Although the focus of my recent trip to Svalbard was wildlife, Longyearbyen, the town where we boarded our ship, is interesting and colorful enough to warrant its own post. Longyearbyen is situated at 78 degrees latitude, in the middle of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, nearly 1,000 kilometers from the Norwegian mainland. It spills down the Longyeardalen valley to the shores of Adventfjorden, an embayment in the much larger Isfjorden.
|The upper part of town|
The most striking feature of Longyearbyen is its colorful buildings, painted following a color scheme designed by Bergen National Academy of Arts under commission from Store Norske, the current coal mine operators. With four months of 24 hour darkness, and a blanket of snow from horizon to horizon for even longer, the color must be invigorating to inhabitants. In the sun the buildings are brilliant.
Less obvious, at least initially, though just as ubiquitous, are the old aerial cables and cable cars, once used to carry coal from mines to port, but now reminders of the Longyearbyen's coal mining heritage. In fact, Longyearbyen is named after John Longyear, the American whose Arctic Coal Company began mining operations there in 1906.
|Look closely, just below the lower cliffs, to see remains of mining operation|
Longyearbyen claims a number of the world northernmosts, as in the world's northernmost seed storage facility, the world's northernmost university, and the world's northernmost church.
I found the accommodations comfortable, the food tasty, and the people kind. Based on the number of shops heavily stocked with all kinds of expedition gear, it is clearly a jumping off point for many kinds of outdoor adventures. As you might expect from such a remote spot the prices are not cheap. Except, that is, for yarn. We found yarn in a coffee shop, the grocery store, and in a clothing shop, all reasonably priced. One could do a lot of knitting during the long winter night in Longyearbyen. My daughter bought yarn for three different projects and I picked up this Arne and Carlos book of patterns for felted slippers.
The slippers would be perfect in Longyearbyen where it is customary to remove shoes before entering a building, restaurants, hotels, and museum included. After practicing Fair Isle knitting this summer I should have no trouble with the patterns. Once I have figured out the Norwegian, that is.