I got the bus back to Oslo airport without catastrophe, attempted to check in out of habit, having completely forgotten I already possessed both boarding card and bag label until the machine tried to charge me for a second bag – quite reasonably, since I was indeed trying to add a bag because it hadn’t yet dawned on me that the system knew I already had a bag, went through security (got caught this time; I didn’t take the Kindle out because it didn’t occur to me that I needed to) and then settled down to kill the best part of two hours in the domestic wing of Oslo Gardermoen. I watched the Stavanger plane get emptied, restocked, refuelled, loaded etc (was a bit horrified to see the food delivery man deliver a snack directly to the pilots by means of a stick through their window – the pilots’ windows aren’t all sealed! One of them just lifts out!) and then went looking for my own gate. I’d suspected we were stopping somewhere on the way to Longyearbyen and I was right – Tromsø. In fact, to all intents and purposes, this was the Oslo to Tromsø service and when we arrived (very beautiful place, all snowy mountain rising out of blue fjord; looks like CGI) we had to get off the plane, go into the terminal, walk through a passport-protected gate and then get back on because although Svalbard belongs to Norway, apparently it doesn’t in some way and it’s not part of the Schengen agreement.
The plane had been full on the way up from Oslo but now it was quieter, funnily enough. I spent most of the flight entertaining myself by watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, making a spectacular band of orange and yellow above the cloud. I saw stars! There were a couple of twinkling little silver stars visible above the sunset at quarter past one in the afternoon. I’ve never seen actual stars at lunchtime before.
As we came in over Longyearbyen, I began to think that perhaps it wasn’t going to be as dark as I’d expected. Today it is, yes, because it’s cloudy but above the cloud is a relatively bright sky and the mountains are very clearly visible above the town.
We touched down at Svalbard Lufthavn Longyear at around 2pm. The sun had long since set – more than twenty-two days ago, in fact, and it’s not going to rise again until February 16th next year. The plane didn’t stop nose-in as they usually do – it approached the terminal and then swung round sideways so we could scurry across the ice to the door and before we were even off the plane, they were already deicing the wings.
I did have a small catastrophe before I’d even set food on Svalbard soil. I’d succeeded in getting to and from my hotel, I’d caught two flights, I hadn’t got lost in Tromsø, it was all going suspiciously well. I left my camera on the plane. I was still on the steps when I realised I didn’t remember putting it anywhere after taking photos out the window and once I’d hastily searched my bag, I approached the first official-looking person I could see. A small thing like a camera on a plane isn’t a big deal in Longyearbyen. She radioed a colleague to have a look for it when she brought the two small kids she was escorting and the camera was delivered (through security, which is in the same hall as baggage reclaim) long before the luggage arrived. That’s excellent service, and she even told me there has been Northern Lights activity for the last few days, so I’ll probably see them (cloud permitting, of course).
I’d been a little worried about the last step of the adventure – getting from the airport to the hotel but that was fine. There was a bus waiting outside and everyone dumped their luggage in the hold and boarded, so I copied everyone else and sure enough, when we were all on, the driver came down with his ticket machine to collect money. We drove the four miles along the seafront, into the town and he called out the important stops as we went so I knew exactly where to jump off. However, I do notice that buildings around here seem to try to hide the main door – that was hidden around the side.
I have a nice big room, with a huge window, wood panelling, a massive picture over my bed of a mountain and the remains of a hut (when I say massive, I mean it’s a wall feature, rather than a picture on the wall) and most importantly, I have a bath! It all seems very pleasant and cosy.
Last of all, in case anyone doesn’t know where I actually am, here’s a handy map: