For me, learning the seven continents was easy. Learning the countries that reside within their borders was more difficult. Learning the landmasses which are neither continent nor country, however, was often downright impossible. So was the case with Svalbard – an Arctic archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole. If you’re anything like myself, you’ll have needed to pull out a world atlas or searched “Svalbard” on Googlemaps before gaining any sense of comprehension of its place in the world. Even then, merely knowing where it is located pales in comparison to knowing the dramatic landscapes and sense of wonder that one can find there.
I’ll admit that as a child, teenager, and even young adult, the world Arctic meant little more than icy, barren wasteland in my mind. I imagined that the Arctic, and everything it encompasses, was a giant sheet of ice. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Svalbard was a dream from which I never wanted to wake. Far from the lifeless, frozen expanse I had spent my lifetime picturing, Svalbard dazzled me with its jagged mountains, vivid green tundra, advancing glaciers (yes, you read that correctly), and icebergs so blue they might have been sculpted with kool-aid rather than water. Giddy each morning and full of anticipation every night, I constantly had to stop and remind myself that Svalbard was real – that I hadn’t fallen through Alice’s looking-glass and into my own Wonderland – which ironically would have looked exactly the same.