Growing up in a world just before the true rise of google, I would, and sometimes for hours on end, stare at crumpled paper maps, unfolded hastily and tearing at the edges. I would spin globes, shut my eyes, point my finger, and wherever the globe would cease spinning, I would tell myself that someday, I would visit wherever it was that that particular rotation had determined. I was always the most fascinated by the places that seemed at the very edge of things. I was captivated by the most remote, the coldest, the furthest, the most northerly. Svalbard captured my imagination young, it felt distant, unreachable, and so I devoured any piece of information I could gather.
Svalbard is a mysterious archipelago, far far north, and for the most part uninhabited, 800 miles above the arctic circle and leagues beyond the very furthest reaches of Europe. Svalbard is administered by Norway, but owned, thanks to a treaty, by everybody. It is a place where, as long as you have the means to support yourself in such a hostile environment, you can call it home, providing you can find accommodation, without the need for a visa.
Svalbard is a place where in the summer, the midnight sun does not set, and where the landscape, rugged and raw, and as fragile as it is untameable, powerful, is bathed in golden light, light which, without rest, and making up for the brevity of the milder climate, gifts delicate life to countless fields of tiny wild flowers; heather, cloudberries, willows, carpets of cottongrass for reindeer to graze on, pastel colours piercing the arctic tundra’s earthy hues of browns, greys, deep coal blacks. And in the almost incomprehensible winter, Svalbard endures months of darkness, from which the only relief for the brave few thousand inhabitants of the island, huddled in their rainbow painted houses and sheltering from raging snowstorms and ravenous polar bears, is that other-worldly cosmic dance that sometimes, like a net curtain shifting and twisting in the wind, lights the sky emerald, amethyst, sapphire.
Mike and I departed north, from Oslo, to Longyearbyen, on July 16th, 2014, on a Norwegian Air flight that we had stumbled upon whilst hunting budget flights from Los Angeles to Europe. The evening of July 16th was long, warm, and lovely, in Oslo, and as our plane left the runway and began it’s climb, the fjords, like glass below us, glittered and sparkled, mirroring the sunset sky, saturated with deep pinks and fiery reds.
We were to be visiting Svalbard for just under a week, and would be staying at the only camp-site, and affordable option, on the island, Longyearbyen Camping. Longyearbyen Camping is open only during the brief summer, and a twenty minute bike ride from Longyearbyen town. It sounded perfect for us.
The flight to Longyearbyen was three hours long, and from our windows we watched as the sun, which at that time should have sunk below the horizon, instead, rose higher into the sky, delicate and pale against pastel blue skies and peach wisps and waves of cloud.
Eventually, we began our descent. As we broke through the what was now thick cloud cover below us, and left the infinite blue above us, we found ourselves surrounded by a dense, almost impenetrable fog, once in a while parting, the gaps between mists gifting raw black mountains peeking through the grey, hinting at what was to come. We switched our sandals for boots, our summer clothes for wool jumpers, thermal underwear, gloves, and scarves, and began our approach to the runway, it’s lights reassuring and blinking glowing green and orange against the murkiness. Our plane landed smoothly, and without problem, as we buttoned up our coats. Wildly excited, backpack laden with cameras over our shoulders, and entirely unsure of what we were about to experience, we stepped out into the Arctic haze, air thick with anticipation and sharp on our skin.
Part 2 Coming Soon!
Here’s our flickr photoset from Svalbard
Here’s the Longyearbyen Camping website