The flight to Svalbard took about 3 hours. It is an archipeligo that is about 1200 miles north of Oslo, Norway. At 76 degrees north, we are less than 700 miles from the north pole! Longyearbyen is the main settlement of about 2,600 people on the big island of Spitzbergen.
Vladimir was our guide around the settlement. He weaved tales of long winters spent mining for coal. In Longyearbyen, the sun sets for good on October 27th and doesn’t rise again until the middle of February. Over three months of total darkness. On the day the sun finally rises, the whole village climbs up to a small pass above the settlement to watch it crack the horizon. Apparently, they party for a week. I’ll bet.
A highlight of our short four-hour stay in Longyearbyen was seeing the door to the Global Seed Vault. Behind the door is a 10,000 square foot “hole in the side of a mountain”. It holds seeds from all of the world’s countries (except for North Korea). A relatively constant temperature and dry environment is maintained to store the seeds. The seed vault is an attempt to insure against the loss of seeds in a global crisis. It is only marginally reassuring to know that if things “went south” in a big way, we have a cache of seeds to help us get back on our feet.
Another highlight was seeing the Explorer for the first time. She’s a 350 ft. ship with a reinforced hull to break through Arctic ice. She will be my home for the next 15 days.