My first blog post about Svalbard, the diminishing realm of polar bears.
I’d already written a travel trivia post before, with some interesting facts about this far north Arctic archipelago if you’d like to know more about it and its history, but this one will just be a short one about my very first contact with it.
There are two ways of arriving to Svalbard, either by boat or by plane, and both of them will take you through Norway, because Svalbard is technically a part of Norway as an independent province. Svalbard and Jan Mayen is the full name of the group of islands and only the largest one, Spitsbergen, is properly inhabited and possible to visit in terms of tourism, as the other areas are only populated by researchers and the coal mining industry. The largest settlement of 2000 people is the town of Longyearbyen, which is where the airport is located and where I arrived to.
I was supposed to be on a 1 am flight, but the weather in the Arctic region is prone to sudden changes and our flight got delayed due to a sudden storm, so we finally flew in at around 3 am from Oslo, which is where all flights to Svalbard leave from. Since I was visiting in June 2019, which is the period of the midnight sun in the Arctic, the view flying in was incredible, both above and below the clouds. The photos below are actually the only reason that this is a separate blog post, because they seemed too good not to share.
Above the clouds
Due to Svalbard’s remote location, the flights to reach it are obviously quite expensive, but it is possible to get a cheaper price if you choose to fly in late at night like I did. I used the time to spend a day exploring Oslo and it worked out rather well, so I’d recommend this option. I was sitting next to a Polish guy on the plane, who was taking part in a geography research expedition to Svalbard as part of his studies and got to spend several months there. To be honest, I was pretty jealous of him by the time my trip was over, but he was the perfect company on the plane, because we were both equally ridiculously excited about going to Svalbard.
First look at Svalbard
We flew into the Longyearbyen airport in the perpetual Arctic twilight of the midnight sun season and as you can see from the cover photo, I couldn’t have been more excited to finally reach my northern destination. Since there are more polar bears on Svalbard than people, we were greeted by a life-sized polar bear in the luggage claim area and a view of the snowy mountains and the steel grey Arctic sea right outside the terminal. From there we took a bus into Longyearbyen to our respective accommodations, as walking around by yourself without a rifle is unsafe on the island. There’s always a chance that a random polar bear will wander into inhabited areas looking for food and attack, so everyone is required to carry a rifle or stay with someone who does and the people of Svalbard even leave their car doors unlocked in case anyone needs a place to hide from a polar bear. Consequently, the relatively cheap (about 5 € for students and 7.5 € for adults in June 2019) airport bus is timed to plane arrivals and departures, which is super convenient.
The airport and my first steps in Longyearbyen
Speaking of unlocked doors, I was couchsurfing in Longyearbyen during my visit to Svalbard, because accommodation is unbelievably expensive. Since my host worked as a chef and had to get up early in the morning, he left the door unlocked for me to arrive whenever I would in the night, so I had a bit of an adventure finding the right house to walk into (my back up option was sleeping in the church in town, which is apparently open 24 hours, but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to test that theory). Although the bus driver dropped me off on the right station, it took me a bit to orient myself in the right direction and find the house, and even longer to realise which door to choose, as I didn’t want to just barge into someone else’s flat. I managed it though and I met 3 other great people besides my host in that house, but that’s a story for another time. 🙂