day 1 (Oslo)
day 2 (Svalbard)
day 3 (Spitsbergen)
day 4 (Walrus)
day 5 (Fann Kapshaw)
day 6 (Polar Bears)
day 7 (More Bears!)
day 8 (Glaciers)
day 9 (Settlements)
day 10 (Going home)

Off to the midnight sun!

Up reasonably eary to transfer to the charter flight to Longyearbyen (long-year-bee-in) in Svalbard. There are roughly 150 passengers on the ship (The National Geographic Explorer) all leaving from Oslo on the daily flight. It's about three hours north -- to above 78 degrees, only about 815 miles from the north pole -- to the Svalbard Archipelago. The largest island (and the one with the permanent settlement, Longyearbyen), is on Spitzbergen. The whole slew of islands is collectively Svalbard. It's a bit confusing, since the names seem to be used almost interchangeably.

Nearly half the people on the plane flouted all sorts of FAA regulations and had their cellphones or tablets out taking pictures from the plan as we descended into the teeny little airport. I know I did. The day was astoundingly clear and blue and we all wanted a from-the-air photo of our first glimpse of the islands.

Since we arrive at about 1:30, but the boat cannot be boarded until  about 5pm, we all went on the obligatory bus tour of Longyearbyen -- there's hardly enough to fill a few hours, but it is a good introduction to the region, and the chance to ask a long-time resident about life in the tiny town. There are roughtly 2000 people who live here year round, and only about 20 of them have been in Svalbard for more than a year or two -- most people live here and work here for 2-3 years on contracts with the varous mining companies and scientific endeavors. It is not meant as a cradle-to-grave settlement -- services are geared to short-term residents (although year round residents are here, of course) so the hopsital doesn't really support babies (women are shipped bcak to mainland Norway when they are near term) and people are not buried on the islands. The burial part is not so much that they discourage it, but that it is nearly mpossible -- the permafrost is so close to the surface that anything that is bured tends again. Houses are built on stilts here, and even then they heave from the soil after so many winters.

  • Tundra and swamp Tundra and swamp Looking out over the tundra from Svalbard
  • Svalbard Main road Svalbard Main road Svalbard main road
  • Yes, they're serious! Yes, they're serious! Beyond this point there be bears!

Everyone piled off the bus to take pictures of the Polar Bear Warning signs at the edge of town.  They really are a problem here -- not usually in the settlement, but any time you venture out, you risk running into them. Polar bears are one of the few creatures on the planet that look at us and think  "yummy! and easy to catch!". We are prey and they injure or kill people each year.

A quick stop to buy bacon-wrapped hot-dogs and ice cream at the local shops, and onto the bus to be tendered out to the ship. The Endeaveor is a larger ship than the one we were on before (the Islander) with about 150 passengers. It's very comfortable, and I'm surprised at the size of our cabin. Plenty of room to spread out and unpack, even a desk and chair.

Bigger than our hotel room in London, anyway -- the bathroom is three times the size!
The whole family is on the same hallway, six rooms. Today is Mark's dad's birthday, so after the welcome and briefing, we bolted to the dining room to secure the only table that would seat 12. It's usually the captains table, so I'm not sure we'll sit here again, but it was nice to let us all have a single place for dinner. I, of course, was late -- I stopped to talk to someone on the way and got caught up in a conversation...I showed up after everyone else was nearly done. Oy!

The crew sang happy birthday, and presented Mike with a little kransekake with a candle. We commandeered the lounge to watch a video of family pictures, which we later discovered had been transmitted to all cabins on one of the internal channels. We have no idea how many people got to see baby pictures of all three kids. My observation stiill holds, by the way -- any picture Mark is in, if there's food in the picture, he's Happy Mark. If there is no food, he is either screaming or sulking. Not-Happy Mark.  So far, no exceptions.

I think we were all a bit worried about being able to sleep when it never gets dark (seriously, nearly midnight, and it looks like late afternoon, it totally messes you up) but we closed the blinds, turned up the fan, nd whammo! Slept like rocks. I didn't even twitch when the ship set sail.