Difference between revisions of "Barentsburg"
Revision as of 12:27, 16 September 2012
Barentsburg (Баренцбург) is the only remaining Russian settlement in Svalbard.
Barentsburg is named after Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who (re)discovered Svalbard in 1596. The Russian state owned Trust Arktikugol has been mining coal here since 1932, and during the Cold War Barentsburg was a veritable hotbed of activity as the Russians attempted to expand their zone of control over the islands. After Pyramiden was closed in 1998, Barentsburg has been the only Russian settlement still operating, with some 400 inhabitants as of October 2008 and some 100,000 tons of coal exported yearly. For the moment the mine is closed due to a mine fire and will probably not be in production before late 2009.
The population of the settlement has been steadily decreasing in the recent years. Many buildings are not inhabited, and some are left to decay. Combined with a truly stunning setting for the town when the weather is clear enough to see across the Isfjord, and the black smoke from by the old coal power plant, the visit will leave a strong impression on the few who come here.
Orienting yourself in Barentsburg is easy enough. It's some 220 steps up the stairs from the dock to the settlement, where more or less everything is along the main street, ulitsa Ivana Starostina.
Barentsburg has a heliport operated by the Russian company SPARK+ with one Mi-8 helicopter. Trust Arktikugol can only use the helicopter service within the limits of its activities as a mining company, and chartered tourist transport is not permitted. The flight between Longyearbyen and Barentsburg is about 15 minutes.
There are no roads to Barentsburg, and it's a two days solid hiking from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg on foot in the summer. The easiest way (starting from Longyearbyen) is to head off from the end of the road in Björndalen, go up on the mountain of Fuglefjella, continue past the valley of Grumant and descend to the coast along a small creek after 2-3 kilometers. The hike should take about 6-7 hours. The night can be spent in either the Rusanov cabin outside of the old mining settlement of Coles Bay (closed in 1962) or in one of the buildings of Coles Bay itself (recommended in summer only). The next day is a slightly longer hike (7-9 hours), but in flat terrain, crossing the Coles Valley and contiuing along Kapp Laila before arriving the heliport at Heerodden outside Barentsburg. There is a road from Heerodden to the settlement itself.
In winter, travel by snowmobile is a more popular option and day trips are offered by tour operators in Longyearbyen — it's a fantastic ride and well recommended.
Barentsburg is easily covered on foot.
Day-tripping tourists get about 2 hours to see the sights, and for most this is plenty.
The Norwegian currency kroner are used in Barentsburg and prices for touristy activities are adjusted to Norwegian levels.
Locals eat at the canteen for the equivalent of about 40 kr per meal, but tourists aren't allowed to eat there as the locals don't pay with cash (all employees in Barentsburg are issued a card for all monetary transactions). Tourists will normally be limited to meals at the hotel (about 125 kr per meal), and the hotel offers two meals per day (breakfast and dinner). Credit cards are accepted.
The Cafe-Bar 78 Parallel, in the canteen building right on top of the stairs leading to town is currently closed as of September 2012, accordingly for some "restoration" work.
The hotel's bar serves up Russian vodka, cognac and champagne.
There is precisely one public accommodation option.
The Barentsburg Hotel has a post office for sending mail. It's a branch of the Longyearbyen post office and thus uses Norwegian stamps (and Norwegian prices), but they do have their own postmark.
There is a small Russian consulate on Barentsburg, which could theoretically issue you a Russian visa. (Don't count on it though, certainly not without checking ahead.)