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Monthly Archives: July 2021 − News & Stories


In Mar­tin Conway’s foot­s­teps in Bol­terd­a­len

The Arc­tic! Spits­ber­gen! Natu­re! Being out the­re! Fan­ta­stic …

That the sum­ma­ry 🙂 and that is what it is all about here the­se days, in and around Lon­gye­ar­by­en. I have spent alre­a­dy far too much time on the com­pu­ter this year, that has to wait now. Other­wi­se I could alre­a­dy have writ­ten a lot here on my arc­tic tra­vel blog.

But today is a day of rest, time to catch up a bit.

The pre­sen­ta­ti­on series “Arc­tic Wed­nes­day” was a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to dig deeper in sto­ries and sub­jects that are important to me, and the best thing is, of cour­se, to do that in situ. Who remem­bers my pre­sen­ta­ti­on about Mar­tin Conway’s first crossing of Spits­ber­gen in 1896? (That was online last April, in Ger­man).

Now we were fol­lo­wing Conway’s foot­prints at least for a short bit of is path. Con­way and his com­pa­n­ion Gar­wood wan­ted to find a way from Advent­da­len to Van Mijenfjord in the south. Due to a lack of geo­gra­phic infor­ma­ti­on (this lack of know­ledge was their reason to get out in the first place, obvious­ly), they star­ted on a rou­te that appears rather absurd today. The who­le thing ended up as an impres­si­ve forced march until they had found what they were loo­king for and made it back to their camp in Advent­da­len.

Tverrdalen, Conway

Con­way and Gar­wood fol­lo­wed this val­ley in 1896 to the end, whe­re we can see Reind­a­len. Hence, they had found a rou­te from Advent­da­len to Van Mijenfjord.

We didn’t do a forced march of 40 kilo­me­t­res, but nevert­hel­ess, Bol­terd­a­len has all the plea­su­res of arc­tic ter­rain that one needs for a day of fun: wet tun­dra for kilo­me­t­res on end, river crossings and wide, rocky morai­ne land­scape. That’s the Arc­tic!

The reward comes in shape of a lot of arc­tic natu­re, with a colourful flo­ra, curious reinde­er – many of them with cal­ves – and petri­fied wood from the Ter­tia­ry.

After our hike, we got back into the car and dro­ve back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Con­way, in con­trast, got back to his camp in pou­ring rain. One of his two ponies had run away from the­re and all the way back to Advent Point (today: Advent­pyn­ten, near the air­port). The poor bear was alre­a­dy tired of the end­less snow bogs. One of Conway’s men had to walk all the way back to get the poor ani­mal. Sin­ce then, the val­ley has got its name: Bol­ter Val­ley, today Bol­terd­a­len.

Gal­lery – Bol­terd­a­len

Here a cou­ple of impres­si­ons of our day in Bol­terd­a­len, actual­ly start­ing near Lon­gye­ar­by­en:

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Fare­well to Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni

Most days have been a bit grey and win­dy recent­ly, but full of joy and good expe­ri­ence out­doors, so time keeps fly­ing. After a long peri­od of abs­ti­nence, forced upon me by the pan­de­mic, I enjoy being out­side and that’s defi­ni­te­ly the focus the­se days, rather than spen­ding time on the com­pu­ter. The­re would be more than enough to wri­te about, sto­ries and pic­tures from Spitsbergen’s stun­ning natu­re, so many beau­tiful impres­si­ons …

But that has to wait right now, we’ll get the­re later.

Things keep hap­pe­ning also up here in Spits­ber­gen, and it would be quite out of place to wri­te about being in the out­doors, with stun­ning sce­n­ery, wild­life encoun­ters and inte­res­t­ing “dis­co­veries” of phe­no­me­na such as fos­sils and others, wit­hout having writ­ten about cer­tain other events first.

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni left Spits­ber­gen invol­un­t­a­ri­ly

Espe­ci­al­ly when it is about someone who had to lea­ve the island after more than 10 years (13, to be more pre­cise). Someone who didn’t have plans to lea­ve.

The power of the Sys­sel­mes­ter, the Nor­we­gi­an government’s hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve in Sval­bard, includes to expel someone from the islands. This is some­thing that hap­pens rather rare­ly, for exam­p­le in cases of per­sons repe­te­ad­ly found to have used or even sold ille­gal drugs, some­thing con­side­red even more dan­ge­rous to a rela­tively young com­mu­ni­ty in the far north, with seve­ral months of polar night, than else­whe­re in the world.

Also tou­rists who arri­ved wit­hout any means to sup­port their stay in Spits­ber­gen have alre­a­dy been sent back on the next flight. The aut­ho­ri­ties don’t want peo­p­le to sleep in the streets or to camp wild in or near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, some­thing that is a) for­bidden and b) dan­ge­rous (polar bears).

So far, so under­stan­da­ble. But someone who has lived here fo 13 years?

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni: 13 years of Spits­ber­gen, 13 years of “Ice­peo­p­le”

The Ame­ri­can Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni, per default a news­pa­per- and media per­son, had alre­a­dy spent con­sidera­ble time in places inclu­ding Ant­ar­c­ti­ca when he came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en 13 years ago and star­ted publi­shing his free, Eng­lish news­pa­per and web­site “Ice­peo­p­le”, an alter­na­ti­ve media plat­form next to the local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten and lan­guage-wise cer­tain­ly more acces­si­ble to an inter­na­tio­nal public. Sin­ce then, Mark has been part of Longyearbyen’s inven­to­ry, sit­ting at a table in a cor­ner of Café Frue­ne and focus­sing on his com­pu­ter while live is busy around him, kee­ping his news­pa­per and web­site updated.

But eco­no­mic­al­ly, “Ice­peo­p­le” never beca­me a source of wealth (some­thing that its edi­tor and aut­hor had never pri­ma­ri­ly inten­ded): paper edi­ti­on (the “fishwrap­per”, as Mark hims­elf calls it) and the web­site are ful­ly acces­si­ble for free, and adver­ti­sing has never brought much busi­ness. The har­dest of seve­ral eco­no­mic­al blows that Mark had to suf­fer, howe­ver, was the Gam­le Sykeh­jem (“Old hos­pi­tal”) sto­ry. This is a long sto­ry in its­elf (click here read more about it). In short words: Mark was one of seve­ral who bought a flat in this house which then show­ed struc­tu­ral dama­ge due to mel­ting per­ma­frost, so it had to be evacua­ted on short noti­ce and tho­se who had bought a pro­per­ty the­re suf­fe­r­ed more or less a full loss (some more than others, depen­ding on cir­cum­s­tances). Other blows that Mark had to suf­fer affec­ted his health, inclu­ding fal­ling and get­ting hurt bad­ly in times of clear ice on the street in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This all is well-known local gos­sip and Mark has never made a secret of it.

Eco­no­mic­al and health-wise downhill deve­lo­p­ment

Final­ly all reser­ves were used up, and Marks eco­no­mic­al situa­ti­on in the nor­t­hern­most sett­le­ment (if we exclude Ny-Åle­sund, which does not have a nor­mal popu­la­ti­on) of the rich coun­try Nor­way rea­ched a point whe­re he had incre­asing dif­fi­cul­ties to fund his dai­ly spen­dings. So it went on for a while. Many did this and that to help, and it went on, with bet­ter and more dif­fi­cult times.

It is one of the con­se­quen­ces of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty that the­re is no net­work for social secu­ri­ty bey­ond what is pro­vi­ded by everybody’s home count­ries. And as the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties do not accept peo­p­le living in unsett­led situa­ti­on in Spits­ber­gen, they reser­ve the right to expel peo­p­le from Sval­bard who are not eco­no­mic­al­ly able to take care of them­sel­ves on a level accept­ed by the aut­ho­ri­ties.

New Sys­sel­mes­ter Lars Fau­se has a dif­fe­rent view­point on this who­le ques­ti­on than his pre­cur­sor, and he deci­ded to “take respon­si­bi­li­ty” as soon as he came into power recent­ly.

Mark hims­elf has told his view of this sto­ry in public a num­ber of times, inclu­ding Sval­bard­pos­ten, his own web­site Ice­peo­p­le and social media and in per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, also to this aut­hor. He empha­si­zes that he does not only under­stand and accept the Sysselmester’s decis­i­on, but he also con­siders it to be the right decis­i­on, in the light of the deve­lo­p­ment in recent years.

Back to Alas­ka

Mark left Spits­ber­gen last Wed­nes­day, hea­ded for Juneau in Alas­ka, whe­re he wants to reco­ver health-wise and eco­no­mic­al­ly. Then, he wants to find hims­elf a place in Alaska’s media land­scape, pre­fer­a­b­ly with a focus on remo­te com­mu­ni­ties.

Mark Sabbatini

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni during his good­bye in Lon­gye­ar­by­en last Wed­nes­day. Pho­to: Ice­peo­p­le.

Mark wants to con­ti­nue with Ice­peo­p­le, so the page will be acti­ve and updated also in the future, sup­p­ly­ing an inter­na­tio­nal public with inte­rest in local mat­ters with all sorts of detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on, pre­sen­ted in Mark’s own way, often with a touch of humour and writ­ten in a style that may occa­sio­nal­ly be slight­ly chal­len­ging for non-nati­ve Eng­lish spea­k­ers.

By the way, Mark has con­tri­bu­ted with pro­ofre­a­ding to a num­ber of texts used in various publi­ca­ti­ons, print and online, by this aut­hor, inclu­ding shorter texts such as quite recent­ly in Sval­bardhyt­ter or lon­ger ones inclu­ding updates of the Eng­lish ver­si­on of the gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard. Accor­ding to Mark, he will be hap­py to make simi­lar con­tri­bu­ti­ons also in the future, some­thing I’ll be hap­py to make use of (as a paid ser­vice, as befo­re)

If you want to read more about the cir­cum­s­tances of Mark’s depar­tu­re, then you will find ple­nty of stuff on his own site, Ice­peo­p­le.

So long for now, Mark! See you again!

Adven­ture Oslo air­port. And: the ans­wer

The Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken mys­tery

To start with, the ans­wer to the ques­ti­on in the last blog. It was about this pho­to:

Svalbardbutikken, Longyearbyen

A cor­ner in Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s refur­bis­hed super­mar­ket.
$64-ques­ti­on for Spits­ber­gen-nerds: what’s wrong here? 🙂

So, what is wrong? Obvious­ly, it wasn’t real­ly obvious 🙂 the pho­to on the wall is mir­ror-inver­ted. They say they will get a cor­rec­ted ver­si­on at some stage.

Adven­ture Oslo air­port

Spen­ding a cou­ple of hours in an air­port is pret­ty much the most bor­ing thing that I can think of. why wri­te about it? Becau­se it can go wrong if you expect it to work as nor­mal.

Test or no test, that is the ques­ti­on

The ques­ti­on keeps coming up wether or not coro­na test­ing is requi­red on a trip to Spits­ber­gen. The cur­rent situa­ti­on is that immu­nis­ed tra­vel­lers (ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted or recent­ly reco­ver­ed, docu­men­ted with an ack­now­led­ged docu­ment such as a digi­tal Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te) do not have to show a cer­ti­fi­ca­te for a nega­ti­ve test upon ente­ring Nor­way or che­cking in on a flight to Spits­ber­gen. That may chan­ge at any time, as ever­y­thing the­se days; aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the Sys­sel­mes­ter have alre­a­dy deman­ded to re-intro­du­ce the test obli­ga­ti­on.

In my expe­ri­ence, it is an incre­asing risk that you can’t neces­s­a­ri­ly rely on gover­nemt decis­i­ons espe­ci­al­ly when things are chan­ging more or less every week. Then it’s wha­te­ver the air­port offi­ci­al you are deal­ing with thinks. What use is in being right if you don’t get any fur­ther with is? An non-Coro­na-exam­p­le: legal­ly, as a EU citi­zen you don’t need a pass­port to tra­vel from Nor­way to Spits­ber­gen, an ID card will do. But at the air­port they demand a pass­port from non-Nor­we­gi­ans. Addi­tio­nal­ly, machi­nes like auto­ma­tic check-in machi­nes or auto­ma­ted pass­port con­trol machi­nes can only read pass­ports and not ID cards, so you are well advi­sed to bring your pass­port any­way.

Digital EU-vaccination certificate, Oslo Gardermoen

Digi­tal EU-vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te: makes the pro­cess more effi­ci­ent in Oslo Gar­de­r­moen.
But not neces­s­a­ri­ly effi­ci­ent.

So, back to the initi­al ques­ti­on: curr­ent­ly, test­ing is not requi­red under the abo­ve-men­tio­ned con­di­ti­ons. But it may still be a good idea to have enought time to get one, just in case. The­re are test­ing faci­li­ties at Oslo Gar­de­r­moen air­port, but you may need a cou­ple of hours until you get the cer­ti­fi­ca­te, depen­ding on traf­fic. And, accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten, the coro­na test sta­ti­on at Trom­sø air­port accepts only tra­vel­lers coming in from inter­na­tio­nal flights, but not out­go­ing ones desti­ned for Sval­bard. Tho­se have to use equi­va­lent ser­vices in Trom­sø cent­re. Next to the extra time, expect cos­ts of 1500 kro­ner (plus trans­por­ta­ti­on) unless you are a regis­tered resi­dent in Spits­ber­gen, then it is free.

Adven­ture Oslo air­port: tra­vel infor­ma­ti­on

The usu­al two hours from arri­val at Oslo Gar­de­r­moen air­port until depar­tu­re may be enough when it’s ear­ly in the mor­ning. Or may­be not. It is bizar­re how rapidly the queu­es are get­ting lon­ger and lon­ger until they reach ama­zing dimen­si­ons. Last weekend, one could get the impres­si­on that they are dis­cus­sing test­ing requi­re­ments in detail with every sin­gle pas­sen­ger befo­re you could con­ti­nue to the actu­al check-in area. For us, with desti­na­ti­on Lon­gye­ar­by­en and ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted, it was a very short con­ver­sa­ti­on – “have a good trip” was the only com­ment as soon as we had pro­vi­ded our infor­ma­ti­on. But get­ting that far is the point, and it takes much, much lon­ger for many other flight pas­sen­gers, and you may have hundreds in the queue ahead of you. From then on, the pro­cess was actual­ly reason­ab­ly effi­ci­ent (secu­ri­ty check, pass­port con­trol). Lucki­ly.

Oslo Gardermoen Airport

An emp­ty air­port Oslo Gar­de­r­moen: that’s histo­ry!

Accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an media, tra­vel­lers have recent­ly spent up to 8 hours queu­ing up in the air­port of Oslo Gar­de­r­moen, miss­ing their flights and ever­y­thing that comes with that (for­get about social distancing!). In the inte­rest of all tra­vel­lers, we can only hope that they impro­ve the logi­stics signi­fi­cant­ly soo­nest. Any­way, if you plan to tra­vel through Oslo at any time soon, make sure to have extra time.

And make sure to have even more time if you are not ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted or don’t have an accept­ed docu­ment for this.

Final­ly … Spits­ber­gen!

Final­ly – Spits­ber­gen! That has been a long, long dry spell … but now we are back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, keen and full of ide­as and plans. Let’s see what the next weeks and months will bring.

If you want to fly any­whe­re from Oslo, make sure you have got enought time in Oslo Gar­de­r­moen. The queu­es can real­ly be very long, and it is not a very effi­ci­ent pro­cess.

And you should also plan some extra time when you go into Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s super­mar­ket. It is kind of twice the size it used to be. But not ever­y­thing is per­fect (yet) …

Svalbardbutikken, Longyearbyen

A cor­ner in Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s refur­bis­hed super­mar­ket.
$64-ques­ti­on for Spits­ber­gen-nerds: what’s wrong here? 🙂

Some first litt­le impres­si­ons from Oslo and Lon­gye­ar­by­en:

Final­ly – Spits­ber­gen! Ein paar ers­te, klei­ne Ein­drü­cke, Lon­gye­ar­by­en und nähe­re Umge­bung

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Van Mijenfjord: new natio­nal park

It has been a long pro­cess, hence it did not come as a sur­pri­se when the new Van Mijenfjord natio­nal park was estab­lished by law on 18 June. The new natio­nal park includes the nor­t­hern part of Van Keu­len­fjord and adjoins the South Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal­park. As a result, the who­le sou­thern part of the main island of Spits­ber­gen from sou­thern Nor­dens­ki­öld Land (the land area bet­ween Isfjord and Van Mijenfjord) is now pro­tec­ted on natio­nal park level.

national park

Inner Van Mijenfjord in late May: now a natio­nal park.

Suc­ces­sor of the Nor­dens­ki­öld Land natio­nal park

The Van Mijenfjord natio­nal park is the ampli­fied suc­ces­sor of Nor­dens­ki­öld Land natio­nal park which was estab­lished in 2003, but rest­ric­ted to a land area on the north side of Van Mijenfjord. The­re have been chan­ges sin­ce 2003 that have made the adjus­t­ment neces­sa­ry, inclu­ding the lar­ge clean-up of the for­mer mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va. Ano­ther aspect that nee­ded pro­per regu­la­ti­on were the regu­lar requests by the Sys­sel­man­nen (now Sys­sel­mes­ter) who asked the public to stay clear of cer­tain sen­si­ti­ve are­as during the late spring and eary sum­mer, but wit­hout a pre­cise defi­ni­ti­on of the area and time inter­val in ques­ti­on and the legal bin­ding­ness, lea­ving room for doubt for tho­se who were ope­ra­ting in the area. This is now regu­la­ted bey­ond any grey zone poten­ti­al. Yet ano­ther aspect is moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les) on fjord ice. Also here, the Sys­sel­man­nen has spo­ken out bans on such traf­fic on a regu­lar basis. Inclu­ding the­se bans which were spo­ken out on an annu­al basis in a per­ma­nent law makes it easier to know what one has to deal with. The details of some of the­se regu­la­ti­ons are of cour­se at least in part con­tro­ver­si­al; the govern­ment has cho­sen a very exten­si­ve and strict approach to the ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic, some­thing that not all local tour enthu­si­asts in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are hap­py with as the oppor­tu­ni­ties to visit the south part of the main island are now stron­gly rest­ric­ted. It is defi­ni­te­ly important to some peo­p­le, but their num­ber is actual­ly limi­t­ed as even in Lon­gye­ar­by­en the­re are not too many peo­p­le adven­tur­ous (and inte­res­ted) enough to ven­ture on long trips into the­se are­as, far from the com­mon rou­tes. The­re were no snow mobi­le rou­tes of rele­van­ce for tou­rists in the area in ques­ti­on.

Three new bird sanc­tua­ries, snow mobi­le traf­fic stron­gly rest­ric­ted

Van Mijenfjord national park

The new Van Mijenfjord natio­nal park (green boun­da­ry). Yel­low dots: new bird sanc­tua­ries. Red area: moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice rest­ric­ted (see text). Shaded area: total ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice.
Map © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te / Sys­sel­mes­ter på Sval­bard, modi­fied.

Gene­ral­ly, the new Van Mijenfjord natio­nal park law includes the same regu­la­ti­ons that app­ly to all natio­nal parks. Bey­ond the­se, fol­lo­wing rules of prac­ti­cal importance for locals and tou­rists include the fol­lo­wing:

  • Mid­ter­hu­ken, Ehol­men and Maria­hol­men are now bird sanc­tua­ries and it is for­bidden to approach the­se are­as or to move within them from 15 May to 15 August. Click here to access a map that shows the exact loca­ti­ons of the­se new bird sanc­tua­ries.
  • Snow mobi­les and other moto­ri­sed traf­fic on the fjord ice of Van Mijenfjord and Van Keu­len­fjord are now lar­ge­ly rest­ric­ted every sea­son from 01 March. Only regis­tered locals are allo­wed to cross the fjord ice of parts of Van Mijenfjord on the shor­test safe rou­te, while other are­as are now com­ple­te­ly off limits for this kind of traf­fic from 01 March. Click here to access a map that shows the are­as in detail. Non-moto­ri­sed traf­fic (ski, dog sledge) remains legal­ly pos­si­ble within the usu­al legal frame­work.
  • The core area o the for­mer mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va is excluded from the natio­nal park. Here, exten­si­ve clean-up works will con­ti­nue for ano­ther while until most of the sett­le­ment is remo­ved.
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