Category Archives: Europe

Day 11: Longyearbyen

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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.

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Day 10: Tromsø to Longyearbyen, Svalbard

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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!

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Day 6: Bodø to Moskenes on the ferry and on to Nyvågar

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As suspected, we were up early. Tom and I were both up just before 5am and the kids not long after that. They are sleep-deprived and it shows. Foul behavior. We got ourselves dressed and had some breakfast. We packed up bags and headed out to see about an adapter. Nobody knew where to get one and we were out of time since we had to check in for the ferry 45 minutes before departure.

Once loaded on to the ferry we settled into some seats for the short journey. The weather is cold, cloudy, windy, and slight sprinkles of rain on departure. Further out the rain stopped and clouds seem to be clearing a bit. The wind and cold continue though. Worries of seasickness have subsided as it is a fairly smooth journey through the deep blue waters. The ferry isn’t overly crowded which gives us a chance to move around and see everything from different areas.

Once we got about 20 minutes from shore we had the blessing to see a small pod of Orcas/Killer Whales feeding right off the side of the ferry. How awesome!

We landed in Moskenes and had a short wait to drive the car off of the ferry. We headed east towards the village of Å to have a look around first. These islands are famous for their dried cod and we were lucky enough to see some racks of dried cod being cut down and stacked. These islands are spectacular with rocky islands, tall peaks, snow on some of the mountains, water everywhere. And cool/cold in the summer. I love it.

We spent quite a bit of time stopping for about an hour just to take in all of the magnificent views. Finally we were on our way to our Rorbuhotell at Nyvågar which is not far from Svolvær. We checked in to our room which is a two-bedroom cottage right on the water overlooking the mountains.

The kids played outside at the little playground and ran around. I did two loads of laundry which should get us to Tom’s Mom’s house in Charlotte with clean clothes. The midnight sun plays tricks on the brain. It is so high in the sky at 8pm that you would swear it was lunchtime. Suddenly at 8pm we realized we hadn’t eaten dinner. The kids were so hyped up that they were not going to sit in a restaurant. We drove to Svolvær and picked up sandwich fixings, cereal, milk and fruit.

I left laundry going when we went out. After having a bite to eat, getting the kids ready for bed and tucking them in I ran over to the laundry room to grab the last load. When I returned they were all sleeping, even Tom. It was 10pm, mind you. The kids need to go to bed earlier but the sun really plays tricks on the brain.

Views from our cottage:

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Day 5: Manchester to Bodø, Norway

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Most of today was quite unremarkable, really. The kids ended up sleeping quite well and getting up early (5ish) but not in the middle of the night. We ordered breakfast to our room which arrived at 7. Tom had scheduled a meeting for 10 at the hotel with a work colleague. We checked in our bags and then lounged around while Tom was at his meeting and then met him at security once he was done.

We had two short flights today. One from Manchester, UK to Oslo, Norway nod then on to Bodø from there. Flights were on-time, coffee and tea were free and that was about it flying SAS in economy today. It was a bit of a kerfuffle in Oslo having to pick up luggage when we landed and then taking them out of the secure area back into the check-in area to recheck them. That meant waiting in queue for security again. Luckily they have a family queue that went a bit faster but still annoying.

Flying into Bodø was spectacular though. The glaciers sitting on mountaintops, rocky islands, glowing sunshine. Memorable. Everything smooth picking up luggage and rental car. We had a quick drive around town taking in the vistas and finding our place for the night, Rica Hotel. We randomly stopped at a place called ‘Du Verden’ advertising burgers and sushi so we figured we could find something for the kids. It turned out to be the yummiest food we had had in ages. The burgers were juicy and spiced perfectly with bacon, onions and lettuce. And the fries were a perfect match. Yum. The kids even loved the food.

We are having a bit of a problem now that we are in Europe. Tom failed to pack an adapter. This means no charging anything–iPads, phones, Tom’s work computer, camera battery. Going even more remote isn’t hopeful either. The front desk let us use one for our phones…but we had to return them.

The sun was so bright and so high in the sky at 10pm the kids refused to believe they needed to get to sleep. After convincing them to put on pajamas and get their heads down they were asleep immediately. Tomorrow morning we are taking the ferry from Bodø to Moskenes in the Lofoten Islands. Off to bed, the kids will not sleep late in the morning.

Day 4: UK and adjusting to jet lag

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We landed in Zürich around 6am in the same terminal we would need to catch our next flight. After a quick stop to the empty Swiss lounge we boarded our flight for a short hop to Manchester. Our Fokker 100 was nearly empty, not surprising for a 7am Sunday morning flight.

After a long wait in immigration and picking up our bags we walked over to the Radisson Blu Airport hotel. Our room wasn’t ready so we sat in the bar and had a cup of tea while the kids played in the iPads. After an hour we checked in and I got a much needed shower.

With only one day in the UK and the fact that we were now nearly halfway around the world and the sun was shining…it was time to get out and enjoy the day. We started out with a pint and some Sunday roast at the Unicorn in Wilmslow. The kids ran around and played in the garden. Sofia built a snail house in the dirt with bricks and sticks. The sun actually got too intense but we didn’t want to complain, it could be raining. We thought about going down to Buxton in the Peak District but last minute chose Llandudno, Wales, about an hour and a half away. Alex had a short nap in the car but Sofia wanted to stay awake and watch out the window.

Llandudno was heaving with people as the sun was shining. Brilliant. Car parking was in short supply. We found nothing all along the waterfront but ended up parking illegally with several other cars for a while. Llandudno is a great little destination. We visited here more than ten years ago with Tom’s sister and mother. Alex was lethargic and feeling unwell with a cold and even declined ice cream. Sofia was all over and ice cream though. We wandered around for a while then drove along the tolled Marine Drive and discovered the Great Orme tramway. The kids were super excited about this find. We purchases round-trip tickets and boarded the next tram. It runs in two stages up to the Great Orme headland. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Orme_Tramway

The kids were worn out and completely passed out in the car which worried us. We didn’t want them to sleep too much and be up at 2am. We got stuck in traffic due to an accident on the A55 in North Wales. They shut down the motorway and redirected traffic into the countryside. The kids slept most of the way back to the hotel. I took the kids upstairs and Tom returned the rental car to the airport. The kids immediately wiped out on the bed again once we got in the room. I managed to get half of their pajamas on an meds into Sofia. I decided to go to bed early and worry about packing up in the morning.