Postponed 3 times over 3 years, we’re finally making this voyage happen. It may not be starting off pretty once we arrived, but what matters is that we’re here.
Using miles for my first voyage on SAS Airlines, I spent only $70 to snag a Business Class flight into Oslo. This also meant my first time visiting the SAS Lounge at Newark Airport — I always noticed the lounge from outside when disembarking but never got to be on the other side of the looking glass.
We somehow lucked out avoiding the mass cancellations that were happening at the airport and took off promptly at 7:15pm.
I was pleased to experience how SAS delivers a solid hard product with its 1-2-1 configuration. If you have the privilege of choice, the best seats are in the even rows by the window (unless you’re flying with a partner, which in that case choose the middle two seats).
The even rows ensures that you’ll enjoy a greater feeling of privacy when your table space faces the aisle.
Their amenities bag included Swedish wool socks, eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush with toothpaste, face moisturizer, and lip balm by Verso.
I was treated to a dim sum style service in business class where instead of making an order, I got to see all the entrees before choosing.
This bode the same for the desserts.
After 3 hours of the dining service I got in a good 3 hours of solid sleep before being woken up for breakfast about an hour and a half before landing.
Ending the flight with Swedish chocolates from Malmö was a very nice touch.
Landing in Oslo at 8:15am, I bumped into Alice, Justin, and Stephen at arrivals who happened to be on the same flight!
We all then headed back into a city I’ve grown to have been quite familiar with. Oslo, it’s been so long!
This city has grown quite a lot in the 6 years since I was last here!
After dropping off our bags at my hotel in the city center, I took 4 hours to show Alice, Justin and Stephen around the Oslo that I knew. We then returned back to my hotel by 2pm where we reunited with Mihaela and Alexandra.
Moreover, we also reconnected with my local friend Stine, whom I first met AND last saw (yes only once!) for only a few minutes as we waited for a morning tour to Tikal back in Guatemala over 11 years ago!
Stine was kind enough to carve off some time after work to take Mihaela and I up to her childhood playground of Ekbergsletta and the sculpture “forest” inside.
There’s a viewpoint over Oslo you can visit by Ekberg Restaurant:
We then walked back into the city for dinner at Barcode Street Food.
Then it was a circadian rhythm reset where Alexandra, Miaheala, Sampson and I enjoyed the spa/sauna/pool at Clarion The Hub (while dodging all the nudists) before finally crashing at 11pm.
The next morning after 9 hours of sleep and an unbelievable breakfast spread (the above photo) at The Clarion Hub, Sampson, Alexandra, Donna, Mihaela, Amelia, Alice, Stephen, Justin, Bruce, Kimsa, Karthik, Cindy, and myself rendezvous’ed back at OSL airport for the 4pm SK 4496 SAS flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen, landing at 7:40pm local time after nearly an hour’s delay at the gate.
FYI, they DO stamp you out your passport from Norway to Svalbard (but not in when you arrive), even if Svalbard is considered a territory of Norway. I guess that counts as another country to add to the list!
Longyearbyen is the main town in Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, and the northernmost settlement in the world.
From the airport arrivals, we boarded the public buses waiting outside; you tell them where you want to go and pay on the spot with a credit card.
Within half an hour we arrived at the Coal Miners’ Cabins hotel where we checked into our rooms and I reunited with longtime travel partner Gareth Johnson of YPT.
After quickly dropping off our bags we then walked 25 minutes into town for a dinner at Kroa, the only place open for food as late as midnight (even if it looks like noon outside).
No seriously, no sunsets here at this time of year. These are true white nights!
After dinner we then called in 2 cabs to return to Longyearbyen Coal Miners’ Cabins before trying to sleep in despite it being bright as day outside. So much for resetting our circadian rhythms.
The next morning after breakfast, we departed at 8:15am for the docks:
We boarded an electric hydrofoil after which a subsequent orientation almost ended up in mutiny when some of the passengers found out they would only sail by, but not disembarking, at Pyramiden.
The views, however, cushioned the blow for some of us:
After a 2 hour sail, we arrived in Pyramiden.
A former coal mining Soviet settlement which is now completely deserted but hauntingly complete, this former Swedish settlement was sold to the USSR in 1927 and abandoned in 1998. It is predicted that because of the climate the buildings will remain largely as they are for another 500 years.
Click to zoom:
Don’t miss the Pyramiden Monument, the old coal-fired power plant and Siberian style wooden barracks:
Right adjacent to Pyramiden is the impressive glacier of Nordenskiöld:
Those of you willing to disembark for a walking tour (we didn’t since that would involve money going to a Russian-owned company), you can also find the world’s northernmost monument to Lenin.
A far cry from the largest one I found in Ulan-Ude!
We then sailed back to Longyearbyen, passing by the “doomsday vault” aka the coldest bank in the world.
Never heard of it before? It’s this:
After refreshing and rest at the hotel in the afternoon, we met back at the Barentz Pub to meet the new arrivals for the Svalbard tour.
After dinner, it was back at the Coal Miners’ Cabins to sleep in.
- At time of posting in Pyramiden, it was 2 °C - Humidity: 6% | Wind Speed: 12km/hr | Cloud Cover: snow