Thursday 11 August 2011

The First Day

The first day of a sea voyage can be a bit hectic.  Most passengers arrive in Spitsbergen after a very long journey the night before Fram departs.  That means checking into a hotel for a night and then checking out again the following morning. Sometimes there is a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty with the check-in and check-out process.  When does my baggage have to be ready?  What colour of ribbon must I put on my bags?  Is the luggage room really secure?  Should I pack my tooth brush, or put it in my hand bag?  What if my bags don’t arrive?  When is check-out time?  What is the information session and where is it and what time will it be?  What about lunch?  Is it included?  What time is the bus to the ship?  The tour bus... is that the same bus as the bus to the ship?  Crikey! It was snowing today.  Did I bring warm enough clothes?
And then, finally you arrive at the harbour and board Fram.  You have to admit, she is a nice looking vessel and quite impressive when you first see her.  Perhaps in the beginning there was once again a little unease as you tried to figure out where things were and how things worked. We try to make the entire check-in process as painless as possible but once that is done you can relax.  Unpack... or not. Go to the bar, or the sauna, or the jacuzzi, or the gym.  Have a nap.  Go out on deck and enjoy the magnificent scenery and the splendid fresh air. This is a new, strange environment for most people but hopefully it is a little bit exciting too. After all, you are about to start on an Arctic adventure.  You’re on a ship!  You’re on vacation!  Relax.
Once everyone was on board we stowed the gangway, cast off the lines and headed for the Russian coal-mining community of Barentsburg. We arrived shortly after 20:00.  While we were waiting for everyone to gather on the dock we spotted a large group of Beluga Whales about 500 metres away and close to the shoreline.  What an amazing welcoming committee!   After everyone was assembled in language groups we were escorted to the theater where we enjoyed a brilliant show of Russian folk dance and music.  Once the show was finished we went on a short guided tour of Barentsburg.  We even had time to spend our money in their excellent gift shops or to wander about what is truly a unique community. 
As we sailed away from Barentsburg we caught up with the Beluga whales.  We were able to cruise slowly with them for about twenty minutes.  The snow-white whales continued to hug the coastline.  With such an exciting introduction to Spitsbergen we all went to bed dreaming of our Arctic adventures yet to come.