I had a window seat on the flight from Tromsø to Longyearbyen,
so here are some pictures of Svalbard / Spitsbergen from above.
(For more aerial views look at the pictures from the return flight.)
My vacation in Spitsbergen started with a 3½ day cruise along the west coast with the MS Brand. The first stop was Barentsburg, a russian coal mining community on Svalbard. Some unexpected view there, like ripe tomatoes (in a greenhouse, but unexpected anyway), metal boxes outside the windows acting as refriderators and streets made from large stone slabs, since they are less likely to be damaged by temperature changes and easier to repair than asphalt roads.
Our first step 'out in the wild' was in Magdalenefjorden, one of the most popular spots for cruises on the island. Being there (even in rather cloudy weather), it's easy to see why. Glaciers coming into the fjord from all directions, providing a strong contrast to the almost black mountains, all contributing to a fairly impressive scenery. A small, flat peninsula in the fjord also provides an easy place for landings with a Zodiac (rubber raft), which makes the place very convenient for cruises.
The next landing was at Raudfjorden, but before we got there we made a quick detour to Moffen island, crossing the 80th parallel on the way. Passing the 80° line was something which I had been [rather irrationally] been looking forward to and I was glad we made it. (We were only the second cruise this year [in a 'normal' ship, the ice breakers obviously went there earlier] to pass the 80th and the first that made it to Moffen due to a lot of pack ice this year. We even had to go around Prins Karls Forland instead of taking the ususal route between Prins Karls Forland and the main island due to the ice.) Moffen island was a bit dull though, since we were not allowed to get closer than 300 meters to it, so the walruses there were more suspected than seen.
When we finally landed at Raudfjorden we visited an old trapper's hut and dropped off a couple of hikers at a base camp from which they would go on day trips or a couple of days before (hopefully) being picked up by the next cruise.
The most impressive landing was at Glacier of the 14th of July in Krossfjorden. It's one of the more colourful places on Svalbard, since there's a bird cliff nearby and the ground is fertilized by bird shit. It also has a fairly wide glacier, so at least the middle part of the glacier front doesn't look as dirty as most smaller glaciers do. [The problem are the tall mountains and the temperature changes. Due to frost, bits of rock and rubble break off from the mountain and fall onto the glaciers.]
And while we didn't spot a polar bear, we did spot a couple of animals on the trip.
The next stop was Ny London, which would be the world most norther settlement, if anyone would still be living there. So now it's just the world most northern heap of decaying early 20th century machinery. The story behind the settlement is a rather sad one. The english entrepreneur Ernest Mansfield wanted to start a marble mine there, he found some investors and set up the infrastructure. He build a couple of houses, a small harbour, a railway between the mine and the harbour, a crane to lift the marble from the train onto the ships, and so on. Two years later he was still building his little city, but his investors became nervous and demanded a shipment of marble. When the shipment reached Italy, it was little more than sand (my tourist handbook claims that it had been unusable due to frost damage, the local tour guide stated that the marble just had been a few million years too young and thus not yet more than tightly compressed sand). So the investors cut off their support very quickly and Mansfield and his crew basically took next ship home, leaving Ny London behind.
So Ny Ålesund, the next stop on the cruise, is now the world most northernmost settlement. Founded as a coal mining settlement, it is now almost exclusively a scientific community, also remains and reminders of earlier activites still exists, like the old coal train or the mast from which Amundsen and Nobile started their zeppelin flight over the north pole. Almost everything here is the 'most northern' of its kind, so Ny Ålesund has the most northern dogs, the most northern post office, the most northern monument, the most northern public telephone, the most northern shop (and probably the most northern toothpicks, shovels, doorbells, bricks and plastic chairs as well). They also have the most northern pub, which is a nice place to be in. But if you like seals, you should avoid going to the dog compound, since the rack of dead seals is right next to it, complete with a greasy axe and a chopping block to hack the seals in pieces and feed them to the dogs, which is not a nice sight.
Another important thing about Ny Ålesund is that it's the breeding ground for a lot of arctic terns and they are very fierce in defending their territory. Unfortunatly most of the town (including the streets and paths) are considered territory by one or more terns, so you are under almost constant attack when trying to walk through the village. Fortunatly the birds are pretty dumb. They always attack the highest point, so there are a lot of sticks lying around in Ny Ålesund and when you walk around, you just keep the stick above your head and the terns will attack the stick instead of you. This leads to rather silly sights when a cruise ship arrives and a few dozen people walk through the settlement as a group, all carrying staffs. Looks a little bit like a procession of medieval monks... [Though I'm still not quite convinced that this is not an experiment of evolution in action - it can't be too long until there is a generation of arctic terns that instinctively attacks the lower end of the stick.]
And then it was back to Longyearbyen (the largest settlement on Svalbard and the starting point of the cruise), where we had a bit of a local sightseeing tour before the farewell dinner and spotted some reindeers.
Back to Tromsø
Further on to dog drive
Back to overview