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Published: July 26th 2019
Cruise day 9
Longyearben and Svalbard July 23rd 2019
It’s been a long wait but today we finally set foot on Svalbard which is as far north as you can go without being on an expedition. The town of Longyearben is the northernmost permanent settlement with over 1000 residents on the planet. We’ve been waiting a while and spent some money to get here!
We had booked a private tour to get the most out of our day and were a bit worried when the guy we had been in contact with told us he had left the company. We were going ashore earlier than anticipated so Claire messaged him and luckily got a reply giving us our guide’s name.
The shuttlebus into town took ages to set off and just a few minutes to arrive so we were soon in the heart of Longyearben. Mischa our Ukranian guide turned up soon after and so began our ‘lens and perspective’ private tour. We reckon we’ll only make it here once so we want to make the most of it.
What we didn’t know is that the roads here don’t go very far. They go to a mine or a satellite station and that’s about it. They’re usually very poor quality and it must be much easier to get around in Winter when you can hop on a snowmobile. Only one mine is still operational so you usually end up at a closed mine and some derelict machinery and buildings which is good.
We were driven to a few viewpoints and told lots of history and facts while Mischa answered any questions. So here comes the information bit. There are 13 policeman plus the chief of police who is also the island’s governer. Crime is very low and there has only ever been one bank robbery. Police mainly take care of the environment. You are not allowed to pick flowers. You are not allowed to die or give birth here. Dogs must be kept on a lead and are not allowed to run free. You are not allowed to own a cat (sorry Claire) but some people get round it in a nearby settlement by registering them as arctic foxes (Claire cheers up). Yes I have a lot of questions about that as well....
We enjoyed the tour but it would have looked so much more spectacular with some snow, well more snow anyway. Lunch was taken by the lake and was basically a posh Pot Noodle as it was dried trekking meals. I had chicken curry which was actually quite nice and definitely a few notches up from the aforementioned snack in a pot, mind you being slapped in the face with a sweaty sock is a step up from those. The meals are in a bag which you open, add hot water to, wait eight minutes and then eat.
During the trip we saw a few reindeer, were warned off by aggressive Arctic terns, saw a family of red something dippers or divers (birds!), some eider ducks and loads of barnacle geese. No Arctic foxes though but there should be a better chance tomorrow in Pyramiden.
If you wander out of town you have to have someone with you who has a rifle to scare away polar bears and our guide carried one and took it with him at times. Having your lunch while your server is armed is something new! When we were in Tanzania last year the cooks were going to ward off lions by banging frying pans together!
We also saw the seed bank where the aim is to store seeds of every plant, flower, vegetable etc in case of Trump....and Johnson now as well I suppose... Most of it is underground and I would love to have a look round but sadly you can’t.
Mischa dropped us in town and we still had time to spare so we had a wander round Longyearben and then walked back to the ship. The town isn’t very attractive but then it is a mining town with added on tourist bits that most of has been built since the 1970s. It’s a fascinating place to visit though and, despite thinking this would be our only visit, we’d love to come back when there’s some darkness and some snow about.
We went up on deck and it was quite warm but, as we set off, the chilly wind made us wrap up again. Within the hour we were arriving at the tuna glacier which we have all described as, well, WOW! The captain has anchored us not far away from it and it is just amazing. There’s a shelf of blue ice below a snow capped mountain with more mountains each side, all reflecting in sparkling water that is broken by floating chunks of ice. Birds fly around majestically and the whole scene is more than picture postcard perfect. WOW indeed.
The ship sent out a tender boat to the glacier to apparently get some ice for premium drinks. Now, the ice may be blue but it looks a bit mucky in places and the aforementioned birds may have done some droppings thereabouts.... So, basically, would you like some grubby ice with poo in your premium drink sir?
We met up with our tribe on deck and took some pictures, regaled tales of our day and caught up on the gossip. Andy and I worked out that we pretty much used to work for the same company, Richard got glared at for swearing and we had a laugh before people filtered away after another long but exciting day.
Tomorrow we get to see the world’s most northernmost piano....not sure if I’ll get much sleep tonight with that excitement to come!
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