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ARCTIC ADVENTURE – Second Trip Report / Svalbard (December 2012)

Following on from yesterday’s post documenting my first few days in Tromsø, and subsequent departure for Svalbard, I thought that I would add a second post now documenting my experience in the land of the polar bear.

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We only came up for 24 hours, and came purely for tourist reasons, to say that we had been to the most northerly permanently inhabited place in the World. That said, these past 24 hours have been amongst some of the most magical that we have had so far on this Arctic adventure of ours.

The plane that came out was a larger one than those that we had been on previously, partly as Svalbard airport only takes one scheduled flight a day, and partly as all of the supplies for the community, and items such as newspapers, often come in the hold of the passenger planes.

The Flybussen that took us from the very basic two room airport was fantastically rustic, the ticket machine that the chap had was akin to one of those old fashioned ones that they used to use on London buses back in the war-time era.

Longyearbyen is the actual name of the town that we stayed in, and the settlement is wonderfully small, and basic. None of the modern day trappings, just really homely looking places, surrounded by twinkling fairy lights up the main street. It is surrounded by massive mountains, and vast mines, and has a real sense of atmosphere about it, especially in the darkness.

From September through April, Svalbard is encased in a pure inky blackness, there is literally not a light in the sky, and even the starlight is greatly reduced. I admittedly found the gloom to be a little too oppressive towards the very end of our stay there, but I can only imagine how bizarre it must be for the locals, having to alternate between total darkness and absolute sunshine!

We stayed at the Radison Blu hotel, it being one of a few options, and I am very glad that we stayed there. It was nice enough, and was actually originally used back on mainland Norway for their Winter Olympics, before being dismantled and rebuilt hundreds of miles away on Svalbard.

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My main problem with the hotel was that it was full of tourists, if honest. Tromsø has been so delightfully local and refreshing enough so that suddenly having to deal with brash tourists who refuse to follow local customs, such as taking off shoes when entering a building, really got on my wick. When I holiday, I like to try and blend in as much as possible and respect local traditions, and it was a shame to see so many people disregard this.

The hotel itself had an amazing brasserie, where we dined on the Thursday evening. To start, I had Rakfish (a cured and fermented local fish) with sour creme and shallots, and Max had various pickled herring varieties. Mains were reindeer steak for me (which, incidentally, is to die for!!), and Max went with their lamb Christmas offering. Pudding was a Cloudberry cream dish, served without the usual cake accompaniment, as they’d not had any supplies come in from the mainland, but I thought it was all simply delicious and it got us both eating things that we would never have even considered back home! A pricy meal for sure, but it was our big treat of the holidays, so we went all in and had a great one.

In terms of Longyearbyen itself, there genuinely is nothing there. You can walk up the main (and pretty much only) street in about three minutes, and the shops are really designed to be local amenities covering the essentials. We loved that they had a gorgeous town Christmas tree right in the middle of the street, which surely must, as everything else, be the most northernmost in the World too!!

The snow on a Svalbard was incredible – it was completely dry and crystallised, and when you picked it up, it literally just slipped through your fingers. I’ve genuinely never seen snow like it before. I did make the mistake of going off the beaten track at one point, and the snow went up over my polar boots, and covered my knee! I had to get Max to help pull me out :-P

It seems that it must be pretty much the law on Svalbard to have a real stuffed polar bear in your entrance way, pretty much everyone did, including the airport, haha!

I also saw the cutest husky ever outside the hotel in a parked car, and it was fun to see people zipping about everywhere in the darkness and between all of the mining equipment and mountains on their snowmobiles and sledges (one we even saw being pulled by a family pet dog, heh!).

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We are currently on a plane back in to Tromsø, in order to check in to our final set of lodgings – an idilic mountaintop apartment overlooking the town, and from where it is apparently possible to see clearly the Northern Lights from your window/sofa! Max and I have fallen in love with the style of the houses in the Arctic, and so absolutely cannot wait for this.

Tomorrow, we have also just booked to go with a Sami lady (Sami is the local rustic traditional culture – and so we are really hoping to also experience some of their ways of life) to go on a sightseeing trip by boat out to see humpback whales which have literally just arrived in the fjords off the coast of Norway, and are an incredibly rare sight at this time of year. Certainly there is much excitement about the town that they are here. Having experienced disappointment with trying to book whale watching excursions in the past in Reykjavik, I cannot tell you how hyper I am at the thought of this unexpected excursion – literally cannot wait!

My final trip post will probably come next week. In the meantime, do please keep checking my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for random comments, pictures and progress reports on how this trip is shaping up!

As I mentioned in my last post, pictures will follow, but only when I am back in the UK, as they are all on my camera.

Until next time…!

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