As I was celebrating a fairly significant birthday this year, one of my very good friends set about planning a birthday surprise for me. All I knew was that we were leaving the boys behind, and going on a girls weekend away, I didn’t know where, I just knew I had to take a couple of days off work! So, it was a great surprise and hugely exciting to find out that we were headed for Svalbard.
For those who are unfamiliar with the location, it’s a series of Islands in the Arctic Circle. They’re part of Norway and lie 78 degrees North above Norway. The island we were headed for is called Spitsbergen, and the town is Longyearbyen. To fly there from the UK, you go via Oslo, with a short stopover in Tromso.
We arrived Saturday evening around 8pm, and it was bright daylight. I loved that the first thing you saw on leaving the airport was a signpost with many key cities, and their distance from us. Of course, even better is the warning triangle sign against Polar Bears!
We had booked a couple of boat trips in advance, and planned to book the rest when we arrived.
On our first day, we headed out on a big trawler boat called Langoysund, and visited the Nordenskiold Glacier. We could see it from some distance away, and it was only as we got closer that the majestic and sheer size became clear.
We sailed as close as we could towards it, but it had only been a month since the ice had begun breaking up, and so there was still a considerable distance that was solid ice before the glacier. So, once we got as close as we could, we settled “stuck” in the ice and barbequed on the boat! Whilst we were there enjoying lunch, we saw many birds … including these gillemots.
There were even seals on the ice (you have to look very hard, but check out the black dot on the ice in front of the glacier)
What was most fascinating was that when the sun came out from behind the clouds, the glacier turned bright white, but when there was no direct sunlight on it, the glacier was the most exquisite blue, and photographs do not really do it justice.
After our lunch we went on to visit an abandoned Russian mining town. Until 1998 the Russians had mined coal in Svalbard. Pyramiden was abandoned, although now has a couple of people living there in the winter, and a handful more in the summer. It is very eerie to walk around a large town without anyone really living there beside the noisy kittiwakes! We had to visit with a guide, who had to be armed, because even though the last sighting of a polar bear was over a month previously, there is always a risk that a young male polar bear may wander through the area!
So we walked around a ghost town, that features the “most northern” swimming pool, the “most northern” kindergarten, the “most northern” hospital etc. We walked around the sports hall, where everything had just been left abandoned.
It was a fascinating visit to a town that was without inhabitants.
On our second day we headed out on a rib, fully suited in waterproofs provided by the boat company. We sped out across the water to see a second glacier called the Van Postbreen glacier.Like the first glacier, it was at it’s most impressive when the sun was hidden behind the clouds.
It was a fun filled, jam packed three nights away … and an absolutely fascinating place to visit. Shops have sign posts outside asking people to leave their guns in the locker. Hotels have shoe racks where you are expected to leave your shoes so that you don’t scuff up the beautiful wooden floors. You walk around at midnight, and your brain tells you it’s midday (your body knows the truth however!).I’d definitely recommend you visit if you can. Next time I am going in Winter!!
More photos are available on flickr, found here