Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen Funken Hotel, and activities around Svalbard
So having arrived at LYR, we waited for 75% of the flight to pile onto the same bus into town. There are really only 4 or 5 options for places to stay, so the bus can easily make a loop to all of them. Nearly 45 minutes later, we were the last stop on the loop, and were pulling up to our hotel – the Spitsbergen Hotel aka the Funken Hotel.
The view from the front drive of our hotel – the area is pretty barren:
First stop after checking in was to try and book some activities when we were there. The disappointing thing we learned, is that in the “busy summer season” (even though it was 0C most of the time, it still was summer) most activities book up months in advance. Seems most people plan their holidays in Svalbard well in advance. Oh well! We did get booked on a three hour Zodiac-esque fjord tour the next day, which promised to give a really interesting look at what this group of islands was like outside the “city.”
Basically spent the remainder of the afternoon taking it pretty easy since we didn’t want to wear ourselves out before the marathon. Noting above that it was still a public holiday in Norway many if not all things were closed, so a small walk around the town area was nice just to get a feel of the lay of the land.
That evening, we had booked dinner at the SAS Radisson hotels Brasseri Nansen restaurant which promised a polar tasting menu. However, on the mile or so walk to dinner we had a pretty cool encounter:
The picture isn’t the best since I had to shoot it with the iPhone from a distance, but this is a Svalbard reindeer that had just wandered into the town and was munching away on whatever it could find. This would end up being our only reindeer siting of the trip (well, except for the following paragraphs) so we were really lucky to see it!
When we got to the dinner, the polar tasting menu actually didn’t look all that thrilling, so we opted to order a la carte, which had the possibility of trying several other dishes which looked quite unique and interesting.
First up was the polar appetizer trio, which was a piece of whale, a terrine of grouse, and a seal carpaccio. Have to say that all three were an interesting taste but nothing that I am going to go out of my way to make part of my regular diet!
For a main course I went with the filet of Svalbard Reindeer, which was quite interesting and actually had a texture rather like liver:
All in all, it was quite an interesting meal and a rather unique experience. Definitely not Michelin-quality dining, but hey, it is Svalbard after all!
Next morning we were up bright and early and after attacking the expected wonderful hotel restaurant breakfast buffet we were picked up by the folks from Spitsbergen Travel who were going to take us on our Fjord Tour. Stop one after they collected folks from all the various hotels was there office where we were all kitted up in flotation suits and warm furry hats for the journey. They assured us the rubber boats were “sink-proof” and the worst we could expect was lots of spray off the water if it got choppy and windy.
With that, we were off. Our guide was fantastic, giving us the history of modern habitation of Svalbard, along with a really long commentary on the coal mining industry, and various wildlife, etc. I would highly recommend this company based on the one short trip we took. We were on the water for about 2 in total which got quite chilly with the windchill and bumping over the water. A few pics from the boat:
Birds swimming off the side of one of the cliffs, avoiding an arctic fox who was looming above:
Abandoned Soviet mining village:
After two hours, we pulled over across the fjord from Longyearbyen town for a bit of a walkaround, picture taking, coffee and biscuits. Was cool to see things from the other side. Our boat as it was pulling up:
After getting back to town, we grabbed lunch at the Svalbar (yes, creative name, hah) which consisted of the saltiest and most sauce-laden burger I’ve ever had. Tasty still, but the side salad was so salty it was in edible. One thing we noticed on Svalbard is that all the food seemed to be very heavily salted, not sure why this was.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the small town, checking the sporting goods stores (the one thing this place has plenty of) looking for some last-minute pre-marathon needs. 6pm we headed to the town recreation centre to check in for the race, where we realised there were only 37 people registered for the marathon, and maybe another 30 total split between the half marathon and the 10K. There were clearly going to be long stretches of the race where there were no other people in site. As befits a low key event even the race t-shirt was “if you want it, you buy it” so of course I picked up two…how often am I going to be here! Of course that meant finishing was not going to be optional….
We gave up on trying to find somewhere that would make an adequate carbo-loading meal and ended up on settling on the hotel bar, which made a pretty decent Pasta Carbonara.
As was the theme for the trip, it was really hard to go to bed at 11pm with the bright sun overhead, but we managed to in order to rest up for the big day the next day!
Next up: The Spitsbergen Marathon