Svalbard 2015: the last blog

I am sitting in the lounge of the hotel, next to a very hot radiator and wishing the Norwegians on the other side of the room weren’t there so I could be.

The trouble is that it’s Sunday. Longyearbyen is a ghost town on Sundays. Everything is closed, I’ve seen no more than about three people out and about, there’s a snowstorm, big fat fluffy flakes everywhere, the sky is greyish, yellowish and even the Svalbar, where I thought I could shelter from the storm, doesn’t open until 12.

The other trouble is that you have to check out of your room by 11 and the bus comes at about 12.30 and there is nothing to do in the meantime. You can’t go in the bar, you can’t wander the shops, you can’t even enjoy the scenery.

So I sit next to my radiator and look at the storm raging on.

When I’d sat there long enough, I collected my luggage and went down to the bus stop. Well, I say “bus stop”. The place where the bus stopped when I arrived on Tuesday. I waited and I got cold and a little bit concerned that no one else was there and eventually I went into the Basecamp Hotel where I lurked by the door in the warmth and read their information board which had, amongst other things, the bus timetable.

I waited outside again and soon I was joined by a couple from southern Norway. Well, if there were other people then this must be the right place and time.

Sure enough, the bus turned up. We were all quite cold – we’d packed all the warm clothes that we wouldn’t be needing on the plane but waiting for the bus in a snowstorm wasn’t very warm. At least, the actual snowstorm had passed and the sky had cleared for twenty minutes or so but even then, there was a wind and the snow is so light and powdery that the slightest breeze blows it around and makes it look and feel like an epic storm.

The last thing I saw as we were leaving Longyearbyen was a pair of reindeer who’d wandered into town and were quite happily occupying themselves in the road next to the Radisson.

We drove the mile and a half to the airport, jumped out into pristine new-laid snow and then checked in. My luggage is to go straight to London, no need to worry about collecting it at Tromso. I wasn’t planning to collect it in Tromso, it’s the same plane but I was a bit worried about having to collect it in Oslo where I only have just over an hour to change planes and they have the worst security process in the world, or at least in any European airport I’ve ever been in – so slow! Such queue!

My bag and I made it through security here at Longyearbyen with no problem and there’s a little kiosk on the other side, along with proper tables and chairs. The trouble is, the only drinks I can recognise and make sense of in the kiosk are cold and fizzy and now I’m sitting in an airport with very painful hiccups.

18:28, Oslo Airport Gate 50

Of course, the problem with Svalbard being non-Schengen is you get the opposite on the Svalbard-Tromso-Oslo flight to what you had on the way up. I arrived on, basically, an international flight which meant we started with passport control and this I’d kind of anticipated – hadn’t expected a teeny-tiny room with two very small doors meant to force a planeload of people (from Svalbard. Nowhere else. I refuse to believe Tromso has any other “international” flights) into a bottleneck, leaving most of the people outside in the snow for a while. But there’s worse. Once you’re through passport control, you find yourself at a baggage carousel and there are only two ways out of that room – Nothing To Declare or Something To Declare and of course, once you take one of those routes, you find yourself in the departure hall and have to go back through security to get to your domestic gate, which is an appalling way of managing it and one that, mercifully, Oslo doesn’t mess around with. I initially assumed I was the one who’d done something stupid, that I’d missed a door somewhere, that I shouldn’t have wandered out of the security zone, until I realised there were a few of my fellow Svalbard passengers in the queue, some with their luggage because they were not continuing to Oslo but to somewhere else and therefore needed their luggage on a different plane. But I’d spotted a departure board as I left the luggage carousel which had a flight to Oslo at the top next to the fatal words “gate closing”. And now here I was in a queue to get through infamously slow Norwegian security! But there were other people from my flight and I picked the man behind him and asked if I was in the right place. I was. This ridiculous way is just the way things work at Tromso and it turned out that flight with the gate closing was not mine. In fact, I had time to grab a drink before I re-boarded the very same plane (Tora Viking) that I’d just alighted.

Oslo is much more sensible. Once you’re in, you’re in. There’s a gate separating domestic and international and at the far end of the international, there’s a passport gate separating non-Schengen. So give or take the fact that I turned right instead of left when I stepped into the domestic wing and ended up at the far end instead of in the middle, getting to my plane was much easier here than in Tromso. And now I’m eating the bread that I bought yesterday and the cheese that’s been sitting on my windowsill-fridge and using the free internet. Nearly home.

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