After an expedition around the southwest of Spitsbergen, I still had a week left to explore more of this wild, arctic part of Europe. Plenty of options, and when I saw the possibility to visit Ny-Ålesund, I immediately signed up. This settlement is not easy to visit; staying overnight is only possible if you are invited by one of its few inhabitants, so for most, a day visit is the best you can get. On the way north, as we sail through the Forlandsundet, a channel between Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland, we briefly stop at a walrus colony before continuing our way north. Glaciers running down from mountains: the scenery is getting a little familiar, but no less spectacular. We round Kvadehuken to enter Kongsfjorden, or Kings Fjord, and briefly cross the 79º parallel. Our guide tells us the tragic story of a trapper who did not show up for Christmas here, how in 1922, two brave young Norwegians set out in a boat to search for him, but drifted far north to Danksøya, where they eventually starved to death. Upon hearing this, their German director committed suicide. It was only in 1965 that Swedish researchers found the remains of the trapper at Krossfjorden, and a 1916 rifle with a blocked bullet. The trapper was probably killed by a polar bear, and his rifle malfunctioned when trying to defend himself. I now understand the caption of the old rifle I saw in the museum of Longyearbyen: four people died because this blocked bullet.
We sail into Kongsfjorden, or Kings Fjord: a dramatic bay with the pyramidal Three Crowns, or Tre Kroner, in the east, several glaciers, reflection of the snowy mountains in the water, and then, the settlement of Ny-Ålesund on the south side of the fjord. When the five of us step ashore, the number of this settlement has just increased by more than 10%: the basic population is around 35, and grows to just over a hundred in summertime. It was started as a mining town in 1917, has served as the base for North Pole expeditions in the 1920s, and developed into a scientific research station from the 1960s. While we expect to see serious scientists, a line of people comes marching towards us, with a band playing in front. It is Constitution Day in Norway, and this is also celebrated here, in this international settlement in Svalbard. We watch the Norwegians dressed up in their national attire, and the foreigners walking with them. We see them march past, and see them head straight for the only local bar. The town is ours.
This small settlement turns out to be highly interesting, rife with historic buildings. There is the post office - unfortunately, closed because of the national holiday. Apparently, there is a post office in a Canadian military base which is even more to the north, but this is second best. Then, there are English houses, four in a row. There is a bigger building, where Roald Amundsen used to stay for his Polar expeditions. A tall flagpole flies the Norwegian flag, and close by, a bust of the Norwegian hero is dressed in a Norwegian ribbon. We see the mast used for docking the Zeppelins that were the way to reach the North Pole in the 1920s. In a separate house, we find the communication centre used for the polar expeditions. After walking around the few streets and seeing how the international delegations have given their local buildings a national touch, we head for the museum which turns out too interesting - as we are running short on time. It explains the transformation of Ny-Ålesund from mining town to scientific research centre. Oh, how I would have loved to stay longer in this fascinating place! But we have to go back. Close to the small harbour, we find a small train that was once used for transportation of the coals mined here. On our way back south, we stop at Eidemsbreen, one of the glaciers on the west coast of Spitsbergen before we reach Isfjorden again. Bits and pieces of ice floating everywhere. When we arrive back in Longyearbyen after a long day, we are all very satisfied with the day. Women in traditional clothes take down the Norwegian flags: the party will continue in the bars of town.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Ny-Ålesund (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Ny-Ålesund.
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