Random weirdness for the week of Jan. 15, 2019


“Polar bear leaps onto a Russian nuclear submarine on the search for food after the crew dumped bags of rubbish into the Arctic.” And with that headline we’re off and running with an item that’s a perfect polar trifecta of weirdness. Any one of the three – strange polar bear/human encounters, Russian nuke subs near Svalbard and diabolical dumping of trash in our pristine waters  – is enough to potentially make viral waves. To be able to work all three into a single headline meant a very lucky Sunday the 13th for the British tabloids (and scavengers like us who pretend to be above it all by mocking what they report as a way of reporting it ourselves). According to the Daily Mail, a Russian Delta IV class sub was north of Svalbard when the crew decided to surface to get rid of its bags of rubbish, only to spot a bear nearby on the ice that proceeded to have “a sniff around their vessel.” The 120 crew members were told to stay below deck while the bear wandered around and then set paw on the deck of the 167-meter-long sub (capable of carrying up to 18 missiles, BTW, so at least it could fight back if attacked).  The Sunday Express, which broke the story (which obviously happened a while back when there was light), noted Russian vessels are notorious for littering in the region, but a member of Russian’s Royal Navy told the tabloid “we stick completely to maritime law and have systems in place to sort, recycle and dispose of rubbish in an environmentally friendly way.” Not that we have any reason to be skeptical about Russian leaving junk in our regional waters


Some people stocked up on food, fuel and TP. Others built up a good supply of stock photos of glowing pre-storm skies that can be sold to buy things when a “real” storm hits. Screenshot from video by Sophie Condon.


A peek of twilight appears on the horizon far to the south of Longyearbyen a day after everyone ran for cover in anticipation of a “hurricane” that never came. Photo by Terje Carlsen / Sysselmannen.

As if soft Svalbard citizens such as ourselves didn’t endure enough weirdness from freaking out about the great-blizzard-of-2019-that-wasn’t, here’s a few tidbits shedding new light (and one dark element) “on the margins.” Those anxiously watching for updates on social media during the hours before the storm about our impending doom ended up seeing a startlingly high number of dazzling shots of clear skies with spectacular Northern Light shows (the screenshot at right is from a two-minute video posted on Facebook by photo pro Sophie Cordon). The acrobatic aurorals resumed soon after the winds and clouds passed a day later, except now a new element was present for skywatchers: the faint glows of the first twilight after a couple of months of total darkness. While the polar night won’t officially end for more than a month (Feb. 16, to be precise) and we won’t actually see the sun in most parts of town until early March, we’ll start having a couple hours a day of “usable” twilight (and about eight hours where some light is visible) before the end of the month. Oh, as for the dark moment in the wake of the wind: while the power plant pros made sure everyone knew they were ready to respond even if the worst hit during the worst of the storm, the lights (and ability to post fearless online updates and mockery, depending on your disposition) stayed on throughout. But they gave out a couple of times in the wee morning hours, which of course is about the most meaningless time possible (so much so the city didn’t bother with its usual notice at its website and if there were any inquires on local social media pages we didn’t see them). Which in a way means it was the blackest blackout we’ve had for quite some time…


Trippy advisor: OK, besides wondering how a hotel with lots of thieves is considered a “best value,” why would thieves favor a lodge where the cheapskates roam? And with locals grumbling about all the Airbnb rentals pushing out people trying to actually live here, we doubt they’ll have much sympathy for those booking the best “holiday home” in the so-called Svalbard haven of “Fortitude.”

The return of light means the onset of peak overnight tourism season and luckily for Enquiring Mind top-tier tourism sites are standing ready with the always-infallible “best of the public” recommendations. And in our diligent quest to report all those worthy of exposure (OK, something we stumbled across at random just now doing a Google search), it seems Trip Advisor is offering some top options that are truly offbeat and off the beaten path. High prices are always of concern, so Svalbard Hotel (real name Svalbard Hotell, but we suspect that’s not going to be their top concern) probably will be pleased with the “best value” designation – or would be if the top comment from a few days ago wasn’t “lack of security…thieves.” We suppose in a way it makes sense since if you don’t have much to begin with you won’t miss much after a robbery. Then there’s the best “holiday house,” which includes a lush yard with trees. OK, yeah, we’d pay a lot of money for such a lodging experience in Svalbard since sane minds would suggest it’s unavailable at any price, but obviously the Trip Advisor geeks know better – or have just been watching a certain comically inept TV show supposedly about Svalbard.  Stay tuned as we keep a diligent watch (a.k.a. maybe we’ll stumble onto it on Google at some point in the future) for anyone posting “my spring stay in Svalbard” essays from the humble holiday home.