Sunday, September 30, 2018
Mostly clear skies and currently 14ºF with a high of 22ºF
Sitting in my room in the Coal Miners’ Cabins in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. It’s about 7:30am. I’ve been hanging out here with Mary Ellen (a composer also living in Minneapolis, and we plan to collaborate on some kind of work as a result of this trip) and Patricia (a Dutch Canadian photographer/installation artist currently living in Scottland) for the past two days.
On the way here, I took a red-eye flight and arrived in Reykjavik on Thursday morning. I met Mary Ellen at the Blue Lagoon at 8:00am right after my plane landed - a great start to this trip. We walked around old town Reykjavik in the afternoon, had dinner at a traditional Icelandic place, then went to bed early. I woke up at 1:30am to some loud music coming from a car outside my guesthouse window. I couldn’t get back to sleep. The city seems super safe, so I went on a walk around 2:30am or so. and I came back to my room around 3:30am. Just enough time to repack, meet Mary Ellen for an early breakfast at 4:00am, and catch our shuttle back to the airport at 4:30am.
We flew to Oslo, took a shuttle to our next hotel, and walked a quarter of a mile to an adjacent hotel for some dinner. I found myself feeling a little scratchy. That night that feeling got much worse, and I awoke with a fever and stabbing pain in my throat. I could barely get myself to function in the morning, but I tried to keep it together since we were traveling. My mind felt scrambled. In security at the Oslo airport, Mary Ellen and I both had our bags searched, which left us a little frazzled. I lost my new fleece - either in the security check or on the plane. I don’t have any recollection since my mind was too fuzzy.
But shortly after, we arrived in Svalbard - gorgeous, mysterious Svalbard. From the air, the island of Spitsbergen looked like it consisted only of rocky, whipped-cream mountains. The plane landed in Longyearbyen and did a U-turn to come back to the terminal with only one gate. We deplaned on the tarmac. All passengers can take a bus directly to their hotel or into town. So we did that and stayed where I sit now: Coal Miners’ Cabins.
When we got to the check-in desk at Coal Miners’, which is also the bar and where you order for the restaurant, we met two other people on the trip: Isaac (a muralist from Phoenix) and Patricia. We sat and drank a beer, then settled into our rooms.
It didn’t matter that I was feeling crummy, this place is exhilarating. I live in Minnesota - a place with cold winters, snow, and lots of public land to enjoy. But Svalbard is something entirely different. The archipelago of Svalbard is made up of seemingly endless mountains and fjords, and it is situated at about the midpoint between Norway and the North Pole. According to wikipedia, seven national parks and 23 nature reserves protect its fragile natural land, and about 60% of it is blanketed by glaciers.
After resting for just a short while in our rooms, it was time to get out and see some of Longyearbyen, Mary Ellen, Patricia, and I walked into town, which is about a half-hour walk from Coal Miners’) to find an outfitter - for a couple of different reasons, including so that I could find a replacement for my fleece that I’d left in Oslo. I think we each wanted to explore a bit.
We walked down the main road (none of the streets in Longyearbyen are actually named) to Sportscenteret. There was a gal working there who was wearing Steger Mukluks. Mukluks are made a couple of hours north of where I live in Minnesota, so this place instantly felt just a bit closer to home. She said that shipping from Minnesota to Longyearbyen is so expensive, but they are the best winter footwear. So, each year the people in Longyearbyen arrange a mass order to save on shipping costs. (I’d happily volunteer to fly over with the next shipment!)
I bought the fleece that I needed, and we walked to a couple of the other outfitters in town. Afterwards, we had a delicious traditional meal at a restaurant called Kroa and then came back to Coal Miners’ for the night.
Generally, I love exploring new cities, but exploring Longyearbyen is an entirely different kind of excitement. It feels like it’s on the edge of the earth - a last outpost before a seemingly endless sea towards the north pole. There’s a possibility of polar bears. Generally, being in town is safe, but it is illegal to walk outside of the city limits without a rifle for polar bear protection. The weather seems like it gets harsh. But, it had just snowed when we arrived, so everything looks fresh and magical.
Flying into Svalbard and walking around this town wedged between mountains gives me a similar feeling to what I’ve had before while exploring the remote locations - like in Utah around Moab/Arches National Park and in Botswana. The landscape is unforgiving and massive, and it’s hard to grasp just how small we are in comparison.
This activity is made possible, in part, by funds provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) through a grant from The McKnight Foundation.