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I only gave myself about 30 hours to explore Longyearbyen so time was of the essence.
- Introduction and trip planning
- Lufthansa First Class Dulles to Munich
- Lufthansa Munich First Class Lounge
- Lufthansa Business Class Munich to Oslo
- SAS Economy Class Oslo to Longyearbyen
- Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, Spitsbergen
- Exploring Longyearbyen
- Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Oslo
- Exploring Oslo
- Park Inn By Radisson Oslo Airport
- Lufthansa 747-8i Frankfurt to Dulles
- Park Hyatt Washington DC
I booked a full day kayak and hike tour through Spitsbergen Travel, a company which runs several forms of tours and runs or at least has an affiliation with several hotels in the area including the Radisson Blu. The other summer excursion options were cruises and dogsled rides though after that Lufthansa First Class eating extravaganza I wanted to incorporate some exercise into the trip.
For me, part of the allure of traveling to extreme points on the planet is that constant question of ‘How in the world do people actually live here!?’ I fully expected that feeling coming into this trip looking at the terrain, yearly temperatures, and daylight patterns. However, my first impression of Longyearbyen was actually of surprise at how very livable this town is. Other than the cold, the town was delightful and a fantastic vacation for outdoor types.
After breakfast, I loaded on my heaviest winter apparel and headed outside the Radisson where the tour group was to pick me up. I had a few minutes to kill so I did a personal walking tour of the immediate area.
The small wooden homes were colorfully painted and well kept. This style of home and coordinated color scheme with the neighbors was consistent throughout the town.
The city appears to be alive with visitors in the summer. There is a small pedestrian mall through the middle of town where you can find grocery stores, outdoor shops, restaurants and bars.
The skies were as clear as I have ever seen and the water as blue. The mountains were majestic and visible from most every place in town.
I returned back to the Radisson where the small tour van was just pulling up. I joined a group of about 9 others and we headed down to the ‘beach’ to begin our tour.
We gathered our gear and suited up in dry suits to head out on the days adventure. Our plan was to kayak across the AdventFjorden to the older part of town and hike from there.
At this point the air temperature is around 30 F and despite the dry suits, you still get wet from kayaking. I have Minnesota skin so I am able to tolerate the cold better than most but unfortunately I was the wimp in this group coming from places like Umeå. This was BITTER BITTER cold and no one else seemed to flinch. I sucked it up but I must say I do have a new appreciation for the toughness of the Scandinavians.
The water was calm so we made pretty good time across the fjord. The wildlife was amazing with seals and all sorts of birds I have never seen before. Whales are also present in these waters and while we thought we saw a few, they were too far off for the guides to confirm.
When we arrived at the other side, we were given snowmobile jackets to put over our dry suits and started a fire to huddle around. Over the fire we ate and drank food common to Norway such as dried meats and hot drinks. The guides discussed what it is like to live in Longyearbyen. The point that stuck out to me the most was the belief in Longyearbyen that the contrast between nothing and something is far greater than the contrast between something and more of something. The example they used was how just that week (in July) was the very first bloom of a flower and the town was so excited. The flower was so tiny you could barely see it but it was color in an otherwise colorless ground. I can’t say I now plan to move to Longyearbyen after hearing this, but I appreciated and respected the perspective.
As was the law, since we left the city limits, both guides carried a rifle and handgun for protection against polar bears.
We began the hike and encountered several reindeer. I honestly thought those were made up so that was a nice surprise.
After a few more hours of walking and talking, we hopped back into our kayaks and returned to Longyearbyen. After the tour, I explored the town a little more but unfortunately my 30 hours were up and it was time to head back South to Oslo.
The bottom line
Longyearbyen is a beautiful town and worthy of a trip for travelers who seek nature in its purest form. If I had more time I would have loved to take the cruises around the archipelago and visit some of the small mining towns in the area. Traveling to Longyearbyen is best suited for outdoor types and those willing to get a little dirty. There is a spirit of exploration amongst every local I encountered and a genuine respect for both nature and the (relatively) short history of this remote town.