Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live close to the North Pole? I’m a city girl at heart, and until the pandemic it had never crossed my mind that I would enjoy living in a cabin in a remote icy place. Yet, during lockdowns, I changed my mind. I adapted to the enforced simple life and thrived. I embraced fewer choices, a lighter diary, going inwards, catching up on long-put-off-tasks, and reading. (Admittedly, I know I was lucky, and that others had a rough ride.) As life returns to busy-normal, I keep wondering what it would be like to pack my bags for a little cabin.
Many of us share this daydream, but how many make it a reality? Right now, I’ve too many urban secrets to share with you, to pack up and leave for the wilderness. So, while this daydream simmers, in the meantime I’m living vicariously through the You Tube videos and Instagram posts of intrepid adventurer, Cecilia Blomdahl from Sweden, who gave up the creature comforts of Gothenburg to live in a cabin in the arctic.
Cecilia lives on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, set between Norway and the North Pole – that’s over 1200km from Oslo, the Norwegian capital. It’s a landscape largely uninhabited and consisting mostly of glaciers, where winter brings temperatures below 40˚, months of perpetual darkness, and then constant daylight in summer. Yet, despite these challenges – she thinks it’s the greatest place on earth! There she is just taking a walk on a glacier…
Most people on Svalbard – including Cecilia, her boyfriend and dog, Grim – live in Longyearbyen, the world’s most northernmost town. It has a population of 2,300 people who come from more than 50 countries. Interesting fact: outside of Norway, Thai residents, of which there are about 200, make up Svalbard’s second-largest ethnic group and there’s even a Thai restaurant and a Thai supermarket in Longyearbyen. There are also polar bears than people!
Watching what she gets up to on You Tube and Instagram, it seems daily life for Cecilia the same as for all of us, involving running errands, like grabbing coffee, shopping for groceries, dog food, getting her nails done – yes you can get your nails done on Svalbard – and posting letters, yet with a twist: the backdrop of dramatic glacial scenery, the odd appearance from the Northern Lights, and without the stresses most of us have, like traffic jams and commuting times. No biggie.
As you’d expect, Cecilia’s life in the Arctic Circle is dominated by the weather throughout its three seasons: Polar Summer, Polar Night, and Sunny Winter. “From November to January we have our Polar Night with 24/7 darkness. It is actually my favourite time of year. It’s incredibly peaceful and quiet and just a great time to charge up some energy for the fun season ahead. As the sun sets for the last time, there is a tradition in Longyearbyen, where the whole village climbs to the top of an old hospital staircase, and the children sing for the sun to return four months later,” she says in one video. During the sunny winter, February to May, she tends to spend all her free time out in nature, driving snowmobiles to see glaciers, mountains, maybe even getting to see a polar bear, and they also go stay in small little remote cabins for whole weekends.
In most videos she mixes stories about daily life with snippets of local history, for example: Svalbard is entirely visa-free thanks to a document signed soon after World War I – called the Svalbard Treaty – allowing people to simply just move here, providing you can find work or support yourself.
She also talks about Svalbard’s main economy, which right now is centred around tourism. In fact, if you live in Norway, you can have breakfast in Oslo, and be secluded in the Arctic Circle just after lunch. Imagine!
For centuries, though, the only visitors to Svalbard were hunters, tracking polar bears and Arctic fox furs, until rich coal seams were discovered, and mining communities started popping which thrived in the 20th century. All of them have since closed, but one which provides coal for the local community.
One of those to close was the Soviet mine at the town of Pyramiden, 30km north of Longyearbyen, a once-thriving community with 1000 inhabitants. Today, it’s a perfectly preserved ghost town which has become something of a tourist attraction. You can even stay in the lap of forgotten Soviet luxury and sip vodka in the bar of the Pyramiden Hotel, which has recently been refurbished and is run by a seasonal staff of between eight and 15 people! The hotel is also home a cinema, which is the setting for the annual Pyramiden Cinema Festival which celebrates Soviet movies, several thousand of which are stored in the basement of the hotel.
Until you can get to Svalbard to live out your remote dreams, you can follow Cecilia’s adventures on Instagram, Youtube, and Tiktok.
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