The past six weeks have been a total nightmare and I didn’t think I would be going to Svalbard. Immaturely, I was more upset about the fact I’d have to miss this trip I’ve dreamed about for years than the fact I was ill. We didn’t know for sure if we would be going until the day before, but thankfully I felt ok and decided I was going to go anyway.
Svalbard is 78° North and the last land stop before the North pole (which would be pretty difficult to visit, as it’s out on the sea ice and moving slowly all the time). During the polar night the sun never rises and temperatures are normally very, very cold. I say normally, because sadly due to global warming when we visited it was relatively mild, dropping to -6° at the lowest point but staying mostly around freezing.
Svalbard is the world’s most Northern town and it has more polar bears than people, so you can’t leave the settlement -Longyearbyen- without a weapon.
It took us four flights to get there and we stayed for just four days, but it was one of my favourite trips we’ve ever taken.
I underestimated just how dark it would be, without any light pollution you could barely see in-front of you without a torch so all the camera gear I packed my only luggage with turned out to be redundant and I took almost all of my photos on my iPhone. I considered not blogging about the trip because the photos are of such poor quality but decided to do it anyway, so I apologise in advance for the photo quality!
There are no direct commercial flights to Svalbard from the UK and for the dates we wanted, flying direct to Tromsø and then onto Svalbard wasn’t possible. We ended up flying from Heathrow to Stockholm, spending the night in Sweden before flying out to Oslo, then Tromsø, then finally onto Svalbard. We were in the air for a total of 7 hours but only got 3 hours sleep in Stockholm, so I felt jet-lagged the next day which I didn’t expect. It did give me time to catch up on the books I had been reading; I finished re-reading all of Harry Potter, finishing the Deathly Hallows and reading The Cursed Child script. I also read Girl On The Train (whilst being a girl on the plane).
I’m a nervous flyer, something which has got worse in the past year and I’m not sure why. On takeoff I often burst into tears like some kind of Final Destination extra and it’s just irritating and embarrassing. I was determined to get over my fear of takeoffs on this trip, given I would be sitting through 8 of them in a four day period. I read a book about flying before hand and brushed up on all my facts, which really helped. The first 20 seconds or so whilst taking off are before the plane reaches decision speed (V1), before which it can stop at any time and the runway length has already been calculated for this. After that point, the plane can take off even with complete failure of an engine and is far better off in the sky. To help my nerves I shifted my focus from anxiety by counting to 20, feeling the nose lift then continuing to count until 2 minutes had passed. It’s so simple but after doing this for a few takeoffs I was completely fine and had several completely anxiety free flights which I’ve never had before. This isn’t a post about aviation or anxiety but given how well this simple trick worked for me I thought I’d share it!
We arrived in Longyearbyen to complete darkness. The airport is outside the settlement so walking back to the hotel is not advisable, instead we got the shuttle bus which stops at all hotels (of which there really aren’t many). We stayed at the Raddison Blu Polar Hotel which had huge windows and panoramic views of the big mountains surrounding it.
It’s customary in Svalbard to remove your shoes when entering a house, as back in the day when it was only a mining community people would be covered in coal. The hotel had somewhere to put your shoes and once inside we wandered around in just our socks which gave it a really laid back feel. The restaurant was posh and occassionally a cruise would dock and people dressed to the nines would come for dinner. They served whale meat and occassionally polar bear which I thought was horrible so out of principle we didn’t go there for dinner, but breakfast was served in the main restaurant room and it was really cosy. At breakfast they lit a fire and each table had a little lamp.
Also in the hotel was a pub frequented by locals and we ate there each night instead. Dark accept for lamp light, they played music and did an epic veggie burger so it was a nice spot to relax in after a busy day of exploring.
Whilst hanging around the hotel we braved the cold to jump in the hot tubs which were a great spot to keep an eye on the night sky for any sign of Northern lights.
Longyearbyen has three main roads which join in a T shape; Each takes about 5 minutes to drive along, so it’s a small village. Beyond the town are massive fjords, glaciers or mountain scapes which can only be traversed by snow mobile or on foot and of course with a weapon. The town itself is a mining town, although only one mine remains open in the town now. We visited the shops and I noticed the same faces who had driven the bus, or worked in the hotel, or who I had seen on the plane.
Svalbard is mostly Arctic tundra, besides the small settlement of Longyearbyen we stayed in and a Russian mining settlement not far from there. There’s a university department for studying glaciers, climate change and other Arctic phenomena Svalbard is perfect for and lots of scientific research stations. It really felt as though we were tiny ants in a giant and wild place.