Longyearbyen …

After Barentz put Svaalbard on the map in 1596 hunting of whales, seals and walrus soon followed. Because of over-exploitation populations and profitability soon declined. From about 1715 the Russians began trapping for the fur trade. Norwegians soon followed. Coal mining began soon after 1900, one mine is still in operation. Tourism is now the main driver of the economy.

As you walk around Longyearbyen the various threads of its history are still apparent. Old mine buildings are dotted about, you can buy furs or even a stuffed polar bear. If you are going off the beaten track you should take a rifle but please don’ take it into the post office …

The buildings are modern, there are several hotels, some restaurants, a small but fairly busy port. There is a supermarket, tourist shops and sporting goods stores. It is snowing heavily at the moment but in the valley the ground is mostly free of snow, the snow mobiles are parked now and unlikely to be used until summer is over. It’s after 10.30pm but it’s as light as it was at midday.

It is a very strange mix of a place, it’s the furthest north that people live and work but it doesn’t remind me of Greenland, Iceland, Alaska or northern Canada. It’s polar frontier meets Europe. I feel about as far from Australia as it is possible to get.

Click on any of the pictures to enter a little gallery put together over the last few days …

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