Svalbard....brrrr....high up in the Arctic Circle
"I dreamed a dream of Svalbard."
In my dream, the country of Norway extended all the way to the North Pole. (It was a clue to a mystery to solve.)
I knew God gave me this dream and quickly went to our world map hanging on our recreation room wall to try and figure out what God was telling me, because I knew, literally speaking, that Norway did not go all the way to the top of the world.
Imagine my surprise, when, sure enough, there was an archipelago high up into the Arctic Circle that belonged to Norway called Svalbard or Spitsbergen.
See the tiny dot directly in front on this globe and to the right of Greenland? That's Svalbard.
I'd never heard or known of these before but knew instinctively that God wanted me to visit.
The first thing I usually do is investigate a place, so found some blog sites and a children's story book about Svalbard during WW II.
I don't like planning and put it off--so some time went by--maybe even a year, but the Holy Spirit began prompting me about this journey to Svalbard.
At the time KLM airlines went to Longyearbyen airport at Svalbard and since we collect air miles and had 40,000 of these, I flew there free.
I highly recommend getting a NWA visa credit card...IF and only IF you can discipline yourself to pay it off each month....don't build up debt....it's a killer. These air miles add up quicker than you think. We try and use the visa card for everything, even small purchases. Gas and grocery purchases alone make it worth it for us.
After reading the Svalbard blogs I became somewhat fearful because they were all written by guys who were into backpacking, camping, etc. I'm not and wondered what I'd be getting myself into by going there. I feared that I'd get myself into "beer-drinking, rough language type scenarios" in which I'd find myself totally uncomfortable.
I also feared the cold. Even going in May could prove to be chilly.
A visit on the way
Since I'm of Norwegian decent and have cousins in Norway, I used the trip to also visit my cousin Kai and wife Marit and daughters, Eva and Louisa, in Stavanger--but that visit is for another page about Norway.
As I said goodbye at the airport to my cousin and his wife and gave them both a kiss, I sensed the mostly male passengers in line around me stiffen with fright.....seeming to think, "Oh, dear, there's an American woman on board!"
After my visit with Kai and family, I flew from Oslo to Tromso. On this flight, I sat beside a sauna salesman and he proudly showed me brochures of his product. I was totally shocked to see photos of an entire family sitting together in these new saunas totally naked. It was my turn to stiffen with fear.
Sure enough, in Tromso, those disembarking and remaining for the flight to Longyearbyen were mostly macho guys with big backpacks and only a couple of women. My fears elevated at this point...."Just what was I getting myself into?"
I chatted with one of these women and secretly hoped she's "take me under her wing." She didn't...an independent lot these Svalbardians.
While I've found native Norwegians some of the most benevolent people on earth, they remain conservative, as a rule, in nature.
I was one of the last on the plane and found an empty seat (there were no assigned seats) next to a lady sitting by the aisle.
Chatting with this lady, who was rather reserved and not overly friendly, I discovered her to be Monica Christiansen, the director of a world-wide research center for global warming in Ny Alesund, a station further north than Longyearbyen.
I asked Monica whether if there was a church in Ny Alesund.
She said she wanted to establish a church there, which would make it the "world's most northern church." This record is now held by the Seaman's Church in Longyearbyen.
"What can I do to help you? What do you need? How can I contribute towards your efforts to start a church?" These were questions I asked her.
As she was pondering my questions, I asked, "Would it be good to send you Bibles in a several languages for the international scientists to have access to?"
She picked up on the suggestion immediately and when I returned home I contacted the American Bible Society (ABS) in New York City, who graciously donated bibles in 17 languages and sent them to the Ny Alesund science research center.
After landing in Longyearbyen, (population 1,700) Mrs. Christiansen took a small plane on north to Ny Alesund (population 40) and I waited in the tiny airport, Avinor, for my suitcase. As I waited, I placed my large black leather purse/bag on a cart and once walked away from it for a little space to get a better look at the luggage corral. When I turned back to my cart, there stood two guys in backpacks joking with each other about how easy it would be to steal my bag. I glared. But it was a warning for me to be more careful.
Longyearbyen to right.
I knew there was a bank in Longyearbyen (world's most northern bank---Longyearbyen holds this record for several things, church, school, community, swimming pool...) so I hadn't changed any money yet to Norwegian Kroner.
However, on the bus from the airport to Longyearbyen, I regretted this decision, when a ticket man started walking down the aisle gathering the cost of the bus ride...I wondered how I would pay it. I was embarrassed and sheepishly asked if he's take American dollars. I'd mentally calculated an equivalent and offered it to him. Thankfully, he took it.
But it singled me out as being one of "those stupid American travelers"...and I already felt very clumsy and out of place.
Svalbard is very easy to get into, no visa or Passport is required. However, it's just as easy to get expelled from. They tolerate no trouble makers. Crime is almost non-existent, but at one place where I inquired about an educational video...the equipment had just been stolen...a rare occurrence in Svalbard. There will be little mercy on the culprit once he's discovered.
Anyone who immigrates there is quickly absorbed into the culture and taught the Norwegian language and Norwegian ways. I met several Asian women who were cleaning and speaking fluent Norwegian.
I'll be adding more details about my trip to Svalbard...you won't want to miss my snowmobiling adventure over the glaciers to the Russian village of Barentsburg, visiting the world's most northern church, or my dog-sledding day....