Posted by: Gary Guertin | August 10, 2015

7. Viking Cruise – Aug. 5, 2015 – Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway


Hi All,

I am writing this post on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, where we have reached our furthest point north.  I’m going to cover today in my next post, but first let’s go back to yesterday and our stop at the further most city north in the world; Longyearbyen.  To set up this port, I’ll try to give you a short geography lesson (sorry I’m not a teacher).  Looking on a map there is a medium size mass of land north of Norway, toward the north pole, which looks like a large island, and is called “Svalbard”. This mass of land is administered by Norway, in agreement with 42 other countries (including the U.S.), whose citizens can come and go, live or leave, etc. without any restrictions other then the laws of the territory.  By the way, they even have their own passports.  Now, if you look on the west coast of Svalbard you will see the area of Spitsbergen and the small port of Longyearbyen.  The city has a very interesting history, because even though it was visited off and on by many sailors, including the Dutch, who stopped and occupied it for several years, it wasn’t until 1906 that the settlement actually was established.  Believe it or not it was founded by an American, John Longyear (the name of the town is Norwegian for Longyear), who set up the Arctic Coal Company, a mining operation, for about 500 people.  Over the years seven major mines were established and the town flourished. However, it was occupied by Germany in WWII, the Germans actually using it’s resources for a time, but as they started to lose the war, they decided to burn down every building, and virtually ended the coal operations.  Thanks to the treaty of the 42 nations after the war it has grown into a thriving town with about 2024 people, mainly working in mining (although today only one coal mine is active), tourism, and support services.  In addition to being the northernmost city (about 600 miles from the geographic North Pole) Longyearbyen is also home to the world’s northernmost church, ATM, post office (including Santa Claus’s post office), museum, commercial airport, and university.  It is the only city in which the sun doesn’t rise for four months, from Oct. 25th to March 8th each year.

Now that I have painted the scene for you let’s start to look at this town thru my camera, because while it’s very barren, it’s space is beautiful.  Let’s start as usual with the ship’s sign:


Susy and I opted for a bus tour today, which I found through a web site called “Cruise Critic”.  The tour was on a 5 star bus, with Wi-Fi, and a 3 coarse meal (typical of the region) served as you road along. Here’s the bus:


Here’s Susy sitting at our table ready for our tour (with a can of local beer in front of her):


In front of the bus is the owner/guide/bus driver of Arctic Tapas, who turned out to be a fabulous guide and host:


How do you like those fur seats?  Now let’s start to look at the scenery.  First the coal community:


The only church (all denominations):


The only building not burned by the Germans besides their sleeping quarters), was the old post office:


Their are several laws in this town; 1. You can not be born here (women have to fly down to Norway to give birth), and 2. You can not die here, among a few other laws.  You can not die here because of the permafrost.  If they buried you, you would pop up every few years, so you have to go somewhere else south to die.  There is a graveyard here but these where the last people to be buried and it’s only their ashes.  Oh, and of coarse this is the northern most graveyard in the world:


OK, enough of the town, here’s why I said the place was beautiful, but barren:


We’re going to drive along this road to the end of the valley and then drive up that mountain on the left to get a birds eye view of the city.  Along the way we crossed a mass transit dog sled:


One of Santa’s reindeer:


Had a three course meal with the main course of fish on the left and mostly reindeer meat on the right:


Susy’s plate after:


and Susy said I had to show my plate, because Leo would never believe it:


Yes, I out ate Susy and with the exception of the fish ate almost everything.  Enough of food as we reached near the top of the mountain, just below Coal Mine #7, the only active coal mine today, we look out on one of the most spectacular views I have seen:


Here’s the bus stopped at this viewing site:


More scenery to our left, the coal mining operation and mountains behind:


and those mountains behind up close:


Now to our right:


The air is so clean in this part of the world that we are looking at mountains in the background that are between 40 and 50 miles away.

I have to stop here and explain why the coal mine is on the side of a mountain.  It seems that thousands of years ago this area sat at the meeting of two faults.  As in most earthquakes when these faults move it is with great pressure.  In this case, these two faults (which were covered with ocean) moved against each other and virtually opened up and fell backwards leaving the ocean floor upside down.  For this reason coal, which is normally down deep in the earth, in this part of the world is on the side of mountains and only has to be scrapped away to be mined.  Another thing is the coal is of the highest quality of any in the world (burns with more heat).  Here’s a sample I’m bringing home (you can pick it up anywhere on the ground):


It was time to head back to the ship, so I’ll just show you a few things we saw on the return.  First a dog kennel:


Of coarse, since Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, his post office is in Longyearbyen:


Some more of the houses in town:


and a short view of a part of main street:


To finish this post a little bit of trivia: first have no fears, Noah had his Ark, Longyearbyen has it’s “Seed Vault”.  Stored deep in the permafrost, is a warehouse with 2.25 billion seeds.  In case anything happens to the planet, this reinforced warehouse is ready to provide any seed necessary to start life again, from every variety of potato, to almost every food plant in the world.  Did you know that while there are only 5 million Norwegians, they consume  over 18 million pizzas a year, and nobody counts the number of Coca Colas they consume (Dirk, you have friends in Norway), their favorite food and drink.

I just want to show you that I was around, so here I am dressed for the warm summer weather here:


Until my next post, “Top of the World”

Love You All,

Gary (alias Gagu)



  1. Dear Gary,
    YOU ARE A TEACHER!!!!!!!!! Besos enormes para los dos. Leo

  2. This sounds like lots of fun!

  3. Wow sounds like your having a blast!

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