This year we were invited on a trip for the NYE weekend, and we could not say no to this opportunity. This was actually the first time travelling with someone! About midway between continental Norway and the North Pole is Svalbard archipelago. We went to Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s main settlement, situated at 78° north latitude. And it is the world’s northernmost settlement of any kind with greater than 1,000 permanent residents.
We flew out from Oslo Airport at 08:45 Friday morning when it still was dark, and as the flight ascended we finally got to see a hint of the sunrise but that quickly disappeared into the darkness the farther north we flew. And almost three hours later we arrived Longyearbyen Airport, and it was dark as night.
You have probably heard about the midnight sun, but at this time of the year, from the end of October to the middle of February, they have something called polar nights. That’s when the night lasts for more than 24 hours. Luckily for us it was the time around full moon, which gave us additional light when reflected in the snow.
We had booked hotel, tours and the New Year’s Eve dinner in advance since they all could be fully booked during this weekend, so we had (almost) the whole weekend figured out.
When we arrived the hotel we checked in, changed into warm clothing (long wool underwear is necessary!) and headed out to check out Longyearbyen. We went through some shops, and then to the super marked where you also can find ‘Nordpolet’, the liquor store. Since Svalbard is tax-free we wanted to take advantage of this and buy something to drink while we were there and something to bring home. To purchase tax-free alcohol you have to show your airline ticket or boarding pass, and there’s actually a quota.
Total purchase quota
(Note – this quota is more than you can take to the mainland tax-free):
– 2 liters of spirits/liquor
– 1 liter fortified wine
– 24 boxes/ bottles of beer
On the way back to the hotel we stopped by ‘Fruene’, the world’s northernmost coffee shop, to have a quick lunch. When we got back to the hotel we asked for advice on what to do, any walks recommended and so on. And the lady in the reception recommended us to take a walk to the polar bear warning sign, but not further (then you will be outside the red zone, which is not recommended to leave without a rifle (to protect you from the polar bears).
We started walking, but halfway we turned around and went back. It was freezing cold and it didn’t feel safe – it is just an open area with nothing around, so what if a polar bear shows up? Don’t think they read the sign and stop by that one.
And for what we where told the next day we made the right decision. If the polar bears come close to the town, this is where they will come because they will come down from the mountain and cross the road to get down to the ocean.
First trip we had booked for the weekend was dog sledding. None of the four of us had tried it before and we were so excited!
At 10am we got picked up outside the hotel. It was only the four of us and another couple – a small group is a big bonus! We arrived the dog yard in Bolterdalen a few minutes later and we were invited in to get some proper warm clothing. We got to borrow a warm full suit, thick boots, warm hat and gloves. And as a gift and to use on the tour we got a buffer (nice to pull over the nose to cover your face in freezing temperatures). We also got headlamps to see where we were going.
When all were suited up we went outside to watch them get the dogs ready, and Tommy, our guide and instructor taught us how to work the sled.
We were all divided into pairs; one couple in Tommy’s sled, another couple had their own sled with 6 dogs and the same with the last couple. Tommy went in the front, and Anja, a Danish helper in the back. It felt safe the whole time.
Jon and I had a rough start though… We were told that in the first downhill we had to break with the right foot and stand on the left (to turn left). But we didn’t make the turn and tipped over. No worries, we thought it was part of the experience and it was just fun. The rest of the tour went like a dream. It’s magical and pure joy to see the dog work their way in the dark. We were driving through a valley surrounded by mountains under a clear sky, and it was such a memorable moment. A bit over halfway we switch with another couple and went in Tommy’s sled.
After the trip we got to walk around and socialize with the dogs in the dog yard while Tommy and his team let the dogs loose and fed them, one by one. We could have stayed there and spent hours with those family friendly dogs. Some ignored you, but most of them wanted to be cuddle with; some standing on two legs while other dug their head up between your arms and belly really begging for it.
When we had spent some time Tommy and Janne invited us into their cabin for warm drinks, soup, Christmas cookies and wonderful stories from Tommy’s many experiences; such as Finnmarksløpet, the Iditarod (the world’s longest dogsled race) and even from the North Pole.
Husky Travellers is a small family owned company with a great passion and love for their dogs. We cannot recommend this experience enough! They have small groups and the personal experience that Tommy shares is unique.
The last three photos borrowed from Facebook.com/HuskyTravellers
The morning of the New Year’s Eve we had booked a trip to visit an ice cave. At this time of the year it is limited options, but the lady I spoke to from Svalbard Booking had one tour she recommended for us. We didn’t get that much info, so we were a bit surprised when we the very same morning were told that we had to hike up a mountain for about two hours (2,5km and 400 meters height difference to overcome). Did I mention it’s freakin’ cold?
We only have ourselves to blame; with a little more research we would have found more info.
We were driven to another hotel for our starting point. Some in the group had to carry hot drinks, and we had to take a decision whether to bring snowshoes or not. It wasn’t that much snow, but it might have been someone who wanted to try them. But then some had to carry them, so since no one felt the need to try we left them behind. We all got helmets with lights on, and when we were ready we walked outside towards the mountain. We walked in an easy pace with lots of short rest on the way up. When walking you gets warm so we had to open the jackets a bit, because you want to avoid getting hot and sweaty for then to be cooled down and start to freeze.
After one and half hour of walking we arrived the Lars glacier and the hiking became easier, and we could see the lights from another group outside the cave. When we got there we had to “climb” down a bit then crawl through the opening before we entered this magic wonderland of natural ice tunnels. Since it’s no wind and a bit warmer inside the cave we started off with a short break to have some cookies and hot toddy before exploring the 40m deep ice cave. This experience was totally worth the hike!
We then checked out another cave close by, where we had to slide 5-7m down (it’s easy to get down, but remember you are getting up the same way too). Inside we found ropes, and we couldn’t walk too long before the cave suddenly ended into a hole in the ground, which we had never managed to get up from again without more equipment.
The hike down from the mountain was so much easier, but you have to watch your steps. It was quite windy but we had clear sky and almost full moon and a nice view overlooking Longyearbyen. We even got a glimpse of the northern light.
Our guide Jørn Dybdahl from Spitsbergen Outdoor Activities was really great and took care of everyone, and walked in the back waiting for the slow ones. He had good stories to tell and made it such a lovely experience.
To have something more to do and to see more of the surroundings we wanted to rent a taxi for an hour and just drive around to recommended places. Since it’s the time of the polar nights it doesn’t matter how late it is, so after dinner we went back to the hotel and asked the receptionist to book a taxi for us. It’s not that many taxis around so we had to wait half an hour for the driver to come.
We drove a bit up in the mountain to check out some huge antennas that keep track of the northern light and stuff like that. We also wanted to get a nice view of the city and had a few stops along the way: Gruve 7 (mine 7) and Gruvelageret (for fine dining on Svalbard). Before going back to the hotel we had to just stop by the Global Seed Vault. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a fail-safe seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time — and the challenge of natural or man-made disasters. From all across the globe, crates of seeds are sent here for safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults.
– The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops. Each variety will contain on average 500 seeds.
– Currently, the Vault holds more than 890,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world.
– A temperature of -18ºC is required for optimal storage of the seeds.
– Each country or institution will still own and control access to the seeds they have deposited. The Black Box System entails that the depositor is the only one that can withdraw the seeds and open the boxes.
It’s not possible to go inside, but it’s just fun to have been there, and it’s a beautiful sight in the dark all light up.
The Global Seed Vault
New Year Dinner
As mentioned earlier we had booked the NYE dinner at the hotel, so when the tour was finished and we were back at the hotel we went back to our rooms to get a shower and dress up for dinner.
At 6pm the dinner hall was ready, set with long tables and Christmas decoration. It was a 5 course set menu (optional wine pairing), starting with an aperitif. All dishes was nicely garnished and tasted terrific. We started with a delicious creamy chanterelle soup, which might be my favorite dish. Next up was lightly smoked Arctic char. As main dish was reindeer fillet served with parsley cream, glazed root vegetables, potatoes and berry sauce. We ended it with a cheese platter and then the tasty chocolate crémeux with raspberry sorbet and meringue.
Between dinner and the New Year’s fireworks we spent some time in one of the rooms playing cards and just hanging out, having fun. Around midnight we were invited out on the terrace for a glass sparkling wine to watch the fireworks and welcoming the New Year. Such a great way to end 2017!
Where to eat?
During this weekend it looked like almost every restaurant we wanted to go to had a set menu, and we already had that for NYE so we kind of settled with ‘Kroa’, just because it was convenient. It was easy to find, no need to take a taxi and it actually was a really cozy place. The food and service was okay, but could have been better. We visited twice and the service the first time was terrible, and the food was not much to brag about either. The three of us had burgers and none of us were a fan. Jon had a nice steak though.
When we where there we had a look at the pizza, so the next day we decided to go back and give them a second chance, since we were up for pizzas anyway. And the pizzas were actually really good, so was the nachos. The service was a bit better too. So we might have been really unlucky the first time…
Everyone we have talked to who have been to Longyearbyen have recommended ‘Huset’, so next time we have to try it out. Nansen, at Radisson Blu Hotel, was also a restaurant we got recommended before we went to Svalbard, but we didn’t try that one either, except from the NYE dinner, and that was a delicious meal! ‘Gruvelageret’ looked nice too, so we have some options for the next time.
Radisson Blu Polar Hotel Spitsbergen
Situated in the town center of Longyearbyen, it is the northernmost full-service hotel in the world – 1,333 kilometers from the North Pole.
There is free, high speed Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel, and there is even a sauna and outdoor Jacuzzis, which is the perfect place to unwind after an incredible day of exploring. They also offer laundry service.
At the hotel there are two places to dine; the Restaurant Nansen and Barentz Pub & Spiseri. The hotel’s staff can help arrange outdoor adventures for you.
They also offered their guests to sign up on an Aurora Borealis-call list. In case there would be an amazing sight of the Northern Light, they would call all on their list 24/7 to let them know. How amazing is that?
TV-screen at the hotel with info about tours, flights, weather, temperatures, northern light, etc.
Want a stamp in you passport?
Stop by ‘Sportscenteret Svalbard AS’, close to Radisson BLU, and you can buy a stamp in your passport for 10NOK (it’s about 1€) as a memory from the arctic.
How to get from the airport and into town?
The price for the bus ticket is 75NOK p.p. (25NOK for children). For a taxi we paid 130NOK for the four of us, and it took us directly to the hotel without any stops. On our way back to the airport we took the taxi 70min before departure, which was enough time.