After years of dreams, months of looking forward and days of planning, we are here! Svalbard, or Spitsbergen. The land that Barentsz discovered in 1596. I will briefly tell you who Willem Barentsz was, because despite the fact that a sea is named after him, not everyone knows who he is. 

Willem Barentsz

Willem Barentsz was not only a Dutch navigator, but also a cartographer, explorer and polar explorer who explored the coasts of Nova Zembla and discovered both Bear Island and Spitsbergen. He was born around 1550 on Terschelling, in the village of Formerum. Little else is known about his childhood. Barentsz became known for the three attempts he made to pass northern Europe in Asia and India.

He made the first voyage in search of a northern passage in 1594, under supervision of Cornelis Nay, an explorer from Enkhuizen. The journey led to the discovery of the west coast of Nova Zembla. A year later (1595), enthusiastic about the earlier success, a new tour is made. This tour, led by Barentsz and Jacob van Heemskerk, ends in a deception. Due to a thick pack of ice, the men are unable to reach the previously reached Karazee.

The discovery of Spitsbergen

In 1596 the third and last attempt to find a northern passage is made. The journey starts with hope. Barentsz discovers new land. First an island that he calls Veere Island (the current Bear Island) and then an area that he gives the name Het Nieuwe Land (today’s Spitsbergen). The two ships that started the expedition split upon a return to Bear Island. Jan Corneliszoon Rijp’s ship tries to find a passage to the west of Spitsbergen and Barentsz decides to investigate the seas between Spitsbergen and Nova Zembla.

Barentsz dies during this trip, after his ship gets stuck in the ice in the north of Nova Zembla.

Source: History


Spitsbergen is a large island, part of Svalbard and the island’s capital in Longyearbyen. Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on the island and, according to our taxi driver, has about 2,300 inhabitants. The town is located in the Adventfjord at the mouth of the Advent Valley. Oh yes, the city is located at 78 degrees latitude and is considered the most northerly place in the world with more than 1000 inhabitants. There is 1 bus here, but quite a lot of cars and a lot of snowmobiles. In fact, Longyearbyen has almost as many snowmobiles as people.

The population of Longyearbyen is quite diverse. The vast majority are Norwegian, but more than 20 nationalities are represented. Maria from Svalbard Adventures tells us that the second largest group are the Thai.

Because I have not yet been to the Svalbard museum, I looked up some information on the internet. On Wikipedia I read that the place originated when John Munroe Longyear, owner of the Arctic Coal Company from Boston, founded a settlement here in 1906 to house the workers in the coal mines. The settlement was called Longyear City, and its current name is its translation.

Reindeer on Svalbard

We went to sleep with light, woke up with light in the middle of the night, and got up with light. Since April 21 it is no longer dark on Longyearbyen and that is crazy. At least it feels weird. For example, I am writing this now at 10 p.m. but when I look outside it is still very light, it seems like noon.

When we woke up this morning and I looked out the window I immediately saw some Svalbard reindeer. These reindeer are a lot smaller than their family in Northern Norway. They are really beautiful and don’t seem very scared of people. They seem to have rabies, so they are not eaten. Perhaps that is why they are not so scared.

Striking Spitsbergen

What struck us when we got here was the graffiti. There are quite a few buildings with graffiti in this town and you don’t expect that. And to Yuri’s dismay, no one here says ‘hello’ when you bump into each other on the street. Well, we will change that. 😉They also heat like crazy here. Outside it might be -5 degrees Celsius but inside they heat up to 25 degrees Celsius. And that’s, if you’re wearing ski pants, that’s a bit too much of a good thing. So I regularly walk outside to cool off a bit.

It is really beautiful here. The snow is so beautiful white that you just want to jump in. And the name Spitsbergen is a great fit for this country. White Spitsbergen might have been even better, but that will differ per season. At least now they are all white pointed mountains around us. We can’t wait to discover the country more. Until now we have to make do with Longyearbyen, but that’s okay. Longyearbyen is a really nice nice town. They have nice shops here where you can buy a lot of winter sports & hiking equipment, which is logical given the landscape. They also have nice bars and restaurants where you can eat deliciously. There is also a mine to visit and there are two museums. One we visited today about North Pole Expeditions.

Fjålraven is doing very well here as a brand and everything is cheaper on Spitsbergen than on mainland Norway. So I bought a new Fjålraven pants that I still need. We also saw some seals, arctic fox and polar bear skins on sale. The same typical Svalbard tourist hat is also widely sold here. Yuri likes to participate in fashion so he now has one too. And people come here regularly to pick up guns. When they pick it up, she is asked if they know how it works “and now act like you see a polar bear”.

You can buy alcohol here, but with a limit. For example, you can buy 24 liters of beer, 2 liters of liquor as in wine and 1 liter of spirits as in vodka. The locals also have a maximum. They may purchase previous numbers per month. And do you work on a cruise ship? Then you are not allowed to buy alcohol at all. They do have nice beers here. The world’s northernmost beer: Svalbard bryggeri. Very tasty.

The coming days we will discover Spitsbergen with a dog sled, a snowmobile and finally with the sailing ship Rembrandt van Rijn to the north. According to Maria, these are the ways to see the island. I’ll keep you informed 🙂