Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Possibly the northern lights, possibly a Hollywood horror movie or the winner of the Turner Prize, possibly a new game from Super Mario, possibly a new religion manifesting itself

"Svalbard is the Arctic North as you always dreamed it existed. This wondrous archipelago is a land of dramatic snow-drowned peaks and glaciers, of vast ice-fields and forbidding icebergs, an elemental place where the seemingly endless Arctic night and the perpetual sunlight of summer carry a deeper kind of magic. One of Europe's last great wildernesses, this is also the domain of more polar bears than people, a terrain rich in epic legends of polar exploration."

This is the opening of Lonely Planet's entry on Svalbard, and now you can see why it calls itself Lonely Planet.

"Svalbard's main settlement and entry point, Longyearbyen, is merely a taste of what lies beyond and the possibilities for exploring further are many: boat trips, glacier hikes, and expeditions by snowmobile or led by a team of huskies. Whichever you choose, coming here is like crossing some remote frontier of the mind: Svalbard is as close as most mortals can get to the North Pole and still capture its spirit."

The website then provides you with the following link:

Honestly. That really is what it says. And it is probably the best advice that anybody any gave, on the subject of Svalbard anyway.

And yet, I cannot help but like the Lonely Planet take on Planet Earth, so much more colourful a view than this World Hourglass, even if the colour is mostly tint of rose. Where I see poverty and despotism, it sees skiing and sandy beaches; where I count the number of the murdered, the disappeared, the tortured, the abused, it counts the number of bars and night-clubs and restaurants. Where I report water-boarding, it reports scuba-diving. If only there could be only Lonely Planet, and no World Hourglass at all!

Marks For: 0, if you are accustomed to heating and air-conditioning, valet parking, home delivery meals, indoor toilets and the other pamperings of affluent civilisation

Marks Against: 0, if you are an intrepid traveler with a good pair of walking boats, a thermal sleeping bag and a waterproof backpack.

See also Jan Mayen island, which like Svalbard is Norwegian.

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