Our Journey into the Land of the Midnight Sun

     For the last two days we have been sailing northward toward Longyearbyen and the land of the midnight sun, or twenty-four hours of daylight.  Anytime we want to see maps of our travels, or find out just where we are on this great planet, and how fast we are getting to where we need to be next, we just turn to a channel on our stateroom television and watch the data on the screen cycle through pertinent information.  The one piece of data since we left our last port is the ‘next sunrise, and next sunset’ both times read 12:00.  We always sleep with the drapes open so no matter when you wake up during the night – it’s ‘day’.

     On the days that we are to enter our next port of call or morning attraction, I join several of our tablemates as we gather around 5 AM in the Crow’s Nest on deck 12 forward to enjoy and share ‘moments to remember’.  Sometime they can be real duds when we have thick fog, or poor visibility, but most times are real jewels.  Our entry this morning into Isfjorden and our approach to Longyearbyen was a disappointment to say the least. 

     The town has been a coal-mining hub since the settlement was founded in 1906 by the American mining entrepreneur John M. Longyear, the principal owner of the Arctic Coal Company of Boston.  “Byen” is Norwegian for the city.  Today it is a very modern town of approximately 1,800 inhabitants.  The wooden towers you see around the town are remnants of supports for the original system of cables and buckets strung between these towers to transport the coal from the mine to the port.


      The recently rebuilt Svalbard Museum though small is definitely world class. The exhibition presents fragments of Svalbard’s 400-year history and describes factors that help support life and the activities taking place here, which together reveal the close relationship between sea and land, nature and cultural history. Before we could walk on the beautiful hardwood floors, we were required to place coverings over our footwear.  Visitors are permitted to walk amongst the exhibits, on pathways resembling blocks of ice surrounded by round stones and pools of water made out of pieces of blue glass.  Some artifacts are  in glass cases inserted in the pathways.  Very effective and pleasing.  One room has a floor that is covered in seal pelts.




     Since this is “polar Bear” country we were warned to never wander off the beaten path without a guide armed with a high powered rifle. There is a polar bear on exhibit in the museum that was shot in March 2005 following several vain attempts to frighten it away.  Finally, this 505 Kilo male bear had to be killed in self-defense.  There are around 3,000 polar bears in the Svalbard region.  Though the bear is totally protected, an average two to three have to be shot each year.


     Rather than spend money on a tour, we opted to take the $10 shuttle bus the couple of miles from the dock to the museum.  We were able to spend some money in the very modern shops that have come into being as a result of daily cruise ship visits during the summer season. Since is was a duty free port, we paid no taxes on our purchases.  It was a great stop, and Barbara was in her element.

     The rough edges of “Byen” are smoothed over by the modern hi-tech of the shops and stores. One doesn’t realize that every structure is setting on a layer of permafrost, raised off the surface on pilings as evidenced in these pictures of “main street”.



      For a long time Svalbard was reserved for the absolute elite.  Those with special interest and enough money to equip or hire a vessel could voyage to the Arctic.  Slowly, this changed during the 20th century.  At the beginning of the 1990’s, a marked change took place in views of tourism.  This attitude shifted because tourism could contribute new jobs and stability in Longyearbyen society.  Tourism in Svalbard has grown in scale in the last 10 – 15 years; the tourist season has lengthened and there is a greater geographical spread in tourism.  Just short of 30,000 tourists visit Longyearbyen in the course of a year, and about an equal number visit Svalbard on overseas cruise liners.  Svalbard has become a destination offering varied and well organized facilities. (Quoted from the museum guide “Life in Ice and Light”)

Next: Magdalene Fjorden, 80 North,  and The Polar Icecap

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