Friday, 6 September 2013

A last day in Spitsbergen

In the early morning hours, Kap Mitra, the mountain shaped like a bishop hat at the entrance greeted us welcome at the entrance of the Kongsfjord. In this fjord, we spent an overcast morning exploring the settlement of Ny Ǻlesund. It is the northernmost settlement in the world. We saw, of course, the northernmost train in the world und sent postcards to our beloved ones back home from the northernmost post office of the world! Actually, about everything holds the title “the northernmost” here...

Up to 1962, Ny Ǻlesund was a mining settlement. Today, it is devoted to science and many different countries run their Polar research stations here. Our guided tours through this exciting place ended at the bust of Roald Amundsen. The great Norwegian explorer undertook a successful flight to the North Pole from Ny Ǻlesund. With only little imagination, you can still see the majestic airship that the Italian Umberto Nobile designed to this endeavor is attached to the mast outside the settlement. Another group of guests headed out to the bottom of Kongsfjord in Polar Circle boats to take a hike on the mighty Conway glacier.

Leaving Kongsfjorden, the MV FRAM headed north, past the seven glaciers, towards Magdalenefjorden. This is the most well known fjord in Spitsbergen. It is a lovely fjord with rugged, pointy mountains on both sides and an impressive glacier at the end. These are supposed to be the mountains Willem Barents first saw when he discovered this land in 1596, naming it Spitsbergen (peaked mountains). And for a long time, the Magdalenefjord was also known as "Baie des dents", the bay with teeth! We disembarked at the peninsula Gravneset (“the grave-yard peninsula”) where Dutch and English whalers from northwestern Spitsbergen came to bury their dead in the 17th and 18th centuries. In total, about 130 men were buried here. We also took a close look at the remains from three blubber ovens. The actual ovens are gone for a long time, but the whale oil that spilled over from the cooking kettles seeped into the sand and formed a sort of oil-sandstone. This sandstone resists weathering and thus, small oil-sandstone-knolls remain where the blubber ovens once stood.  Tours at three different levels of difficulty were offered. Some guests enjoyed a stroll along the flat beach, others took a medium walk and a third group set out for a real hike towards the scenic Gully glacier.