May 2019, 78° North on Spitsbergen island: Longyearbyean, Barentsburg, Colesbukta, Grumant, Tempelfjord
Svalbard is the northernmost permanent settlement. It's also the warmest place at that latitude in the World, due to Gulf Stream. Isfjord, where main settlements are, is mostly ice-free year-round, which is very different from the nearby Greenland. North Pole is about 1000 km away.
According to Svalbard Treaty, it is managed by Norway, but any citizen of the World can come to live there if they can support themselves. Also, countries, which mine coal there, can maintain permanent settlements. Originally it was full of whaling stations until, unfortunately, the whales became almost exinct. There were many coal mines as well in the past belonging to many different countries, but currently there are only Norwegians and Russians who still operate the mines. Longyearbyen, formerly American mine and now the Norwegian capital, hosts people from around the world and specializes in tourism. Barentsburg, the active Russian settlement, is still mostly a mining town with many East-Ukrainian miners working there.
Mines are no longer relevant, but have to be operated until the treaty is changed. Polar research and tourism are main industries.
I have a passion for Northern wilderness, so Svalbard seemed like a perfect place to get our of mobile coverage and confront wild nature and polar bears. Also, my uncle Leonid Nesov, a paleontologist, had a story being lost while on expedition to Spitsbergen without food or other support years ago, so it was very romantic to visit the place myself. Nowadays, it is suprisingly easy to get to Longyearbyen - both Norwegian Air and SAS have daily flights from Oslo. Navigating around is another story - there are no roads and water transport is ridicuosly expensive.
May is "between the seasons" there, meaning that boats may not have started operating yet and you may not use snowmobiles anymore, because the snow is melting. We were lucky to get to use both.
Snowmobiles are by far the most exciting way to see around. Normally, you cannot leave settlements without a gun due to polar bears, but in the bar on the first night we learned from locals that polar bears are mostly a threat near water or ice. Up the mountains there is a very low probability to crash into them, so we took a flare gun and started riding along GPS tracks that we were given. Normally, without a guide to make it more exciting and easier to find adventures. The sun does not set in May, so there was no danger getting stuck in the dark. But of course, we ran into a polar bear while driving on the ice of Tempefjord in the fog.
It is a magical experience to ride a snowmobile in the wilderness. You cannot judge distances or sizes of anything you see because most times there is nothing for reference. Only ocassionally you see white reindeers. There's also plenty of abandoned settlements and mines to visit that give you a feeling of apocalyptic Ice Age future. The mountains and glaciers and our own thick clothes and helmets make you feel like you are on another planet. Think Interstellar. And then there's snow storms that make everything around you 100% white and this is when you completely lose your orientation. GPS is a life-saver in this situation.
Getting to Barentsburg is quite easy by snowmobiles - we got to abandoned settlement at Colesbukta and from there it's an easy ride. But we still opted for a Billyfjord ship to get there later because we wanted to stay for several days. In May departures are every other day, but there are daily options towards the summer. Barentsburg is less than 100km away, butfeels completely different - first you notice seeminly dirty shores due to active coal mining and black smoke from it's power plant. Lenin statue, people, shop, cantine, sport facilities - all are unmistakably Russian, despite Norwegian Krona being the currency there and having Norwegian prices. Barentsburg has the older brewery on the island, but they were out of more interesting beers at that time because the master brewer was on snowmobile vacation. Barentsburg has also only one tour company, so it's easier to organize and rent any equipment in Longyearbyen.
I would say that May turned out to be great time to visit because we had midnight sun, but still enough snow to ride on and not many other tourists. Definitely I'm coming back during the February-March "eternal sunrise" period and probably summer as well when you can really see more rocks and fossils, which are under snow most of the year.