Really nice, modern ferry. Launched 2008; capacity for 370 vehicles and 1650 passengers. The crossing to Vancouver Island takes 1hr45.
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.
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!
Today we travel from our little cabin near Tennevoll to Tromsø, the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Because we are not far from our destination we decided to take a detour and drive out to the island of Senja, the second largest island in Norway. It is meant to be diverse and beautiful. Why not? It did not disappoint! The fjords, mountains and rivers were as magnificent as any we have seen so far.
World’s Largest Troll (we didn’t pay to go inside $$$$):
Lunch in Hamn i Senja:
A lake with ice:
There were deserted beaches, craggy rocks, waterfalls and on and on. I don’t even know where the day went. So much to take in. We had to catch a ferry from Botnhamm to Brensholmen or drive all the way around. We missed the 3:15 ferry but made the 5:00 one.
This would take us to the island of Kvaløya. Part of Tromsø sits on this island. The rest of it on Tromsøya (øya is the ending for island). The ferry was a pleasant ride. We didn’t see any sea life aside from the usual birds. We had a quick bite to eat before heading over to our hotel. We debated whether or not to take the cable car but the kids were done for the day so off to our hotel. Trims has an interesting underground system of roads with roundabouts and even car parks. Love it. We checked into the Radisson Blu in the city centre. Tom went to park the car and I took the kids up to get ready for bed.
Tom went out late last night to watch the Hurtigruten ferry come in (this is part of the coastal ferry system we took last year) and to catch the sun at midnight.
Tomorrow we will spend the day exploring Tromsø and then take an evening flight from here to Longyearbyen up on Svalbard .
We got off to a slow start Saturday. The kids were in fine form not listening and having meltdowns. Tired? We had breakfast and went back to the room. We packed up 11:30ish and took a taxi over to Science Centre. The kids had a great time pushing buttons, turning knobs and looking at all of the fun exhibits. Once again, it was a very warm humid day (97F/36C). The hotel let us have a 4:30 checkout so we had to be wary of the time. After Science Centre we took another taxi back to the hotel (have I mentioned taxis are cheap in Singapore?). We sat in the lobby and had a quick bite to eat with a drink before heading upstairs to pack our bags. It took about an hour to get everything reorganized and packed away. We stored our things with the concierge and headed out the door to look around for a few hours.
We had a look around the shopping centers near us on Orchard Road which were heaving with people. Shopping in Singapore is epic. As an American who has lived in the UK and now living in Australia I am amazed at the brand presence from these countries. Instead of dragging the kids around shops, we hopped on the MRT at the Somerset Station just to see what it is like. Buying tickets was straightforward from the machines. Tom chose the Raffles Quay station, three stops down the line.
We took the H exit and ended up outside near the Fullerton Hotel in a gorgeous area with the Singapore River and Boat Quays, quaint pedestrian bridges, and museums. As we were walking across one of the bridges we were greeted by three large military helicopters overhead, one with the Singaporean flag. Straight after that were five military jets flying in formation over the city. Furthermore were loud gun/cannon blasts which Alex found intriguing but too loud. Singapore’s National Day is August 9th and there are celebrations leading up to the day. We aren’t quite sure what was going on today but I am glad we were there. We walked down to Marina Bay where we could see across to the Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. Over at the Singapore Flyer was some sort of military exhibition with vehicles, boats, dancing, fireworks, lights, etc. we sat ourselves down at the Merlion fountain to take it all in and have a rest. It was still sweltering with the occasional breeze at 7:30pm. One thing of note if you have never been to Singapore is the architecture. It is truly stunning.
Around 7:45 we decided to starting heading back to the hotel to collect our bags and catch a taxi to Changi Airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave just after 11. The kids were well and truly done for the day but kept up their spirits and didn’t lose control. Tom went off to shower in the lounge while I kept the kids busy. We looked at the beautiful orchid garden and koi pond as well as another beautiful garden. Sofia spent a good 20-30 minutes at an art station they had set up. There was paper and crayons and about 15 or so different metal plates of different design where the kids could do rubbings. Alex wasn’t interested so he sat with me and studied the terminal maps.
We met Tom up in the Silver Kris lounge for a snack and a drink before departure. We got teeth brushed and everything organized for this next long journey. Tonight’s flight is 12.5 hours from Singapore to Zürich on Swiss Airlines. From here we have a one-hour layover and then a short flight to Manchester, UK.
We boarded our A340 and got settled in to our Business Class seats. Poor Alex couldn’t even stay awake to get up in the air. He passed out just as we lifted off of the runway. He is coming down with a cold (hope it isn’t as bad as mine has been) so he was waking many times before settling in for the night. Tom and Sofia sat together in the seats near the window. Sofia didn’t last much longer than Alex before settling in for the night. I stayed up to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with my dinner. It was a struggle to make it to the end because my eyes were heavy. I had no idea what the movie was about when I chose it, but really loved that he went to Nuuk, Greenland and then to Iceland. Tom and I had one holiday without kids and visited both of these places.
As I said, Alex woke we up several times before finally settling into a deep sleep. At one point I opened my eyes to a little girl of maybe 2 years old from the row ahead of me standing between my and Alex’s seats staring at me. I had to wake her mother to get her. I slept for maybe six hours, waking when the plane was directly over Baghdad. Both kids slept a bit longer. I helped them use the toilet they are both settled into a movie. We are over Turkey and just about to go over the Black Sea now with three hours to go.