7/20/2011 2:47:28 PM
Svalbard Adventure: Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen, Norway, is without question the most beautiful, quaint, well-kept town in all the Arctic, or at least all that I have visited. Typically one would see poorly maintained, washboard, dirt roads, and little if any pavement, junk piled high outside every villager's house, caribou skins hanging from the decks, moose meat drying on wooden racks, antlers hanging from roof peaks, beat-up trucks, old tires, disintegrating snow machines, tools scattered near and far, and a dog on a chain barking! That's what most of the villages I've seen look like. But Longyearbyen is different.
On our ride from the airport to town we traveled comfortably on a well-maintained, paved road with not one pothole that I recall. It was a civilized journey of several miles. Longyearbyen sits in a little valley. At the head of the valley is what remains of a glacier. The streets of this town are mostly paved, including the path that runs the four to five block length of this community. Colorful houses line the settlement edges, but businesses make up the core. Along each side of the hamlets central path you'll find retail shops. There's one for groceries and household items and two or three that sell extreme and not-so-extreme outdoor adventure gear. You'll see Patagonia clothing and Coca-cola, pizza and lutefisk (fish soaked in lye), bicycles and snowmobiles, sundresses and survival suits.
At one shop I called the Dead Animal store, you could buy the most beautiful seal skin boots I've ever seen. More disturbing, you could also purchase a polar bear rug, a musk ox hide with head and horns, a skinned wolf face snarling with fangs, a full-bodied arctic fox mount, several other unidentified animal furs, and magnets with a polar bear photo. All of these items were presented in surroundings that resembled the look and feel of a log cabin with the exception of highly polished but natural wood floors and a checkout register that looked more like a computer. Longyearbyen is maybe just a bit over-civilized for me.