Zip Over to Barentsburg on a Snowmobile With Me
What adventures will we find in Barentsburg?
In fact, that's the only way to reach this Russian community in the winter. since there are no roads between Longyearbyen and this Russian city in the far frozen north. In the summer the only way to reach it is by boat.
It was so weird to enter a village and see no cars, small roads…only snowmobiles and parking lots filled with them, like tiny cars.
Our first stop was the hotel for lunch. I loved this etched glass mirror with the infamous polar bear on it.
In a brochure it said we could spend the night in Barentsburg, but this wasn't available to me at the time....too bad.
The Russian lunch at the hotel was included in the trip cost. Some sort of indistinguishable meat and I forget what else, except for the unforgettable plum juice...very thick pulpy plum juice.
Since we were a rather disjointed group of about 8 people and we all knew some English, I tried to unify us by drawing everyone into a joint conversation. This effort worked, but also brought on a distressing coughing spell for me. I had to leave the room which also gave me an excuse to see the hotel better...a dingy wooden sort of place. One bright spot was this etched polar bear glass door.
When I returned, I just couldn't finish my meat. The flowered aproned babuskas (well, anyway, that seems like a fitting name for these husky Russian women) took away our plates and shook their heads and snickered their disapproval at me wasting my food.
I was sorry, really I was. I don't like to waste food....but...
Then there was a Barentsburg town tour! A young slender lady took us down the long main street towards the end of town by the sea to see the "church." This tiny building is the church. After a disastrous plane crash where several residents, including many children were killed, the townspeople decided they needed a Christian church. Well....I hardly call this a church, more of a memorial. As we passed the school the indoor swimming pool was pointed out although they didn't take us in to see it. They fill the pool with sea water, being right on the sea, and, supposedly more healthy. Somehow I imagined it to be sort of green looking.
They were proud that usually they win the swimming competition that takes place with the students from Longyearbyen, which has it's own pool. (Now that one I not only saw but used daily...a beautiful pool with a large window for the wall that faced the mountain...mmmm, so nice.).
A store where local handicrafts were sold was our next stop in Barentsburg. I was thrilled here. A simple affair and very sparse, it still offered me the chance to buy colorful hand knit socks...a treasure for this American. Also, a lovely fossil of a huge maple leaf. I'm a fossil nut. And since there aren't even bushes now in Svalbard, I love the fact that once there were giant maples.
(I sent this amazing fossil to some friends in the Czech Republic, but unfortunately, it never reached them. I hope someone is enjoying that fossil.)
Svalbard is famous for its fossils. Spring..later than May is a good time for fossil hunting.
Ummmm, maybe next time I can hunt for fossils.
Later, on a stop on the way home, my new oil rig chef friend from Stavanger said whincingly, "Oh....that store...." But, as I said, I was thrilled. I really enjoy those green and red socks!
Last stop in Barentsburg was a museum where a small admission was charged. Lots of fascinating rocks and what sticks out in my mind is a dinosaur track in stone....I love stuff like that....the mysterious world of yesterday! I never have enough time in these places and I'd already lagged behind buying my socks and my fossil. Maybe that's one reason why it's challenging to me to travel in groups...I'm just too slow and interested in everything. I was tempted to buy some "dinosaur eggs" at the museum....me and my rocks.
These happy guys were on their way to a birthday party. How can the world be so diverse, yet so alike?
In the snowmobile parking lot were postcard salesmen...and of course, it was me again who did some buying.
Hakan, our guide, got my stuff off of the sled and I presented it to the female city guide for her to pass out to the school children. When I said it was for the school children, she got a pleading look in her eye and said, "Oh, can my little baby boy have some of it?"
What could I say? "Sure," was my reply, knowing full well, that I'd just given her license to do whatever she pleased with all of it.
I'll never know what she did with it, we weren't invited into the schools. In Longyearbyen I heard tales about new shoes given to the Barentsburg school children that never reached their feet.
I've found Norwegians to be very caring and soft-hearted people. As one shopkeeper was explaining all the difficulties with the children in Barentsburg, she became teary-eyed.
So we left Barentsburg, this city of snowmobiles and long stark buildings and hand knit socks, maple fossils and happy people carrying birthday cakes.