Svalbard: It doesn’t get any norther

1200 km away from the North Pole, four month of complete darkness, 60 percent of the land is covered by graciers. As I was scrolling down my weather app on the day before my trip to Svaldbard in the beginnngs of August, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Forecast for Longyearbyen: 13 degrees, 17 hours of sunshine. Sunset time: none. P1020989P1020978P1030011Our plane landed exactly at midnight and the sun was shining at the horizon. A couple of minutes later it was already going up again, without even been down. P1030034 There are more polar bears living in Svalbard than people. Four month long you can’t see them though because of the polar night. P1030038P1030052P1040756Longyearbyen (2300 inhabitans) is the northernmost settlement in the world. It has the northernmost brewery in the world, the northernmost post office in the world and probably the northernmost everything in the world. P1030075There are no trees growing in Svalbard, but plenty of woolgrass. P1030097P1030106On the 26th of August the sun sets for the first time. From this day on there will be 20 minutes of sunlight less every day – till the 26th of October, when the polar night begins. Until the 16th of February the day will be as dark as the night. But people who live here say that the eyes get used to the darkness. You just see the stars brighter and the northern lights help out as well from time to time. Despite the polar night: Svalbard has 1150 hours of sunshine per year. Not too crazy if you consider that the sun doesn’t set at all from the 20th of April till the 26th of August.P1030115P1030084During the summertime there are snow mobiles parking in front of the houses just like cars. Depending on the season completely different activities are possible in Svalbard. Aproximately nine month of the year the fjords are frozen. So most of the activities will be offered on a snow mobile or a husky sleigh. During the rest of the time you will be able to reach the glaciers on a boat or even in a kayak.P1030123P1030153P1030165P1030166The huskies have to run every second day during the summertime to stay in shape for the winter. It’s the other way around with the humans, right?P1030304P1030297Svalbard1I guess I lost the arctic tongue beauty contest.Svalbard2… before I put him in my backpack and ran away haha.P1030451P1030468A way faster than a dog sledding would be going on a quad. For example to the coal mines or the research stations outside the settlement. By the way: I’m wearing this moon suit because of the dust, not because of the cold.P1030501Exciting stuff is happening in Svalbard: they have an arctic University, which is part of the Svalbard Science Centre. It also features the Norwegian Polar Institute, EISCAT and Svalbard Science Forum. Svalbard Satellite Station was built because of Longyearbyen’s excellent location to download data from satellites in polar orbit – as a cooperation between NASA and the Norwegian Space Centre. All the guys I met in the pubs downtown seemed to be in some kind of a world changing arctic experiment. Or they were studying “weather”.P1030458P1030524P1030530Svalbard6P1030539P1030567P1030570That’s a demonstration how people used to dry seals in former times so the polar bears couldn’t reach them.P1030590Haven’t been to Longyearbyen without a picture of the legendary polar bear warning sign! From this point on you are only allowed to go with a gun. Every guide wears one, but they certainly mostly use them to scare the bears and not to kill them. From 1971 there were only five people killed by a polar bear. And you don’t really have to be scared: polar bears try to avoid people and don’t happen to walk around the settlement very frequently (mostly during the wintertime, if they get lost). For this case the doors of all the houses have to be open – so everybody on the street would be able to escape quickly.P1030593P1030622Svalbard has been discvered by the Dutch navigator and Arctic explorer Willem Barents in the 16th century. He was actually looking for the Northeast passage, but got stranded with his crew on Novaya Zemlya. He survived the winter in a house like this, which he built from the rest of his ship – despite of hunger, snow storms and polar bear attacks. We spent a lovely evening in “his” house listening to his discovery stories with a bowl of soup and Arctic beer.P1030672P1030630P1030633P1030628P1030822P1030680You have to take advantage of the time when the water is still liquid in Svalbard, so we did a two hour kayak tour along the Adventfjord to an aboundened coal mine.P1030696P1030712P1030746Around 1990 the population of Svalbard started to encrease because of the coal mines. Many of the buildings are ghosted now (the only mining still taking place in Longyearbyen is at Mine 7, located 15 kilometers up Adventdalen)…P1030748P1030785…but they are still perfectly fine for climbing around and having a hot cup of tea.P1030853I really neaded this after a day so close to arctic waters: salmon, potatoes, sauce. P1030874Meet Viggo Antonsen, our cool guide!P1030866The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure gene bank with seeds from plants all over the world (except North Korea, they didn’t want to join) and a capacity for 2,25 billions of seeds. The idea behind keeping them here that far from the rest of the world: in case of natural disasters, epidemies or atom war the copies of the important plants (like rice and wheat) will be saved and can be replanted again. It’s crazy that everybody thought (and hoped!) it would probably never happen, but Syria already asked for their seeds a year ago.P1030902P1030898Restaurant Huset ist probably the poshest one in Svalbard and it has – surprise, surprise – the northernmost wine cellar in the world. Fun fact: it’s also the only wine cellar in the world that has to be heated instead of cooled down.P1030907P1030858P1030931One of the coolest things I’ve experienced in Svalbard was a day trip on the Polar Girl to the Esmark Glacier. P1040654P1030935Polar bears are the iconic symbol of Svalbard and one of the main tourist attractions. And the chances to see one are not that bad: 3500 polar bears live in Svalbard and they love seals (so look after seals first). Polar bears can smell seals from 32 km distance and they need 50 to 75 of them per year to survive. Another fun fact about polar bears which will make you love them: While pregnant females gain the double of their weight (250 to 500 kg), but the newborn cub only weights 500 gr.P1040025P1040102P1040193We saw bearded seals (it’s really how they are called), puffins and even a walrus – but no polar bears.P1040227 2P1040221P1040280P1040600P1040246P1040372P1040354P1040328P1040651P1040673P1040605P1040720P1040733Don’t forget to just walk around a bit and explore the little stores and pubs of Longyearbyen! I already got the right hat for the freezing polar night month. Or for the next date.Svalbard4P1040680P1040751P1040753Also a cool thing to do inbetween: The Svalbard Museum explains the history and the nature of the region. And everybody will get his polar bear shot here. What a cold comfort though… P1040681P1040749P1040693

Flights: with SAS or Norwegian Airlines. Where to stay: Radisson Blu Polar Hotel from 80 Euro/p.p. and night. Activities: going in a kayak with Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, quad safari with Svalbard Adventure Group, dog sledding with Green Dog Svalbard. Restaurants and pubs I especially liked: Huset, Restaurant Kroa, Pub Svalbar, Karlsberger Pub. Local art: Galerie Storo. General information: visitsvalbard.com.

Leave a Reply


7 + = fourteen