Norway, Svalbard, The Arctic

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Norway, The Arctic

Oslo, Norway and the Outskirts

June 24-26, 2016

We got into Oslo a bit later than we had hoped for after a delayed flight, but the process upon landing was pretty simple. We found the Flytoget Express Train and took it to the Nationalthetret station. All we had to do was swipe our credit card at the turnstyle. We didn’t even get a ticket.

The train was quite full, so we sat on our luggage until we arrived 20 or 30 minutes later, I think after about three stops. We walked a few short blocks along the side of the park to our hotel, Hotel Christiania Theater that was in an absolutely perfect location. I really scored on this place, especially given the price. The only downfall was that there wasn’t any A/C, and it was unseasonably hot in Norway, but I suppose a lot of hotels don’t have A/C in the nordic country.

https://www.nordicchoicehotels.no/nordic-resort/hotel-christiania-teater/

The extension of Slottsparken located directly in front of our hotel was home to the gay pride festival. After dropping off our luggage, we took a quick pass through this free event before we hung a right and headed toward the water front, only a few blocks away. Much to our surprise, some of the streets were barricaded and masses of people were lingering around listening to live music. We found out that some of the biggest Norwegian bands were playing at a free concert that is held once a year. Locals idled their boats in the harbor to listen while others held parties at their boat slips at the docks. Who knew we’d pick the weekend in Oslo when everything was happening.

We strolled the harbor and found a place for dinner, Louise Restaurant & Bar. It was a very popular seafood place. I think it drew some locals as well as plenty of tourists due to its location on the water along with several other restaurants. David was happy to get the seafood platter…his favorite. We shared the large dish. I can’t say it was the best I have ever had, but it was a nice meal and atmosphere. We enjoyed a relaxing evening and prepared to sight see tomorrow.

Since neither of us are the best at going to museums or castles, we looked for outdoor sightseeing activities. Trip Advisor suggested to see Nordsmarka, Holmenkollen and Sognsvann Lake. It was an easy 20 minute subway ride out of town. We made a few mistakes along the way, however. First, we bought a more expensive train ticket instead of a subway ticket. The lady at the snack shop in the station said we could still use it for the first hour, so that wasn’t too bad. Then upon the recommendation of some travelers on Trip Advisor, we took line 1 to the Frognerseteren station. If we had to do it over again, we might have picked the Holmenkollen stop or even gone all the way to Sognsvann Lake and walked uphill to Frognerseteren (more later).

There weren’t many signs upon exiting the subway, and we were basically trying to find a trail in the woods that took us to Sognsvann Lake. The woods were more like a cross country ski resort. Several trails led to different restaurants, lakes, and viewpoints in the Nordsmarka Wilderness Area. We stopped a few people to ask where to go, and in broken English (far better than our Norwegian), they told us the easiest way was to walk down this road.

We ended up walking to the ski jump that was used in the 1952 Olympics and has hosted the World Cup Ski Jumping Competition several times. The jump was enormous and is used for ziplining in the summer. We didn’t do this, but the whole complex made us realize why the Norwegians are so good at skiing! The roads around the area are marked for summer blading courses, so when there isn’t snow athletes skate around the courses. Ski trails are everywhere and there was even another ski jump where people practiced jumping in the summer. We actually watched someone jump!

https://youtu.be/3qzJBNuYTfM

After a short time at the ski jump, we ended up walking back up the road we had just walked down and stopped at the top of the hill at a restaurant with an awesome view of the fjords in the distance. This is where I wished we ended up for the day as opposed to starting for the day. From here we followed a maze of trails downhill to Sognsvann Lake. While it was easier to walk downhill through the lush forest on this humid day, we found the lake destination to be anti-climatic. It felt like we arrived at any city park with several people sitting around the lake and swimming.

I think it would have been fun to start at the lake and walk uphill to end the day on the patio at the restaurant to enjoy an amazing view. Regardless, it was nice to be able to explore the wilderness with only a 20 minute subway ride. It only took us about half a day to come and go, hike a few miles, and check out the ski jump. We could have easily turned into a full day had we really understood the area. But this gave us more time to explore Oslo, as we were only there for about two days. We ate lunch in the park across from the hotel and just as we prepared to leave the gay pride parade marched by us. The parade was pretty big and even the Oslo police participated in the marching.

The afternoon took us to Bygdoy Penninsula. We purchased tickets the Bygdoy Ferry. There were several ferry options and mini-cruises available to go near and far, but we just picked the ride that took us to he Viking Ship Museum and Polar Ship Museum and back. It was a hop on/off ferry that was diligent about checking tickets. On our ride over to Bygdoy, which can be seen from the harbor, we shared the ferry with several people attending a wedding!

We exited the ferry by more boat docks. David wants a sailboat, so we tried to go look at the boats at these docks, but they were much private and locked up so we wandered on to the Viking Boat Museum. As I said previously, neither one of us are big museum goers, so we were pleasantly surprised when we entered the main lobby (before paying), and we could see the boat on exhibit! No, we couldn’t enter the boat area and walk around it without buying a ticket, but we got a nice view, used the restrooms, and moved on in about five minutes! There is an Oslo Visitors Pass that covers subway rides and some entrances to museums and such, but we really needed to be there one more day for this to actually be beneficial.

After the Viking Museum, we wandered over to the Folk Museum and the nearby park, before we tired as we had basically been walking all day. We took the ferry to the next stop, but didn’t even get off the boat to see the polar expedition museum. We figured we got enough of that in Svalbard. We spent the evening wandering around the harbor again. Normally, I like to explore different parts of the city, but is was a nice, new area close to the hotel.

Our final day in the city felt like a whirlwind as we pounded the pavement. In the morning, we donned our rain jackets as we visited Damstredet and Telthusbakken, streets in the historical part of Oslo. The houses were quaint and cute and the streets narrow. We passed by a large garden, another park, and a beautiful cemetery along the way. We took a round about way back to the hotel and ended up strolling through Slottsparken by the Royal Palace.

After our stroll through the park, we stopped inside City Hall. We passed by it several times on our way to and from the harbor. The architecture from the outside made the building look quite boring, but David humored me and let me walk inside as I had heard it was worth the visit. It was. David even liked all the ornate rooms.

After a brief tour through City Hall, we took a long walk around the harbor to the Opera House. Along the way, we walked through the lovely grounds of the Akershus Fortress and marveled at the cruise ship docked next to it. There had to be 5,000 rooms on this boat. Also, in this area was a memorial to the MS Scandinavian Star. I must have been self-absorbed in college at this time. I had no idea the passenger ship was set on fire by the crew and 159 on board (about 1/3 of the people) were killed in 1990. The ship was burned for insurance fraud! Who could imagine the very people that are paid to protect passengers, set the ship on fire and abandoned it before the passengers could be helped to safety. I was just dumbfounded to learn this!?!

We eventually made it to the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. This building was very cool and well worth the visit. We walked from the sidewalk right up the slanted roof to the top of the building where we looked out into the fjord. We really liked this! A late lunch called our name back at the harbor. The sky was still a bit overcast and rainy though we had some more time to kill before our evening flight.

Since David had visited Oslo as a kid, he decided he would just chill out while I took the subway to Vigeland Sculpture Park. He said he spent hours there when he was a teenager and didn’t want to go back. From the conversations I had heard, however, it seemed like a must see…that statues were everywhere. For some reason, I imagined sculptures just popping from the grass all over the place. It seemed unique. I was surprised when I got there to see absolutely lovely grounds. A groomed park with fabulous flowers and fountains and bridges with tons of statues! It was really pretty.

The park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. The park is home to more than 200 bronze, granite and wrought iron statues created by Gustav Vigeland. One of the statues on the bridge (there were like 58 or so), is of an angry boy. The layer of patina that turns bronze green from the reaction to the air had been rubbed off from people touching his hand. I thought perhaps there was some significance to this statue like it was good luck, but apparently people just want their picture next to it!

After seeing the gold colored hand, one tourist turned to her husband and said, “Look that statue is bronze.” He responded, “They are all bronze.” I’m sorry, but I had to laugh at her comment. And she wasn’t blonde!

Fortunately for me, it didn’t rain while I was at the park. I made it back to the subway after stopping to watch an American Football game (of all things) for a few minutes before the drizzle came. This was my last tourist stop in Oslo before we headed toward home. While we enjoyed an uneventful trip to Norway, returning wasn’t quite the same. We landed in London late. Stood in the immigration line for at least 1.5 hours while two of the three agents went on break. It was truly pitiful. And when they came back, two of three agents took forever to let people through. David made it through the line before me and while he waited he could see the computer screen at the desk I was at. He asked me what took so long? The screen was blank! I guess the guy didn’t have anything better to do at midnight.

IMG_0448 football

Sadly, at the international airport of this giant city, the trains between terminals shut down late at night, so it became rather difficult to get to the Hilton Hotel at a different terminal. After a bus ride and an entry through an employee area, we finally checked in. I think it took us three hours from landing to get through immigration and to the hotel at the airport! This was all during Brexit by the way though I doubt that made a difference.

Our next flight to the states was rough at best. We again boarded the decrepit 747 operated by British Airways. We were several hours late, but have no idea why because we couldn’t understand anything announced on the PA system. Fortunately there wasn’t an emergency. The movie screens clicked in and out and it had to be 80 degrees on the plane with no way to adjust the temperature. For those who know me, everybody knows I am generally freezing on a plane. I felt sorry for other passengers. But all and all, it was a good trip, and I’m glad I could visit the arctic and Norway. ETB

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Spitsbergen, Svalbard, The Arctic

Blue Whales in the Arctic

June 23, 2016

I’m back from my blogging hiatus.

We had one last night on the ship and were told we were in a good place for whale watching. A wake up call came over the loud speaker around 2 am; “I’m sorry to disturb, but there are three large whales on the starboard side of the ship.”

I thought to myself, I wish they announced what type of whale as I didn’t want to get up for a humpback to view in the distance when I have snorkeled with them.

A little while later, we heard over the loud speaker, “We believe these are blue whales.”

Well, that got me out of bed. It is rare to spot the largest animal in the world. David and I, not appropriately dressed for the cold, scampered up the stairs to the deck to have a look. Along with other passengers and crew, we spotted some blows and dorsal fins, both near and far. There were a few pods of whales around, both blue and humpback. After about 45 minutes of waiting to see a fluke, we finally retreated inside to warm up.

Sharon came bursting through the door, and excitedly questioned, “Did you see the blue whale?”

“Yes, but only the blow and dorsal fin,” we replied.

“That’s all you usually ever see…back, back, back, fin…back, back, back, fin.” It was true. We saw the back for forever and then the fin. I always waited for the fin to take a picture, and then it would promptly go underwater. So, anyway, after we heard that is the best we’d see, we felt satisfied and went back to sleep.

We exited the ship the following morning. We had the rest of the day to spend in Longyearbyen. I recommend not doing this and booking the first flight out! I was worried we might miss the plane if our expedition was delayed, but I think it would be worth the risk. There are very few half-day tours in Longyearbyen, so there is not a lot to do. We purchased the brewery tour, but it turned out the brewery was closed, and the agency mistakenly sold it to us, so that wasted our day! We strolled in and out of all six or stores at least twice to try to find a “trip treat” for the kids. We finally settled on truffles from the northern most chocolatier in the world and a scarf.

We will be happy to get to Oslo! ETB

Norway, Svalbard, The Arctic

Harbor Seal Circled Our Kayaks

June 22, 2016

What a great final paddle for our trip! After having the kayaks shuttled to the coastline, we loaded up and headed into the fjord. David and I took singles for the last outing. After being in a double, I found the single to be a little less stable and more rocky.

The landscape around the area was absolutely spectacular. To our left, an old fishing cabin was perched on the point while kittiwakes peppered the pebble beach until we neared. The sea was still until we reached a receding glacier. The wind coming off the icy slope blew us toward the middle of the rippling bay. I found myself snapping a photo and then paddling on the right side to bring myself closer to shore.

We had an option to end our paddle early in order to hike on land, but the scenery was just too good. The wildlife made our kayak even better. Soon after we passed an island which was home to geese and gulls, we spotted two harbor seals resting on rock by the shoreline. It looked like a mama and older pup. The light brown pup stayed on the rock while the mama came to check us out.

She circled around the kayaks while popping her head out of the water. We were always guessing where she would be next. Sometimes she swam back to her pup who watched her intently. As she tried flopping back onto the rock, the pup would slap her on the face with its fin. It was like a game for it. Then she would join us again. As we sat entertained, the wind blew our kayaks toward a shallow area. Every few minutes we had to reposition.

Finally, they both settled on the rock again. We all paddled in a circle, gained speed, and aimed our kayaks toward the seals. We stopped paddling and let the wind blow us away from the shore just enough to snap photos while not scaring the seals off the rock. It was really fun to interact with them. We hung out long enough to require a warm up paddle.

As ducks buzzed the bay, we paddled deeper into the fjord to reach another glacier that came to the water’s edge. As we approached, a piece of ice calved into the bay. We weren’t close enough for the moving glacier to affect us, but it was fun to see. We had covered quite a bit of distance, and it was time to return to the ship.

David wanted to practice a roll in the kayak. Originally, he wanted to try it on a sunny day. Unfortunately, with the exception of one of our first days on the water, we hadn’t had a sunny day. This cloudy day was his last chance to try what he called his polar plunge. He set up the kayak to roll over, but after he tilted underwater, it took him a while to flip up. He was so cold, he blacked out (lost his vision), and now we had to take the zodiac a LONG way back.

The wind and intermittent spitting rain was enough to encourage Sharon to pull out a blue tarp from the emergency supplies. We all sunk down into the zodiac and ducked beneath the tarp. It was nice to have some protection from the elements. Despite the cold, we couldn’t have asked for a better paddle. This area with towering cliffs, waterfalls, glaciers, and islands, was simply amazing.

To see where we were, click here: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/3251594?secretLinkKey=00697d6e-e134-4fd4-80c5-ca68bbb2b62f

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Norway, The Arctic

Historical Relics in Southwestern Spitsbergen

June 21, 2016

Today we explored the Bellsund Area in Southwest Spitsbergen. A landing was offered to us this morning. It was the first time we didn’t have to separate into specific hiking groups as the guides stood watch for polar bears while we were allowed to wander along the perimeter of the peninsula freely. It was a welcome change to be able to explore on our own.

Upon landing by the old relics, David and I decided to go to our right first. We followed the shoreline past countless whale bones and an old boat. Of course I stopped occasionally to inspect a few flowers as we slowly climbed to a lookout where three reindeer hung out nearby. After briefly enjoying the view, we headed back toward the old buildings. We spent some time poking around each structure, before we walked the other way to a lookout over the bay. We strolled at a leisurely pace while taking in the sights, before we decided our time was up and waited for the zodiac. I’m not sure if we used the entire three hours allotted to us, but we did enjoying seeing the historical relics.

The afternoon offered a slow zodiac cruise under cloudy skies. In fact, we’ve had very few clear days. I think we took those first few days of sun for granted! Our cruise took us along the shoreline for a view of spectacular cliff formations and TONS of birds. Brunnich’s guillemots filled every nook and cranny while geese and gulls nested atop the rocky outcrops. The tundra beneath the cliffs was much greener than the previous places we visited because we were farther south and the cliffs were so steep, the reindeer couldn’t get to some of these areas to graze.

We motored around the bend to find geese with goslings on the pebble beach. The parents stood guard of their three babies while they kept a close eye on the menacing glaucous gulls lurking nearby. This was a fun sighting! We also spotted some eiders with goslings swimming through the choppy seas after we circled around a small rock island. This was a fun sighting as well. Thougy not being a birder, I could have been just as happy only spending and hour on the zodiac as opposed to two. I was ready to board the ship to warm up. ETB

To see where we were, click here: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/3249393?secretLinkKey=9f8d2252-341e-43c0-83f1-bb01f8351ed5

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Norway, Svalbard, The Arctic

Little Auks and Incredible Iceberg Activity

June 20, 2016

Today was the summer solstice. Due to leap year, the summer solstice actually falls a day earlier. This morning we signed up for the hike in Isbjørnhamna as it was the only chance we would have to see nesting little auks. We chose to be in the group of “fast” walkers along with at least 20 other people. It would be our first chance to cover some ground while we were in the Arctic.

We started along the beach and soon followed a single track trail. I think this was the first time we even walked on a trail. There are two points of view about trails in the Arctic. One is to mess up one small portion of the land by creating a trail and a trace. As such the rest of the terrain is protected. The other is to spread out and walk so that a trail is never created and no trace is left, but a larger area of tundra is trampled. I don’t really know what is best, but I preferred the trail.

The trail led us up through black rocks, maybe volcanic in nature. Along the way, we stopped to enjoy the views that changed with rolling fog. Somehow, we never stopped by the few flowers, so it was an effort for me to get any good pictures of them. I couldn’t lag behind, or I could have been polar bear bait. Upon reaching some scientific monitoring equipment on the other side of the bay, we turned up the hill toward the awk colony. In all of our layers, we worked up a sweat as we climbed up to the rocky path.

Little auks are truly tiny! The small birds nest beneath the scree and then stand guard atop it. If a predator threatens them, the whole flock lifts up in flight. They protect by sheer numbers. Along with the auks, we spotted other birds such as geese and gulls who rested on the cliffs that towered above the scree. There had to be a fox up there somewhere. We didn’t realize how lucky we were when we saw the Arctic fox our first day. We hadn’t seen one since.

We kept our eyes peeled as the clouds rolled along the cliffs. Yuki, one of the guides, spotted one. She shouted, “Fox” as she pointed to the area up by the resting geese. The fox slipped behind the boulders before anyone could see it. We patiently waited for it to reappear as a chill came over us after sitting for 20 minutes. When our time and patience ran out, we prepared to leave just as another cloud enveloped the cliffs.

I commented to David, “Watch, the fox will come out under the cloud cover, so it can hunt.”

David turned and looked one last time, and with his eagle eyes, he shouted, “Fox!”

As soon as he shouted, I had heard what seemed like a barking noise. I heard the same noise when Yuki shouted fox. I don’t know if it was the fox making the noise or the little auks responding to the sly critter, but what I do know is the black-coated fox was trotting across the cliff with a bird in its mouth! It’s amazing how well these fox blend in with the cliffs. About the only way to spot them is when they are moving, and that is still hard.

Fortunately, the little guy was headed for a snow patch! I snapped a photo when the snowy background contrasted with its dark coat. I have to say my 18-270 lens just couldn’t zoom enough for anything great, but the fox had been recorded! We found out later that the fox we spotted was the rarer Blue fox. 75% of the Blue foxes die in the first year. The mean age is only 3-4 years.

After the fox sighting, it was really time to go. My numb hands and feet were already aware of this fact. As we hiked down the hill back to the shore, I trailed slightly behind while I tried snapping a few more flower photos. As I was taking a few steps forward, I came across an egg. I don’t know how no one stepped on it. The whole group had walked right over it. I shouted, “Egg!”

Hardly anyone stopped at first, so I thought well maybe people didn’t think a bird’s egg was exciting. But this one was big and speckled and still intact. I shouted a little louder, “Egg!” Our guides hadn’t seen an egg like this, so they radioed one of the bird scientists that joined the crowd. He said it had been abandoned. Of course, we asked why. He said some birds have to concentrate on their own survival. If they are having a difficult time finding food, and don’t think they can survive, they will abandon the egg so they have a chance to breed again the following year. Anyway, it was the biggest bird’s egg I’d ever seen. Even bigger than the chicken eggs we eat. As we headed back to the ship, David and I got several pats on the back from our group since we were the spotters of the fox and egg!

To see where we were, click here: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/3249390?secretLinkKey=9d5b6181-5a89-40cf-8d48-f3d371be1514

Generally, we tended to finish our morning excursion just before lunch. I haven’t mentioned food in any of my blogs recently, so I thought I’d add a little more information about our dining. In the beginning, the food seemed pretty good. Now, it seemed to have deteriorated slightly, but it was still reasonable. The chef had a tough job catering to so many different nationalities on the ship. The lunch buffet always included a salad. Of course there was also a heated meat, fish, starch, and veggies. The options didn’t exactly go together. Sometimes, we could get grilled fish and egg rolls at the same lunch.

We sat with this one couple from England that were quite funny. They represented their home county in international bridge tournaments. It was quite fascinating to listen to all the rules, and how they competed. Somehow we also got on the topic of food. We had mentioned that the first night we thought the fish was very good, but since then it was disappointing, and we had switched to eating meat because the chef did an excellent job with beef. The English lady agreed and continued with a story about their recent travels to some islands off of Scotland.

In her English accent she said, “You know over there, many people are fishermen. It is their job to bring home fresh fish, and the fish we ate tasted like it was out of the freezer. It was just atrocious!” I couldn’t help but chuckle. She could just rip a topic to shreds and with her English accent, she sounded nice about it!

Anyway, during lunch, our ship motored to our next destination, Burgerbukta. It anchored in the bay pretty far from shore. As such, we had our kayaks shuttled to a starting point and we took another zodiac to the location. Otherwise, it would have taken far too long to get started. The seas were pretty rough, so we could only unload off one side of the zodiac instead of both. I can’t say the kayak loading process was very graceful as we clutched the side of the zodiac while getting situated.

loading into kayak
loading into kayak

David and I were the last to load. Once again, I am happy to say, we took the double out! The rest of the kayakers were inspecting an iceberg while they were waiting for us. Sharon paddled over too them and suggested that they back up little. No sooner did she do this then the iceberg exploded! A piece shot right over her. Since David and I were busy loading, we only saw the splash when everyone hollered. We had been warned icebergs will roll over or break apart and to stay three times the height away from them. They were just so pretty, however, sometimes our excitement got the best of us. Not to mention, it was hard to imagine. Not anymore.

Once we joined the group, we paddled out of the rough sea into the protected bay of icebergs toward a glacier. David really wanted to get close to the glacier, though close was relative…300 feet away. Regardless, we led the pack past cloudy white and bright blue icebergs. They changed colors with the sun as the light shimmered through the clouds. The ice snapped, crackled, and popped like a bowl of Rice Krispies. We all took a quiet moment just to listen.

With all the activity, we had a sense something else might happen. Sure enough, another iceberg just fell apart right next to us! Others looked like they might roll over as they bobbed and tilted in the water. In addition to the icebergs popping, we heard thunderous booms. We kept looking in the direction of the noise to our left, where we finally spotted an avalanche tumbling down the mountain side. As many as four at time would trigger. They looked like small waterfalls. One of the slides was finally large enough to reach the water. It was happening every ten minutes. I can’t really explain the excitement. We felt like bobble head dolls spinning around to catch the next activity.

In the meantime, the skies behind us and the ship were black! Sharon told us to slow up and stay close because a katabatic wind could blow down the glacier face. If this happened, we needed to unload immediately as they can reach hurricane force speed. Sure enough one started coming. It swooped down over one glacier, but it was stopped by a rocky point before it reached the next glacier. Fortunately, it didn’t make it to us and we only had to contend with a slight increase in swell. It would have been disappointing to cut this dynamic paddle short. The closer we got to the glacier ahead of us, the more brash ice we found. We paddled through it in search of a clear piece that we could use in our whiskey this evening.

The clear ice is 10,000 years old. All the air bubbles inside it compressed over time to give it this appearance. We were told if we placed the ice in whiskey, the air bubbles would expand and the ice could explode. We were ready to experiment. Much to our dismay, it didn’t explode, but saying we drank Maker’s Mark and a vodka soda over 10,000 year old ice had a pretty good ring to it!

To see where we were, click here: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/3249392?secretLinkKey=b20cb863-18bb-4d32-a0ff-ce2ee555bdbe

While we warmed up, the ship moved away from the threatening weather. Amazingly the captain was able to find a protected, sunny cove nearby. Upon anchoring, the call came over the loud speaker, “It’s time for the polar plunge. Please head down to the gangway on the starboard side of the ship.” Since David was still sick, he passed on the opportunity. I don’t blame him. Jumping into icy water wasn’t a way to heal.

In fact, it was probably stupid, but I did it anyway. Dressed in the ship-supplied robe, I headed down the gangway along with 40 something other crazy passengers and prepared to make a splash. David joined the spectators on the fourth deck to take pictures. I did a cannon ball into icy water on the summer solstice. I didn’t remember it being quite that cold in Antarctica, though I’m sure it was similar. As soon as I hit the water, I whipped around and flailed back to the boat. I could hardly think as I frantically reached for the deck to pull myself out. I must have had a crazed look on my face. Woody said, “It’s OK. We’ll help you out. Nice cannonball.”

After a long hot shower, I was ready for the summer solstice BBQ and hat competition night. The staff grilled chicken, burgers, and sausages as passengers with different homemade hats filed through the door to the back deck. Many pinned white surgical gloves (anything on the ship was available for use) to their heads to be reindeer. The best costume, however, was of a polar bear. Not only did she come sporting a hat, she had a full body outfit all the way down to black electrical tape on her nails for claws.

As the evening continued, people started dancing to the boom box music. It was amazing that we even got to enjoy the sunny weather at all, as black skies surrounded us. At some point, the captain pulled up the anchor and moved the ship, but that didn’t stop the partiers. They continued the fun in the salon until the wee hours of the morning. I wish I could say we joined them, but we had a much tamer evening. ETB

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Norway, Svalbard, The Arctic

Beautiful Birds and Interesting Icebergs!

June 19, 2016

Two days ago we tried to enter a passage that was blocked by ice. This morning, our expedition leader, hoping for better conditions, decided to try again. We were in luck. The winds and currents had broken the ice into large pieces. The captain of our ship carefully moved forward. We could hear the bow scrape the ice as we headed southwest. While we stood outside on the deck admiring the beauty, we scanned the ice floes for wildlife. We spotted a walrus and lots of dirty ice that looked like seals to our hopeful minds until we came close enough to see that was not so.

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For our first outing today, we had an option to zodiac cruise or kayak. David caught a cold, so he decided to rest. The cruising area was enormous, so I decided to take the zodiac as it would cover more ground. It didn’t take long to find a walrus on an ice floe. Our zodiac was the first to find it. Other drivers radioed for coordinates, but the currents in the area were very strong, so the ice floe was moving. The description Woody could give was, “I just went straight out from the bow of the ship!” It was fun to photograph because the background kept changing! I liked it best with the iceberg behind it.

Speaking of icebergs, there were several in the area…lovely shapes and sizes glistening blue in the sunlight. One iceberg looked like the Sphinx. Our zodiac maneuvered through the ice field to the shoreline where we found some bear tracks. They didn’t look that fresh to me, but what do I know. We followed them around the point, but never spotted a bear. We did, however, see an Ivory Gull. One of the bird scientists involved in the Penguin Watch I mentioned a few days ago was on our zodiac. He was very excited to spot this bird, so I guess it was special! I’ll be the first to admit, I know nothing about birds.

The small gull looks like a pigeon. It is the only species in the genus Pagophila. It’s all white plumage did a nice job camouflaging it on the ice. The gull put on a show for us. It would fly up into the air and hover over us before it swoop down and land on the ice. It certainly didn’t like the kittiwake that try to land nearby. It squawked, flapped its wings, and charged them as it protected its territory.

We also enjoyed seeing the Arctic Tern. While we had spotted it previously on the trip, I was never in a good position to snap a decent photo. Today I felt like I captured this seabird’s beauty. The small, slender white bird is known for its long, yearly migration. It breeds in the Arctic, and flies all the way to Antarctica for the winter…some 25,000 miles round trip! It is the farthest yearly travel of any bird.

IMG_9744 arctic tern adventuresofacouchsurfer

This bird watching was a change of pace from our previous stints of cruising the coastline. We just sat in one location with ice swirling around us. I really wish I took a video. I’ve never seen such noticeable currents in the ocean. The water swelled and circled at the same time, like two rivers meeting. It was really cool!

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The afternoon afforded us a paddle along the shoreline and a landing. I can’t say either were terribly exciting. A few birds flew overhead as David and I kayaked in a double along the smooth waters. He is probably wishing he never offered this option. I loved having the chance to take good pictures in a kayak. Unfortunately for this outing there wasn’t much to see. I was grateful to make a landing. Much to my dismay, we had to trounce through bog, sometimes shin deep, just to see a few flowers and a reindeer that was far less cooperative than any of the others we had spotted. It kept walking off! Come to find out later, Woody had never before stopped here. I recommend not stopping here again! I don’t know…maybe the folks who hiked to the top of the ridge enjoyed it, though one person lost his boot in the muck! Anyway, a day in the Arctic is still a good day. ETB

To see where we were, click here: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/3249389?secretLinkKey=67461a15-2eca-49a6-97a4-de4b7c15a9c6

For photographic notecards or key chains, visit www.notablenotecards.com or www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards

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