Svalbard – A Truly Eery Experience


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August 2004. Just how far north can one go? Svalbard is the world’s most readily accessible bit of the polar north and lies about 600 miles north off the northern tip of Norway and about 600 miles south from the North Pole. Svalbard means ‘Cold Coast’ and is popular because of its sheer beauty including vast ice floes, glaciers, and wildlife. Unfortunately, at this time of year, there aren’t many ice floes, so polar bears are rather scarce. This is a blessing in disguise, however, as polar bears are known to be very dangerous pests around the main town of Longyearbyen (pop. 1500). In fact, several have been shot at close quarters earlier that summer. It is strongly encouraged that tourists hire a rifle if wandering outside the town, including walking the Burma Road from Longyearbyen to the world’s most northerly commercial airport. Svalbard, of course, is famous for its long midnight sun and its perpetual darkness from October to February. High-quality coal is still mined in Svalbard including the Russian settlement of Barentsburg. In 1920, the Svalbard Treaty was signed granting Norwegian sovereignty over the islands, restricted military activities, and granted business and mineral extraction rights to all 42 signatories of the treaty. A day trip to Barentsburg proved fascinating as this is still a live working Russian mining settlement of about 800 people.

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