Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Beluga Whales, Polar Bears and Blue Skies

Photo © Morten Hilmer
Our day started with an early morning announcement from Karin Strand, our Expedition Leader, “Good morning everyone.  We have a group of Beluga whales outside of the ship”.  Who cared that it was only 06:30?  Many people leapt out of bed, grabbed their cameras and rushed out on deck to see  about thirty beautiful white whales not far from the ship.  And then about 45 minutes later, another announcement only this time a Polar Bear had been spotted on shore.  First while whales and now a white bear.  A really great Arctic wildlife experience. 
What a difference a day of sunshine makes.  What is it about a clear blue day that puts a smile on everyone’s face?  When you combine a sunny, windless day with some spectacular scenery, well, no wonder everyone was smiling all day long.
Kittiwakes in front of Monacobreen
Photo © Morten Hilmer
Today we arrived at Monacobreen at the head of Liefdefjorden at approximately 09:30.  A note to all of you non-Scandinavians out there:  breen means glacier.  Monacobreen translates directly to Monaco glacier. Fjorden is more obvious.
As per usual when we are at Monaco Glacier we put just about everyone in the Polar Cirkel boats to explore along the magnificent glacier front.  Of course we don’t have room for everyone all at the same time but by the end of the morning everyone but the hikers and kayakers had had an opportunity to see the glacier from a close but safe distance.

Glaucous Gull eating a Kittiwake
Photo © Morten Hilmer
Meanwhile the hikers had a magnificent morning to climb to 630 metres to a mountain peak with a really great view of the entire Liefdefjorden.  Needless to say, the kayakers had perfect paddling conditions.
Photo © Morten Hilmer
All of that was followed by a delicious lunch bbq outside on deck seven.
And that was just the first half of the day.
At 16:00 we arrived at the hunter’s cabin in Mushamna.  It is quite a lovely site.  The large cabin was made entirely from driftwood that floated its way here all the way from Siberia.
After the landing at Mushamna we cruised ever further north.  Our goal was to reach the wildlife sanctuary of Moffen Island.  Moffen lies at the lofty latitude of 80º N plus a hair.  No landings are allowed on the island nor is it possible to cruise in small boats.  Upon arrival it was apparent why.  This is critical habitat for walruses.  As we slowly approached Moffen we could see approximately 100 Walrus lying huddled together by the water’s edge.  The waters around Moffen support large clam beds which are the main food source for Walruses.
At approximately 22:30 we crossed latitude 80ºN., a cause for celebration!

At 23:00 the sun was still shining, still high in the sky at close to 45º.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Fog Bound

Once again we were enveloped in a thick blanket of fogA sound track of an old creaking sailing ship and sea gulls screaming would have been an appropriate backdrop to our day at sea. 
Even though we had a relaxing day there were plenty of fun and interesting activities to keep everyone engaged.  On every voyage we set aside some time for everyone to visit the bridge.  Invariably that will happen on a sea day.  And since today was a sea day…
A bridge visit is an opportunity to learn just a little about what is involved in navigating a high tech cruise ship like Fram.  Gone are the romantic days of a stoic sailor standing steadfast at the helm struggling with a wheel a metre and a half in diameter.  Nowadays the steering of modern ships is done with a petit joy stick.  A nudge left, a nudge right, a toggle here and there.  I’ve seen video game consoles with bigger joysticks. It is also a chance to get to know the Captain a little bit as he explains the various ship’s systems such as the radar, steering, the engines and the stabilizers.
Photo © Morten Hilmer
There are about 40 children on board and there have been programs organized to keep them engaged as well.  For example this morning everyone was busy drawing Polar Bears and then in the afternoon for big and small kids alike, there was the first round of an open table tennis competition.
Photo © Morten Hilmer

Our lectures today included an open air session with the ship’s photographer, a lecture in Chinese and a lecture on whales with Chinese translation.

The activities for the day concluded with a fun fashion show.  As is now the wont on board Fram, the ship’s officers and the Expedition Team modelled many of the items available in the gift ship. And as per usual, everyone had a good time because what the models lacked in poise and grace they more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Knowledge At Sea and the Jan Mayen Climate Voyage.

A sea day onboard Fram is a very pleasant experience. The entire ship becomes a university of knowledge. You choose your learning and subject yourself. Aside from our great onboard library there are lectures, discussion groups, Q & A sessions, debates, movies and much more. During our voyage towards Jan Mayen today our ship was exactly that. The diversity of knowledge being shared was astonishing to witness, some rooms were filled with climate oriented debates and some – with singing. Some rooms simply displayed the magnificent beauty of the ocean we were sailing in. 
Fram is a great learning voyage and this Chinese Climate cruise is no exception.

Today the approx. 40 children visited the bridge where they met an enthusiastic captain who talked about the steering of a ship this big and answered all their questions.
The Captain inspiring the next generation
Photography © Morten Hilmer 
Our photographer onboard (Morten Hilmer) gave a great practical lecture on nature photography on the observation deck. Two lectures where happening alongside these. One about the biology and one on climate change in the arctic.
We reached Jan Mayen at 17 o’ clock local time, its glorious mountains came out of a mist and displayed its remoteness and uniqueness.
Arriving at Jan Mayen
Photography © Morten Hilmer
There were periods of blue sky and sunshine, periods of dense fog and all in between. A truly unique experience. Few people worldwide are able to say they’ve stepped on this remarkable island in the middle of the atlantic ocean. We saw lots of Puffins, Little Aukss, Fulmars and Eider ducks. Jan Mayen is truly worth a closer inspection.
Puffin at Jan Mayen
Photography © Morten Hilmer

We are now on the way towards Svalbard, there’s an accordion playing and the atmosphere on board is very joyful. 

Oh how we wish you were here.     

Friday, 18 July 2014

Travelling With Friends!

I have been looking forward to this trip. A Chinese charter is always a whole lot of fun! Over the years I have travelled on Fram with the Chinese tour leaders and agency owners on numerous occasions. I have even gone to China to visit some of them. Now we are good friends and it is really great to be all together on Fram once again.
Photo © Morten Hilmer

There is a vibe to a Chinese charter that is different from our other voyages. For starters they have been travelling together from China as a group and have already somewhat bonded. In addition there are fourteen leaders and press people travelling with them, organizing everything and helping with the smallest of details.
Photo © Morten Hilmer

When they arrive on Fram, there is always a buzz, hm… maybe an orderly din would be a better description. Lots of laughter, chatter and general organized mayhem.
Now it is day two and we have a nice relaxing day at sea. Everyone is settling into the routines of ship life and enjoying the convenience of having everything done for you. Delicious meals are made and served or made available as a beautiful buffet. Cabins are cleaned and beds are made. Lectures and films are provided throughout the day. If you forget the schedule, there are always convenient announcements to remind you of all activities.
Northern Gannet
Photo © Morten Hilmer

Today we had the added activity of our boot rental program. It is totally optional to use our boots but on a trip like this one to Spitsbergen, just about everyone takes them.
So far we have had good wildlife sightings. We have seen Humpback Whales close to the ship as well as Killer Whales and dolphins.

White-beaked Dolphin
Photo © Morten Hilmer
During the afternoon there were thousands of Guillemots on the sea as well as many Razorbills, Northern Fulmars, Puffins, Gannets, Skuas, Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaegers. We also saw what seemed like millions of small fish at the surface. We don’t know what species they were but best guess would be Herring. With so many Herring at the surface, I couldn’t help but to wonder, why there weren’t whales feeding on them? Obviously they were hard of Herring.
Northern Fulmar
Photo © Morten Hilmer

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Chinese Climate Voyage Begins

MV Fram - Ready for new guest's in Rekjavik
 Photo © Morten Hilmer

In Reykjavik we said farewell to our lovely participants on our Greenland voyage and hello to a full ship of Chinese Climate Cruiser’s. What an atmosphere, a new adventure started today. Excited and ready we begin this new experience. After the initial tour of the ship the guests were met by the team of officers in the panorama lounge. The captain and his crew held an informative and moving welcome speech.
Captains welcome speech
Photo © Morten Hilmer
After their talk the expedition crew was introduced. Long laughs were heard when the new guests heard the expedition team had learned the Chinese words for “Hi” “Welcome” “Polar bear” and “whale”.

Chinese Translators being introduced
Photo © Morten Hilmer
We all enjoyed a lovely buffet in the restaurant and as the gorgeous view of Iceland’s landscape slowly drifted past us, whales and dophins were seen in the distant horizon. We all felt very much at home onboard this beautiful ship. Next stop: Jan Mayen.
Island landscapes drifting by, first night of our voyage
Photo © Morten Hilmer

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


En route to Iceland. We started in the morning with lectures on history and wildlife. Thomas was lecturing on polar bears and Jakob on Greenland´s history.
Later we organised a question round with the expedition team and our passengers. This was a good opportunity to answer more questions about beautiful Greenland.
In the evening Michael was playing in the observation lounge and entertaining the passengers.

 The day was not over yet and officers, crew and expedition team presented the MS FRAM famous fashion show, another opportunity to lough and have fun. 


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Tuesday 15 July

After 9 marvelous days along the West Greenlandic rugged and beautiful coastline we are on our way towards Iceland. Since we landed in Kangerlussuaq 9 days ago we have visited 7 towns, 1 settlement and made landings in the old mining town Ivittuut and by the Norse church ruin Hvalsø.

It has been a wonderful journey and we are now enjoying very relaxing sea days with interesting lectures onboard Fram while we are crossing the luckily very calm Denmark Strait.

We have had time to pay the captain a visit on the bridge and see how a modern cruise ship is being steered. There was an impressive amount of various instruments and it was reassuring to hear of the many safety precautions that are put in place for any plausible occurrence. And the children tried to sit in the captains chair.

Sea days means that our boatdrivers do not have to be in their PolarCirkle boats most of the day and gives them time to do various maintenance of the ship.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sunday 13 July

The Norse (also called by the popular term Vikings) settled in South Greenland in year 985. There are many remains of the Norse and present day Greenlandic sheep farms are placed where the Norse used to have their farms.
The most well-kept ruin of the Norse settlement is the Hvalsø Churchruin. It was built around in the 14th Century and it is amazing that is has been able to stand erect for more than 600 centuries in the this sometimes harsh and windy land.
Swimming in Greenlandic waters with a temperature of around 5-6 degrees Celsius was such an irresistible temptation for a few of our passengers.

In the afternoon we entered the picturesque and colorful town of Qaqortoq, the capitol of South Greenland.
There we were so lucky that they are hosting the annual Greenlandic kayak championships.

And speaking of championships our German guests had a splendid evening watching the World Cup final in the lecture hall. Congratulations Germany on the well-deserved victory!


In the evening our kitchen staff showed some of their elegant craftsmanship by producing fantastic figures out of different fruits and a large piece of ice.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Friday 11 July

Paamiut is a town not that often visited by cruise ships so the warm and smiling welcome from the locals was genuine as Greenlanders in general are very happy to have guests.
They had a choir waiting for us at the town square, afterwards we were taken on a town walk with the locals guides. Some of the were guiding for the first time in their life so they were a bit nervous but we are sure that they too will remember this beautiful day for many years to come.
In the church another choir sang some Greenlandic psalms and it was so beautiful that a few of our guests had tears in their eyes.
As an extra final goodbye we were shown an East Greenlandic drum dance by a charming man of some 74 years. We had a heartwarming morning in Paamiut, there was even an article in one of the national papers in Greenland about our visit. Thank you Paamiut. 
In the evening we had a stop at the old mining town Ivittuut. The first load of Cryolit was shipped all the way back in 1854 and the mine was running until 1987.
They nature surrounding Ivittuut is very beautiful and we are not in doubt that we have arrived in the lush South GREENland.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wednesday 9 July

Sisimiut is the second largest town in Greenland. It is situated just above the Arctic Circle and is a great example of the mixture of traditional Greenlandic lifestyle and the modern ways of Greenland today.
We have the very cute and picturesque wooden houses from the colonial days and then also the not (any longer, they used to be) so nice apartment blocks built in the 60’ties and 70’ties.

It is the southernmost town on the West coast where there are Greenlandic sledge dogs but in the wintertime the sledges are not as abundant as the skidoo - the hinterland of Sisimiut is famed in Greenland for its fantastic skidoo and skiing possibilities and Sisimiut is the host of the hardest cross-country ski race in the World, the 3 day race; the Arctic Circle Race.

Some of us visited the abandoned settlement of Assaqutaq, a settlement abandoned in the early 70’ties, where several small settlements where closed and people moved to the nearest town. It was simply not economically possible to keep up the welfare system with proper health care and schools in so many smaller places. It was not an easy transition for many but most likely an inevitable step in the modernization of Greenland.

Before leaving Sisimiut a local kayaker came by and showed some of the amazing skills that are needed to survive as a kayaker in the cold Greenlandic waters.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Monday 7 July

After a good sleep sailing through the impressive Kangerlussuaq Fiord we woke up sailing on the gentle waves of the Strait Davis heading up north along the western coast of Greenland.

The landing on the island of Qeqertarsuaq was planned to take place at 6 in the evening so we had time to listen and watch the lectures made be the Expedition Team. They gave us a very good introduction to the history of Greenland and the modern life of everyday Greenland and a thorough explanation of what ice and snow actually consists of.

The town of Qeqertarsuaq is like all Greenlandic towns very picturesque. Only some 950 people live here. There is a fish factory in Qeqertarsuaq but in Greenland the island is mainly known for the volcanic basalt rock the island is made of whereas most of the rest of Greenland consists of Granit and Gnejs rock. And the town is known for its tiny warm springs of which one of them produces the only bottled spring water which is exported from Greenland.

Some of us went on a brilliant ice cruise and got to see the majestic icebergs from very close. The variations in color are amazing and the sizes and shapes the ice comes in are endless.