Brass Monkeys II
We arrived in Oslo in heavy fur coats, only to find it warmer than London. This is where we remember that the UK is further north than anyone realises or is prepared to acknowledge. We are by nature more Viking, German and Scandinavian that anything else.
Oslo was full of hipsters in shorts and girls in very short skirts. Everyone was sitting outside drinking coffee. There’s more than a touch of Edinburgh about the place. The twin museums of art (modern and classical) will have to wait until our return next week.
After being trapped on a broken-down train in Oslo we clambered onto a rescue train, nearly missing our flight to Tromso, but linked up from there to Longyearben. It’s incredibly, eyeball-dryingly, brain-freezingly cold, colder than anything I’ve ever experienced.
Longyearben is 77 degrees North There are a few scattered wooden houses, a supermarket and a pub straight out of ‘Fortitude’ into which you’re not allowed to take rifles (it’s illegal to travel anywhere without a gun here because of the 3,000 polar bears roaming around).
The snow here is deceptive; rock hard and feather-soft, disguising drops, half in light, filled with hollows, tough to walk across without falling, so snowmobiles are the only way around. The streets have no names and there are few actual roads. Everything is the furthest north item to the North Pole, hence the town’s ATM:
There is a taxi but he operates on his own timetable, and you really don’t want to stand outside if you can avoid it. I’m hoping this will kick-start the creative juices for something new and non-Bryant & May-based.
Next up, caving inside the glacier, not one for the claustrophobic but a great way to see 4,000 year-old striations in the ice with fossils of leaves still inside. That’s young for a glacier, but Svalbard is still forming ice and growing, blossoming from a central root like a tree.
Traditional menus here include reindeer, bearded seal and whale. There’s also a Thai restaurant, as a small Thai population formed after whalers brought back brides from the Far East. Around 2,000 residents live here – although nobody is technically from Svalbard because they’re not supposed to be born here (we’re outside the Schengen zone so the idea is that the place is for everyone.
There is a school, though, and a new generation of children is growing up who have only known the area. Off to search for wildlife tomorrow.