Svalbard on a budget - what to do!
Many says it is impossible, however there are lots of things to do there, which are not so expensive, plus speak speak speak to the locals!
On our first day in Longyearbyen, we did not really pay for any tour or any kind of sightseeing. It was great to go with my best friend. We are similar in many senses and he is always up for any good too!
We arrived at 2am and now it’s 8am.
When you come to Svalbard you can either stay in the Radisson or Svalbard Hotel or for cheaper option in a guest-house or if you are fearless, then feel free to camp close to the airport taking on some risk of an encounter with a polar bear and the risk to freeze. Believe it or not, some brave fellow dared to camp while we were there.
|Longyearbyen Radisson Polar Hotel|
We stayed at Radisson Polar Hotel, so the breakfast was included. You could have everything fresh even in this no-man’s-land. Fresh veggies and fruits, fresh milk, juice, eggs, pastries and whatever you fancy. After our big filling breakfast we felt ready to take on Longyearbyen on a shoestring.
|Filling breakfast in Radisson Polar Hotel|
First, our way led us to the Barentz Pub and Spiseri, where we had a so called ‘heart warmer’ a shot of Jagermeister suited to this cold weather. The bartender seemed extremely friendly and since we were the only one in the bar that early he was happy to chat to us and tell us what to do, where to go! :)
|Arctic beer in Longyearbyen, Svalbard|
Following his advice we started off in the museum, which is just behind the Radisson hotel. Only 50 Kroner so circa 5£ was the entry, and it was definitely worth it. It’s a teeny tiny museum, nevertheless full of with information about Svalbard’s discovery, history, the first settlers, about the lifestyle there, the coal minding, whale-hunting heritage and nature. There are plenty taxidermy animals of the area, like a big polar bear, different arctic foxes, the typical Svalbard short legged reindeer and some from the millions of birds visiting the island for nesting over the summer period.
My friend and me parted in the museum, to allow each other enough time to read, to suck in all the information about the archipelago. Even though the separation, we both finished roughly in the same time.
At the entrance/exit you will also find a souvenir shop, where we bought our postcards and a beautiful picture book about this region.
We noticed already that everyone was really friendly in this island, this tendency was carried on amongst the museum staff as well. We were provided with more information with a map.
If you are interested in the flora and fauna, just walk around Longyearbyen and you will find amazing plants and arctic moths. Some were colourful, some were hairy. Yes hairy, they actually looked like a cottonbud. These flowers and plants are under strict protection, therefore we could not pick and bring them home. Besides the flowers, there are plenty of other animals to come across with...like the typical short legged reindeers just wandering around town.
|Flowers of Svalbard Longyearbyen|
|Short legged reindeers in Svalbard Longyearbyen|
You could pay for a trip to see the huskies and their kennels, obviously it is a nice and organise night out with warm drinks and depending on the type of tour you choose even dogsledding.
Well we were told, that we don’t have to pay but we can just walk along the bay. I would suggest to everyone to do so, because there are lots of interesting things to see there in both direction.
So let’s discuss first the route on the right hand side if the museum is behind you. Yes carry on walking. It might seem long but in the end in 10-15 minutes you will reach what you were after…the husky kennels, and the famous polar bear sign. While walking you have to go through some ‘dangerous lands’, well yes dangerous if you don’t know the nature here.
I already mentioned the millions of birds coming to Svalbard over the summer period to lay eggs and protect their babies from the enemy, like an arctic fox or us. We read about the angry birds, but nobody wrote about what you need to do, so this is how it happened, that on our way to the kennels…we wanted to take some shots with the Longyearbyen town sign, when my friend heard some strange noise….when we both looked up in the air couple of birds (terns) were already circling above our heads…and I was lucky because I had my big furry hat on my head saving me from 3 strong bird bites…oh yeah that moment was really funny. Both of us running, I was bending down, but still running, and the birds still chasing us…we were a bit afraid they never leave us alone, but we were laughing out loud too, wondering what the Svalbardians think about us if they had seen us…
In the end we gave up, but met a girl, who told us how these things work…so whenever you go to Longyearbyen and decide to go and see the birds nests on both sides of the road to the husky kennels, then make sure that you watch out for the long red sticks besides the road. Those are lifesavers :D
|Longyearbyen Town Border Sign|
Once we had them red sticks, we were safe and self assured that we can walk down to the kennels between the birds nests. The idea is that these red cylindrical hollow stickpipes are 2-3 meter long and whenever a bird is approaching you just lift it in the air. Don’t beat poor birds! They will just go and chip the end of the stick, basically the highest point! :) (This theory is not always correct though, because my friend is much taller than me and the birds still only attacked me, haha)
On the way both sides the fresh greenery, the water and the snow covered mountains prepares an overwhelming scenery topping it with lots of nesting bird patches on the ground!
|Nesting birds on the coastline of Svalbard|
On the side of this main road you can also see the colourful, typical Nordic, wooden board houses of Svalbard. If you are careful or already know, this is tundra, so no trees can be found here, so wood and tree is one of the most expensive thing you can get here in Svalbard, yet most of the houses are made of wood. I was also wondering whether they’d be cold or how about the foundation? But truly…as the ground is frozen most of the year, it would be rather difficult to dig out the holes for the base and just like in any Nordic countries the insulation is superb, unlike the good old British windows.
And what about those colours? Well I don’t know, my explanation is to make them visible when everything is covered in white snow, but whether the different colours have any meaning or not, I don’t know. If you know more about this share your views in the comments.
|Colourful log houses in Longyearbyen|
At the end of the road there is an abandoned Arctic Bar and the kennels. Well I thought it was a bit more friendly and thought someone would be there, maybe to talk to about the dogs and their nature, habits, the dogsledding etc. But there was no one there. The dogs seemed friendly but I preferred to stay a bit away from them. We were also told to check out their homes and how high they are…so don’t forget to check that too! The reason for that is the snow in the winter. It can be a good 60-70cm or even higher, hence they need an entrance which is above the snow level.
If you go a little bit further you will also find one of the famous Polar Bear signs; “Gjelder hele Svalbard’ where everybody takes a photo. Take a look at the background too, because it is breathtaking too, but if you are not in a car and you don’t have a gun with you, do not go any further this point, as you might just be facing a polar bear.
|Gjelder hele Svalbard - Polar bear sign|
Walking in this small town and enjoying the sunshine while looking at the colourful houses was so surreal…just as surreal when we were told, that yes still up here in the middle of nowhere this community with 2100 people has a disco and cinema, a supermarket, Thai restaurant and a café.
But tonight we decided to eat our dinner in Nansen, Radisson’s own restaurant and go for the trademark arctic dishes in 4 courses with the magnificent view we had from the restaurant.
Pre-starter was Scallops in Jerusalem artichokes cream
Starter crab soup with roots
Main dish: it was called I think, Taste of Svalbard…and yes it had different meat types in one dish. So we could try whale-, short legged reindeer- and seal steaks with celery sauce and mash. The whale meat tasted exactly like pigliver. It was nice. The seal…well it had a very strong taste. 20x stronger pigliver taste with dry and chewy meat, but the reindeer was pink, soft and lovely!
Dessert was Cloudberry Parfait.
|Pre-starter was Scallops in Jerusalem artichokes cream|
|Starter crab soup with roots|
|Taste of Svalbard|
Lastly we went to Huset, which is a fine dining restaurant in the day time and evening, then it transforms into a Saturday night disco every weekend! Our dear friends and the newly found new friends took us there, where we had a fun time! At the end around 4am we still went on to our friend’s place to still carry on with talking and drinking! But at around 6am we needed to head home, because I had booked a speedboat tour for Sunday morning. But I will write about this the next time!