Svalbard is a group of islands administered by Norway midway between the mainland and the North Pole. The main town of Longyearbyen, (pop.2500 ish) is the world’s northernmost city and settlement occupied throughout the whole year. So, of course you will see lots of northernmosts e.g. airport, ATM, post office, university, museum and so on.
Due to the permafrost all buildings are built on stilts and you’re not allowed to die here as buried bodies never decompose.
On our arrival in the first week of February the temperature was a very reasonable -5C which gradually went to -25C and add another 10C for the wind chill. We even witnessed the sea freezing for the first time in a few years which the locals said could lead to polar bear bears coming into town. Because of the bears any person or group going out of town must register with the governor’s office and take their rifle with them.
We stayed in Mary-Ann’s Polarrig Hotel which was formerly the miner’s accommodation so the rooms are small but adequate, the toilets and showers are along the corridor but never a problem. There’s a lovely lounge area and a kitchen and table. Mary-Ann and her staff gave a very personal service, the atmosphere was very relaxed and homely, not corporate, and it was easy for guests to mingle and chat and even share food they’d prepared.
Get your snow boots, multi layers of thermals and head gear and gloves on and walk around the town. Everywhere there is a covering of snow and ice and in that cold there is a beauty and a serenity about the place. The pace is slow and the sun doesn’t shine but there is about four hours of light which can change quickly and on a clear day the colours are beautiful. Take your time and walk around to see the museum, the church, the sea, the town centre with the shops and only ‘supermarket’ and all the landmarks remaining from the days of coal mining (which carries on but on a smaller scale).
We started on a hike to the ice cave but gave up half way when the weather got rough but prior to the change it was clear and we had some beautiful views from a height across the town through the valley to the sea and the mountains beyond. A sight to behold.
A day out with the huskies was great fun, very informative about the dog’s behaviour and again with brilliant vista’s across the valleys.
On another day a taxi guide took us around and about town and even in the dark there are places and things to see that makes two hours fly by. The driver’s choice comment was that he hated driving with all the traffic at that time of day. We probably saw about a dozen cars.
We were also lucky enough to catch the polarjazz festival, but for us the highlight was the night when all the acts were the locals and they were very talented and extremely confident on stage. So much talent from such a small population says something about Longyearbyen (Longyear was an American and founder of the town).
There is an attraction about the place and one cannot help but think about the four months of no sun, the four months of all day sun, the short time of the thaw when there’s some flowers and greenery. Each season/time has it’s own beauty so one needs to make about four trips to take it all in and enjoy it.
We certainly aim to return.