We were in bed far too late last night. It was after ten that the kids finally got to sleep and closer to 11:30 for me. It made getting up in time for breakfast and our tour a bit of a challenge. I had a more difficult time sleeping for some reason. There were no blackout curtains and it was brighter than it had been thus far. There didn’t seem to be much differentiation between day and night. At least further south the sun dipped behind the mountains so the light wasn’t as direct.
We had breakfast and then waited for our Maxi Taxi to pick us up at 10am. It was a 2 hour tour around the city pointing out all of the buildings, mines, some facts and some humour.
There was so much to learn about Svalbard and so much to see in 2 hours.
Here are a few interesting facts:
* The town was founded by an American, John Longyear.
* The buildings are built on stilts. Due to the permafrost everything has to be built up on stilts. If you were to build on the permafrost the heat from the building would melt the ground and cause it to move.
* Snowmobiles (snow scooters) are widely used here when there is snow. There are more snowmobiles than people, something like 4000 of them for a population of around 2300. There is no road network between settlements and it is by far the easiest way to get around.
* The sun sets on 25 October and rises again on 8 March for total darkness. On the flip side, there is midnight sun from late April to late August.
* You can’t have a cat as a pet due to the fragile birdlife in Svalbard. You also can’t keep your polar dogs at home, you have to keep them at the dog center on the edge of town.
* Polar bears. Svalbard and Franz Joseph Land share a Polar Bear population of 3000. If you leave the outskirts of town you must carry a rifle and know how to use it. But if you are in the town with your guns you must check them at the door of shops.
* Arctic Terns nest on the ground and will attack you. You must carry a long orange pole above your head if you are going past the breeding grounds and even then they will try to attack the sticks and your head and poo on you! We know this from experience.
* There is a hospital in Svalbard but they don’t have specialized services, those have to be done in Tromsø, a flight away from Svalbard. They do have fiber optic wire and specialists available in case of emergency. Also, pregnant women fly to Tromsø a few weeks before they are due, but can deliver in Longyearbyen in case of early birth.
We drove all around the town then up into the mountains near the operating mine. There were several times we got out to take in the views. We also stopped at the church but didn’t stay inside long because there was a Sunday service happening.
Once we were done with the tour we asked the driver to recommend a good place for lunch and then to drop us there rather than at the hotel. He recommended Kroa. We were the first people in for lunch. The kids shared a burger and fries, Tom had the same and I ordered a chicken sandwich. After lunch we had a wander through the town into some shops and around. The kids and Tom got new shirts. We also picked up a couple of little souvenirs.
We wandered our way back to the hotel discussing trying to join an afternoon activity. The kids just weren’t going to make it, especially Alex who seems very tired today. We went back to our room and rested for a while, organized bags and when the kids started fighting too much we decided to go back out. Our first stop was the Svalbard Museum just out the door from our hotel. This was an unexpected delight. It was very well done, so colorful and with displays the kids enjoyed. There were displays about animals, mining, weather, glaciers, Svalbard history, old artifacts, and so on. In the true Svalbard tradition we either had to remove our shoes or wear protectors over the top. No wonder the wood floors are still beautiful. This was a option in the hotel as well but it seemed that a majority of people ignored it.
Early the same morning Tom had gone for a walk on the outskirts of the city only to be attacked by some birds but didn’t really know why. The tour guide explained to us that Arctic Terns nested down there and that we needed to carry the poles above our heads and that the birds would only attack the sticks. We returned to that same area to have a walk and carried the poles but the birds persisted. Several of them were flying at us. One flew right into Tom’s head and pooed on him. Same thing happened to Sofia! At that point we aborted our walk and headed back up toward the hotel.
The kids had peanut butter sandwiches and carrots for dinner and then off to bed. Alex was so tired he fell asleep at 7:30, Sofia didn’t get to sleep until much later. She finally got settled into bed and then had a bloody nose which ate up more time. Our flight leaves at 4:40am. The airport shuttle bus comes to the hotel at 3:00am and breakfast is served at 2:30am. Tom and I plan to get up at 1:30 and then get the kids up at 2.
Let’s see how this goes. Two flights. Longyearbyen to Oslo then on to Hamburg, Germany.