Saturday, 31 August 2013

24 hours a day are not enough!

MV FRAM reached the Monaco glacier in Liefde Fjord around 8:00 in the morning. Here we got the possibility for a very interesting cruise with our little PolarCircel Boats along the calving front of this huge and impressive glacier. The view to the glacier directly from the sea level was so different to the view we got from Fram. Everything looked so much higher and bigger. The light and weather was perfect for the cruising and for ice pictures. As we had no direct sunshine we could see the blue color of the glacier very clearly. Glaucous Gulls and Kittiwakes were flying in front of the glacier or were resting on the ice floes. Some of us could even see seals in the water. It was hard to leave the ice behind and return to the Fram to be ready for the exchange with the next group. Under these excellent conditions everybody forgot the cold in front of the glacier.

After this glacier event we enjoyed lunch with our travel companions. Everybody believed that their cruise had been the most spectacular trip of the day; and that is OK; at least it was unforgettable for everyone.

The early afternoon we spent in the lecture hall to listen to the different lectures given by the expedition team – and then we heard the announcement we were waiting for: Polar bear!!!!!!!!! Everybody ran to their cabins to pick up a warm jacket and the camera and then we were standing all together at the ship’s bow or in the Observation Lounge on deck 7 to watch the king of the Arctic. He was faithful and gave us enough time to watch him before he made the decision to go to the water and swim away.

Our late afternoon landing should have been in Worsleyhamna at the northern part of the Liefdefjord. But believe it or not another Polar bear showed up and we had to see how he would behave before we could start our landing. The Polar bear gave us the way free; he made the decision to stay at an acceptable distance; so we could land.  During our landing we had enough time to see the historical remains and wildlife like a Red-throated Diver (Loon) family on a pond. This was a good possibility too to make some pictures of the tundra vegetation.

Back on board we had our dinner and then we joined a special fruit and ice carving show by our galley crew. It was impressive how creative they could be.

After dinner a special event for our strongest Arctic explorers on board started – a camping night in the high Arctic! The camp was set up very fast so the night could start as soon as possible. There was a fine bonfire with BBQ at the beach, enjoyable talks and nice little walks around. But there have been also some duties like Polar bear watches during the whole night. And this watch was extremely necessary as there was a Polar bear in the area for the whole night. The bear was so nice to stay so far away that there was no danger at all; but he made this camping event very special. Not many people have slept in a tent watched by a Polar bear!

Friday, 30 August 2013

A sunny, sunny day in the high North

The morning of our second cruise day we should spend in Ny-Ålesund. The little settlement lies in the “Kong fjord”. Its surroundings belong to the nicest areas in Spitsbergen and we saw it in the best weather you can imagine. Clear blue sky and sunshine already in the early morning hours. The glaciers in the bay were shining in the morning light. Northern Fulmars, some Glaucous Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes greeted us in the harbour. There was no wind and the world looked a bit surreal.

The area around Ny-Ålesund was already well known during the whaling time in the 17th century.  In 1917 a private mine company from Ålesund in Norway founded the city Ny-Ålesund as a mining town. Today it is a huge research “Station” town where Scientifics from all over the world find best possibilities for their modern projects of arctic and climate research.

Ny-Ålesund is very famous for the historical arctic research too. Names like Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile are strongly connected to this place. On our walk through the town we got all the stories about these arctic heroes.   Full of new impressions we went back to the ship. Lunch was already waiting for us.

The next landings of our circumnavigation of Spitsbergen would be in the nature only, no town or settlement during the next days. In the early afternoon we learned in a special so-called “AECO” - briefing how to behave in this sensitive landscape. Directly after we could rent the “Muck” boots from the ship so that we could start our landing in Magdalene Fjord very well prepared, mentally and with the right equipment.

In Magdalene Fjord passengers have been divided in groups by different interests. We had fast hikers, slow hikers, those they wanted to enjoy more or less themselves, than we had kayakers and even swimmers and at the end we had a small of group of passengers which went on a very extraordinary 1 ½ hour PolarCircleBoat cruise to the very special historical place of Virgohamna.  We saw a lot of wildlife on our way like hunting Arctic skuas, Puffins, Walruses and Harbor Seals. The sunset over the glacier panorama we will never forget. In Virgohamna you still find remains from the whaling time, and from the time when Andree tried to fly with a balloon over the pol. Our expedition team member Stephan did not become tiered to chair all his historical knowledge with us.

As the day was filled up with so many activities most went to bed early. Everybody wanted to be fit for the next upcoming day.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A first busy day

A first busy day
During the night we arrived in Longyearbyen. Boarding would be in the afternoon and so we used the time to learn the city in guided tours.
At 16:00 MV FRAM opened its doors for us and we recognized directly – we are on an expedition vessel. Our first afternoon and evening was fully packed with a dense program. But we are here only for one week and of course we want to see as most as possible – so let’s do it.
Directly after the check in we got our blue expedition jackets. With this nice new staff we moved directly to the mandatory safety drill. After the drill we heard already the announcement for our first dinner buffet. There was even no time for a longer Captains welcome. We have been so busy that even the Captain had to use the very unusual opportunity to welcome us over the P.A. system. So there is a huge question standing in the room: Will we have really holidays?
At 20:00 FRAM reached the Russian mining town Barentsburg. Here we had our first landing of the cruise. The sun was gone and the clouds were hanging greyish over the typical Russian settlement. We could see all the old coal mining equipment, something of it was laying as iron and steel garbage directly in the harbor next to our lovely FRAM. But for sure we have not been in a tourist center anywhere in the Caribbean. We have been here to see the real life so far in the high Arctic; we wanted to see the real way of life in this very special Archipelago of Spitsbergen; and we got to see it.
Like in Longyearbyen the morning we had guided tours through the settlement in Barentsburg. We have been very surprised about all the new reinstatement of the buildings and constructions. We tested the “Homemade” beer and vodka and enjoyed at the end a fantastic folklore show.
Oh what a first day. Soon after the landing we went to bed, more than tiered. What will bring the next day for us

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A circle is closed again

In the early morning hours we reached Isfjorden again. One week ago we started here our circumnavigation around Spitsbergen in Longyearbyen and today we reached the fjord again. But we had still a whole day in this spectacular fjord system before we went back to Longyearbyen to fly home again.

We started the day with an early landing in Ymerbugter in front of the scenic Esmark glacier. There was no rain and no wind to disturb our landing. The light was perfect for good ice pictures. And the glacier was more than active. One calving after the other we could see. On little ice flows we could watch different seals and there were lot of birds to be seen too.

Just back on board we could listen to different lectures given by our experienced and amazing lecture team!

After lunch our Captain Rune Andreassen invited us to a farewell cocktail in the lounge on deck 7. It was already quiet clear that there would not be time for a farewell cocktail in the evening as we had planned a last long at late landing in Brucebyen in front of the huge and amazing Nordenskjold glacier.

And then our expedition leader Karin had a last surprise for us. Instead of going back directly to the ship after the landing we had the possibility for a last cruise along the calving front of the Nordenskjold glacier. What a wonderful goodbye.

Coming back to the vessel we could smell already our BBQ. Hungry we went directly to the dining room where the crew offered all the grilled specialties to us. It was nice to sit inside with a last view over the glacier, a glass of wine or beer in the hand and dreaming.

Most passengers have to leave the vessel during the night as they have booked night flights on their way home. Last guests will leave the vessel at 8:00 tomorrow morning in Longyearbyen. In the afternoon new guests will arrive and another circle will be opened. Our circle will be closed than.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Great place names: Gåshamna and Burgerbukta!

This morning we did a bit a rainy landing at Gåshamna, but what a beautiful place in Hornsund! Several Arctic skuas, Kittiwakes and Arctic terns were flying above the river plain and over our heads.

But not only birds were welcoming us, we met a lot of “history” on this place: Whalers, probably from England, left plenty of whalebones from bowhead whales. The Russian division of the Arc-de-Meridian expedition wintered there in 1899-1900, the remains of the astronomical observatory “Konstantinovka” are still visible and also a trapper hut from 1906 can be seen as our guide Line told us.

After an hour we were heading back to the boat - getting dry for the next landing in the afternoon, when we went to another spectacular place in Hornsund: Burgerbukta. As the fog lifted, we could see this bay which is surrounded by glaciers calving into the sea. Some of us hiked up the moraine and got a spectacular view over glaciers and surrounding colourful mountains. The kayakers went between big and small pieces of ice in front of the glaciers, listening to the arctic silence, hearing nothing than their own paddle stroke. 

Back on boat the Philipino crew prepared for us a marvelous buffet with specialities from their home country; but this was not the end of the day: in the Panorama Lounge we got to see the famous Crewshow. The Philipinos were singing, dancing and we even got a visit by the “Russian maids” – what good entertainment we had.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Nature sets the rules!

This day was planned to be very busy and interesting by our expedition leader Karin, like every day. She has lots ideas and most of the time the plan works out, but today Nature took over and Karin as the expedition leader, her team and of course all passengers had to accept this without any discussion. Nature can be very strict.

In the early morning around 6 o’clock we sailed through the Freemansundet between Barentsøya and Edgeøya. At 6:15 we heard the first announcement: Polar bear at starboard side! Those of us they have been still sleeping jumped out of the bed, dressed up, took the camera and run out. Best possibilities for a good photo shot had all the early birds who were standing on the open decks already. The polar bear was a huge male; good to be seen walking on the black rocks, but it was not very cooperative and did not stay with us for a long time.

Our first landing of the day should have started around 8:30 at Cap Lee on Edgeøya. The wind was picking up at this time and the swell became so strong that is was not possible for the passengers to step into the Polarcirkel boats in a safe way. Even though the expedition team had everything prepared at the landing site, the landing had to be cancelled. But at least another Polar bear showed up. It was far away but still very nice to see that they are still here, the “white kings” of the Arctic.

We used the bad weather for our lectures on board. The lecture team gave us lots of information about ice, history, birds and polar bears. And between we could even watch some whales, which have been on the same route like us.

After an excellent dinner we met in the Observation Lounge to join the very famous and unique FRAM Fashion show. Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

An exciting day!

This morning we landed on Kinnvika, a place on 80° N with a lot of research history! The Swedes and the Finns built up this large research facility for the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958. We explored some of the houses and were impressed, how well everything is still in shape where the researchers carried out their science projects in meteorology, Northern Lights, earth magnetism and more! 

Some of us went up the hill and had a great view over the tundra. Back on MV Fram we sailed on Hinlopen Strait and visited on our way Alkefjellet, an over 100m high imposing dolerite cliff with hundreds of birds. Some Brunnich’s Guillemots were still around, but mostly Kittiwakes were flying in and out of the nests with a “Million Dollar view”.

In the afternoon Tom held a lecture about the lord of the Arctic – the Polar Bear and got rid of many myths about this majestic animal, while Frieda was telling us about the seabirds flying around on Svalbard. The evening landing was on Torellneset where we first spotted a skeleton of a walrus. It was obvious that a polar bear had fed on it, as there were only bones and skin left but most of all, we had some polar bear footprints around the “corpus delicti”! Luckily we met also some “alive” walruses, lying on the beach and digesting. Some of them decided to take a bath and one was even swimming quite closely towards us! But all at a sudden, Manuel spread the word – “Polar Bear in sight”! Far away there was a yellow dot on the tundra – was it the polar bear who fed on the walrus? No one knows, so we kept on watching the walruses, before it was time to head back to the Polar Cirkel boats. What an exciting day!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Glaciers and hot springs – a typical arctic cruise day

The last day ended with lots of sun and our morning started with nice sunshine again. The time of the midnight sun is just gone but the nights are still very bright, especially under this good weather conditions. In the morning we have been focused on ice. MV FRAM found a good position in front of the amazing Monaco glacier and from here we started with a nice PolarCirkel boat cruise. For ½ hour we were cruising boat group by boat group through the icebergs in front of the huge calving front. The glacier was very active and the scenery changed constantly during the whole morning.  That was also nicely to be seen from the open decks or MV FRAM’s Observation lounge.

During lunchtime we were cruising through a spectacular landscape. It was always worth to be outside to make nice pictures. Around 16:00 FRAM reached Jotunkjeldene in Bockfjorden. Here we had our contrast program for the day – instead of glaciers we visited hot springs. Over a very rocky terrain of gneiss we climbed up the hill to see the different hot springs. The water has 20°C all year around as there is still volcanic activity in the underground. The warm water washed out a lot of carbonates. That was the reason why the whole slope was covered with a grey layer of hard carbonates. In the opposite side of our landing site we had the rock formation of the very well known “Old red”, a sediment stone colored red by iron oxide out of the Devon.

After dinner we reached Moffen. The captain brought the ship in a perfect position so that we got a good view over the walruses lying on the beach. Even it was already later in the evening the light was good enough to watch them and to take some good photos for nice remembering at home.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Our first day is paradise

With nice sunny weather we started the day in the research village Ny Ålesund and former Norwegian coal mining town. Some passengers took part in one of the guided tours and learned about the several attempts to reach or cross the North Pole from Amundsen and Nobile. The airship’s anchor mast is still standing there as a monument of these exciting times.

Some of us went out to explore the Conway Glacier and did a nice hike there. 

After lunch we all got the information and safety briefing about AECO and how we do landings, Ina and Karin gave us some useful hints! Manuel and Tessa gave each a lecture about “Svalbardian” topics and soon it was time to get proper rubber boots for eventual wet landings, and we got our personal pair during the “Boot shop”. This means we were ready to go to spend the late afternoon in the stunning Magdalenefjord with just great scenery besides the hill of whalers graves and blubber ovens. 

Some of us were even brave enough to go bathing in the icecold waves of the bay! And while three groups were hiking up the moraine of the Gully Glacier and the kayakers were paddling just in front of it, Manuel spotted a polar bear – no two (!) – a female with a cub! The excitement was big! Luckily they were on the other side of the bay, so we had a safe distance to watch the fury couple! Happily we returned back to the MV Fram, day 1 and already a polar bear – and a cub! But for some of us the day was not quite finished, as they went out with two Polar Cirkel boats and drove to Virgohamna, another place with a lot of Polar exploration history! Tired but happy we sank in our beds, dreaming about today’s impressions.