You’re starving, but every eatery is packed and the lines at the supermarket are endless. It’s -20C and windy, and your “cold-weather” gear isn’t. You desperately need to send an e-mail or post on your blog, but every public wi-fi network is hopelessly overloaded.
A record number – by far – of overnight visitors will be in Longyearbyen from Wednesday through this weekend, with those numbers increasing considerably more when several planeloads of same-day visitors arrive for Friday’s eclipse. People hoping to do almost anything practical or fun quickly and/or on a whim are almost certainly deluding themselves.
Being abnormal types, we’ll be steering clear of most of the beaten paths. For those wanting to go home saying they were deviants in Svalbard, here’s some tips:
Groceries: Longyearbyen Thai Shop
This small store is located in the small shopping center directly across the street from the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, but it’s remarkably overlooked for such a prime location. It’s easily possible to exist well on both regular and exotic foodstuffs from frozen pizza to canned jackfruit (and the huge diversity of instant noodles might be paradise for campers), and the prices are usually competitive or even lower than Svalbardbutikken. What’s more it’s open seven days a week during essentially the same hours (it closes an hour earlier on Saturdays).
Dining: Svalbard Catering
Located in the same shopping center as the Thai shop, there isn’t a place in Longyearbyen offering a wider range of dining options at very reasonable prices. Couples wanting a packed meal (hot or cold) for a date, small groups needing lunch fixings for day trip and large groups wanting a tapas buffet for a post-adventure bash can find plenty of fare from hearty basics to exotic nibbles. But there are two caveats: Everything is take-out only and they are not accepting orders Thursday through Saturday due to the existing volume of group orders. Also, anything more than a simple meal for a couple of people will require at least a day’s advance notice (groups require two).
Free warm clothes, souvenirs and other useful things: Bruktikken
This tiny “thrift” store is packed with useful stuff from expedition parks to snowmobile boots to kitchen supplies, plus Svalbard-themed items such as books, DVDs, mugs and t-shirts. Best of all, everything is free (but they will gratefully accept donations). But there’s also a big caveat at this place: it’s only open Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. But they have been known to accommodate “desperate” people via their Facebook page.
Free wi-fi: Svalbardhallen
This recreation hall is about a two-kilometer walk from the town center and there’s are fees to use its facilities. But if you’re desperate enough to need to send an e-mail or blog post in the cold, the signal from the password-free wi-fi network does extend to the parking lot. That might change if hundreds of people gather and abuse the privilege, so restraint is advised.
Touring (and taxis): Kicksledsharing
See those green things scattered around town that look a bit like dogsleds without any dogs around to pull them? Welcome to Svalbard-style sustainable communal transport. The tourism bureau Visit Svalbard put 25 new kicksleds at the public’s disposal a few months ago, which have proven popular with students from elementary to graduate school levels. They’re a great way of getting groceries to whatever’s serving as your home base and a change of pace from a walking tour. Just don’t necessarily expect a sled you take to the store to be there when you come out.