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Published: November 28th 2007
Longyearbyen has been anything but a damp squib. The flight alone was riveting, and I spent an hour and a half with my nose pressed against the window of the plane. There wasn't much to see, but that was part of the interest. It was 45 minutes after leaving Tromso that I spotted the first piece of land. Bear Island (Björnoya) sits roughly in the middle between Tromso and Spitsbergen. Before we spotted that I saw a solitary fishing ship sitting in the middle of nowhere, probably a day away from the nearest port. From the looks of Bear Island I hope he wasn't going there to dock. The place lacked even a solitary light from what I saw, so god knows where you'd go if you docked there. It was entirely snow covered from top to bottom. There aren't any bears there, but an early explorer spotted one, named the island after it and the name stuck.
After Bear Island the next land seen was the southern coast of Spitsbergen, another 45 minutes away. Even in the Arctic darkness of 1pm in Spitsbergen you could tell this place has some spectacular landscapes. Rocky peaks covered with snow forming deep
Huset restaurant and bar against its mountain backbdrop
white valleys everywhere. It looked like what I'd expect an Arctic climate to look like, which pleased me no end. The picture was helped by the clear sky and full moonlight creating a blue glow on the ground. It was incredible.
Longyearbyen airport is surprisingly modern if not small (that's what you get in a community of 2,000), and I was told this evening that it only opened in October, but I'm sure I read that it has been there longer. Again, what do I know...
The bus ride into town again had me riveted to the window for a sight of anything, at all, which is asking a lot in the Arctic's polar night in November. I didn't see much other than snow and a reasonably sized boat at the dock.
I was delighted with my inspired choice as we pulled up at the Radisson Polar hotel. Very European minimalistic (i.e. expensive), and a marked improvement on the simply spartan Thon Polar in Tromso (much less expensive). From this I can only assume that Radisson has a more luxurious interpretation of the word "polar" than Thon. My money would be on Thon surviving for longer in
The warning sign just outside Longyearbyen
the Arctic wilderness! Thon can do it with 4 walls and a roof and a short wooden bed, Radisson do it with a sauna, 3 eateries, and 17 TV channels.
The weather was almost as kind to me as it could have been. The sky was relatively clear, which along with the full moon, light up the valley in a blue glow. The view was stunning and as much as I could have expected to see. If it looks this good in the pitch black then I'd be fixated when the sunlight returns. There was a bit too much cloud to see the northen lights, but I'm told that Spitsbergen is actually a bit too far north to are see the northern lights. How can you be too far north to see the northern lights, which are supposed to be in the north?!
I did my best to take some photos which did the place justice, but being totally technologically incompetent have probably botched the job dramatically.
Joanna and I are coming here for a holiday in April 2009 when the 24 hour sun comes back and that's it decided, foot down! Just like our trip to Oz in September 2009, on which the foot is also down.
I took a 2 hour taxi tour which was a great insight into the town. It brought us to every edge of the town, and even beyond it into Adventalen. It was great to leave the town's lights behind us, and we even saw some of the reindeer and huskies. This place is incredible and I will be back, with Joanna, whether she likes it or not.
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