I can’t even remember how long ago it was since I heard of Svalbard for the first time. It has been a small dream of mine to actually go there. And when I least expected to visit Svalbard, I got a great deal from SAS and just had to take my chance and go there. Found a great deal on AirBnB. It was a local guy who rented out a mattress in his living room.
Reasons to avoid hotels
I’d rather stay with a local guy than live in a hotel. There’s two reasons for this. The first is always about money. A hotel on Svalbard is expensive, and the only thing I really needed was some roof over my head. The second reason is that you get closer to the island when you live with a local. Getting to know the place from a deeper perspective, hearing about stories and seeing pictures from his own trips is much more fun and developing than to sit quiet in a hotel room.
A soft start on my ATW trip
So the trip began pretty good, left home at 4am. First flight was to Oslo, from there to Tromso and then finally to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. First thing I noticed when I stepped out of the plane was the fresh air. It was the special smell and taste you sometimes can feel during a cold winter morning here in Sweden. And the complete opposite of the warm wall that slaps you in the face when stepping out of the plane or airport in warm places near the equator.
How I got in on a boat trip
Got to know some people on the flight. It was a group of five guys going to Svalbard from the Swedish west coast. We shared a couple of beers, had fun and talked about everything. I asked them if they had planned any excursions on the island. Apparently they had a full schedule. On Saturday they had a boat trip to Barentsburg planned. This was a trip I tried to find but never did. At least not for the dates I was there. Later on during the flight, one of them said. We miss a guy who got sick and couldn’t join us for this trip. And that means we got a spot left over for the trip to Barentsburg. So they offered the spot to me and it made me really happy!
First walk around town
I got to Svalbard on Thursday and was really tired. But still having a couple of hours of daylight left, I decided with the help and guidance of the local guy I lived with, that I should take a walk around town. Weather started to get a bit ugly, just as one can expect from a place like Svalbard. Didn’t matter so much for me. It was fun with snow, maybe not so much with the wind. Only thing troubling me was that it was almost impossible to take decent photos in those weather conditions.
Nothing was yet planned for Friday, and on the morning I just called a company that offered dog sledding tours. I didn’t really know what to expect. To be honest, I’m more of a cat person. But this was totally different. The dogs were so happy to see us and somehow they just caught my heart. We were divided into two groups with two persons each. Not only did we got to ride a dog sled, we got the chance to collect each dog one by one and harness them to the sled. It made the trip feel more special since we collected all the dogs and got a little bit more personal with them. Weather was very bad, it snowed sideways but the dogs were happy to pull us and get away from their camp. After the trip we fed the dogs and puppies.
Snowfall and the museum of Svalbard
It was snowing from the minute I landed on the island and still continued snowing almost 24h later and it was at least 20cm snow now. From the excursion I went straight to Svalbard museum since it was on the way back to my host. The museum was pretty interesting. Got to know about wildlife, history of Svalbard, coal mines, how people used to live, about how the mountains on Svalbard can be dated back many hundred millions of years.
The snowfall ended sometime during Friday evening. I took the chance to try and take some night photos of Longyearbyen from different places around the village. Got a couple of okay shots. When I was the furthest away from the village, the feeling of a polar bear nearby grew. Didn’t see anything and it was most certainly just a feeling. Checked over my shoulders several times, trying to listen for sounds, but it was all in my head. Probably because my host showed me a map of were a polar bear was sighted a year before and I was close to crossing the path. Better to be a little bit paranoid than being surprised by a big bad albino teddy.
Saturday was the day I looked most forward to. A boat trip to a russian settlement called Barentsburg. Didn’t really know what to expect from this day trip. Everything started out good, we got a good and funny guide who explained how the day would look. And the trip began with a long sunrise with beautiful colors in the sky and on the mountains. The boat had a small bar located inside, which I of course visited pretty quickly and need I mention, frequently. My friends sat down at a table next to the bar but I was more interested in the scenery and sunrise.
Whisky with 10.000 year old glacier ice!
Our guide warned us about a rescue drill during our trip towards Barentsburg, involving a helicopter. And after maybe 1,5-2 hours a helicopter came and lifted up two persons from the boat. Took quite some time and felt like it should’ve been done quicker. But it was cool seeing the helicopter maneuvering above our boat on the move. Later on we got to Esmark glacier. The asian crew got ahold of a piece of ice from the glacier. They cut it into small pieces and served whisky with 10.000 year old glacier ice. Maybe it doesn’t sound like anything special but there was definately something about it. By the time I finished off the whisky, it was time to have lunch. We got served some rice and sallad plus some grilled whale meat and salomon. First time ever I tasted whale, and it was actually good.
The trip continued from Esmark glacier towards Barentsburg. When we disembarked in Barentsburg, we got ourselves a guide. She talked for a while and then in the end we got to go around freely. Barentsburg recently opened a brewery. Strange thing was that the russian brewery (Krasniy Medved) only produced light beer (2.5%). It tasted pretty good though. And after that I ran around trying to take photos from different spots before leaving back ‘home’ again with the boat.
Came back at around 18:00 and my roommates asked me if I wanted to join them for a hamburger at coal miners cabins. Just after we finished our meal, someone came in and told us that she saw the northern lights. So we hurried out and saw the phenomena. Stayed out for hours, drinking a couple of beers and watching towards the sky full of stars. Northern lights disappeared rather quickly but I still managed to get a couple of photos. Even got a picture with several separate shooting stars and northern lights. Tried to count all the shooting stars but it was hard. The quality wasn’t the best on that photo since it was one of the first shots i took and the canera settings weren’t adjusted yet.
My thoughts on Spitsbergen
This was a wonderful trip. Special in many ways. A weekend is enough though if you don’t plan on doing a long safari. Doing a week long safari in the middle of the winter would also be awesome. Either with a dog sled or snowmobile. But it’d be great to visit during summer when the sun never sets. The place is so quiet, you see lots of stars during night time, the air is fresh and everything is so peaceful. Totally recommend Svalbard for anyone who wants a new and/or different experience!