Archive for the ‘Svalbard’ Category

Longyearbyen

Last week I spent 48 hours in Longyearbyen, my second visit to Svalbard (read about the first one here). We had a work meeting there, with everyone from my institute and everyone who works at one of “our” (mostly military) airports in Northern Norway (Andenes, Bardufoss, Bodø and Longyearbyen). But because most of us work shifts, we can’t all go at the same time and they actually have to organise the same trip twice! I was in the first group, the second group is there at the moment. The main goal is getting to know each other, so it was quite a fun trip 🙂

The flight time from Tromsø is only 1.5 hours, and we went straight from the airport to Svalsat, the world’s largest satellite receiving station. Quite an incredible place! We first listened to a presentation about the station, and then we went outside to take some photos, and we also went inside one of the domes. They all have satellite dishes inside, and while inside, we saw it slowly turn round to follow a passing satellite.

Satellite receiver at Svalsat, inside the dome is a satellite dish Some of the dome covers are made of fabric!

Satellite receivers in the sun. It was very windy that day! Me at Svalsat

Afterwards, we were taken to our hotel and we had some time to ourselves. Shopping time 😉 Longyearbyen is FULL of outdoor shops, which more choice than you’d ever get in Tromsø, I think everybody came back with at least one new item of clothing 😉 In the evening we had dinner at Kroa, a restaurant across the street from our hotel, in a very nice room.

Group meal at Kroa, in a beautiful room. The cover on the table is a huge seal skin.

The next day we had a meeting so we spent a large part of the day inside. As soon as we had the chance, Ine-Therese and I went outside with our cameras to capture the beautiful light. The light was really incredible the whole time we were there, always changing and always beautiful. I could have taken photos all day long!

Looking towards Nybyen and the Longyear glacier in the background One of the mine entrances, this one is known as julenissegruva - or the mine where Santa Claus lives ;) All pipes go overground, and all houses are on poles - because of permafrost

These photos were taken on our walk from the meeting place to UNIS, the university at Svalbard. I never got enough of the view of the mountains on the other side of the fjord, so pretty!

Walking towards town - the view of the mountains on the other side never bored me! And another view of the mountains in the sunlight

In the afternoon we went on a bus excursion to “Gruve 7” or Mine 7. Longyearbyen used to be a coal mining town, and you can see the remainders everywhere. They weren’t very original with names, so the mines are just numbered. Mine nr 7 is the only one in Longyearbyen that’s still in use. We couldn’t actually visit the mine, but we had nice views from the mountain above it.

Mine nr 7 (they have such original names!), the only one in Longyearbyen that is still in use Spectacular views!

In the evening the light of the setting sun painted the mountains a beautiful orange/red colour… We had a great dinner at Huset, which is quite a fancy restaurant. It felt unreal to sit in such a comfortable place, enjoying amazing food and great wines, and look out the window at the harsh beauty of the Arctic!

In the evening the view of the mountains got even more spectacular in the light of the setting sun

On Friday morning there was the option of visiting the museum, but a few of us decided to skip that and hike to one of the glaciers instead. Ine-Therese lived in Longyearbyen for 5 years, so she knew a nice walk – and most importantly: she was able to borrow a rifle and knows how to use it. As soon as you leave Longyearbyen, you should carry one to protect you from polar bears. It’s very rare to see one, and you can only shoot them as a last resort, but safety first!

On the way to the glacier we found this shooting practice animals - this one was the most realistic, the other ones were all farm animals like sheep and pigs! Looking back towards town

A panorama looking back at the Longyearbyen Valley.

A panorama of the valley that Longyearbyen is situated in. In the front you see Nybyen, a somewhat separated part of town with mostly student housing

Ine-Therese is showing the way 🙂 It was a beautiful walk, with some light snow every now and then, but great views all around.

Ine-Therese is pointing out the way to Tore Tore, Ine-Therese, Trond & Gjermund

Ine-Therese left Svalbard 11 years ago, and in her memory it was just a short walk to the glacier. Much has changed in those 11 years though, the glacier had retreated quite a lot and we had to climb quite high up to reach the glacier. We were keen to get there though, so we continued. And we were rewarded with this incredible blue ice, which really looked as if something was lighting it from the inside. Aurora-in-ice we called it 🙂 I’d never seen anything like it before!

When we finally reached the glacier we were rewarded by this amazing blue piece of ice which seems lit from behind - we called it aurora-in-ice :) Five meteorologists on the glacier!

It took us 2 hours to reach this point, and it was time to turn back so we wouldn’t miss our bus to the airport.

Ine-Therese showing our route on the map Heading back to Longyearbyen. Ine-Therese carries a gun as protection against polar bears

Here are some photos I took on the walk back through Longyearbyen, the first one shows Huset where we had the nice dinner the night before. The other one shows Ine-Therese “hunting” for Svalbard grouse. They were quite tame, she could come very close and they didn’t seem to mind.

Huset, where we had a great dinner the evening before. It stands all alone as it was placed at equal distance from the different settlement groups in Longyearbyen (miners, students, and governors) Ine-Therese hunting Svalbard grouse...

Before getting on our flight back to Tromsø, we visited the office of our colleague who works at the airport there. His office is in the control tower, just one floor down from the actual control room. Great views from there!

View (from the airport control tower) towards the glaciers and mountains on the other side One last photo... the sign outside the airport

It was a great trip, and many of us wished we could stay for a couple of days longer. Now I am dreaming of another trip there 🙂

Svalbard

I’ve just come back from a great couple of days in Svalbard! I arrived late on Thursday night. While the plane landed, I could see the KV Svalbard (Paul’s ship) coming in to Longyearbyen. I managed to get a free taxi ride from someone and I arrived at the ship while they were still securing the gangplank – good timing! I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed on board (it’s an army ship after all), but one of the coastguard guys asked me: “Would you like to come on board? Shall I take your bag?” Wow, everyone was so friendly! And it was great to be reunited with Paul of course 🙂

Longyearbyen is quite a special place. It’s changing from a community based on mining to one based on tourism. It was still very much winter there, and everybody moves around on snowmobiles. The first day was extremely windy (with lots of blowing snow) but we were lucky with the weather during the rest of the days – very sunny! (And very light, the midnight sun arrives in mid April here) Here are some photos of the town itself…

On Saturday the coastguard guys had organized a snow scooter tour. I shared a scooter with Paul, and spent most of the trip sitting on the back seat. Sounds like fun, but actually it’s very bumpy at the back and you have to hold on tight. My arm muscles were hurting the next day! Here’s a photo of the queue for the petrol station and us on the scooter – you have to wear a special suit, boots, and a helmet, like on a motorbike really.

The trip was very long – 120 km one way! We went through beautiful valleys, crossed the sea ice (with many seals lazing around) and spectacular glaciers… I often wished I had a camera on my helmet! We didn’t make many photo stops unfortunately. We were with a big group (I think about 14 snowmobiles) and most of them were 19-20 year olds (doing their army survice) who were constantly racing each other. The scooters can go really fast, on flat bits of sea ice we went about 120 km/hr!

These photos are of our final destination: Pyramiden, a Russian mining town abandoned in 1998. It’s bizarre to wonder through such a ghost town – there are still flower pots behind the windows and we found a workshop full of skates, bicycles and wooden ski’s. We could have spent a lot more time there but after a quick lunch (including hot dogs – Norwegians are truly obsessed with hot dogs!!) it was time to head back. In the last picture you can see the world’s northernmost Lenin statue…

We took the same route back, and this time we did have a photo stop at a ship stuck in the ice. The ship is called Noorderlicht – it’s a beautiful Dutch sailing ship. They freeze it into the ice on purpose and it’s used as a hotel and a basecamp for exploring Svalbard. It won’t be frozen in for much longer though, Paul’s ship is going to take it out of the ice tonight or tomorrow!

Just before coming back to Longyearbyen, we decided for a little detour to the top of a mountain that overlooks Longyearbyen and the bay. The view was amazing! The sun was shining through holes in the clouds and made bright spots on the sea surface – very spectacular!

It was quite a long and tiring day (250 km in total!), so on Sunday we had a rest day. We slept a lot, and then walked around Longyearbyen for a bit. There was not a lot to see though, everything is closed on Sundays.

On Monday it was time for some action, and we decided to rent a snowmobile again. We also had to rent a gun for protection against polar bears! It was a beautiful day, and we took our time to enjoy the landscape. This time I drove a lot as well, good fun!! I was a bit scared at first but once you get the hang of driving it’s a lot of fun, and a lot more comfortable than sitting on the back of the scooter 😉

We went through such beautiful landscapes, mostly very big and empty, though we did pass some huts and even another abandoned Russian mining settlement (a very small one though). We also drove close to the beach, and with the sunny weather and the very salty smell you would almost be tempted to try the water 😉

Our destination that day was the Russian mining town Barentsburg (once owned by the Dutch, hence the name). This is a working mining town! It was very bizarre to suddenly be in Russia – Paul even got a “welcome to Russia” text on his mobile. The town looks quite grim, though the houses are quite colorful and there are many murals. The people were very friendly though, we even got a tour of some science labs from a Russian researcher who was based there for a few weeks.

Things you can do only in Svalbard: walk around town with a gun on your back… We didn’t actually see any polar bears, just lots of reindeer (and I’m glad about that!). We also found this hovercraft lying around… how bizarre!

Another view of the town and me eating my sandwiches on some kind of boulevard place…

Barentsburg is only about 55 km from Longyearbyen, it took us about 3 hours each way, including many stops. A really nice trip! Renting a snowmobile is quite expensive, but it was really worth it.

I flew back to Tromso this afternoon, and Paul is now back on the ship for another 3 weeks. I hope he gets some good pictures of freeing the Dutch ship from the ice! I was hoping to come back to a green Tromso (last week almost all the snow had gone), but it has been snowing again!