Monday 1 August 2011

Our Arctic Adventure Begins

Adventfjord - on the way to Barentsburg
The Arctic is many things.  The Arctic can mean cold temperatures and a lot of ice in the forms of sea ice, ice sheets, glaciers and icebergs.   The Arctic can be a remote unspoiled wilderness with a never-setting sun or long dark nights with a never-rising sun. It is an opportunity to get closer to nature, to fill your lungs with pure fresh air, maybe for the first time in your life. On Fram we intend to give you as many of those opportunities as we can.  We will put you in places where you will have an opportunity to see your first Polar Bear, or a Reindeer or an Arctic Fox. We can't guarantee wildlife but there are some things that we can promise. We can promise you lots of ice and majestic scenery.  We can promise that if you stay up late and the sky is clear that you will see the midnight sun. We can promise to do our best to give you the best Arctic experience that we can deliver.
This morning we joined the ship at 11:45.  The scene at the harbour was quite beautiful. Fram was at the pier. Behind Fram, sea fog pulsed in and out of Adventfjord revealing and then concealing hundreds of ice floes.  Tall mountains rose above the fog and ice.
At 15:00 we cast off our lines and turned the bow towards Barentsburg. The fog had mostly dissipated but the sea ice was still rather heavy.  It meant travelling at much-reduced speeds in order to weave our way through the ice safely.
Kittiwakes nesting in Barentsburg
Barentsburg kindergarten
The reduced speed meant that we didn't arrive in Barentsburg until 18:00.  The hotel staff, ever co-operative, moved dinner back until 20:00 and the restaurant remained open until 22:30 - which meant we could explore the Russian coal mining town to our heart's content!  We started off our visit by breaking into language groups and then meeting up with our local guide.
Barentsburg is still a very active coal mine.  Mining has been going on here since 1916 when it was originally owned and operated by the Dutch.  It has gone through several changes since that time.  It was nearly completely destroyed in W.W. II and then rebuilt in the 50's.  It was a sought after place to work from the 60's through the 80's.

To walk through here is a unique, fun experience.  Many of the buildings are abandoned and in various states of decay.  Other buildings have beautiful murals and are painted in gay colours.  There are interesting examples of Russian architecture everywhere you look.  It was like being in an occupied Russian ghost town.
At 19:30 the local people put on a terrific Folkloric show in the culture house.  The costumes, singing and dancing were very good.  All-in-all it was a very entertaining show.
By 21:00 we were all back on the ship.  Once again, Fram nosed eagerly out into the ice.  Fram was built for this.  She was conceived, designed and built for polar exploration.