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'The first time it felt like we were living in a postcard.'

Moving to the mainland: Birgitte and Kjetil Dahl Knutsen are moving home to Tønsberg. They will miss Longyearbyen, not to mention all the mountaintops. FOTO: John Christian Nygaard

Moving back home

'The first time it felt like we were living in a postcard.'

Birgitte and Kjetil have warm feelings for Svalbard and will miss the life here.



"We are moving for the sake of our boys of 14 and 16 years, so now we're going back to our house in Tønsberg, says Birgitte, whose family has spent two-and-a half years in Longyearbyen.

'Here I must live'
Birgitte and Kjetil say they "fell in love" with Svalbard after spending a weekend here in September 2012, in connection with a concert performed by a girlfriend of Birgitte's in Pyramiden.

"As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew that here I must live," Birgitte says. "In January the following year Kjetil got a job at SvalSat and we moved up in April. So I got myself a job in the local government."

But now it is the end and they recently agreed to pack up and get ready for the move, which will take place in September.

"It is very sad to pack because I am very glad for all the nice experiences I've had up here," Birgitte says. "We've gotten to know so many people and life seems so much easier here."

"One of the worst things is to go from the mountains. We just have to go across the doorstep and we're right on a hike, which we are very fond of doing. So now we try to go as much as we can manage before we move."

'Painful to sell my snowmobile'

On Tuesday evening, the couple set out for Sukkertoppen, a hike obviously very special to them. With a tired journalist in tow, the two ascend almost disturbingly easy up the mountain.

Kjetil sees a snowmobile similar to the one he had to sell in May and says that was an emotional moment.

"It was physically painful to sell my snowmobile. When I came back into the house and heard that other person driving off with it, it made me hurt a little. I've had so many nice trips with it. It was a very faithful snowmobile," Kjetil says before Birgitte interrupts:

"The money we got for the three snowmobiles we have sold we have set aside to buy a boat, to do something nice."

"But that does not completely offset losing the snowmobiles," Kjetil says with a smile.

Fantastic reception
The tour continues up the mountain, and the reporter asks if there is anything other than people, nature and the mountains the two are going to miss from Longyearbyen.

"The simple life that is up here. Little things, like the short distance to shop and work," says Birgitte before Kjetil interrupts:

"Knowing that when you go to the store and shop, you're going to spend more time standing and chatting about stuff with people than actually shopping. Shopping at the store here is pleasant, while at home we shopped online and got food delivered once a week because we did not get time to shop for ourselves."

"There has been a much more leisurely pace here," says Birgitte as she looks over Longyearbyen. "And the way you are received by the people who live here is absolutely amazing."

Socially engaged

The two have also become involved in the community including, among other things, starting a humanist confirmation as an alternative who do not want to be confirmed in church.

"There was no other possibility here other than a Christian confirmation," says Birgitte, who is hoping someone else will take over the ceremonies. "I am a humanist myself and found some who knew that they would not be in the church, and they should have an equal alternative."

"Much of the program is already clear, but we need someone who can lead the confirmation courses during the evenings."

Birgitte also helped start a dance group in Longyearbyen.

"We are, for example, 18 people who are involved with Riverdance. One of the most fun times was when there was Irish evening arranged at Kroa in January. There were 24 dancers, four musicians from Ireland, an Irish menu and group singing. It was an absolutely great atmosphere and something we hope to get back again," says Birgitte with a laugh.

Kjetil has, among other things, helped start a 10-summit mountain tour and for the past few preparing for the hike, which at press time had about 80 participants.

"We're engaged with it out of our own self-interest because we think it's fun and we want people to participate in what we like to work on," Kjetil says. "But it's also nice to contribute to what's happening in town and it's good to know the commitment here. One notices that there are many people who want to help."

Spontaneous mitten applause

While the journalist sits and pants on a rock halfway up the mountainside, Birgitte and Kjetil meet two women who are also hiking. They chat as the journalist wonders why none of them seem particularly weary.

The hike continues and the question arises about whether they have a very special memory they will remember from their time in Svalbard. The answer comes quickly.

"The solar eclipse in March. It was completely…indescribable," says Kjetil after trying to come up with the proper words to describe the feeling they had when the moon passed in front of the sun and left Longyearbyen in the dark for 147 seconds.

"We were thinking 'yes, indeed, the eclipse is certainly cool,' but we thought that all the tourists took up the entire forefront. But when we saw it, it was so much more than we had imagined," says Birgitte with a laugh.

"And for the weather and for the setting," Kjetil says with a smile. "It was very extreme. There had been a lot of bad weather during the the winter, but that day was blue skies and clear weather. We broke out into spontaneous mitten applause."

'Living in a postcard'
With a relatively high turnover of people in Longyearbyen every year, Birgitte and Kjetil also got to know how that is perceived.

"It rather sucks," Birgitte says. "I have known that feeling and thought 'no, they will back off.' We lost two lovely ladies in the dance group last year. I also thought that it must be difficult for children and young people to link up with good friends that they lose."

Is it possible they will move back to Svalbard some day?

"I realize that the only way to deal with it is to go on from here. Thinking that we might be back someday. But at the same time it is a little about whether we both are lucky enough to get ourselves jobs here again. Now we will pay attention to the kids as they are finishing school. But one should never say never," says Birgitte as she smiles.

"Svalbard lures you like nowhere else and we know that we can go back on vacation," says Kjetil as he takes in the glorious view. "It has been absolutely fantastic. The first time it felt like we were living in a postcard."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini


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Living in a postcard: Kjetil describes being in Svalbard's nature as life in a postcard. FOTO: Sophie Cordon

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Enjoying the mountains: Looking out over Bjørndalen from Nordenskjold. FOTO: Private

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Snowmobile tour: The family travels to Tempelfjorden during a snowmobile trip. FOTO: Private

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