A Story of Arctic Beauty: Spitsbergen

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After moving to Sweden I started making regular trips into Arctic territory and realized that there is something special about the parts of this planet located above the Arctic circle. On every visit, I am amazed by the natural beauty of these areas. I feel free. I feel like I want to get lost and forget about the rest of the world. Naturally, Spitsbergen/Svalbard had been on top of my things-I-absolutely-need-to-do list for a considerable time.

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So when my boyfriend found out that it is remarkably easy and surprisingly not expensive to get there, he easily found a companion to come along. Spitsbergen became the holiday to celebrate the end of my internship and hence the end of my studies. I don’t think I could have thought of a better destination to celebrate the occasion. Off we went, on our closest bid to the North Pole yet.

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On arrival we were lucky enough to have an open sky while flying over the archipel. The scenery during landing was amazing, to say the least. When we got to the campsite, it was almost surreal to think that it was actually night and in a couple of hours we would start our first day hike. The midnight sun provided us with some breathtaking views before bedtime. Steep mountains and endless glaciers were glowing all around Ísfjorden in the late night light. A perfect panorama to start what felt like an afternoon nap to.

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We settled for day hikes and a boat trip since renting a guide and all safety equipment against polar bears and unpredictable weather conditions turned out quite expensive. Not that I want to sound paranoid about the bears. But considering that there are more of them on the islands than there actually are people made it sound like quite a stupid idea to wander off on our own. These day hikes took us to the glaciers and valleys in the vicinity ofLongyearbyen and still provided the spectacular views and lonelyness one is looking for on Spitsbergen.

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The most exciting of these day hikes was the climb of Hjortfjellet, one of the mountains in Longyearbyen’s Adventfjorden. We paddled over Arctic waters in the early morning, climbed about 900 meters and had a superb view of our surroundings when we made it to the top. Not to say that the other trips were less spectacular. The walks over the Foxfonna and Trollsteinen glaciers were really fun. Theguides that took us taught us a great deal about Spitsbergen’s ecosystem, history and daily life. It was incredibly interesting to talk to them.

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The day that probably left the deepest impression on both of us was the boat trip to Pyramiden. The boat sails in Ísfjorden for a couple of hours before bringing you back to the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. Pyramiden, looking like it was abandonded from one day to another when the USSR collapsed, is an old mining settlement. In the city you can see Soviet art, old pictures from when it was a lively place and the world’s northernmost Lenin statue (with a massive glacier in front of it, what a view). Funny enough, Pyramiden is becoming repopulated. Demographics exploded when the population rose from 2 to 20 over the last years. For their living, the people guide tourists through the settlement and run a hotel. To book, you need to send a text message and wait until one of them walks to end of the pier to receive your booking. Seriously amazing. It must be one of the strangest places I’ve ever been to and I would actually very much love to spend a night in that hotel.

Right before we got to Pyramiden we saw a polar bear with a cub on the shoreline. I figured that was why we got split up in two groups and each guide had a gun. Apparently the day after we were there an entire cruise ship docked and 700 people (who probably queued their way into the city and back to the ship) flooded Pyramiden at once. There was one guide, with one gun. Safety first, anyone?

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