Friday, August 17, 2018
The main town of the Svalbard archipelago is called Longyearbyen and that is where the airport is together with harbour, shops, hotels, museums etc.
Its a small but very pleasant place whether you're working locally (e.g. at the satellite ground station) or a visitor waiting for their boat. There's a path for pedestrian heading up the centre to avoid the roads, even though there isn't much traffic.
I don't know whether it is busier in winter or summer as a lot of the activities rely on dark skies (aurora watching) or snow (for the snow mobiles). In the summer the latter stand idly by, waiting for winter:
There are hotels and restaurants for all budgets, from hostels to 4* luxury, from simple bread and soup to 12 course Nordic tasting menus (we found 10 courses enough and all totally yummy plus instagram-friendly).
Svalbard has an unusual status in that it is part of Norway (i.e. there is Norwegian sovereignty)
but it has a separate legal status under the Svalbard Treaty. This meant that we had to go through passport control to/from Svalbard and the shops are duty free.
The Svalbard Treaty allows signatories to engage in commercial activities there and in particular Russia has a mining town on Spitsbergen and many other countries research bases.
The harbour is very busy with boats coming and going. Chatting to my neighbours on the plane I found that they too were joining a boat (an icebreaker in their case) and that seemed to be common among visitors.
Some of the boats were dull tourist cruise ships but others had character:
Many were busy beavering away to fix repairs for the short time they were in port:
I went down to say hello to the crew of Valiente and got a friendly hello-see-you-tomorrow so left until then as they were clearly in turnaround mode.