W1610 – Russian Folk

In my previous post, W1610 – Mint Glaciers, I described how I had stayed up into the early hours viewing first glaciers, and then the Russian mining settlement of Pyramiden.

Just a few short hours of sleep later I was back up on deck to watch us approach our second port of call in Svalbard, another Russian mining settlement called Barentsburg. The port was too small for us to dock, so we came to a halt in the quiet and still fjord beside the port, and I took this photograph of two of the ship’s tenders preparing to shuttle passengers ashore:

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Barentsburg started as a Dutch mining town in the 1920s, named after the Dutch explorer Willem Barents. In 1932 the Dutch sold their mining concession to the Russians, and since then coal mining has been conducted by the Russian state-owned company Arktikugol. At it’s peak the population numbered over 1000, but that number has steadily declined over the years. Like Pyramiden, Barentsburg is increasing tourism as a way of boosting the local economy. Although only around 55km from the largest settlement Longyearbyen, there are no roads connecting Barentsburg with it, instead ship, snowmobile or helicopter must be used.

The ship offered just two shore tours in Barentsburg, a guided tour of the town, and a concert of Russian Folk music and dance. The guided tour sold out too quickly for me to book a place, so I was on the folk concert tour.

Alighting from the ship’s tender, apart from a crane all that was on the dockside was this port office:

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A long wooden flight of steps, around 270 in all, then led up to the town:

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After a short pause to regain our breath, we were then led to this modern looking building for our concert – it held both the concert hall and a museum:

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I was pleasantly surprised inside at the size of the concert hall, and the steep rake of the seating providing an excellent view of the performers. The show was a mixture of ladies dancing in various beautiful costumes, and mixed musicians and singers performing a variety of songs. Each performance earned enthusiastic applause, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show which was over all too quickly.

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Various motifs on the walls of the theatre provided a reminder of it’s Russian origin:

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As we left the concert hall the dancers were lined up for photographs, and they all bowed whenever anyone thanked them for the show. Stepping outside we were then left to wander around the town, and to catch a shuttle boat back to the ship in our own time.

Looking around, the Russian ownership of the town was very obvious, starting with the second most northerly statue of Lenin in the world – the most northerly being in Pyramiden.

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Many of the buildings looked very smart from the outside, but talking later to fellow passengers who had been on the guided tour it seems that this refurbishment has mainly been external to give a good outward appearance, while inside the buildings often remain in a poor state of repair.

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The building that impressed me most was this school building adorned on all four walls by striking, if a little faded, murals:

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I also saw this monument to coal, and the small but attractive church:

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From the town there were some good views of our ship waiting in the fjord:

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As I took the wooden steps back down to the quayside I passed this rather forlorn building, an example of the poor state of repair of quite a few buildings in the town:

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On the quay I stopped to take some photos of the local birds:

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On the quay this lovely husky dog was attracting some attention. It’s owner explained that it was a former working dog, but was now living it’s retirement as a ship’s dog on a small tourist ship tied up to the quay. As I kneeled down to take a photo of the dog it came up to me and wanted stroking and rubbing, the second husky to befriend me in Svalbard.

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Before I boarded the tender I took this photo of the view down the fjord to another glacier:

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Postscript Later as we sailed away I took took these photographs of what was sadly our last sights of the stunning Svalbard scenery:

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