04 September 2017

LYR trip - finally

i've written a few times (actually four) about planning a trip to Svalbard ... so i thought i should explain how i actually finally executed it !

after using the "book activities" section on the Visit Svalbard website to check out potential excursions ... i reckoned that we could see the main sights in just a few days ... and the way the flights worked, that's what we ended up doing.

incidentally, the tourist office in LongYeaRbyen has a couple of computers for tourists to book their trips - and then you can use the booking number generated on the website and make a payment in the tourist office (including by Amex), rather than making payment through the website.  the lady was very helpful, explaining the trips, and calling up a couple of companies to check details.

but back to the journey ...

i used Avios to book a British Airways flight to Norway ... and had a few days in the south doing non Svalbard stuff ... including an incredibly good value ferry journey with Fjordline from Stavanger to Bergen - where the 20 minute bus from Stavanger city centre cost half the price of the 5 hour ferry journey.  just make sure you book it in the correct direction - the website isn't the best designed !

from OSLo to LYR i managed to get a 66 gbp flights on Norwegian (plus 15 gbp for 20kg bag and seat choice).  check in at OSL with Norwegian is completely automated - included printing your luggage label, putting it on the belt, and scanning the label - once a bloke came along to click ok on the screen - which only have norwegian language text !  and the machine accepted my 20.9kg bag without complaint/charge.

transfer from the airport to accommodation is available with a "Flybussen" service - which was 120 NOK for a return.

we stayed in Gjestehuset 102 - which was fine.  i suspect Coal Miners Cabin would have been better - but it was full by the time i booked (less than a week before arrival).

the flight prices for the return journey were getting expensive, but i managed to use 15,000 united airlines points, and book seats on LYR-OSL-LHR and LYR-OSL-LHR-DUB (15k for each seat).  initially the United website wouldn't complete the DUB ticket (i actually ended up with two incomplete DUB bookings).  the first time I called United they claimed that they could no longer book AerLingus flights - and their website was incorrect (despite it showing loads of different EI flights).  the next time i called United, they were able to ticket the incomplete booking, without too much trouble !

United have a "late booking fee" which was applied to the LYR-OSL-LHR booking that went through without human intervention.  apparently they apply it to bookings made within 21 days of departure.  which i didn't know.

there was only availability on the 2.30am departure from LYR, which i wasn't keen on - but it turned out that with window seats, we both managed to get some sleep.  the seats on SAS short haul do not have the useful headrest "wings" that keep you head in place.  those blow up head pillows would have been particularly useful - if i'd known.

despite a few hour gap between flights at OSL, one of our bags went missing.  if i'd thought about it, i would have asked the very nice and speedy check-in lady at LYR to short check the bags to OSL and we would have collected them.  lesson for next time !

we were very lucky with the weather in LYR - we had one amazing full day of sunshine and hardly any wind, and the following day wasn't bad either (just not very sunny).  i think a few days is enough to get a feel for Svalbard - without completely bankrupting yourself.  we spent about 200 NOK/GBP per person per day on each of our two days of trips (you can't leave town without a gun), and we used the first day to make our bookings, and have a look around the settlement.

it's worth noting that despite the photos of polar bears in all the Svalbard tourism / arctic trip adverts - you really can't get anywhere near them.  we got to see from a boat, and it was small even through binoculars.  if you're used to african safari walks, it will be a bit of a shock just how far away they are.

despite that, i would still like to go back in March to see it covered in snow (and maybe Northern Lights) !

No comments: