Cecilia Blomdahl, originally from Sweden, has lived on Svalbard for five years.
The small Norwegian archipelago sits about halfway between Norway and the North Pole.
Anyone can move there visa-free, but it can be a tough place to live.
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Cecilia Blomdahl, 31, originally from Sweden, moved to the rugged Svalbard Islands in the Arctic Ocean with her boyfriend in 2015, planning to stay only a few months.
While she fell out of love with him, she fell head over heels for Svalbard and has lived there for five years now.
Svalbard is a small Norwegian archipelago that sits about halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Longyearbyen, its largest settlement with around 2,000 residents, is the world’s northernmost town.
While anyone can move to Svalbard visa-free, it’s not an easy place to live. Polar bears outnumber humans, temperatures range from 6.8 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, and there are 24 hours of complete darkness per day from mid-November to late January.
In fact, Blomdahl went viral for a video she posted on how exhausting simply walking a dog on Svalbard can be, from spending 15 minutes getting dressed for arctic temperatures to braving pitch-black darkness in the middle of the day.
This got us curious about what life there is really like. Luckily, Blomdahl was happy to give us a glimpse into an average day for her.
Cecilia Blomdahl moved to Svalbard with her boyfriend, planning to stay only for a few months. She’s no longer with said boyfriend and has lived on Svalbard for five years.
Blomdahl lives in a cabin without running water outside of Longyearbyen. She said that this is somewhat unusual: Most people spend weekends in such cabins but live in town full-time.
She said that she has electricity, as well as some of the fastest Wi-Fi in the world thanks to a fiber optic cable that runs from mainland Norway.
Blomdahl and her new boyfriend, whom she met on the island, lug home 5 gallons of water every day, which is what she said they roughly tend to use in a day. There’s a water heater in the kitchen, and she says they make sure to use environmentally friendly liquids since they throw used water outside.
“You’d be surprised by how easy it is to live without water, as long as you just have the right mindset. The view here is worth so much,” she said about her decision to live on the outskirts of town without running water.
She tries to get up before 9 a.m. – a struggle in the winter when it’s completely dark for 24 hours a day. She relies on an alarm clock that wakes her up with light.
“Now, during the polar night, I’m super strict on my sleeping schedule because if you’re not it’s just chaos with your brain, because you have nothing telling you when to go to bed or wake up because it’s dark all the time,” she said.
The first thing she does is feed her dog, Grim, who gets to play outside for a little bit, before making herself a cup of coffee.
Her boyfriend gets up at 5 a.m. for his job in logistics, so she usually has mornings to herself.
Grim needs to be on a rope while outside in order to let the wildlife, such as foxes and reindeer, roam undisturbed. Blomdahl said that if a polar bear was nearby, Grim would alert them.
She then sits down at her dining table with her laptop as she doesn’t have a desk or dedicated workspace.
Blomdahl is a photographer and videographer, but she also works part-time in the town’s only women’s clothing store.
She used to teach a drone class at Svalbard Folkehøgskole, a local school, but now mostly focuses on her growing social-media presence.
She explained that the school is mostly about how to survive in the arctic. “It isn’t like math and science — everyday life on Svalbard is kind of the education,” she said, adding that it’s mostly 18-year-olds from the mainland that come for a year to learn about arctic expeditions and such.
She works until about 11 a.m., which is when she takes a break to walk Grim for around 40 minutes while listening to podcasts.
As Blomdahl notes in her viral TikTok, even walking a dog is an adventure in Svalbard.
First, she checks the weather and gets dressed accordingly. She says it usually takes her around 15 minutes to get dressed, as she typically puts on thermals, a thick wool sweater, expedition pants, a down jacket, hiking boots, a wool buff, hat, and gloves, and maybe ski goggles depending on the wind.
Because it’s so dark during the winter, she dons a headlamp and dresses Grim in a high visibility vest and blinking lights.
Read more: A woman’s exhausting TikTok reveals what it’s like to walk a dog in the world’s northernmost town, where it’s dark 4 months of the year and you’re likely to run into a polar bear
She has to bring along a rifle every time she leaves the house.
Blomdahl told Insider that outside of Longyearbyen, rifles are mandatory.
“If you don’t have one, the government will come and yell at you because you’re putting yourself in danger,” she said, adding that she’s encountered countless polar bears in the last five years: “They’re everywhere, but we try to do our best to stay out of their way.”
She also said no one on Svalbard holds their dog’s leash — they attach them to their belts to keep their hands free in case they need to use their rifles. “If you have a leash to hold on to, and a bear comes, how are you going to handle your dog and the gun?” she said.
After shedding her many layers, Blomdahl makes her bed and eats a late breakfast or lunch with more coffee. She makes sure her meals have all the nutrients she needs since there’s no sunlight.
She said that this time of year she likes to eat porridge with chia and hemp seeds.
“Because we don’t get any vitamins from the sun, it’s really important to try to put them into your food. I eat supplements, but you do want it integrated into your diet,” she said.
“You just need to drink coffee and keep the spirit high,” she said.
She then spends some time editing photos and answering questions people have on her Instagram and YouTube pages.
“That can literally go on for like five hours or at least until my boyfriend comes home,” she said. He usually comes home around 2.30 p.m. and then takes a nap, she said.
At around 2.30 p.m., she often goes to the gym – which is also where she showers, since she doesn’t have a shower at home. If the gym is closed, she calls a friend.
The gym is currently working with reduced hours as a coronavirus precaution, Blomdahl said, adding that Svalbard has yet to see a case.
“We’re living pretty normal — we go to restaurants, we go to the gym. There are precautions, but no restrictions,” she said, adding that there’s a 10-day quarantine for most incoming travelers and that the island is doing a lot of testing.
“I think we’re just taking it so seriously that so far we have managed to not get a case,” she said, adding that there’s a lot of natural social distancing on Svalbard, where people tend to meet outside anyway and are usually bundled up to their eyes because of the cold.
Svalbard can’t afford to take risks: Longyearbyen, the island’s most populous town, has one small hospital with a single room for patients with infectious diseases, according to a local report from March 2020.
“When I look at the rest of the world, I don’t even know what it means to have COVID in your life in that way,” Blomdahl said. “We’re very lucky.”
Longyearbyen is 15 minutes from Blomdahl’s cabin by car. She said she can’t leave anything in the car, because it’ll just freeze.
Blomdahl lives on a pretty isolated road, with just four other cabins nearby.
She describes Longyearbyen as incredibly “vibrant” as it’s home to around 50 different nationalities, thanks to its visa-free situation. “It’s like a metropolis, people come here from all over the world,” she said.
Despite being small — there’s only one main street with a few shops and restaurants and only one supermarket — Blomdahl said she rarely runs into people she knows, and that before the pandemic there were always new people coming to visit.
Read more: What life is like on Norway’s rugged Svalbard Islands, where anyone can move without a visa
When Blomdahl stops at the supermarket on her way home, it’s usually without a plan for what she’ll buy: That’s because you never know what the supermarket may or may not have on any given day.
“You can never plan your meals out before you’ve gone to the store,” she said, because of shipping and weather conditions.
“It means that you can have a week without bananas or six days without chicken because everything depends on when the boat comes in,” she said. “You’ll just find a little note that says ‘chicken will be back in three days.'”
Groceries are expensive, too. Svalbard has a high cost of living because of its remote location and the fact that everything needs to be imported, but this is offset by a low-income tax and the fact that it’s a customs and tax-free area.
“Svalbard is in some ways super expensive and in some ways really not. Like if you want to order something online, it’s going to be cheaper because it’s tax-free. But milk is going to cost you half of your bank account,” she said.
Blomdahl said that she and her boyfriend spend about $900 on groceries a month, no matter how much they try to spend less.
Buying alcohol is another adventure, as residents can buy only a certain amount each month.
Alcohol on Svalbard is regulated by quotas. Blomdahl said that this is an antiquated rule from when there was nothing but coal mining on Svalbard and miners’ alcohol intake had to be limited in order for them to be able to do their jobs safely.
She said each resident has a little card from the government they must present when purchasing alcohol. “If you’re having a party, you need to get together and buy together,” she said.
Blomdahl has to pick up any items she has ordered online at the post office.
While necessities from snowmobiles to sleds to expedition gear can be bought in town, Blomdahl said for “anything else you go online to buy and then you wait.”
While items can arrive in as soon as three days, the timing depends on flight schedules and weather conditions. Sometimes, nothing will arrive for weeks, she said.
Depending on the weather, she’ll take some photos on her way home, and usually returns around 5 p.m., which is when she and her boyfriend will start making dinner and play with Grim outside.
Blomdahl’s boyfriend is a chef and usually cooks some sort of protein with a side of vegetables.
Some evenings, Blomdahl and her boyfriend will go snowmobiling. Due to COVID restrictions, most activities with friends are outdoors these days.
Blomdahl said that she usually meets friends for snowmobiling, hiking, or skiing. Before the pandemic, she’d meet them for dinner at a restaurant or to play badminton.
On weekends, friends will often get together to spend time in cabins “in the middle of nowhere” — she said one she visited recently was so remote that it was a six-hour journey by snowmobile.
“Then you stay there for three days and you explore glaciers and you go skiing, or you just drink coffee and read a book,” she said. “It’s about being outside and exploring.”
Most nights, however, she and her boyfriend will just hang out at home.
“I work a lot nowadays, I’m on my computer until late and my boyfriend goes to bed really early because he gets up at 5 a.m.,” she said.
Blomdahl said they won’t be seeing any sunlight until March 8, but she loves life on Svalbard and says it’s the “incredible” nature that has kept her there for so long.
February is Blomdahl’s favorite month because of “blue hour,” when she said everything takes on a beautiful blue hue and seeing the Northern Lights is almost commonplace.
“They are more magical than I could ever explain to people,” she said. “It’s just unreal, they’re just so beautiful.”
She cites the “incredible” nature as what has kept her in Svalbard for so many years.
“Just the magic of this place,” she said. “My everyday life is so special up here. It’s so different. We’re surrounded by mountains and glaciers and polar bears and Northern Lights — every day feels like an adventure. I’m amazed by it every single day.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Svalbard is closed to visitors from the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
Read the original article on Insider