Day 1: Friday, 15 May 2015 – Embarkation, Longyearbyen.

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We arrived in Svalbard in the early afternoon along with most of the guests who had flown north from Oslo on the same flight. At Longyear airport we were greeted by Rupert, the Blue Planet Expeditions representative, and a mini bus that was waiting to take us to the ship

Due to the fact that we couldn’t embark the MS Stockholm until later in the afternoon we stopped just long enough to offload our luggage. Once this was completed we got back into the minibus and continued onwards for a tour of Longyearbyen.

The town is small but its uniqueness and interesting history provided an interesting interlude, and our guide Wiggo, who is a fourth generation Svalbard resident, gave us a potted history that was both interesting and humorous. Longyearbyen is the furthest North town in the world, a distinction shared with the northernmost church and university campus. The town is also home to the World Seed Bank – a strategic repository for seeds of most of the world’s plants and trees and the crops we rely on.

On our tour, we also learned about the colourful social history of Longyearbyen, and of Svalbard, which, while not having an indigenous people, only a century ago was the ultimate representation of the ‘wild west’. During that time, Svalbard was populated by coal miners, whalers, fox and polar bear trappers – tough, self-reliant people. The human population was scattered sparsely along the archipelago’s cold shores in rudimentary cabins built from driftwood. The capital was formed in Longyearbyen, which had grown up at the bottom of the valley off Isfjorden where the first coal had been discovered. There was no law in Svalbard in those days, adding to the harsh nature of life there, and it was a place suited only to the hardiest and most independent people.

The Svalbard treaty of 1920 saw Norway open its remote High Arctic territory to any other country or people who wanted a part of it, although only Russia staked any claim, later consolidating their access to coal in other areas of Isfjorden, and designating the towns of Barentsburg and Pyramiden as formal Russian inholdings in Svalbard.

After a break at Cafe Fruene, we stopped at the Radisson Hotel to pick up guests who had arrived in Longyearbyen earlier, and then drove down to the port where we boarded the ship.

Just after 5pm, we let go the lines and sailed west into Isfjorden and the beginning of our adventure along the west coast of Spitsbergen.

Day 11: Longyearbyen (disembarkation)

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After breakfast, we disembarked from the Stockholm and went into Longyearbyen in our minibus to spend a few hours there before our afternoon flight to Oslo.  It is said that strangers are only friends we have not yet met, and we departed Longyearbyen for our various homes as new-found friends who will hopefully now remain in contact in one way or another – bound together through having shared a grand adventure.

Day 10: Isfjord – Templefjorden

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After a calmer night than the previous one, we reached Poolepynten, a promontory jutting-out into the shallow waters off the east coast of Prins Karl’s Forland that is often a very good place to see quite large numbers of walrus ‘hauled-out’ on the beach.  On this occasion, there were none, so we continued south for Isfjord, Skansebukta and Templefjorden, in a last effort to find some more wildlife before the end of the trip.  Polar bears and puffins were high on everyone’s list, considering what we had seen on the trip, and we had decided to visit two locations that could, possibly, yield another sighting of both.

At Skansebukta, the bird cliffs seemed almost deserted until we approached them more closely in the Zodiacs, when they revealed some of most of the birds we would generally expect to see in Svalbard: Brunnich’s guillemots, black guillemots, kittiwakes, pink-footed geese, barnacle geese, glaucous gulls, snow-buntings, northern fulmars, but no puffins.  We did see a fox briefly, before it disappeared into what appeared to be a den and did not re-emerge.  After about an hour and a half at the cliffs, we returned to the Stockholm for lunch on the aft deck before sailing for Templefjorden in hope of seeing bears and seals on the fast ice we expected to find there.

Arriving in Templefjorden, we found several miles of fast ice extending towards the glacier at its head, with over 100 bearded and ringed seals scattered over the surface.  We went a short way into the ice and then stopped so as to minimise altering it and disrupting the seals.  Sitting in silence, we scanned the ice and the shoreline beyond it for bears that may have crossed the short distance between the Barent’s Sea and Templefjord but there were none.  We did see an Arctic fox to our port side, but it was more than half a kilometre away and did not come any closer.

The white landscape and the seals on the unbroken ice around us, framed against a blue sky, was a fitting end to our trip despite our not finding any more bears or puffins.  Backing out of the fast ice, we sailed out of Templefjord to Isfjord, arriving in Longyearbyen at around 9pm and tying-up at the quay for the night.

Day 1: Longyearbyen

MS Stockholm berthed in Longyearbyen

MS Stockholm berthed in Longyearbyen

After flying from Oslo with a brief stop at Tromso, our SAS flight afforded us a spectacular view of the snow-covered mountains around Isfjord as it made its approach into Longyearbyen.  We were met at the airport by a man called Finn, who was going to give us a tour of the town before taking us to the ship for our 4pm embarkation.  Our first stop was the global seed bank, which is located on a hillside between the airport and the town.  The seed bank isn’t open to the public, but we were at least able to take some pictures of its slightly surreal entrance which is a stainless steel enclosed walkway that runs back from a heavily built door into the hillside.  We then picked-up the rest of our party at the Spitsbergen Hotel before making a stop at Café Fruene, in the centre of the town, for a little refreshment following our flight.

After a short stop at the café, we continued our tour, taking-in the sled dog yard, and the public kennelling area, the Sysselmann’s office, the famous Huset restaurant, and the northernmost church in the world.  At 4pm, our driver dropped us at the quay where the Stockholm was moored, and we went aboard.  After dropping our bags in our cabins, we had a tour of the ship before a short safety briefing from the Expedition Leader and First Mate.  Following that, the ship departed at 5pm, sailing out into Isfjord and bound for Hornsund, where we would spend the first full day of the trip.

Day 11: Longyearbyen and beyond!

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The beautiful wilderness that we got to experience during the trip already seemed like a long way away. The monstrous Costa Pacifica and its 3700 passengers had arrived during the night. There was a constant flow of people walking to town, and the presence of the ship complicated the disembarking from the Polaris. We all met up in town at 12:30 for the last goodbyes. Thank you all for the great trip!

Day 10: Trygghamna

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There is still quite some distance to cover to reach Longyearbyen, so we had an early start (bit too early for some!). We sailed along Prins Karls Forland and stopped at Poolepynten to look at a group of about 15 to 20 walruses. Arthur kept the boat close to the animals so we could stay dry and warm, and still take great photographs. In the early afternoon we reached Trygghamna and its impressive tortured landscape. We got onshore for one last walk in the mossy Tundra before Longyearbyen. We saw several reindeers and their calves, a fox and a seal. All good things come to an end, and it was already time to reach Longyearbyen. Rupert showed us the slideshow of the trip in which Lennie’s lemon, rescued from the kitchen stood a good place.

Day 1: Longyearbyen

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Rupert, Rick and Heïdi welcomed us onboard the Polaris I. We left Longyearbyen as soon as we got onboard and sailed to the mouth of Isfjorden towards Ymerbukta. The strong winds coming from the North prevented us to sail any further North, so Arthur and his crew anchored the boat in front of the glacier Esmarkbreen. We had great sights of Fulmars and Eider ducks, but no Narwhals (yet!). This is a promising beginning

Day 10: Prins Karls Forland – Murraypynten – Trygghamna – Longyearbyen

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Prins Karls Forland in the sun is really a f* beautiful sight as the Captain would say. The bay was bounded by high peaks and thick glaciers. Once again our friends the walruses were lying on the beach at MurrayPynten. After a nice photo session we kept on sailing south towards Isfjorden and the bay of Trygghamna. We had a nice walk in this very bucolic place and around the sharp peak of Protektorfjellet. From there we could observe the Russian town of Barentsburg. We also found a goose nest with eggs inside.

 

Sadly all good things come to an end, and we reached Longyearbyen in the evening.

 

But thankfully we still had one night left onboard Polaris I! Before dinner, the crew of the Polaris came to greet us goodbye, and the Captain was even wearing his uniform! Paula showed us the slideshow of the trip, made of photos gracefully shared by the passengers, very emotional and some pretty funny. Tabernacle, that was brilliant! Thank you Paula!

Day 1: Leaving Longyearbyen

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Most of us reached Longyearbyen, capital of Svalbard in the afternoon. Rupert, Rick and Heïdi welcomed us on board the Polaris I, and we immediately set off towards the 86km long island of Prins Karls Forland, West of Spitsbergen. The dramatic and varied landscape of the island mostly consists of wild alpine mountains made of the oldest rocks of the archipelago, called the basement. We anchored in the bay of Selvågen.