Days 20-23 – Svalbard

We spent most of two days cruising from Greenland to Svalbard. The plan had been to travel along the pack ice looking for whales, seals, and polar bears. Unfortunately, we were in-and-out of fog and the ice was mushy and sporadic, so we didn’t have any sightings.

We arrived in Svalbard and spent two days exploring the fjords, visiting old trapper camps, Nazi weather stations, whaling stations, etc. We were also looking out for polar bears.

We got over 79 degrees north, about 650 nautical miles from the North Pole. The weather got better and better, our last full day on board was clear and sunny.

In WWII Germany took over Norway and established secret weather stations in Svalbard and eastern Greenland. Knowing the weather at these locations helped predict the weather coming to Europe.

We visited several glaciers, and finally spotted a polar bear swimming in front of one. After a few minutes, a second bear was seen sleeping on a small chunk of ice. We spent a half hour or so watching the bears, then went to our last glacier where another sleeping bear was found. We visited a walrus hauling-out area where we found four snoozing on the beach.

We got up the last day, left the ship, and took a tour of Longyearbyn before getting on the plane to Oslo. There are about 2000 people living on these islands, with over a third working in the coal mines, the rest are scientists or support tourism. This is the site of the international seed bank, where seeds from all over the world are stored to preserve as much diversity as possible for the future.

This area was settled by coal miners from Norway and Russia, and mining is still active, but dwindling.

We found Santa’s workshop! Mine 2B has been shut down, so Santa and his elves moved in. Local children deposit their letters in a special mailbox below the mine and they are carried up the hill to be delivered to Santa.

It’s time to come home – we leave tomorrow for Newark!


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