Thursday, 27 August 2015

Last round

Thursday, August the 20th
Into the Mining Towns
Arriving in time and after the safety drill MV FRAM starts towards our first destination: Barentsburg, east of Longyearbyen. It was a wonderful sunshine and blue sky; the mountains along Isfjorden were glooming! Our Russian guides in Barentsburg expected us on the pier. Barentsburg is a Russian Mining town since 1932, when the Russian company Trust Arktikugol took over. During the time of the Soviet Union Barentsburg was a flourishing town and many workers tried to work here. The living conditions were excellent; they had their own farms producing the meat and also fresh vegetables. The payment was better than in mainland and most of the workers lived together with their families here. Still nowadays the infrastructure is quite good for the 400 inhabitants. The most beautiful building is the school (40 pupils) and the kindergarten (20 children), decorated with lovely paintings by young artist from St. Petersburg. The most important building is the huge cultural- and sports-center where we visited a wonderful show performing Russian dancing and singing. Leaving Barentsburg at 10 PM all of us agreed, it was a long day, but a wonderful start of the voyage.

Friday, August the 21st
Into the History
Announcement in the early morning: two polar bears ashore a mother and a cub enjoying a walrus carcass. We spotted them on our way to Ny-Ålesund in Kongsfjorden. Ny-Ålesund is the famous town in Arctic region, because in former times it housed the most northern post office. The building is still there but we could only stamp our cards for decoration. In the beginning Ny-Ålesund was a coal mining town from 1916 to 1929 and again from 1946 to 1962 when the mine was finally closed after several serious accidents. In the 1920s the place became an important starting point for the small aircrafts and airships heading towards the North Pole, and of course the most famous man during that period was Roald Amundsen. He became very much interested in aircrafts and therefore he started with two Dornier-Wal flying boats N-24 and N-25. The six men didn’t reach the pole - only 87°41’N where they had an emergency landing - but they managed to survive and returned. The next try flight to the North Pole started in 1926 with the airship Norge constructed by the Italian Umberto Nobilé. Nobilé, Amundsen and the American sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth were on board the successful drive. The mast which held the airship before starting is still standing outside Ny-Ålesund. Today the town is an important research place with around 20 international research stations.
Our next landing was at Gravneset in Magdalenefjorden. Beside the historical traces of the former whale-hunting time, four blubber ovens and a huge graveyard, which were in use for 200 years from the 1614, we enjoyed the wonderful view direct towards the glacier and the icebergs. Some of us refreshed themselves in the sea; the water temperature was 4° C. We ended up around 9 PM and again an exciting day around Svalbard.

Saturday, August the 22nd
Into the Ice
What a start in the day! In the morning we spotted two Blue Whales, probably a mother and her young one. We stayed with them around FRAM, seeing the blast, the huge back part with the small fin and the tail. Blue whales are the biggest animals alive up to a length of 30 meters. After this exciting encounter we headed forward to the ice-edge of the drift ice. We reached it at a degree of latitude of 80°59’. Shortly after hitting the first ice floes the polar circle-boat cruising started. We got close enough to pick up some pieces, we admired the different colors and forms build up by pressure during their drifts. 
On our further voyage we enjoyed the magic light which painted the mountains in an impressive way and showed clearly their sharp edges.

Sunday, August the 23rd
Into the New
The most eastern islands of Svalbard are Storøya and Kvitøya. Approaching the islands we couldn’t see very much, most of the landscape was hidden in fog, but shortly before arriving Storøya we saw the coast and two polar bears.  Very exciting, but no chance for a landing. Again a cruising was started to watch the walruses. Storøya is well known for its big walrus population mostly females and calves. They are not only laying on the shore they are mostly swimming around and of course the spotted out who we are: small red boats with blue creatures. It was really exciting, because they came quite close to us. Walruses are not the most beautiful animals onshore but when they swim and you can see their eyes and listen to their “talking”; you might fall in love.
Storøya means “Big Island”, this must be a joke, because it measures only 40 km². Totally different our second landing on Kvitøya, much bigger but nearly 99% of it are covered by a glacier. That is not really surprising, the name means “White Island”. We tried to find a good landing side, where we found two carcasses – one of a walrus and the other of a polar bear. These gave us finally the opportunity to get closer to these animals. It was a young walrus that might have just recently died. The carcass of the polar bear has started to mummify. The bones jutted out and the fur lost its hair.  Kvitøya is also from the historical perspective a sad place, because all the three men of the Salomon Andrée expedition - the balloon drive to the North Pole in 1897 – died on this island. There is a memorial-stone close to the beach.
Nevertheless, this was an exciting day, because Fram has visited these islands for the first time. The evening ended with the fashion-show.

Monday, August the 24th
Into the fog – nearly
In the morning – fog, but never give up your plans. Again we were lucky and started our landing operation on Barentsøya at Sundneset just in time. Because of the cloudy weather the staff had to check the surrounding very carefully. There were three polar bears in a good distance around so we had to keep an eye on them. It is a nice spot with plenty of vegetation, still some flowers in bloom but the “forest” on the ground had started to change its colours to autumn. A little bit further from the landing side is a hut, called Würzburger Hut, named by a German scientist. Today it is used as an emergency hut.
Only small groups of passengers were called out, so the landing lasted for six hours. Meanwhile the clouds were coming down and going again a little up. A wonderful atmosphere, everyone enjoyed the place with a lot of driftwood on the beach.
In the afternoon we could visit some lectures in English and German. Again a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August the 25th
Into the activities
Hornsund is a beautiful fjord and we stayed in Burgerbukta. Today is the day of activities: Kayaking, Glacier-Hike, Polar Cirkel Boat Cruising. There are two bays: Austre and Vestre Bukta. In the end of them are the glaciers Mühlbacherbreen and Paierlbreen. They produce a lot of icebergs which ware floating around. Some of them look like sculptures and they have an intensive blue color.
The area of Burgerbukta was well known through all times starting with the whalers in the 17th century. There are also some remains from the Norwegian trapper period, a hut close to Gnålodden. One of the most well-known female trapper was Wanny Wolstad, who spent there several years, two together with her young sons.
Hornsund is one of the most beautiful fjords in Svalbard with all these glaciers and bays. In the dead end is Breepolen with a huge glacier-front.
The evening of this wonderful day ended up with some whales around “Egga” and the famous MV FRAM Crew-show.

Wednesday, August the 26th
Into the sunshine
Yes, sunshine, an amazing view and again a full day of activities in Isfjorden. We set anchor at the landmark of the fjord, the mountain Alkhornet and started again with Kayaking, glacier-hike, Polar Circle Boat cruise and of course landing. This is really a popular area, a tent stood close to the place where we landed and further into Tryghamna there were some kayakers. Again we spotted some white-yellow dots, polar bears in a far distance. In the neighbour bay Ymerbukkta close to Esmarkbreen we saw seals lying on the ice, even the Polar Circle Boats didn’t disturb them.

The last excursion was a visit of the ghost town of Pyramiden. In the former Russian mining town lived more than 3000 residents, mining workers and their families.  Nordenskiöld glacier with its magnificent beauty was a perfect last stop before we sailed towards the harbour of Longyearbyen. At least a wonderful last day which gave us a lot of good memories.