August 11th - London to Oslo

Our SAS flight to Oslo left at 10.20 am from Terminal 3 at Heathrow. It was an uneventful flight and we arrived at Oslo airport in the rain. We were picked up by the hotel minibus with two other couples, one British and one American. The weather improved on our 45 minute drive to The Grand Hotel on Karl Johans Gate in the city centre.

The hotel was an old and impressive building and very comfortable, with our room on the 4th floor. We had lunch in the Grand Cafe sitting in the corner overlooking a busy street. The cafe was part of the hotel and Ibsen went there regularly. Following lunch we went out in the rain and changed some money.

                          Looking across the street from the Grand Hotel Cafe

We were too late to take any sightseeing tours so we walked to the National Gallery to look at The Scream and other paintings by Edvard Munch.

              The National Gallery on the left, the home of Edvard Munch's The Scream

We spent an hour looking at the pictures and sculptures. We then walked to the National Theatre and then on to the waterfront.

At Aker Brygge we saw many boats and ferries, the Radhus or City Hall and, in front, a group of statues depicting women and children.


                                The gaunt looking City Hall, built in 1931

                              The Nobel Peace Building

The waterfront with a cruise ship in the distance and behind, Akerhus Castle built by King Haakon V in the 13th century.

The rain had stopped. We walked back to the hotel through a small park with fountains and statues of children looking across the water.

In the evening we went for a meal at a local brasserie with good food and pleasant service but expensive.

We returned to the hotel. Tomorrow we leave at 7.30am for the flight to Svalbard.

August 12th - Oslo to Longyearbyen

After an early buffet breakfast in the Grand Cafe, we took the hotel coach to the airport for a flight to Tromso and then on to Longyearbyen.

Leaving the Grand Hotel and looking along the street to the Royal Palace.

Our flight left Oslo at about 9.30am for the hour and a half flight to Tromso. We remained on the plane at Tromso airport while some passengers disembarked and others boarded. Tromso looked very pleasant with brightly coloured houses scattered over the green hills. There was snow on the higher mountains and we caught our first glimpse of Tromso's famous Arctic Cathedral.

The flight then took off for Longyearbyen after about twenty minutes. We reached Svalbard in heavy cloud and we could see Prince Albert II docked near the airport below us as we came into land.

We collected bags and saw our first polar bear!!

We boarded a coach which took us to the ship. As we approached it Wendy took this photo through the rain-spattered window of the coach.

We boarded the ship and were welcomed with a glass of champagne. We went through the registration process of having our photos taken and being issued with a swipe card for the cabin and for leaving and returning to the ship.

Once we had registered we went down to check our cabin, 309. We had a light lunch in the restaurant with Mike and Gail Auton and at 4pm we went to the theatre/muster station for a mandatory safety briefing from the expedition leader, Robin West.

He was on board with Jarda, Robin Aiello, Juan and Chris Srigley. There were quite a few staff we did not know and the captain was Ukrainian, Alexander Golubev.

We went on deck and took photos and met several of the passengers. As we were waiting to leave, another expedition ship moored alongside us, the Polar Quest, left the quay.

We left shortly after and headed away from Longyearbyen. It was impressive scenery, with heavy clouds hanging over the mountains. We were served hot chocolate and canapes and we felt quite cold in the wind.


We went down for a briefing meeting and were introduced to the captain and the expedition crew. The sea became rougher and I felt slightly queasy and we both missed dinner. We were heading north up the western side of Spitsbergen to tomorrow's first stop at the 14th of July glacier.

August 13th - 14th July Glacier - Ny Alesund - Magdalenefjord

We got up early as we were in Group 1 disembarking at 8am on the Zodiacs. We went in a Zodiac with Christian driving on a calm sea to the shore.

We had a choice of two walks. We decided to hike up to the glacier, a moderate to strenuous walk. We went along the beach and walked past beautiful ice 'sculptures' created by small icebergs floating from the glacier up on to the beach.

The glacier was very impressive as we got closer to it. There were small icebergs floating in the water and we saw one seal swimming in the bay.

The climb up to the 14th July Glacier was fairly steep, rocky and, in places, very muddy. Wendy stepped on a mud hole and sank into the mud halfway up to her knee. At the top it was icy when we reached the glacier, but well worth the climb because the views were fabulous. Deep crevasses traversed the ice and we got some good photos looking straight down into one of the crevasses near the head of the glacier.

We were so hot when we reached the top that we had to take off our coats. At times we could hear the glacier calving and we saw large waves, created by the falling ice, moving out into the bay. We spent about half an hour on the glacier and then returned the same way down. It took us another half an hour to reach where the Zodiacs were moored. As we neared them, we walked past another 'ice sculpture' which made an interesting composition with the Prince Albert II framed by its melting ice.

We walked past the Zodiacs and on to the bird cliffs which were about 400 metres along the beach. There was a large colony of kittiwakes. We also saw guillemots. We took some photos and then walked back to the Zodiacs. We were then taken by Robin West to see some puffins.

They were high up on rocks and we were able to take some good photos. The puffins flew over us as they went out to fish. Apparently, they beat their wings at about 300 beats per minute.

We then returned to the ship and had a great lunch on board, the first of many! The boat then left the bay and headed to Ny Alesund, an old coal mining town that is now the most northerly settlement in the world. Mining is no longer carried out there and the place is principally a research station where many nationalities operate. About 25 people live there in the winter and the number rises to over a 100 in the summer. Various nations, including the British, Norwegian, Chinese and Indian are based there.

We took a short walk into the town and went past an old steam engine that was used by the miners.

Nearby was a flock of barnacle geese.

We saw the North Pole Hotel, a shop, the post office and the museum. There was a statue of Roald Amundsen, who, in 1926, flew to the North Pole in an airship. Nearby there is the pylon that was used to hold the airship. We went into the shop and mailed some postcards to the grandchildren.

We went into the post office and stamped our passports with Ny Alesund.

The ship docked at Ny Alesund.

We walked back to the ship, had tea and scones in the lounge with Gail and then attended a lecture on the history of Spitsbergen/Svalbard given by Christian from Easter Island. Before dinner, there was the Captain's welcome party. We were guests of Robin and Jarda in the dining room. We had a very enjoyable evening with them. As we were having tea and coffee, Robin was called to the bridge because a polar bear had been sighted. We went to the bridge and could see the bear walking along the rock beach.

I managed to get some video and a few long-range photos. Another bear joined it further along the shore, but as we were second off the ship in the Zodiacs to view the bears, we only saw them lying down asleep. It was a bit of a letdown!

The boat was moored in Magdalenefjord with a glacier only a short distance from the boat. It was a very beautiful location.

At midnight we went up to the observation deck to look at the midnight sun which was catching the tops of the surrounding mountains.

We had been told that a landing there tomorrow would not now go ahead as polar bears had been sighted and it was not deemed safe.

August 14th - Smeerenburg - Virgohamna - Sallyhamna

We awoke to find we were moving to our next destination as we weren't able to land at Magdelenefjord because of the polar bears. We continued north to Amsterdam Island and Smeerenburg (Blubber Town), an old Dutch whaling station established in the 17th Century.

We were all taken by Zodiac to the island where we were given a guided tour by Christian, the historian, and Hans-Peter, the botanist.

There were lots of Arctic Terns gracefully flying about and landing close to us. The Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any creature, flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year.

There were guides, with rifles, posted some way away from us to keep an eye out for polar bears. We were shown the remains of blubber ovens where the whale oil was extracted.

There was a plaque that detailed the history of the settlement.

We spent about an hour on the island and then took a Zodiac back to the ship for lunch.

In the afternoon the Zodiacs took us all to to Virgohamna, on the north side of Danish Island, a short distance from Amsterdam Island. Here are two of the Zodiacs heading for the island passing a Swedish yacht that was cruising through the islands.

Virgohamna is an historical site that required a permit to visit. It was a whaling station and had graves of whalers that had become exposed because of  permafrost heave. There were the remains of three ovens from the 17th Century. We had to be careful not to step on the graves as they were on a path that ran through the centre of the site.

It was the site of several unsuccessful flights to the North Pole by balloon or airship. In 1896 the Swede, Andree, tried by balloon and then the American, Wellman in 1906, tried by airship. The site became a tourist attraction as the expeditions were being prepared. A giant wooden hangar was built for the airship and we could see the remains of the timber structure scattered on the rocky shore.

When the structure to house the airship was built in 1926, it was the largest wooden structure in Europe. It was an amazing feat to build such a large building so far north.

There were piles of rusting iron filings and drums that transported the sulphuric acid. Both were used in the production of the hydrogen that filled the airship. There were also piles of broken clay pipes that transported the hydrogen to the vessel.

It was a scene of total dereliction. Colleen, the archaeologist, gave us a very interesting and informative guided tour of the site.

We saw several purple sandpipers feeding on the shore. Apparently these are quite rare.

We returned to the ship and attended a lecture and briefing. At the briefing, Robin West explained how our schedule could change, depending on weather and sightings. He told us that the Polar Quest expedition ship had reported that a group of polar bears had been seen not far away. Our dinner was brought forward and we went out in the Zodiacs to find the bears.

Our Zodiac was driven by the captain.

The ride to shore took about ten minutes and as we approached it, we saw a group of five adult bears and one cub.

The bears were feeding off a whale carcass that was submerged near to the shore. One of its giant jaw bones was on the shore. There was one bear in the water which did several dives coming to the surface with chunks of whale meat in its mouth.

A bear on the shore fighting to get the meat from the bear in the water.

One of the bears had a radio collar which had been put on it by research scientists who are monitoring the bear population of Svalbard. We sat in silence watching the bears as the snow started to fall. The baby bear stood underneath its mother for protection.

It was a memorable sight and the captain said it was the best polar bear sighting he had ever seen. We were there for about 45 minutes and then we had to return to the ship to let more groups see the bears. We all had a drink to celebrate the sighting of the bears.

When everyone had returned to the boat, we headed north to the pack ice and some ice cruising. As we went to bed, we reached 80 degrees, only about 600 miles from the north pole.