Decision & Preparation
Actually, I hate the cold. since I can remember I am trying to flee into countries where the sun is shining and it is at least 25 degrees. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way it looks when outside everything is covered in white and the sounds are dulled, everything seems so quiet and peaceful, but I cannot handle the cold =P
By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)
Please find the original post, including all photos, here: http://butterflies-needtofly.blogspot.co.at/2015/11/hunting-aurora-borealis-part-1.html
So that’s why I decide to plan my next trip to Norway. Well, not on the mainland of Norway, but on the island, Svalbard. Svalbard means “the land with the cold coast”.
My colleague and friend Hayath, did find a nice three day trip to Svalbard called “Hunting the Polar Lights” to a reasonable price and we decided to go there. Honestly, I didn’t inform myself in advance about Svalbard or Longyearbyen, the place of our destination. I kind of thought, Hayath did. Three weeks before the trip, I went to a book shop and wanted to buy a travel book about Norway. When I found a book about Norway, I was looking for the place Svalbard or Longyearbyen, but couldn’t find it. I started doubting that it even belongs to Norway, so checked Google Maps where Longyearbyen is located. Well, I found it on the card a few centimeter above Norway.
That’s what I saw on Google maps and somehow I couldn’t move the card with the mouse down. I will get back to that later. All I knew was, that there was no book about Svalbard in this shop. So I just gave it up and was wondering why we needed to go so far north, but somehow I forgot this thought, due to the fact that a spontaneous trip to Budapest came in between.
20.11.2015 – 9.15 am
On our way to Norway
So many things happened lately, that somehow the date of departure for our trip to Norway appeared very suddenly. We are almost 17 hours on our way and now, finally sitting in the plane to our final destination Longyearbyen, Svalbard. It is 9.15 am and I only slept around 3 hours but when I look out of the window I see such an amazing landscape that I am way too excited to fall asleep. Hayath fell immediately asleep as soon as the plane took off. For us both, it is the most northern destination we ever traveled to. Additionally, this is the first destination for us where it is cold. I feel like a little child which is absolutely amazed and thrilled by the view of all the snow.
I wished/hoped the whole time for a lot of snow, but now that I see it, I kind of didn’t expect it to be like in TV, it is almost like “oh – you asked for snow? Here you’ll go” 😀 – ok I know, by now you probably figured out that I have never been skiing or went for winter holidays that might be the reason why I am so overexcited 😉
Did I mention that right now there are Polar Nights? Meaning, there will be no sunlight. I actually knew that, but ignored it. At 11.15 am, we see the last rays of sun, getting dark again, my body clock is totally confused.
I dream a lot, actually I dream every night and I do remember every morning what I dreamt. When I would have written down my dreams, I could have probably published several books. At one point before the trip, Hayath started doing jokes about that I would let him be killed by a polar bear so that I just get the perfect selfie and somehow this lead me to the following dream:
One and half weeks ago, before we headed off for Norway I dreamt, I would do a parashoot jump out of a plane over the sea, with a landing in the water. Somehow, I forgot to wear something warm but it was too late and I had to jump. In the water, I was hunted by a polar bear – I tried to flee and swam very fast but suddenly, that bear wasn’t a bear but a very hairy man. I managed to get on land and started searching for warm clothes when I woke up. Kinda disturbing dream, although Hayath thought that this is just the proof of his prediction with the polar bear … but why then the bearded man??? never mind, let’s start the trip 🙂
First day in the cold
We survived the first day in the cold, although I wouldn’t say that we survived the whole day. We had a shuttle bus bringing us from the airport to our hotel and the guide in the bus, seriously, that was Santa Claus! He is a very huge, impressive person with a deep voice and rolling “r” and whenever he said “Aurora Borealis” you get goose bumps 😀
Well, he was telling us a bit about Longyearbyen and warned us, that the news channel BBC is on the island and is filming ten people on Svalbard. It shall be a documentary about the daily life of people on Svalbard, and just for the case that the guy next to you is not your husband you should inform them in advance that you don’t want to be filmed 😀 Hayath and I, we didn’t tell all our colleagues that we are doing this trip together to avoid rumours, but when we will be filmed anyway I thought, it doesn’t matter anymore and I can also mention him in my blog – so that’s settled 😉
Shortly after our arrival, we noticed that somehow, no matter where we were looking at, it was written: “Longyearbyen, next to the north pole”. That would explain, why I couldn’t scroll any further down on Google Maps, there was no “further” 😉
Let’s say it this way – we managed traveling to the last civilized location before the north pole without knowing it 😉
When we arrived and packed out, we had something for lunch and lay down for two hours – it is really confusing that it is dark all the time. When we had lunch, we thought the whole time it is dinner time. In our hotel room, Hayath was absolutely fascinated that I packed so much beauty equipment, in fact, he was so fascinated that he had to film it.
Our first activity was something more relaxed. After our nap, we got ready, put on our warm clothes and went into the cold, where a bus picked us up and drove us 10 km from our hotel to a hut, called Camp Barentz. Arriving at the camp, a few people were awaiting us outside and suddenly our bus driver just said “that’s BBC”. Hayath and I looked at each other and laughed – we knew it 😀
It was a very nice and cozy evening with international people sitting around the fireplace, enjoying their reindeer soup and some Norway shots while listening to the stories how Willem Barents in 1596 discovered the island. It was such an enjoyable evening with a lot of stories, laughter and interesting facts to learn, as for example how and why the aurora borealis occurs.
Camp Barentz was build exactly where the original first hut was built and is also an original copy to that hut. Helga and Kristin live both about three years in Longyearbyen. The BBC Team is filming Kristin, which I didn’t know but figured out very quickly due to the fact that I was interested in how Kristin came to the decision to extent her studying abroad to a permanent stay.
All of a sudden, the cameras were all directed on us. Actually, I can imagine people being annoyed by that, you are there to have a good time and chill and suddenly all spotlights are on you. Well, I didn’t mind that much, I was anyway planning to become famous 😀
All in one, we had a lovely evening – no aurora borealis – but cuddling time with Husky Mikkey, quality time with Helga and Kristin with whom I directly fell in love with 🙂 The evening ended much faster then all of us were hoping for and when we left the hut and I wanted to go to the bus, I was held up by the camera man asking me if he is allowed to ask me some quick questions and film me …
ME??? sure “this is MY moment” hahaha I think I totally screwed it. My face didn’t work properly, due to the cold it did some weird expressions and I couldn’t see anything due to the strong lights of the camera, blinding me and I REALLY felt strange 😀 He just asked me where I am from, how long I am here and what I think of this evening, and if I am disappointed that I didn’t see the polar lights and some more questions. I tried to answer the questions as nice as possible and then I had to sign a contract that I won’t claim any rights of this tape and so on. Of course, Hayath was making again fun out of me after that “our new celebrity” he is just jealous 😉
Totally motivated after that excursion and may be because we took a nap after lunch, we went out again as soon as we arrived at the hotel. So we went for a stroll on our own and felt like explorers 😀 Although it was already after 11pm, you really got the impression we were the only living creatures in that town, kinda ghost town, no people outside and it’s a FRIDAY!!!
Hiking – or how Hayath almost died
Most of the day we spent inside, watching TV, talking, and even sleeping. This darkness is really getting to you. Additionally, we booked a hiking trip to the Mountain Sverdruphamaren or Plateau Mountain, which has a height of 433 meters. Hayath looked at me very worried when we booked the excursion, but I got him convinced that 433 meters isn’t that high. That is why we pretty much didn’t do anything on that day, but rest.
Around 7pm we got picked up by our guide Adrian. Actually, there should have been two more people coming with us, but they just didn’t appear. Therefore, with a little delay we went by car to the city church, that is where our journey should start.
Adrian, our Romanian guide is very talkative and told us a lot of interesting stories, of which Hayath unfortunately didn’t catch too much due to the fact that he was more busy dealing with his bad condition =P I told him at least hundreds of times he should quit smoking (@Hayath: when you read this, please don’t hate me ;-)) While he was trying to climb this mountain without getting out of breath, I used the time and asked Adrian as many questions as I could. Adrian used to work in Sweden for a guy called Chad Blakely, who is the owner of the company Lights over Lapland. He told me, in that area you can almost see every day the aurora borealis, due to the fact that in that area the blue hole phenomenon exists. I kind a cursed ourselves for not informing us too well, because Adrian said that actually you are more than lucky seeing the lights on Svalbard, we are too far north for the light ring. Nevertheless, I am always saying everything has somehow a reason why it is happening and traveling to the most northern point of the world where civilization is, is not too bad, isn’t it?
Adrian told us that within Longyearbyen, there are around 2000 people living of 50 nationalities. We are in a tax free area, so if we want to have a car, mobiles, cameras and all kind of technology stuff it would be wise ordering it and let it deliver to Longyearbyen to some friend so we can pick it up there. I made sure, that he friended me on Facebook, just for the case, you’ll never know 😉 Living here is pretty much affordable because of the tax free zone and when you decide to live in Longyearbyen, you will get 30.000 NOK as a welcome gift. As long as you can support yourself, you can do whatever you want to do. There is only one small hospital, no real jail – although the biggest crime happening here is a pub fight, so probably not necessary. The town even got a Facebook group, so when someone is losing their jacket or it got stolen for example, this person is posting into the group if someone found their jacket and that they don’t need the stuff within the jacket, this person shall just return the jacket and as a price he/she offers a beer. 😀 I like this kind of problem solving. There is no Visa necessary, one of the reasons why so many nationalities occur on this small place so far north. There are some limitations, it is forbidden to die there or to give birth! hahaha – yes you read it correctly, due to the fact that they only have this small hospital, they don’t have the capacity and possibility to take care of these kind of issues.
Meaning, when you are pregnant you have to leave the island at least a month before birth and return after giving birth. Well, there had to be some limitations, therefore, you live on that very spot where you find Santa’s Mailbox, a small price to pay, isn’t it? 😀
Getting back to the hiking – which wasn’t over yet, YES I had that much time talking 😀 I had in between the feeling Hayath is going to die due to lack of oxygen or he is going to kill me! He sat in between three times down, into the snow, breathing heavily and saying with such conviction that he is not able to move one step further, that even Adrian suggested that we could return and he will drive us to some lookout place. I just couldn’t accept the fact that we will not make it to at least the 400 meters line to have the view. So I used my best skills in convincing and tried to persuade Hayath, that this is all in his mind and his body still can move, it is only he, who is thinking he cannot make it, and it is not much further, only a little bit!!! hahaha I really thought, if he had still his strength he definitely would have killed me 😀 BUHUUUT, he did it! I am so proud of him, and these pictures are the best reward 🙂
Just for you to get an impression HOW cold it was. I took my iPhone 6 out, to take some pictures. After a few minutes, my fully charged iPhone just switched off and it took me in total 15 minutes next to the heater, to turn it on again!
Then, we had to go all the way back down – didn’t tell Hayath about that 😀 when we returned, we had a big dinner in our room and Hayath fell asleep with all his clothes on. He deserved it 😉
I couldn’t believe that this is already our third day and we still haven’t seen the aurora borealis. I woke up around 8am – who cares actually about the time? it is anyway ALWAYS dark outside! Never mind, I woke up and tried to wake up Hayath, I wanted to go out for a little bit exploring and hopefully seeing the lights! No matter what I did, he didn’t move so I decided to go out on my own. I went out and I wasn’t gone for 100 meters when a snowstorm started.
I had a few nice shots, but there was no way that you could possibly see the aurora borealis in this snow. So I decided to go back – that was more difficult than I thought I really had to fight against the wind and snow. When I arrived in front of the hotel, Hayath was already looking out for me. We went inside for breakfast and decided to try it afterward again. But first, we booked a dog sled tour, the one thing I was looking forward the most 🙂
So finally, it was time for getting picked up by the van who would bring us to our dog sledge adventure. Next to us, there was one couple joining us. I just noticed that it is obviously not that common that a man and a woman travel along, being just friends. Every time we did get the same reaction to our answer “yeah, sure JUST friends/colleagues”. Seriously, people it can be possible! Never mind, well so we were picked up in the afternoon – could have been in the middle of the night, won’t get used to the dark – and in the meanwhile it started snowing like crazy again. So all in one, perfect conditions 😀 when we arrived at the place, we already heard the dogs barking. They obviously were awaiting us excited.
But, before we get on the sleds, we needed to be prepared for it! Proper clothes, seriously, I almost couldn’t move 😀 please, convince yourself. I had to wear OVER my clothes and jacket, overall, thicker boots, gloves, glasses and a head torch.
Well, no there is no chickening out possible. We had to hold the lead dogs, until all six dogs were suited up in front of the sledge. Then one person had to sit down on the sledge – Hayath – and the other had to get on the sledge and we were off. The dogs ran with such a speed, I had to take care that they didn’t overtake our guide Sandra, who was in front of me. It was pitch dark, the only light I had was the light of Sandra infront of me and the light of my own head torch. The snow was lightening the area a little bit up. It was so much fun, but on the same time so exhausting. You had to hang in with every turn we took, always be in a squat position being able to push with one leg the break in the middle, and to hold yourself with the other one. I felt so much adrenaline, a feeling between ‘that’s so freaking awesome’ and ‘oh gosh, please don’t let us skip over!’ We did one round, meaning at one point we turned around and went the way back and you had the possibility of switching places with the person sitting on the sledge. I asked Hayath if I could stay on the sledge and not to switch, I think he didn’t mind 😉 so I stayed and managed to bring us back without landing in the snow. Totally exhausted, but veeeery happy we arrived and were allowed to help to get one dog after the other to their houses. Of course, they all deserved a lot of petting and good words, they did a great job!!! Sandra asked us, if we would like to see a purebred green dog – what a question! They are so huge, but so lovable.
When we were on the way to the hut, to get a hot chocolate I saw the cage with the purebred puppies. Well, puppies … you see how big an outgrown dog is, So this is how big puppies are, when they are one month old.
After I almost couldn’t feel my hands anymore and the puppies almost ate me, we went finally to the hut.
We were really sad this morning. Although it seemed as if we were already ages on this island, on the same time we thought we just arrived. It would be so strange, going back to crowded streets, big houses and well, yeah even sunlight! After breakfast, we packed our stuff and got picked up by the bus and left for the airport. On the airport, I couldn’t resist buying at least some souvenirs.
Everything went very smoothly, we arrived in Oslo a little bit with time pressure due to the fact that we didn’t have too much time to get our connecting flight. Though, by the time we reached our gate we were told that our flight was canceled and we missed the flight we could have taken instead. Nice! That was really convenient, especially because I had to be on the next day at latest 11am in the office for my business trip to Germany and the next flight available to Prague would land at 11am. What can I do!? I had to re-plan everything and we had to stay over the night in Oslo. At least, everything was covered by our airline.
Not really the kind of ending you wish yourself on a journey, but we got a nice hotel and a nice dinner sponsored.
And on the next day, everything went smoothly. We arrived on time in Prague, and I also managed to get to Germany for my business trip. Too bad that I didn’t manage to see a polar bear, nor the bearded man 😉