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Pole to Pole

Day 7: Longyearbyen

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleEveryone in Ny Alesund was rather rude about Longyearbyen, and certainly as capitals go it is no beauty. It is another coal town, largely the property of the Store-Norsk Company, but unlike Ny Alesund, coal is still mined here and there is fine black dust in the air, trucks on the road and housing blocks set out in severe grid patterns down the sides of the valley. It is ironic that the chief product of this treeless island should be fossil fuel. There is a theory that at one time Spitsbergen lay near the Equator and was covered by tropical forest.

In my spartan room at Hotel Number 5, the information sheet on Longyearbyen reads more like a company report than a tourist brochure. The settlement was founded in 1906 by an American, John Munroe Longyear. For ten years it was run by men only but in 1916 the Norwegians bought Longyear out and the first women were allowed to accompany their mining husbands here. The population today consists of 250 women, 250 children and 550 men. 'However,' it adds, a little ominously, 'there are still important differences between Longyearbyen and other small towns in mainland Norway. Here there are neither pensioners, handicapped people, nor persons terminally ill.' I half expect my door to be flung open, and my birth certificate and pulse given a snap check.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 7
  • Country/sea: Norway
  • Place: Longyearbyen
  • Book page no: 23

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