Spitsbergen Travel Guide

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For the ultimate Arctic adventure, take the journey to the Spitsbergen islands (a.k.a., Svalbard), where you can expect to see Polar Bears and floating icebergs.

Svalbard was probably discovered in 1194 by Vikings from Iceland. Forgotten, then rediscovered by Dutchmen in the16th century, the interest in the archipelago increased with intensive whaling and Arctic hunting in the 17th century. Since the early 1900s, coal mining and scientific research have dominated the islands. The mines are operated both by Russians (Pyramiden, Barentsburg) and Norwegians (Longyearbyen, Svéagruva). Ny-Ålesund is mainly a scientific colony, with researchers from many countries involved in the polar field (glaciology, arctic biology, etc.).

Svalbard was also key in many attempts to reach the North Pole area. Since the Paris treaty of 1920, Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty, administered by a Sysselman based in Longyearbyen. All signatory nations have equal rights to access the area. In some features (including the interdiciton of any military base), this treaty is a precursor of the Antarctic Treaty.

Longyearbyen is the main settlement (approx. 1000 inhabitants). It is mainly a coal mine, but tourism has become increasingly important. During high season there are (almost) daily flights from Tromso, and almost anything (clothes, polar equipment, food...) can be purchased there. Svalbard is a duty free zone, which make some Norwegian high quality products very attractive buys here (Ajungilak sleeping bags, Hell Sport tents, etc.). Nybyen is a charming village close to Lonyearbyen.

Out of the capital there is the arctic desert, it is not possible to go around without meticulously organized trips. The environment doesn't allow improvisations and the polar bear is very dangerous, it attacks without warning and it races much faster than humans. The main vehicle used in Svalbards is the snowmobile. The agencies hire them for their organized tours, teaching the guide of it. They are not difficult to be governed, just a little uncomfortable for whom has not accustomed.

    

Travelling with the snowmobile, it is possible to drive over dry land and over the frozen surface of the sea continu ously . It is not distinguishable where snow covers the ground or where it covers the pack. The experience of the companions and the modern half technicians make not to feel sure in a difficult environment. The weather is suddenly varying and it passes in few minutes from the full light of the sun to the fog or it comes upon us in a snowstorm.

The landscape, however, broadly repays from the difficulties and from the cold. The silence reigns anywhere. There are no trees, houses, city. The beauty of the place is given by the shapes of the mantle of snow that covers mountains and valleys. The white is the dominant colour. The  always clear sky, with the sun that turns tall in sky all over the day, it makes to lose meaning to the words day and night. The time is not established from the cycle of the sun or from the alternation of the light and the dark anymore, each one regulates himself  only with a clock. The time fades away and it loses in the white. It seems to be suspended in the sky and, apart for the rigid temperature, you could be thought about being in H eaven.

The arctic landscape is made of ancient mountains, dug by the glaciers, and from fiords frozen that they wedge him in the islands. In some rare place rests of human installations, some hunters of last century that picked up the scarce deposits of the ships to build small shelters whether to take refuge during the hunting. Some of these shelters are used today also.

Certainly the most fascinating show is represented by the glaciers that go down from the valleys and that, instead of falling in sea, they are stop to the frozen surface. The blocks of ice remain suspended in their fall, advancing slowly during the short summers. The ice, when it starts to form him, it is initially white, then, as it is compressed during the centuries of the trip toward valley, it assumes all the tonalities of the blue. When it picks up soil in his to advance, it assumes a layer of dark coloration.

The polar bear is not rare to be seen on the pack, especially during the spring when they go in search of the seals that emerge from the ice. The tour leader s, obligatorily armed, hold under control the situation for the tourists.

 

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January 08, 2008 change by pio (1 point)

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