longyearbyen where 140 people were killed, many of whom were the families of the Barentsburg miners who were travelling over from the Ukraine. Just a year later, 23 miners died in a mine explosion, and for a community of only 800 people you can only imagine the devastation it caused.

On the hillside behind the town was a star with some writing in Russian, translated as "peace on Earth." There were also various posters written in Russian, and of course a souvenir shop selling everything from Lenin badges to babushka dolls!

The cruise back to Longyearbyen was great fun as we played cards for most of the journey, breaking off to see the bird cliffs again and to enjoy a couple of waffles each. We played a game called Svenska and I eventually got the hang of it, finishing second amongst the four of us which was respectable. Obviously there was also time for another shot of Jagermeister, and it became clear that these ladies were a bad influence on me! Seriously though, the cruise may have been a bit long and drawn out had I not met them, but instead it turned out to be another highlight and it was a pleasure being in their company.

I didn't get back to the guesthouse until 7pm, and I relaxed in my room for a few hours and got up to date with my journal. I'd been lucky in that noone else had been in my triple room during my stay, so in effect I'd had a single room at a very cheap price!

I was ready for bed at 11pm until I noticed that the clouds, as if by magic, had completely dispersed and the entire sky was blue. The weather changes so quickly up here, and I had to take advantage of this clear period, so off I went for a walk...

The surrounding mountains and glacier tongues were crystal clear, and it was very quiet in town, making it a really relaxing stroll. As the hands on my watch ticked around to midnight, the sun was beating down and I literally couldn't see a cloud in the sky. I took a few photographs and to look at them, you'd think that I took them at midday rather than midnight, but I can assure you that some were taken as late as 1am!

It simply doesn't even threaten to get dark at this time of year...
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