Tell me all about Svalbard, please!
June 3, 2013 4:31 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone here been to the Svalbard Archipelago, or have you read a great first-person account of visiting there? Please tell me all about it.

I'm especially interested in first-person accounts of what it's like to be in Svalbard in the wintertime, with as much detail about sights, sounds, smells as possible, but summertime visits are good too, as are interesting long-form articles, videos or even books. Tell me what it's like to live in Longyearbyen, snowmobile out to the abandoned mining settlements, hike on the mountains or get mobbed by skuas in the nesting season. I want to know everything!
posted by daisyk to Travel & Transportation around Svalbard and Jan Mayen (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My officemate spent a few months in that area for a research cruise last summer, memail me if you want to get in touch with him.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:28 AM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy (especially the first book) covers Svalbard from a fictional point of view. Bradt publish a guidebook. Dark Matter is a ghost story set in a Svalbard winter. Norway News publishes a number of local news stories in English.
posted by rongorongo at 8:00 AM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: Why daisyk, it's like you've actually hit my specialist subject. Living in Svalbard involves a frankly surprising amount of stories regarding shooting polar bears, being chased by polar bears, finding that one's supplies have been destroyed by a polar bear and other such other polar bear related tomfoolery to such a great extent that everyone you ask will tell you that:

a) you shouldn't solo hike across it;
b) you shouldn't solo cycle across it;
c) if you do, you must purchase a rifle in case you need to kill a polar bear as the rentals are terrible.

Dark Matter is a ghost story set in Svalbard over winter that I thought was excellent for an accurate Arctic feel (there's a lot of landscape in it, and the author went to Svalbard for research).
posted by jaduncan at 8:02 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and they don't like it if you shoot a polar bear.

There's a video diary that starts here (flickr photo album too), and if you're still in/around Cambridge from time to time then go to the Scott Polar Research Institute and ask to see details of the Amundsen-Ellsworth and Oxford University Arctic Expedition in particular for photos and well written diaries.

If you aren't in Cambridge the Arctic Club would probably be the place to put this question to directly, as I would imagine head honcho Derek (+44 (0)20 8692 7651 or will just give you a reading list. Actually, they also have an account from an Imperial expedition they funded, but if you're looking for lyrical writing the typical expedition diary would only disappoint you.

*for the record, the details are already on the open net.
posted by jaduncan at 8:34 AM on June 3, 2013

Oh, and tell me if you're both going up as it's also on my list and solo wilderness travel is discouraged due to (say it with me now) the risk of being eaten by a polar bear.
posted by jaduncan at 8:36 AM on June 3, 2013

My wife and I are going there for a few days at the end of July, so if summer is OK and you can wait that long (and I remember) I'll let you know first-hand then. One minor bit of weirdness: not only does the sun not set, but there are times when the moon doesn't set all day either.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:47 AM on June 4, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies and recommendations. I've ordered the Bradt guide and Dark Matter, as well as The Solitude of Thomas Cave, which also looked interesting.

I should be in Cambridge around the end of this month/start of July, and I hadn't even thought of going to the SPRI, what a fool! I'll also shoot off an email to the Arctic Club. The Imperial expedition report is actually useful for its enumeration of kit and practical details, although I am always on the lookout for lyrical writing.

oceanjesse: I've sent you a memail with my email address. Thank you for your offer!

jaduncan: We're not planning a trip at the moment - this research is for a writing project - but Svalbard is rocketing to the head of my list and I can honestly say we wouldn't go with anyone but you. :)

Logophiliac: I can absolutely wait that long and I'd love to hear about your trip, thank you for the offer! I didn't know that about the moon before and it's a very nice detail.
posted by daisyk at 1:12 AM on June 5, 2013

Best answer: Sorry, hit post before I meant. Longyearbyen town is very small; you can walk from one end to the other in under 10 minutes. The bear zone begins just outside the city limits. But the town has shops and pubs and all the other necessities of civilisation. It's quite modern looking and startlingly clean. Most of the streets have numbers rather than names. The Barentz pub in the Radisson describes itself as the northernmost pub in the world and is pretty damn good.

The dog "sled" was really a little wheeled wagon. We got collected from the hotel by a nice young Norwegian in a Toyota 4WD and driven a little way out of town to the dog yard. As i said, he took a rifle along. I was expecting to be warned to stay clear of the dogs but instead we were encouraged to pet them and even help shackle them to the cart. They were startlingly lean but seemed to be in very good health, and 12 dogs managed to haul a wagon with five people in it at a pretty decent clip for about 10 km in total. The dogs actually looked like they were enjoying it--they behaved exactly like our own dogs when walkies was in the offing.

People from all over. We heard a lot of American accents, but no-one seemed to find a couple of Australians unusual.

There are skidoos everywhere. There are enclosed sleds for towing kids behind skidoos, but probably none of that would be unfamiliar to Canadians. Most memorable motor vehicle we saw: a Mazda MX5 with UK number plates and a badge from the Northampton MX5 Owners Club.

Finally, until I think of something more, it's cold. Today is about eight degrees C.

That's it for now. If you want more, me mail me, but bear in mind we've only been here a couple of days and didn't really go out of town. But we are already planning to come back.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

One more thing: I have to admit that if you're not into adventure tourism there's not a lot to do here, but it's still beautiful and fascinating. As someone with a lifelong interest in geology, I wish someone would organise a tour for the specific purpose of explaining the geology (as distinct from fossil hunting). There's a lot of geology on show here.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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