THE day

As I first open my eyes in the morning of the eclipse day, I look out of the window. The sky is mostly clear, with thin layer of clouds in some parts. The weather looks hopeful. But, as we have learned this previous week, it can change in short time.

Clear sky

Clear sky

This is our last day in Svalbard. Everyone is packing slowly, but it somehow turns out everyone is ready well before planned time to leave for eclipse observation spot. Some of us still need to visit the post office to send postcards with the special total eclipse stamps that are available only on the eclipse day.

Our free sledge (Arctic version of free city bicycles) that we had so much fun in last couple of days are gone. As we race down the hill on our foot with Agnese, I remember Tommy, traveler, dog-racer and owner of “Traveling Huskies” who told us how to drive the dog sledge. The central leash of dog-team needs to be under tension at all times not to harm the dogs. And it always was, as the dogs were eager to run forwards.
Our imaginary leash this morning is under tension as well. The aim is close. The bags are packed. The eclipse watching spot selected. Go!

View from our eclipse place

View from our eclipse place

We have selected a spot between the local church and sun-dial. Both of them, of course, the “northern-most” ones. As we have checked before, the church is very friendly and some of us use it from time to time to warm up during the eclipse hours in -18 degree cold. Norwegian flag is being raised near church. Yes, this small northern community can be proud of themselves!

It is some twenty minutes before the beginning of the eclipse and we are watching the games shadows are playing. The situation changes from day to day as each day is ~20 minutes longer at this time, however the sun is still low over the horizon. Well, the imaginary horizon, because you need to take into account the geometry of mountains. We end up following the visible area between shadows of two mountains during the eclipse.

Everything is set. Partial phase of eclipse is well underway. We are here. I am here. Everything that needed and could be done- is done. The weather is perfect. The time till Totality remains. I am standing there, observing how inevitably, in speed of Earth and Moon, my childhood dream comes true.

Totality is indescribable. I could tell you about the Corona and protuberances. I could tell you about visible Venus and stars during midday. About diamond ring and sun rays that shine through the mountains on Moon. I could even show you photos (Anders took some really cool ones)! But it will not convey what i felt and experienced.

Totality is just as indescribable, as a new unknown spice. You just don`t have words for that particular taste and the ones you have- they are just not enough. A spice, that is available roughly only each 18 month. Provided that the shadow of Moon actually crosses some land, not just oceans. Provided that you can travel to that narrow patch where it can be tasted. Provided that the weather is good.

I thought the last sentence was pretty good ending of this blog. But on our flight from Svalbard to Oslo, I finished an introductory book on satellites and from tens of unread books on my kindle, I chose a new one. The Happiness of Pursuit by Shimon Edelman- human and machine cognition professor at Cornell University. The same university Daina Taimiņa is teaching on hyperbolic planes, part of non-Euclidian geometry, another of my interests.

As I was reading the first chapter, a quote struck me unexpectedly like a lightning. A quote from “Monday starts on Saturday” by brothers Strugatski- same authors I referenced in my Day 1 blog. What were the chances.

The circle is now complete. The Diamond ring. With a new path forking off.
Author: Sandy kil at ru.wikipedia

Author of the diamond ring picture: Sandy kil at ru.wikipedia

Day 8 – The free day. Part 2

[… continued …]



The three of us follow the road further. Only footmarks and tracks of snowmobiles are visible on the road. The old road goes along the flat top of a steep hill, and the new road goes a couple of meters above the sea level. In the middle there is the old trolly line. The weather is fine, sunny, there is no wind, only quite a frost. On our way we meet several of the Svalbard’s distinctive reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)

After some time the airport is visible, and we are heading uphill. On our way a big bus passes us and it is soon followed by a minivan which stops and we are asked if we’re fine and where we are going without a guide. the woman reminds us that it is not the best idea to wander around ourselves, but also says that there haven’t been any polar bears seen in this area. We continue our journey, soon the entrance of the seed vault is visible, and Juris is already excited. Juris goes straight to the door, me and Agnese go along the road and stop at the sign “Svalbard Global Seed Vault”.

Seed vault

Seed vault

We are there now, the entrance is a big concrete building with steel door at the top of which there are many triangle-shaped tablets made out of bright metal and at the front of which there is a short metal grid bridge. We drink some tea, eat some sandwiches and head back to the town. We meet on the way the same reindeer, this time they are crossing the road. A bit further on we find another Geocache which surprised me with its originality. It was not hard to find as it was hanging in a ceramic bowl, and I marveled that it was still intact.

We get back to the trolly sorting station, and the kicksled are still here. Agnese sat down and we were sliding down the hill. I have not managed to learn to control them as well as some other guys. They are as a chair on rails which are extended backwards, on which one is standing and controlling the sledge. At the junction we switch places, but Juris meanwhile crossed the slope straight across the snow and soon was at the bottom of the hill. Me and Agnese pick up the speed. The road has a bend which was driven along perfectly by her, and behind us a car followed with a normal speed. That was such an experience!

On our way we stop by the same store to use the internet. The post cards here are cheaper than in the post office – 7NOK. In addition I eye some souvenirs and playing cards for my collection. Soon after that we are back home where we will be staying the last night. Some are already home, some others still out.

We find out from Anders that a polar bear has attacked Czech tourists. Later we find out a more precise information from Maija. In the morning the polar bear had looked inside a tent, taken one guy by its hand and dragged outside. Everyone had been surprised as the scaring device around the tent had not worked. They had shot with a revolver (as far as I understand they didn’t have a guide), but that only could injure the bear. The polar bear had run away and later people were following its tracks to kill it as an injured bear is dangerous. Since the new scaring devices are not always working, those who still have the old Norwegian army scaring devices which are no longer produced, keep them as treasure as those are said to be very reliable. Also the university is looking for better alternatives for such cases but so far they have not succeeded.



Juris is preparing to go to a museum and eats lunch before us. We are preparing our food and later will go to the same (university) building to attend a lecture about the Solar eclipse. On our way we meet Alīna and Edgars, who are coming from their guesthouse. Soon we are there. Also here we need to take off our shoes at the entrance, and then inside one can walk around in socks or slippers. The building itself is big and spacious. The auditory is already crowded, some have been timely to take the seats, some are looking for a place along the sides. We were warned that it’s not allowed to sit on the side-stairs due to fire safety rules. Then we find a place at the very front on the floor and find out that the 2 empty seats are free, so we quickly occupy those. From the middle I am passed my camcorder which I had given them from the side to film the lecture. Since I am in the front now, I will film everything from the front so that the talks get recorded better.

The following topics are looked at in the lecture: The safety measures for observing the Sun, how to observe it, how to use the eclipse glasses; which camera setup to use at certain eclipse moments; The structure of the Sun and the principles of its activity. We also found out about the Sun spots, magnetic storms and how the auroras originate. As one of the lecturers said, the greatest dream would be to see the total Solar eclipse here and an around an aurora. The lecture was cool, after it there was a time for questions and answers to them. At the reception there are eclipse glasses which we can get for free.

We head home and find another kicksled, and are pushing it to home as well so that it would be easier to move the bags in the morning. Kristīne un Everita have decided to go to sauna which is located close to our home.

Meanwhile I have firmly decided to photograph stars tonight and to try to catch the Iridium satellites which will fly over shortly before 2am, one soon after the other. At the same time maybe it will be possible to take a photo of aurora. Also others are interested, but they are going to sleep and asking to be woken up if the sky will be clear.

Before 2am Agnese decided to go outside to take a look, and came back with bad news that nothing is visible above. A shame, have to leave out photographing of Svalbard’s sky, but it is likely that I’ll come here again some day. Then we go to sleep, after all the greatest event of this trip which we came here for – the total Solar eclipse -, is happening in the morning! We hope for the best weather and that no clouds will interfere with viewing this phenomenon.
Good night!

Day 8 – The free day. Part 1

The first morning in the new home. Juris quietly wakes me up and bit by bit we start to get ready for going to the seed vault. While we’re heating water and preparing breakfast the others are waking up one by one.

Also Maija who is hosting us, is up. We talk about many things, then I ask her whether she has seen a polar bear at all -? She replied affirmative and told that she had faced one in summer – some weeks after starting the studies here. They had gone to camp in groups outside the town as part of the studies and the polar bear had woken them up in the morning by starting the alarm system. But that didn’t scare the polar bear, and it continued to search for food. The had fired a flare gun which doesn’t hurt the bears, just to scare them off, but that hadn’t helped and it had continued with scavenging and eating. As a result they had fired 17 of the flare guns! Soon the helicopter appeared which they had called out and that finally scared of the polar bear who run away. Everyone got through unharmed but with a big shock and experience. It had been very serious but now it’s possible to tell with a smile on. She said that some people who have been living here for a long time haven’t seen any polar bear, some spot one occasionally, and others meet one soon after arriving here. To see a polar bear is a rare happening and to get attacked by one is even rared.

Me, Agnese and Juris are preparing for a long walk to the seed vault along the old road which is accessible to snowmobiles and pedestrians (armed as it’s outside the town). Anders will also come with us till some moment and then will leave for his own errands in the town. Also the others have their own plans. Some are walking in the town, some are resting – this is the free day, so everyone can do whatever they want.

We will visit the post and the supermarket before going to the seed vault as it has a free wifi. Using the internet Agnese does the things she wants to do in time and Juris is also using the opportunity. Meanwhile I browse the shops. I’m curious on what is on offer here for an active lifestyle. While exploring the shop I concluded that here is almost everything that would be needed to be in winter freeze and summer. Diverse equipment is available starting from cutlery to mountaineering. The clothes are offered in a good variety. There is also Hero Go pro camera and its accessories. If one doesn’t have special requests, one can come here without almost anything and come here to shop, but there is one “but” – the price. The price is as in Norway, but there is also a positive side to it – there are no taxes included in the price since there are no taxes here. If one has a lot of money, it is possible to go on shopping spree. It is more complicated with the alcoholic drinks as you can only buy a limited amount. If you have arrived by plane, you can present your ticket to buy some, but the locals are given a special card to mark how much you have bought.

Agnese finished to use the internet and I to browse the shops. We are going to the post and find out the prices for the post cards. Tomorrow they are issuing a special stamp in honour of the Solar eclipse. The stamp will cost 20NOK.

The northern-most sundial

The northern-most sundial

The four of us are going to the seed vault and pushing the acquired kicksled. We cross a bridge and go to see the sundial which is the northern-most and showing time the entire day when it’s the midnight sun here. The time of the sundial matches that of the mobile phone. We sign in the guest book, take many pictures of the sundial and check on how it is here with the shadow of the mountain and where we should observe the eclipse. We concluded that the place is good and it should be possible to see the eclipse between two mountains.

We are heading for the old road and see an old snow bulldozer as well as a cable trolly which has been put out for public to see. Soon we notice on a wall of a building something familiar from one of the previous eclipse trips – an Australian road sign with a kangaroo! It’s not so hot here, however, and there are no kangaroos either.

Cable trollies

Cable trollies

Then we stop at the old sorting place of the cable trollies which come from four directions and the old stanchions are still standing in their places. That’s the history of mining that is kept here as historical heritage, and the old houses are not allowed to be pulled down either. A part of the sections with cables and trolleys is preserved. There is also a GeoCache here. For some time we are looking for it by the description where it should be located, but soon after we find it a bit further away. Meanwhile Anders takes photos. He is not coming further and will go back to the town.
[… to be continued…]