July 25, 26, 27, 2007
As I pack it is difficult to imagine that I will need gloves, hats, scarves, capilene and boots. Then I think, "Arctic". That is all it takes, no matter if it is 29°C outside and 65% humidity. It will be around 10°C and windy. I will be on top of the world. Finally, I get everything ready and head to the airport. This was going to be some kind of journey! Four flights just to get there and three calendar days! My first flight from Mobile, Alabama to Memphis, Tennessee goes smoothly. In Memphis, I connect my computer and make phone calls, as I am not sure what communication will be like once I get into Europe. I know that my cell phone will not work even though the company confirmed that it would. Fortunately, I have the satellite phone that VECO provided for me if nothing else works. I also have the phone card from my sister and brother-in-law. Off to Amsterdam from Memphis on an 8 hour flight. Getting settled, I try to sleep after the in-flight meal and revel in the many choices of movies, music and entertainment in the headrest tvs - much better than just the overhead tvs with the in-flight movie that I have been experienced before. Eleven a.m. (7-26-07) and we are in Amsterdam. I have just lost the seven hours difference in time that will be with me over the next several weeks. One hour in Amsterdam, and I board the plane to Oslo. Oslo Airport is very clean and neat. The scenery outside looks beautiful - large coniferous trees and overcast. I become very familiar with this airport because I have an 8 hour lay over until my final destination of 78° North Latitude - Longyearbyen, Svalbard. The flight is delayed and we finally depart at 10:45 pm to Longyearbyen. My time clock was already messed up and I had slept on the entire flight from Amsterdam to Oslo. By the time we were heading into Longyearbyen, I was awake and ready to see this different world. The clouds began to be thicker and just appeared to be colder. As we descended below the clouds, I could see the snow covered peaks and exposed ledges of rock. It was beautiful! I snapped as many pictures as I could. It was now Friday morning, albeit early - 1:30am. By the time that I made it to my room at Mary Anne's Polarriggen and settled in to my small bunk bed room with the bathroom and shower down the hall, it was 2:30 am. My only consolation was that it was really 11:30 am on my time clock! The most bizarre thing was that it was bright and sunny out! What a strange thing. I was most grateful that I had my sleeping mask to be able to block out the light.
The next morning, I got up and went exploring in town. A quaint town with lots of shops, restaurants and rental places. Amazingly it was 11°C and I only needed my jacket without gloves and hat! It was almost balmy! I was impressed with the conditions and very thankful! I got cards to send home and ate some lunch at a deli in town. After lunch, I took a tour of the Svalbard Museum. I learned a lot about the island and the town's history from the walk through reading all of the placards. Some interesting things were that the west side of the archipelago (chain of islands) was kept warmer than the east side by the Atlantic Current that travels along the west. I was also interested that the area was first discovered around 1548. Then it was settled around 1898 for coal mining. It was not owned by any single country and in 1925, the Treaty of Versailles made Norway responsible for its well being. The town continued with coal mining and got its name from the man named Longyear. The American Coal Company continued mining and in 1975 it was decided that it needed to be a more "family" town instead of just corporate. Schools and living improved and the current airport was constructed. Currently there are 1,900 people on Svalbard and only two mines are still under operation. The skeletons of the past mines are still visible throughout the town with the gondola structures remaining that carried the coal in buckets to the ships. After my tour, I hiked up the road to a restaurant that I later discovered was one of the buildings built for the corporate businessmen to play bridge during the 1950's. I was exhausted and ready to head to bed after my good meal and walk back to town. My first day on top of the world was over, but I had many more to go!