Friday, June 28, 2013

Destination: Svalbard

Happy huskies
The last stop on Viking's Nord Norge journey was the Svalbard archipelago. This is the point for me when the trip went from just plain amazing to full-blown "pinch me!"

Where and what is Svalbard, you may ask? It's a group of islands that are pretty much at the top of the world—about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The region has a colorful history. A whaling base from the 17th century, Svalbard has actually been an Arctic tourism destination and a launching point for further polar expeditions since the late 19th century. The first coal mining began in 1899 and it was a driving force in the area's development throughout the 20th century. At various points in history the Dutch, Norwegians, Brits, French, Russians, Danes and even the Americans have had interests in the area before it formally became part of Norway in the 1920s with the signing of the Svalbard Treaty. (Longyearbyen, the area's administrative center, was named after American John Munro Longyear, president of the Arctic Coal Company.) Today scientific research is an important activity in Svalbard, as is tourism.

Team Viking suits up
for a RIB safari
Our flight to Svalbard took us from Tromsø to Longyearbyen, which is as far north as you can fly on a scheduled public flight. I was half expecting a small, propeller-style plane like we had flown in throughout northern Norway, so I was a bit relieved to board a Boeing 737 for our 90-minute flight across the North Sea. As we began our foggy descent into Longyearbyen and dramatic mountains appeared on both sides of the plane, I was reminded how far we had traveled from the prairies of Minnesota.

Our three-day stay in Svalbard was filled with a steady stream of unforgettable experiences. A highlight of our first day was a dogsledding tour that included harnessing and feeding our new furry friends. The next day we visited the surprisingly robust Svalbard Museum—an important stop for anyone looking for a historical and cultural overview of the region—and spent the evening skimming the icy waters of the Isfjord on a RIB safari (that's rigid inflatable boat). Our final day brought glorious weather for a hike up a nearby mountain, Sarkofagen (the Sarcophagus), and a delicious gourmet meal featuring local ingredients at Longyearbyen's Huset restaurant.

Snacks at the top of Sarkofagen
My advice to anyone traveling to Svalbard? Bring plenty of warm layers and a spirit of adventure. Hook up with the knowledgable local guides and get out and enjoy this incredible Arctic wilderness. Want to learn more? You can read more about Viking's trip to Northern Norway in our January 2014 travel issue!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

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