This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.
Today Annika and I have the first full day in Longyearbyen. There’s a lot to see, even for us, for whom Northern Norway in general is nothing new.
House on mountain slope
We have seen houses, we have seen mountains, we have seen houses by and in mountains. But the mountains in Svalbard are really special and quite recognisable.
It is not only the mountains, that give Longyearbyen a very special character. It is amongst others the traces of the coal mining that is still present although there is no active mining in town any longer.
In December 2015 an avalanche buried ten houses in Longyearbyen. Two people died. Today some houses in Longyearbyen are abandoned because they lie in critical areas and the mountain Sukkertoppen (the sugar peak) is covered with avalanche fences.
In Northern Sweden snow mobiles are very popular, for work, transportation and for leisure. In Northern Norway there are much more restrictions and you do not see them as often. In Svalbard there are more snow mobiles than people. No wonder in a place with very long winters and hardly any road network.
In Northern Sweden temperatures of -19.7 °C are not seldom in winter, but then it is mostly calm weather. Today in Longyearbyen it was pretty gusty and windy which made the temperature appear significantly lower.
Yes, there are fjords in Tromsø. But there are roads and settlements, too. On Svalbard there are not many settlements at all and the fjords do not only look much more icy and arctic, but also untouched. The small dots on the right of the first image however tell another story: There is a lot of snowmobile traffic.
There is a church in Longyearbyen lying on a small hill. It looks cosy and if you go in you realise, it is. It is the northernmost Lutheran church in the world, only topped by an Eastern Orthodox church in the Russian Franz Josef Land. (Source: wikipedia)
Of course people in Longyearbyen have warm clothes. When it comes to boots Mukluks are quite popular. The origin of these shoes lies in the Inuit culture of the North American Arctic and there are great for dry and cold weather. You hardly see them in mainland Scandinavia.
Did I mention the impressive mountains? I did? Well, anyhow – they are impressive!
This solitary house goes by the name Huset – the house. The name is as pragmatic as the architecture. But it contains a surprise. The restaurant Huset does not only have quite high-priced dinner, but also a “Saturday beef” on Saturdays 15-18. By chance we passed the house at 14:45 and it is Saturday today. So we decided to eat there. A good choice because the food was very delicious and costed only 190 crowns – a bargain in Norway!
One of the very special things about Svalbard: there are more polar bears than human beings on this Archipelago. While the town Longyearbyen is protected the surroundings aren’t. If you leave town you have to carry a rifle and a flare gun and must know how to handle incidents with polar bears. Signs warn you when you leave the safe space.
Neither Annika nor I can and may handle a rifle so we stay within town beside of guided tours.
When we left the restaurant Huset, weather had changed. It was as windy as before but now it was snowing and the wind gusts blew snow everywhere. Into the face and into the pockets of my parka. It was however less than a kilometre walk until we reached our accommodation Coal Miner’s Cabin.