Oslo and Longyearbyen, Norway 08/08/14
Up at 5:45 and down to breakfast at 6:30. We are leaving at 7:30 for the airport and because of the limitations on luggage, both checked and carry-on I have been a little concerned that I’d be paying overweight charges, given that we are allowed one carry-on weighing 8 kilos and I have three filled with cameras and electronics weighing 15 kilos. However in the scramble to load 180 of us on two planes, that seemed a trivial matter compared with checking us all in and loading us so, all was fine.
2.5 hour flight to Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago where we pick up the ship at 78 degrees longditude.
Longyearbyen is the major settlement and the capital of the Svalbard island group which is Norwegian territory but self-administered by a Governor who lives on the island. Some mining on the islands but lots of research stations owned and staffed by various countries and an indigenous population of 450 living in pre-fab wooden buildings along two streets. Signs are posted at the edge of town on each of the couple of roads leading into the countryside, composed of a red-bordered triangle with a polar bear painted in white on a black background. Seemingly one can walk in town without any problem but anyone moving past any of these signs is responsible for their own safety and is required to carry a rifle in the event of encountering a polar bear. Shooting a bear is a huge no-no, the gun is for frightening them off, but in the last extremity the guns are allowed to be used for self-protection. Any time a bear is shot, the local police and government take possession of the bear’s remains, an autopsy is performed, an inquest is held and if it is determined that the bear was killed unnecessarily, a very large fine is levied.
We boarded our ship, Le Boreal, French registered and crewed, in the afternoon and we are very impressed, never having taken a sailing trip before. 6 decks with a formal dining room on the 2’nd deck and a buffet dining room on the 6’th. We are on the 4’th deck, in the last cabin amidships on the starboard side and our cabin has floor to ceiling windows and a sliding glass door out a balcony with a couple of comfortable chairs. Don’t think it’s likely to get much use as it’s about 4C but nice to have such a great view. Ship is new, only 4 years old, and is very comfortable, stylish and luxurious.
Hopefully our cabin is well-positioned for any eventuality, amidships to minimize motion since V is concerned about mal de mer and on the starboard side as this should be looking landwards for most of our cruise.
Brief cocktail party and then dinner in the more formal dining room with Chuck and Eileen with whom we’re traveling. The expedition cruise is organized by Abercrombie and Kent and everything laid on including all meals, wines and bar items so thankfully our credit cards will get a rest after the punishment they took in Oslo. French boat so food and service very good particularly wines and cheeses but the chef also runs a very good kitchen and menus look to be inventive and interesting.
Before we left Toronto I looked up sunrise and sunset times as I wanted to plan how early I would need to get up if I wanted any sunrise shots but the app that I use kept giving me the results of 00 for all the dates we’re on the trip. I couldn’t make any sense of this and assumed that maybe the database did not contain any data for this part of the world. I now understand the answer; there is no sunrise or sunset at this latitude, the sun shining brightly for the full 24 hours. After dinner, up to the 6’th floor observation deck with my camera and a stunning sky and a pearly light on the mountains on our starboard side and the sea, mill-pond smooth and luminescent. Light as bright as late afternoon and at bedtime we pulled the blackout curtains tight across the windows but the room was still very bright. Fell asleep and then leapt up at some point during the night convinced that it was the afternoon and that we had slept the morning away, but when I looked at the clock it was only 3:30 am and the sun still quite high in the sky.