Thursday, August 8, 2013

Exploring Longyearbyen

After one of the most terrifying boat rides of our lives, hot showers, and a good night of rest, we finally awoke in the comfort of Spitsbergen’s guesthouse. As we reluctantly left our warm, rock-less beds, we gathered with our groups to explore the town.

Now that we are back in Longyearbyen we started the day by looking at the built environment in some areas. We focused on buildings similar to the ones that we observed in Pyramiden last week. The weather was cloudy but not cold. The little town of Longyearbyen was full of tourists traveling with a cruiser, loaded with about 2 000 people. This gave light to the fact that there are no sidewalks here. The traffic suddenly felt a bit chaotic. So, although Longyearbyen is a great tourist attraction no effort has been laid on this matter until today. The houses are mostly built by wooden material and the buildings are quite new and modern. The settlement area in southeast of Longyearbyen gives a Scandinavian feeling and it also looks modern with its minimalistic style and living colors.

After exploring on our own, we hiked up to one of Store Norske’s abandoned mines on the side of the mountain. Since it was built before 1946, the mine is protected as cultural heritage. Protected sites represent valuable history and the legacy of Longyearbyen’s development as a town. Even though the old mine is no longer in use, the site is maintained with minor repairs to keep the building stable and safe. Tourists are allowed to enter the mine and freely explore the old mechanisms and technology of coal mining. Inside, we saw how workers transported coal from the entrance of the mine through sorting rooms, conveyor belts, carts, and down the mountain on an aerial ropeway.

After touring through three floors of the mine and finally stopping at a “NO ADMITTANCE: DANGER OF SUFFOCATION AND EXPLOSION” sign, we retraced our steps past rusty carts, gaping chasms, and creaky stairs out to the rocky mountainside. Looking down on the winding roads of Longyearbyen, we hiked down and returned to our dormitories ready for real dinners, hot showers, and warm beds.

Linda Qiu, Nathalie Hamsund and Dongwan Kim

Photo credit: Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who traveled during summer 2013 to Stockholm, Sweden and Svalbard, Norway to participate in the interdisciplinary course, “Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic,” provided by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-organized with KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Course participants from both universities learn about issues related to climate change and the Arctic, capped by an excursion to conduct field research near the Arctic Circle. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant, and is an initiative of the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational Research Exchange (INSPIRE). Student blog entries also appear on the web site of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

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