Tom is meeting his friend in Los Angeles this week for two U2 shows. We decided to turn this into a family holiday in Hawaii where Tom will nip over to LA for a few days in the middle.
Tom left on his flight early Friday morning. He flew Sydney-Los Angeles-Honolulu on United and I flew with the kids Sydney-Honolulu on Hawaiian. Our flights were scheduled to come in within 15 minutes of each other in Honolulu.
I picked up the kids from school Friday afternoon and we went to do a few last-minute errands at the local shopping centre. Back at home we finished up packing and called for a taxi just after 6pm. I thought this would mean an early arrival at the airport and perhaps avoiding some of the queues. I was wrong. We were at the back of the queue with two and a half hours to go before departure. No hope to purchase an upgrade to Business Class. No worries. Taking two excited, tired kids seemed daunting, but I was optimistic that an overnight flight leaving way past bedtime would mean sleep. Ha. Think again.
As we settled into our three middle seats on the Hawaiian A330 the kids appeared ready for bed. They made an attempt at the in-flight entertainment but soon were off to sleep. Ah, peace and quiet. I tried to enjoy my economy meal of green beans, rice and mystery meat in mystery sauce with a side salad of something resembling lettuce, cucumber and tomato. Mediocre at best. Positivity, we are off to Hawaii.
Stupidly I forgot to get Sofia motion sickness tablets. She is always sick when we start to descend. And poor Alex, he’s the king of airplane nose bleeds. With tissues at the ready I dozed off for a good hour or two before Alex decided he was up for the night. Followed closely by Sofia who was also up for the night. Meanwhile, my ongoing issues with coccyx/tailbone pain has reared its ugly head again and I am in so much pain it hurts to even shift in my seat. The person in front of me has also settled in for a sleep with a fully- reclined seat leaving me about six inches of space. I could barely squeeze my backpack out from under the seat.
After a weak attempt at making sure the kids were good and bored I relented and handed over the iPads wondering how we would cope the rest of the flight and into the day. Surely they would fall back asleep for an hour or two? Never underestimate a child’s resilience to stay awake when they want to. Then the fun began!
I won’t go into detail but let’s just say Sofia did get sick. Twice. And Alex had a few nose bleeds. And I was exhausted with severe tailbone pain.
Our flight landed on time. We had to deplane and wait in a holding area because the customs/immigration hall was not able to accommodate another flight. Good fun. This was a total of about 30 minutes delay. Because we were in the last few rows of the plane I assumed we would be last through immigration. This delay worked in my favour during this hold. Luckily my kids like to walk fast because I made them bust it down to immigration once they let us out and there were very few people ahead of us. Yay! We picked up luggage, zipped through customs and there was Tom waiting on the other side! Let’s go find the car and start this adventure.
I got this in my email today…
Dear Customer Apple,
Please Go To My Apple ID To Verify Your Account.
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.
I am several days behind on our travel journal. I am attempting to catch up over the next couple of days. We fly again in two days! We are currently in hot, steamy Charlotte, North Carolina and will be headed to MN/ND for a few days.
Today was more of a relaxation/regrouping day. We have been on the go nearly non-stop for days now. We got up in the morning and lazed about a bit before going down to breakfast. This was followed by a walk around town. Our flight to Svalbard is at 6:40pm so we asked for a 4pm checkout. We returned to the room and sorted our bags for our flights. Because it is a few degrees cooler up on Svalbard so we needed to make sure we had some warmer things in our carry-on luggage. We had a late lunch at Pastafabrikken–pizza and lasagne.
After lunch we checked out and stored our bags before walking over to get the car in the underground parking area. We picked up our luggage and drove over the bridge to see the Arctic Cathedral, the cable car (passed on this one today due to the outflow of money) and then just a quick tour around town before heading to the airport.
At Tromsø Airport we returned the car and checked in our bags. The kids played in the children’s area and then snacked on carrots and Icelandic Skyr.
We flew from Tromsø to Longyearbyen on SAS. It took 1.5 hours. Sofia and I sat together and Alex and Tom sat together in the row behind us.
We landed in Longyearbyen and collected our bags and then boarded the shuttle bus to the Radisson SAS for 60kr per adult. We found out an interesting tidbit about our hotel. It was built for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. When the Olympics were over they dismantled the hotel, shipped it here and rebuilt it.
After checking into the hotel we had a little walk around town. A man was walking two polar dogs (Husky or Malamute?) and stopped for a chat. He was a miner who had come to Svalbard only one month ago. Sofia loved giving the dogs attention. Because it was getting very late we decided to call it a night and get the kids to bed since we had a10am Maxi Taxi tour scheduled. Tom slept on the pull-out bed, I slept on the top bunk and the kids slept together on the larger bottom bunk. There were no blackout shades/curtains and it was brighter here than it had been anywhere so far in Norway.
We are looking forward to having a look around tomorrow and already wishing we had more time here!