Arctic Introduction – 3 Days in Longyearbyen


  • Day 1: Fly from Chicago to Stockholm
  • Day 1/2: Fly Stockholm to Longyearbyen
  • Days 3-5: Exploring Longyearbyen
  • Days 6-15: Quark Cruise:
    • Day 1: Longyearbyen
    • Day 2: Smeerenburgfjorden
    • Day 3: Liefdefjord, Worsleyneset and Moffen
    • Day 4: Hinlopenstretet and Alkefjellet
    • Day 5: Chermsideoya
    • Day 6: Fjortende Julibukta and Blomstrandhalvoya
    • Day 7: Bourbanhamna and Camp Miller
    • Day 8: Alkhornet and Forlandsundet
    • Day 9: Longyearbyen

Dates: June 10-23, 2015

Our Odyssey:

After twenty-four hours of
travel, we arrived to the land of the midnight sun at, appropriately, midnight.
And yes, the sun was high in the sky. We wouldn’t see nighttime again for 2
weeks. Longyearbyen, the only real city in Svalbard (if a town of 2,000 can be
considered a city), would be our base for the next few days before we boarded
our expedition cruise with Quark, which would take us to various spots around
the archipelago in search of wildlife and stunning scenery.

Svalbard is technically considered
part of Norway (in the same way that Greenland is technically part of Denmark),
but it is well north of its Scandinavian mother. Look at Norway on the map. Now
go north, up to where northern Norway meets ocean. Now look slightly west, and
a bit north more, to where your eye is lined with latitude of the northern part
of Greenland. That somewhat triangular chunk of land is Svalbard. Voila!

Longyearbyen, located on a fjord
on the western part of the main island, was founded in the early 1900s as a mining
town, drawing from the rich coal reserves in the surrounding mountains. As
early as the 1600s, however, whalers came to this region and developed small
whaling settlements. Nevertheless, the region’s population would never exactly
be what most would consider “booming.”

We took a shuttle (the only one
in town) from the airport to our hotel near the town center (only about 3 miles
away). We had booked a room for 3 nights at the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel –
which boasts its status as the world’s northernmost full-service hotel. Calling
it full-service is a stretch, but you can’t argue with its northerliness.

The excitement and all the
daylight seeping in through our blackout curtains in our room kept us from
getting a full night sleep, but we didn’t have anything on our agenda for the
next day, so we had ample time to rest and recover from our long travel the day

That evening we peeled ourselves
out of bed and ventured out of room- all the way to the hotel bar a few steps
outside our building. At the bar we ordered some Norwegian beers and overpriced
pizza and settled in to play a few games of cards. This caught the attention of
the bartender, a smiley guy about my age, who quickly became my favorite
bartender ever. Friendly and humorous, while still polished and professional,
Odd (yes, that’s his name, and he confessed that when he studied abroad in the
US this got a few laughs) spent quite a bit of time chatting with us during his
shift. Aside from fun socialization, befriending the bartender certainly has
its perks- he brought us complimentary trays of local dishes featuring lobster
and Norwegian brown cheese with jam on a waffle, as well as samples of local
aquavit. About that Norwegian brown cheese though – it looks like peanut butter
with the consistency and slice-ability of a American cheese, and it tastes
primarily sweet with a hint of salty nuttiness. It’s delicious, and the waffle
and jam combination is fantastic.

So needless to say, with all the
good conversation and complimentary drinks, we stayed at the bar for quite some
time and may have been a bit hungover the next morning – which was inconvenient
as we had signed up to do a hike up a nearby mountain and over a glacier.

We were outside waiting for our
hiking guide to come get us right on time that morning, but after waiting for
an hour, we realized something was wrong. We went to the front desk of our
hotel to ask if we could use the phone to call the company, and when we spoke
with the receptionist, she said, “Ah, yes, we got a phone call from them
last night with a message for you, asking if they could reschedule you for the
afternoon!”. Okay, well why didn’t you guys deliver this message? It was a
bad oversight by the reception team at the hotel that wasted our morning and
left us feeling rather grumpy. We called the tour company and thankfully they
were still able to take us that afternoon, so a few hours later, we were off on
our hike.

It was a fairly steady climb to
the top, and we had the opportunity to wear snowshoes for much of the hike- a
first for me! We also experienced white out conditions, where the ground, the
scenery and the sky all blended together in a hazy grayish white. We didn’t see
any wildlife on our hike, and we also didn’t really get to see the glacier we
were hiking on since it was covered in snow, but it was good to get our heart
rates up after having been so stagnant the previous days.

Above: Snowshoeing along the mountain.

That night we went to dinner at
the restaurant in our hotel, which according to various review sites, is one of
the nicer restaurants in town. We took the opportunity to sample some authentic
Arctic food – reindeer, whale, and seal. Reindeer and whale were quite tasty.
Seal was spongy and unpleasant. After this culinary adventure, I also realized
eating whales and seals could be ethically questionable and possibly offensive
to some. As someone who is mindful of animal treatment, I wanted to know more
about this and so I researched the hunting practices of the region. The
reindeer are farmed, free-range. The seals are hunted and killed with a  single bullet shot (not clubbed), and the
whales that are hunted are minke whales, which have never been even close to
being endangered and are abundant in the ocean. I still probably wouldn’t eat
whale again, knowing how intelligent whale species tend to be, but this
information helped me feel less guilty.

After dinner we stopped back in
to the bar, where Odd had a few gifts for us – our very own name tags with
nicknames he’d made up for us, a deck of cards, and two drinks. I’m still
stunned at how nice of a person Odd is.

The next day was embarkation day.
Having heard from some of the locals that we’d regret not having binoculars on
our trip, we ventured into town and bought a decent pair. That afternoon our
bus arrived to take us to port to board our home for the next 9 days – the Sea

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