After weeks of diving and sunshine, we thought it would be fun to spend Xmas in the snow with Ayisha and Aguistin. Ayisha had a pretty severe ankle operation in August to reconstruct certain bits and bobs and hence skiing was not permitted. Ayisha also never had seen or experienced snow. So why not go north and see northern lights and go husky snow sledding? Sharon and I did this 2 years ago in Ivolo north Finland and when Sharon said that she wanted to go north Norway, I said yes without looking on a map where Longyearbyen is. North Norway is north Norway not? Turns out that is something along the lines of being told you go to Denmark and then find your tickets saying you go to Greenland which is indeed part of Denmark. This was the same..... Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen is the most northern part of the planet where people are permanently settled and is about 800 miles below the north pole or on the 78 degree parallel. It is north..... How north? This picture may explain....... North of Russia, Scandinavia and Canada...... that is truly north!!
Not only is this really north, it is also really cold..... As in minus 20 degree cold. If you have never been in minus 20 and wonder how that feels, imagine your face turning to glass and that touching it may result in breaking it up in pieces....... It is cold and with wind it is simply painful unless you are totally wrapped up. And because it is north and it is winter, it is 24 hours pitch black...... as in pitch black. Not a shimmer of light and 105 days of total darkness. It also has about 110 days of total sunshine and the days in between move the light by 25 minutes longer or shorter Per Day! Imagine that. That is how fast the seasons change from dark to light and vice versa.
Another thing you do not often see in your life is this sign:
LOL...... Yup, be aware of Polar Bears...... They are roaming around but normally not in the winter. However, just about anybody leaving town carries a gun so clearly it is better to be safe than sorry. On average one and a half polar bear per year gets shot in self defence. Polar bears are protected and if you happen to shoot one, you need to declare this to the police who will investigate the accident and they confiscate the bear's remains. The polar bear skin will get auctioned off in an annual charity event for preservation of Svalbard's nature. Some polar skins are legally for sale but these are Canadian bears who are killed as part of keeping over-population in check. A small number of hunting licenses are given out yearly depending on the population numbers.
We used snowmobiles, snow cat and huskies. For the avoidance of doubt we used huskies as in dogs but not cats as in snow cat! Cat is short for caterpillar and looks something like this:
Inside it was nice and comfy and you cover greater distance in search of northerlights. Regrettably we were not lucky. We had many days of overcast and the moments we had clear skies, we had no northern light activity other then the top picture. We used the Aurora App and guess what? We were too far north for most of the days with northern light action...... Who would have thought!
Another must do is husky sledding.......
We did it twice and the second time it was just the four of us and the guide. It is a laugh and surprisingly hard work for the one riding the sled and predictably cold for the one sitting in the sled. Our dogs were fast and that meant we continuously had to break which is not as easy as one may think on snow and ice! But sledding through the valley with the lights off and see the stars at noon time is a weird but wonderful experience. The silence, other than the sound of the sled cutting through snow, is a special experience. Aguistin described it is flying through the universe as we were on a wide open area (frozen river/fjord), turned off our lights, and laying in the sled looking up gives you the feeling and perception to fly along the stars while the huskies sprint over the ice....... Truly something to experience.......
So all in all, this was cool in more ways than one and highly recommended. But truth to be told, it may be more fun to stick to north Scandinavia mainland as at least there are a few hours of shimmering light and the chances of northern lights are relative the same or even better. Also cool in Ivolo was the change in vegetation. Svalbard is so far north that nothing really grows there (tundra only). Ivola is just on the edge and you have pine, low vegetation and tundra all within driving/sledding distance which gives more variety. When it comes to food and accommodation, Longeryearbyen was great. Our hotel Funken Lodge, was great. The rooms were all basic and good but the bar and relaxing areas where very nice and the food was great. We pigged out one night and ordered 7 main courses between the four of us!! Go figure. Grilled Snow Crab legs and the local hotel cocktail (Gin based with egg white, raspberry and lime) were the favourites!
So all in all, this is a type of holiday one must experience with the entire family. It is fun filled and truly unique! Happy New Year!!!!