Travelling Hopefully

15 July 

The alarm going off at 4.30am wasn’t as terrible as I’d feared. I actually felt quite awake, and several cups of coffee later felt ready to face the challenges of travel. 

I checked everything in the house was locked, various things were turned off, and put bags into the car and left just before 6am. Of course I had to stop and make sure yet again that the camera backpack was in the boot. 

It should take 90 minutes to get to Heathrow from my house. But traffic decided to be awkward. We crawled off and on, and I tried not to fret. Those cups of coffee decided to be awkward as well, and so a bush near the hard shoulder of the M25 now knows me quite well. 

I reached Purple Parking after 8am. Along with a number of others we boarded one of their minibuses, our bags in the back. And then we waited. A woman was determined to catch our bus, and she made several trips between her car and the bus with a number of bags. We were just wondering aloud amongst ourselves how many bags there were for one person when, just after she’d brought over the last one, her teenage son emerged from the car. He climbed into the bus, and while his mother went back to the car one last time he called out to her, ‘And make sure you bring my ‘phone!’ Then we waited even longer. 

‘Where’s your mother?’ I finally asked the lad. 

‘In the toilet,’ he replied. ‘And she has lots of bags.’

‘Yes.’ I couldn’t help myself. ‘We noticed how you didn’t help her to bring any of them over.’

The flight was due to depart at 10.20am, so I was a bit worried when we arrived at the terminal at 9am. But there was no queue at the bag drop, and my check in bag was only just over 20kg (as against the 23k limit). I made it through security in good time and had time to buy a bottle of water before heading to the boarding gate.

The flight to Oslo took less than two hours. I’m not used to such short hops. I read a book on my Kindle and ignored the attempts of the ‘plane staff to sell drinks and snacks (nothing for free on board). Getting off the ‘plane and through immigration was pretty straightforward. I collected my bag and made my way to the train terminal. 170 kr (about £17.00) bought me a return ticket to Oslo Central train station, two stops and 22 minutes down the line.

I looked out the windows (although there was a large TV screen, mercifully without sound, offering news and commercials in Norweigan and English at one end of the carriage). At first the countryside reminded me of English. Then red barn after red barn told me that this was, indeed, another country. 

I trundled self and luggage off the train at Oslo Central. By this time I was beginning to sweat. I have a set of trousers which are made for wildlife photographers and wonderful on cold, wet days in Scotland, Yorkshire, and the Arctic. (I know this because I have worn said trousers in two of those places.) But all that padding and waterproofing means that the trousers are too bulky to pack, so I was wearing them in a warm day in Norway. In addition to camera backpack I had a laptop bag stuffed full of other items hanging around my shoulders. So I was very pleased that my directions to Oslo Central Hostel proved to be accurate. But first I had stop and photograph an extraordinary piece of sculpture outside the station...

The hostel is in a great location. Only a few minutes’ walk from the main shopping street and by a number of grand looking buildings in that austere European way. The lockers are huge and easily swallowed both camera backpack and shoulder bag. I changed into lighter trousers and fetched various items from my bag. Then with just compact camera I went off to see a bit of Oslo.

There was a bit of sunshine and a lot of cloud, so I left my coat behind. I wandered down the main street and did my ‘hamburger test.’ In order to work out what food costs are like in a city I step into a hamburger joint and see how a basic burger costs. Not that I eat fast food, but I know from advertisements in the UK how much a burger costs there, so by looking at the cost in another country I can work out whether restuarants I pass are just typical prices for the country or expensive. Well, I know Norway is said to be expensive, but I still swallowed. Over 90kr for a burger, so around £9.00, about twice the price of what you’d pay in London. Whew!

But I really really wanted a beer. Best means of recovery from dragging luggage through a city. I found a nice outdoor bar which had heaters above the tables and blankets ready for use on chairs. I treated myself to an amber ale from a Norweigan microbrewery. It cost me 104kr (yes, £10.00 for a half litre beer) but the view was nice and the waiter brought me a free glass of water. I drank my beer, enjoyed the surroundings, and wrote in my journal. After the very early breakfast and snack bar for lunch the beer did go straight to my head. By the time I’d finished the drink I’d decided that I was in love in Oslo. I took a moment to consult my mental state. Fortunately one beer isn’t enough to make me believe that I’m in love with any random passing stranger, so I decided it was safe to continue the walk. 

I found a sandwich place and had my evening meal. I had a wonderful view of the Parliament building. As I walked back towards the hostel of course the heavens opened. I trudged through the rain, wondering why a country as prone to rain as Norway doesn’t have awnings over shops to ease the way of shoppers. As I came in through the hostel reception the young man behind the reception saw my bedraggled state and gave me a huge grin.

I’ve now settled in for the evening. The early morning is now catching up with me. I wouldn’t mind a whisky or two to celebrate being on holiday but as I stayed away from the duty free I have nothing to drink but water, which is just as well. I’m assured of a clear head for tomorrow’s sight seeing. 

16 July

Slept well, and woke up with a headache. I always think it’s unfair to wake up with a headache when I haven’t had any alcohol the evening before. On the other hand, I do sometimes have a headache after the stress of travelling out to somewhere. I took one of my favourite drugs (ibuprofen; the other two are alcohol and caffeine, because what one doesn’t cure the other will) and went down to breakfast.

Breakfast was included and was very continental. Bread, cereal, cold meats, cheeses, a number of salads (vegetables in various dressings), fruit juice, coffee, slices of citrus fruit. I took citrus, coffee, and cereal. I also took two slices of bread and two slices of cheese to make up a sandwich for lunch.

I bought a 48 hour Oslo Pass at reception. The card gives me free access to museums and public transport. It looked to save me on entry, as well as avoiding the hassle of pulling out money each time. I then headed off with great confidence to the port in order to catch a ferry across to Bygdoy. When I reached the Opera House I’d gone in the wrong direction. So I pulled out a map and found my way back again. 

The ferry is a small one, foot passengers only, which calls twice at Bygdoy. I stayed on at the first stop, which would have taken me to the Folk Museum. My priority was to see the Kon Tiki. I’d read the book about Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 trip back when I was a young teenager, and I had no idea that the raft still existed. Only about a month ago when I was planning my Oslo trip did I find out that the raft does, and resides in Oslo. 

The ferry drops you off right in front of the Fram and Kon Tiki museums. I went into the Kon Tiki one first. The Ra II is first, and the papyrus boat is interesting to see. Then up to the next level and there she is, the Kon Tiki. Looking very good for her age. Of course I would have loved to touch it, but quite wisely she’s kept well away from the adoring hands of pilgrims. There light inside was set very low, perhaps to help preserve the rafts. A parrot accompanied the crew of the Kon Tiki for two of the three months of their voyage. When I read the book for the first time, and reached the point at which Heyerdahl records that the bird was washed overboard, I had to put down the book and cry. By the time there were a number of parrots in our home, and I couldn’t bear to think of any of them dying.

Then on to the Fram museum. And again a real thrill. I noted on the map the route taken by the Fram and the Gjoa through the Northwest Passage. I of course followed the same route a few years ago, albeit in far more comfortable surroundings. The Fram was also the ship which carried Roald Amundsen and his crew to the Antarctic for their successful push to the South Pole. I was so pleased to see such important ships. I climbed the stairs to the top level where I discovered that you can walk onto the Fram and through the entire ship. The joy of being able to wander inside such a historical vessel left me sniffling with emotion. 

I spent about two hours in the two museums. By the time I headed outside Norway had decided to celebrate summer. It was very warm. I decided to walk to the next two attractions, and fell in for awhile with a couple from Canada. They peeled off to a cafe for lunch, whereas when I arrived at the Viking Ship Museum I sat outside and ate my sandwich. 

The Viking Ship Museum looks like a cathedral on the outside. Inside are three ships, dug up from burial sites, and a collection of other preserved objects such as carts. The detail of the carving and the level of preservation astounded me. I could quite happily have stayed much longer than I did, but I wanted to get on to the Folk Museum (or its proper title, Norwegian Museum of Cultural History). 

The Folk Museum is like many I’ve visited across the world in which buildings from different areas have been brought to one place and are on display. There was an Old Town, with (as you’d suspect) town buildings like a post office and a drug store. Several were merchants’ buildings, and a silver smith, weaver, and potter have workshops and wares for sale. I was tempted by the pottery, but the mixture of high cost and high fragility put me off. 

Further in are farm buildings, set out as they would have been in their original settings. Many were raised from the ground, resting on wooden pillars which were like a mushroom in shape. In other words, the pillar ended in a larger top section. This, it transpired, was to prevent rodents from being able to climb up and eat the grain stored inside. Very clever. 

A few of the buildings were open to view. I was intrigued that hearths were often in the corner of a room rather than in the middle. Various people in traditional costume wandered around, doing bits of farm work and pottering around in the houses. There were some children also dressed up, although one young lad amused me because his bright trainers definitely broke the spell! 

There is a bit of a hill to climb to reach the Stave Church. I saw two men pushing the motorised wheelchair of another man so that he could get up to the church. The church and other buildings on the hill were placed there by a former king, back in the days when equal access wasn’t a priority. The church was lovely outside and in, and I’m certain I caught the scent of incense. Services are held in that church on Sundays. 

By the way, I must comment on the excellent English in all of the museums. I did not spot a single grammatical error, and all of the punctuation was correct. Why do the Norwegians follow all of the rules for apostrophes which the British seem to misunderstand? 

Finally, feet aching, I left the museum. At fruit and vegetable stall across the road I bought a pummet of raspberries for 25kr (about £2.50) in a attempt to keep up my fruit and veg habits. I decided not to walk down to the ferry but caught the bus instead. I found it very easy to work out the system on the bus. A monitor shows the next stop as well as the next four beyond. Helps you to count down to the stop you want.

I got off at the Parliament building, which looked much nicer in the sunshine. A short stroll around the shopping streets brought me back to the hostel. At the desk I enquired and was given directions to a nearby supermarket. Well, he called it a supermarket. It was a corner store but it had beer! There was a man at the front of the single check out who seemed to determined to use every last coin he had to pay for his goods. The queue gradually grew as he dug out more and yet more and slowly, painfully, found enough. ‘It’s okay, ‘ he drawled in a broad accent, ‘I’m a priest and my church is Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence.’ The man behind me grumbled, ‘But the rest of us are not priests.’ I kept my mouth firmly shut. Finally the man had finished paying and the queue began to move again. The two Canadians behind me complained about the man’s obsession with paying with coins. ‘Must have been an American,’ they agreed. For the second time in three minutes I kept my mouth firmly shut. My jaw was beginning to ache. 

Back at the hostel I grabbed pasta and sauce and headed down to the kitchen. Never have a I seen such a small kitchen in a youth hostel. I met someone from California and she and I successfully filled the space between us. The electric cooker kept cutting out, and a sign above told us how to reset it (!). There very few pots or pans and no washing up liquid. The Californian had bought a bottle of liquid and allowed me to use some. 

Later I drink the bottle of what I can only decribe as confused beer. The label features a photo of Queen Elizabeth II in front of the Union Jack, with ‘Britannia’ written across her eyes. The blurb on the back of the bottle states ‘U.S. inspired India Session Ale.’ Well, erm, I think an initial was changed there. Surely they mean ‘U.K. inspired’? 

17 July

After breakfast I worked on photos for awhile—nothing opens before 10am. I always limit myself to the compact camera for at least one day when I’m on holiday, so my steps felt particularly light when I headed out just before 10am. I admired the many older buildings as I walked down the shopping streets. At one point I stopped to photograph a rather magnificent gryphon. Behind me a couple exclaimed over ‘that lovely pegasus.’ I kept quiet, but I wondered how anyone could make such a fundamental error. But then I could lecture on the differences between gryphons and hippogriffs and go on to explain why, despite what the ‘Harry Potter’ books think, the latter is a sheer impossibility. Whereas one of my best friends is a gryphon.

My first stop was the Museum of Cultural History. Downstairs had rooms which, by careful and rather clever display of artifacts, took you through the cultural history of Norway. From stone to bronze to iron age, from small settlements to castles and churches. The intricate metal work left by the Vikings amazed me. Equally impressive were the carved doorposts from Stave Churches. The guard in the room said ‘Of course’ when I asked whether I could take photographs. 

I next walked up to the Royal Palace. You can only visit the Palace in summer, and then only by guided tour. I had read that tickets can be booked on-line and a local store, but a few are always set aside at the entrance. I took my place at the head of the queue at 11.30am, and was able to buy one of the remaining tickets just before the 12pm tour.

Strictly no photography inside the Palace. We had to leave cameras and mobile ‘phones in a locker, and slide plastic covers over our shoes. The guide told us not to touch anything, and ‘no bouncing on the beds.’ I nearly told him, ‘You’re cute, but not that cute,’ but for the fourth time in less than 24 hours I kept my mouth shut. I’m going to get lock jaw at this rate.

The Palace is still the residence and office for the royal family. There were the usual lovely halls and ball room. I began to wonder if the Crown Prince is about my age and in need of a wife. We also saw the cabinet room in which the King and the Crown Prince meet the cabinet every Friday morning as well as the balcony on which the royal family appears for important occasions. Seems on the anniversary date of Norway becoming an independent country schoolchildren parade past the balcony and the royal family watches and waves. For four hours. Suddenly being a member of the Norwegian royal family lost some of its appeal.

My favourite room was the waiting area outside the King’s office. It’s been painted with stunning Norwegian landscapes. Birds, painted with great accuracy, appear to sit on trellises around the room. I amused myself by identifying many of the species. 

After the tour I sat outside the Palace and had my lunch. Then I walked back down to the National Gallery. Although like most people I wanted to see Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’, I found myself entranced by a number of landscape paintings. The use of light and scale in addition to the subject matter (glaciers and fjords) made me pause for some time. 

As for ‘The Scream’ itself—I found it rather underwhelming. And it seems that Munch painted more than one copy. The guard in this room stopped person after person from having their photo taken next to the painting. Which I thought was a shame. I could have happily amused myself by watching what expression people would adopt next to the painting. Would they smile for the camera? Or would they try to imitate the tortured pose of the portrait?

I headed over to the Peace Museum. This was built to honour those to whom the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded. Downstairs was a rather thought-provoking exhibit about social media. Upstairs was decided to Peace Prize winners. I had hoped to pause for breath and a coffee but the museum’s cafe was closed.

So I walked past the harbour and over to Akershus Castle. The castle was originally built in 1300AD, and has been altered since. It’s still used for various official functions, which means that rooms were not full of recreations of days gone by. I admired the chapel, which had the altar dressed in green and a rather nice green chasuble on display.

The grey morning had given way to a sunny afternoon. I bought an ice cream as I returned to the main shopping street. However, this meant that I mistimed my visit to the Cathedral. Seems it shuts at 4pm, and I only just reached it at 4pm. Never mind. I was amused to discover that there’s a wine bar/cafe in the cloister area. 

So I bought some food for dinner, which I had early and then retired to my room to drink a bottle of beer and to pack. Off to Svalbard tomorrow! 

18 July

My alarm went off at 6am and I tried to do the last bit of my packing as quietly as possible. I went down to the kitchen with an apple, banana, and breakfast bar along with a coffee bag. I knew it was too early for the hostel’s breakfast to be out, but I thought I could get some hot water to have a mug of black coffee. However, the water from the boiler was only lukewarm. As I was desperate for caffeine I drank it anyway.

By 7am I was ready to drag luggage down to the train station. I was delighted to discover flight check-in kiosks near the platform for the train to the airport. I was offered the choice of only one seat on the ‘plane, so I took it. The machine spit out my boarding pass and the tag to put onto my check-in bag.

I had thought I’d purchased a return ticket from the airport, but this proved not to be the case when I tried to go through the exit barriers. A helpful woman showed me that I could just swipe my credit card through instead to buy my freedom. At the airport I found that you can deposit your check-in bag without assistance. You place it on the conveyer belt and use the scanner on the luggage tag. Not certain what happens if the bag is overweight. 

I was a bit puzzled to find that I had to go to the international departures (and show my passport) for the flight to Longyearbyen (which is part of Norway). I paid 45kr for a coffee, and noted that a pint of Guinness was 99kr (£10.00!) Anyway, I soon discovered why the seat offered to me hadn’t been chosen by anyone else. It was the aisle seat at the back of the ‘plane, right next to the toilet. Glad it was only a three hour flight. I got rather tired of having so many bums in my face. 

I was seated beside two Germans, and we conversed for a couple of minutes in my second language before they asked where I came from. When I told them ‘England’ they were very complimentary about my German. I spoke in German a lot during my holiday in New Zealand, and the exercise seems to have boosted my confidence. I do know that near the end of the New Zealand trip I was dreaming regularly in German, and my German in my dreams is far more fluent than what I manage when I’m awake. 

We landed at Longyearbyen, and I put on my jacket. In one flight we’d gone from temperatures in the mid 20’s C to 9 C. The first of many stuffed Polar bears stood guard over the luggage carousel. Outside was a bus which, for 60kr, takes you to your hotel in town. The place I’m staying, Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg, was the first stop. I hauled my bag up the steps and, as requested, left my boots in the entryway. I’d been expecting this, and I had a pair of very basic slippers near the top of my bag.

Although I was early (2pm) my room was ready. The hotel used to be accommodation for workers, and I have a single room. This consists of a small bed, a desk with a chair, a sitting chair, a small wardrobe, and that’s it. Oh, there is a rag rug on the floor. Toilet and shower are shared and next door. All for 1200kr per night (£120!). I have an interesting view out of my window of two large pipes and, above them, the nearby hills. 

I dumped my stuff and headed into town. I was pleased to see Snow buntings. The houses all seem to have snowmobiles parked outside. The shopping area is quite well stocked with outdoor gear. One shop was full of fur items, including complete Polar bear, wolf, and Brown bear skins. Several stores had signs asking you to leave your guns outside. Polar bears do occasionally wander into town. I found the large supermarket and bought some food supplies. I had to show my ‘plane ticket to buy a couple of beers. Seems people who are visiting off of cruise ships are not permitted to buy alcohol in the shop. I couldn’t quite find out why. Svalbard is duty free, although the prices still seem high to me.

Whilst the shopping a woman greeted me on the street. She had seen me in Mary-Ann’s. It turns out that she’s one of the zodiac drivers on the M/S Expedition, the ship which I’ll be joining on Sunday. We swapped Arctic experiences and went on our ways. I was beginning to get a bit cold by then, and my shopping was heavy in my hand (and I provided my own reusable bag!) so I headed back to my hotel.

I had decided to try the hotel’s restaurant. Amongst the Arctic options are whale, seal, and reindeer. I opted for the middle option. Seal, I can report, is quite tasty. A bit more dense in texture than beef, and far darker. But not at all gamey. It came with a red wine sauce and nice potato wedges. I had a beer, and it amused me that the can was brought to my table. I was the only one in the restaurant, but it was only 5pm.

As I’ve been writing this I’ve looked up to watch clouds drift over the nearby hill. There’s an attempt at blue sky in the distance. The zodiac driver has told me that the weather has been ‘mild’ recently, whatever that means in Arctic terms. I have a heater under my control in my room, so I’ve been able to keep the temperature to my liking. 

19 July

What was my first night of 24 hour daylight like? Fortunately I sleep well, so it didn’t matter that my room had basic (rather than black out) curtains. When I woke up a couple of times the light was like it had been at say 9pm. Bright, but as it was cloudy I don’t know how much sun was actually around. 

I got up a 7am and had my usual helping of fruit and some dried cracker bread for breakfast. I dearly missed my cup or two of coffee, but the hotel charges 35kr to use their kitchen and I didn’t want to pay this just to heat up water. There was sunshine on the nearby hill so although I put long underwear on under my trousers I had a fit of optimism and put on some suncream.

As instructed I was outside the hotel at 8.30am. Back in May I had booked a day trip on a boat called the ‘Polargirl.’ The boat was to call at the old Russian mining town of Pyramiden as well as a glacier front and a bird colony. I was rather relieved to find a couple also waiting for a bus to pick them up for the trip. 

We were the last pick up, so the bus arrived just before 9am. At the harbour we saw the huge monstrosity of exceedingly large cruise ship. I was glad not to be in Longyearbyen whilst all those people were filling the streets. I know some of my friends enjoy trips on these large ships, but it’s never appealed to me. 

The Polargirl set off, and we had our safety briefing. I think there were about 40 of us on the trip, including one couple with a five year old boy. The boat had a large lounge (one section with sofas, another with benches and tables) and outside decks on three levels. Unfortunately the sun did not follow us as we headed across the sea. Rain settled in. I was also disappointed that hot drinks were not free. I paid 20kr for a coffee (refills 10kr). Well, I had several coffees, actually. It was a touch chilly.

We stopped in one bay to retrieve a group of people who had been hiking and camping in the area. There were five of them, and five sled dogs (which had merely accompanied them on the trip, before you wonder about a lack of snow for said dogs and sleds). The dogs were very friendly and a number of people made a fuss over them. 

We had been told that we’d arrive at Pyramiden at noon, have two hours ashore, and have lunch back on the boat around 2-2.30pm. Actually we arrived at 1pm. A Russian chap dressed for the part (coat and hat, along with rifle) met us and helped to tie up the boat. He reminded us that we must stay near him (‘We have Polar bears, and I’m the one with the rifle) and we headed over to a small bus. The bus took us to the start of town, near the Pyramiden sign. By now I was glad that I’d spent the 100kr in Oslo to buy an umbrella, as I was able to use it to keep me and camera dry as I took photos. I was the only one with an umbrella, which did surprise me. As did all the cameras exposed to the elements.

The guide explained, as we walked up through the deserted town, that during the days of the Soviet Union this was a mining town. The Soviet Union had pumped a lot of money into the town to make it a showcase for the Communist way of life. The people who lived here thought it was wonderful. Plenty of food and cultural activities. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the money was gone. So the people left, and now only 15 live there. Seagulls rest on many window ledges of the abandoned buildings.

There is a large bust of Lenin in the town. Of course people hurried to be photographed next to this. I had to wait awhile to get a person free photo. 

We were taken into the Cultural Centre. There was a sports hall (the five year old boy kicked a football around) and rooms with instruments and library catalogues. Some of the artifacts were a bit too well arranged. I was struck by the remains of a long dead plant hanging by a window. 

We finished up in the hotel. Seems April is the main season for tourism, the guide told us. There is daylight, but there is still plenty of ice. So visitors can get across on a snowmobile in three hours from Longyearbyen. The hotel offers accommodation and food, but in the spring this is booked out well in advance. Not so much in the summer, because you have to wait for a boat to visit to get to and from the town. 

The gift shop had various items on sale such as woodburnings, objects painted in the Russian style, and magnets. I’d noticed in Oslo that just about any tourist attraction sells a wide variety of magnets, and Pyramiden was no exception. People bought coffees, pastries, and vodka at the bar. I went back outside to take photos of the seagulls nesting on the window ledges. 

The bus collected us from the hotel and took us back to our boat. By now I was starving. Lunch was ready for us. Bread, meat, and mashed potatoes. The rain has eased, and the outside tables and chairs had been wiped dry. We sat and ate, with the dogs sniffing the air at the smell of meat. I’d just about finished by rather intriguing steak when I noticed a man at my table was only eating bread and mashed potato. I asked him why he wasn’t eating the meat. ‘It’s whale,’ he replied. ‘I don’t eat whale meat.’

There is a striking scene in one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, The Silver Chair. The three main characters are eating what they think is venison from a normal deer in the hall of the Giants. Then they overhear the conversation of the Giants. ‘This stag was lying,’ says one Giant. ‘He said, “Don’t eat me, I won’t taste good.”’ And then Eustace and Puddleglum spit out their meat and are horrified. They thought they were eating an ordinary deer but, no, they were eating a Talking Stag. A sentient being, a full citizen of Narnia, as all Talking Animals were. Puddleglum decides that they are now cursed as a result of this great crime. (And it’s the first hint that the Giants aren’t as friendly as they seem.)

I don’t exactly know where I am on the debate on whether it is ethical to eat whale meat. I know that research shows that they are probably at least as intelligent as humans, and perhaps more intelligent. And I had finished the meat, so it wasn’t like I chose to eat whale. But I did think I should have been informed, so I could have made the choice. And I would probably have chosen NOT to eat the meat. I do still feel slightly ill at the thought. 

Our next stop was the face of a glacier. There was a speck of Polar bear near the glacier. I have seen Polar bears much closer (and I hope to do so again), so I didn’t rush to photograph the speck. But I was pleased for those who had never seen one in the wild before. I was more interested in photographing fulmars sitting on small icebergs and the Arctic terns which were fishing nearby. 

Then the afternoon began to drag. The brochure and website for the trip states that it will be 8-10 hours long. But we were told that we wouldn’t be back until after 8pm. I think this was due to us collecting the men and dogs who had been trekking in the area. The sea also became rougher, and a number of people began to suffer from seasickness. This included the five year old boy and his mother. The parents weren’t best pleased that a trip they had been assured would end by 6pm wasn’t going to have them back until 8.30pm. 

And it was 8.30pm when the bus dropped us back to Mary-Ann’s. It’s been an interesting day, if a very long one. I was pleased to see Pyramiden, and although we didn’t stop at the bird colony I hope I will see others once I’m on the M/S Expedition. 

20 July

Nothing planned for today. I had to be at a particular hotel in town (the Radisson Blu) by 4pm to catch the bus to the ship. So I worked on photos and bought an hour’s worth of wifi (20kr) from the hotel reception. Around 2pm I took a taxi into town (it would have been a long drag with a suitcase) which cost 120kr for the five minute ride.

I then discovered that most people had left their large bags at the hotel earlier for these to be taken to the ship—I had not been so advised. But I was assured that the bag could be taken on the bus. 

At 4pm I stowed the bag in the bus and boarded. I hauled my suitcase into the ship, but fortunately the staff said they’d bring it to my cabin (there are no lifts, and it would have been a lot of stairs!). I’m sharing a three person cabin, but fortunately one of my cabin mates doesn’t mind having the top bunk. (I wrenched my right knee when skiing as a teenager, and as I get older it’s beginning to twinge more and more and ladders are not helpful). 

We had our usual safety drill and orientation meeting. I went on this ship, the M/S Expedition, to the Antarctic, so I already feel at home. There are a number of us on board who have been with the ship before. The sun was out as we left Longyearbyen and a number of photos were taken.

Dinner was lovely and filling, and I treated myself to a glass of Malbec. Then it was to the cabin. Despite doing very little all day I feel rather tired so I think it will be early to bed.

21 July

Slept well (I usually do on ships) and woke up when a cabin mate’s alarm went off at 7am. We headed off to breakfast at 7.30am. I stuck mostly to fruit, although I did allow myself two rashers of the wonderfully crispy bacon. That was the pattern I’d settled into by the end of the trip to the Antarctic. And several cups of coffee.

This morning we got our parkas. Unlike the Antarctic trip, on this voyage everyone is supplied with a parka. I found myself going for large, although I was comforted by the sight of women I thought to be skinnier than I am also going for large. The parkas are a dark red with a number of pockets and a warm interior portion which can be zipped out. Then later on we were called to the mud room (where you get on and off the zodiacs and also where you leave your gear) to get our boots. We had a mid morning lecture introducing us to the wildlife of the Arctic, illustrated with fantastic photos. 

We went through grey skies and grey seas for quite some time. At lunch we arrived at Magdalene Fjord. A place of great beauty. Mountains pointing sharp teeth into the sky, with glaciers swirling gracefully around their feet and into the sea. The sun played through the clouds. 

As ever with these trips flexibility is essential. The plans for a shore landing to admire the scenery was ditched when the scouting party discovered a pod of walruses pulled up on a beach. We went on the zodiacs and had a landing on slippery stones, which we transversed up to the sand to walk along to the pod. A line was drawn in the sand to keep us well back from the animals so as not to spook them. I had put my Tamron 150-600mm onto my Canon 7D on the ship, and I took a number of photos with the combination. Because of the grey light I decided to put the long lens on my Canon 5Diii instead (better camera but it doesn’t give the extra ‘reach’ of the 7D). It’s at times like these that I think of the guidance supplied with the camera instruction book. ‘Always change lenses in a dry and protective atmosphere.’ Instead I find myself changing lenses on a sandy beach in the Arctic.

We got back onto the zodiacs, and watched an Arctic skua pounding at a Kittiwake. The skua matched the Kittiwake’s desperate attempts to outfly the predator, swooping over our boat and around land and skimming over the water. The skua was attempting to make the Kittiwake vomit its catch of fish. At one point the skua had the other bird’s neck in its beak. The Kittiwake ended up on the water. Finally the skua flew off. I didn’t dare try to get my long lens out of the camera bag whilst sitting on a zodiac, so I simply watched the battle.

On the zodiac we went past the face of the glacier. Then we went on to a large colony of Little auks. Like large gatherings of starlings they went into the air in groups and swirled in patterns across the sky, calling to each other all the while. Several times groups flew just over our heads, and we could hear the wind in their wings. We also saw male Eiderducks and Black guillemots. 

I was just beginning to feel a bit cold when we went back to the ship. I downloaded photos and missed part of the briefing for tomorrow. But I was in time for the glass of sparkling wine and the talk by the ship’s captain. Just before dinner I headed outside for a few more photos of the glorious surroundings.

And of course it happened over dinner. Someone asked me what I do for a living. As ever I said ‘I’ll tell you at the end of the trip.’  I find that when people discover I’m a priest they can act a bit strangely (apologising if they swear, wanting to talk about the existence or non-existence of God). So I try to keep it quiet. But as ever one person was determined to guess what I do. At one point he asked, ‘Reproductive biologist?’ which was the oddest guess I’ve ever had.

22 July

The day started at 6.45am. The expedition leader announced that a Blue whale had been spotted near the ship. So we all stumbled out of bed and struggled into layers of clothes. Up many sets of stairs into the freezing air. But as we caught our breaths we were rewarded by the Blue whale appearing a number of times. He sent large plumes of water into the air, and showed his flukes a number of times. As ever on these occasions it can be just down to luck to be on the correct side of the ship when the whale re-emerges. And to have a clear view around all the other people also trying to see. I believe that one of my photos shows a clear scar, which should enable the whale to be identified. (Various research organisations ask for photos to be emailed to them for their databases.)

After breakfast I worked for awhile on photos. We had a lecture about Svalbard’s history. In the meantime the ship was at the edge of the pack ice, looking for Polar bears. One was spotted quite early, but about a mile away. The ice was too thick to get much closer, so we continued on.

Then just as lunch was being served a Polar bear was seen lying down on the ice. Whilst the ship was being manouvered into place I quickly grabbed some lunch. Then I dressed up warmly before heading out. I learned on my previous polar trips to always make sure I was well dressed before going out, otherwise the cold drives you in just as something interesting starts to happen.

And interesting did start to happen. The Polar bear remained lying down for awhile as the ship slowly moved closer. Then the bear decided to have a closer look. He got up, and slowly made his way across the ice towards the ship. I was able to switch from 7D and 150-600mm lens to 5D with 70-300mm lens. He clambered over the ice (not much need to jump or to swim) and the only noise was that of camera shutters. 

He moved off, and so did the ship. I was downloading the first lot of bear photos into my laptop when I discovered that the Polar bear was still around. So out again, and again the bear came up to us. We had another long period of time watching him walking along the ice. Then he finally decided he’d had enough of us, and we piled into the ship to warm up and drink coffee. And to study the photos on the back of our cameras.

Just when we thought we could relax a couple of Fin whales were spotted. So out again. The whales went for a dive, and I went back inside again. The wind off the ice is very cold!

Finally things settled down for awhile. I worked on photos, and went to a lecture about Polar bears. I think the expedition leader is now worried that perhaps the trip has peaked too soon. What can we look forward to now? Well, we’ve given him a shopping list. A Polar bear with cubs, or maybe one tearing a seal apart. I’d like to see another Narwhal. We’ll see what happens.

23 July

When we got up at 7am we were at our destination, Torellneset. Fog had rolled in, and it had been explained to us on the first day that fog prevents shore landings. You can’t spot a Polar bear approaching if you’re in fog. However, by the time we’d had breakfast the fog had eased away, and we went on our shore landing.

This was a much easier beach to clamber on to—sand and gravel. The main attraction were two pods of Walrus. The nearer pod was being very boring—much backsides of sleeping Walrus—so I walked over to the other pod. Just in time to see the last one disappearing into the sea. So I walked back past the first pod to see what all the cameras were pointing at. (How do you spot wildlife in the Arctic? Look where the cameras are pointing.) There was a large Walrus in the water, quite close to the shore. One of the ship’s biologists was near him on the beach. The Walrus emerged and then went back under the water. At one point he rolled on to his back to scratch himself against the underwater rocks. Arctic terns plunged into the water nearby—I think the activity of the Walrus must stir up small fish which the Arctic terns eat.

We were given the option of walking up a small hill to take in the views. The fog was rolling in again, and I was getting cold, so I decided to head back to the ship.

During lunch we went back north to Alkefjellet. These are spectacular cliffs on which thousands of Thick-billed murre breed. The air was filled with the sound of their calls and the smell of their guano. Glaciers rested above the cliffs, and waterfalls cascaded down the cliffsides from the ice above. The kayakers helpfully paddled near the waterfalls to give a sense of scale. We slowly moved alongside the cliffs, birds flying overhead and also swimming all around us. I had taken no chances with my cameras. Both were in cases which were inside fully waterproof bags. 

We had nearly reached the end of the cliffs when we were told that Arctic foxes had been spotted. So our zodiac driver hurried us back to the area. We saw the rather lean fox hurrying up and down the steep hill side, at one point startling two Glaucous gulls. 

After this excitement it was time to return to the ship so the next group could go out. The ship coasted alongside the cliffs, allowing for more viewing opportunities. Every so often several hundred birds would explode from the cliff side at once, flying and calling overhead. Unlike the Little auks they did not make formations in the sky. Their flights were more direct, out from cliffs, back to cliffs.

Over dinner we set off to head back to the pack ice. We had lovely light over a long, glacier edge and saw several large icebergs in the water. Then the fog closed in. Many of us found it difficult to go to bed after the busy day and the still bright light at midnight. 

24 July

Again we sailed overnight to our next destination, a remote island called Storoya. We were still picking our way through pack ice as we approached the island. There was an interesting lecture on whales and dolphins in the lounge, and I listened to most of it. I did go outside to take photos of pack ice in shifting fog. One person did see a fogbow. Fogbows, as I recall from my last Arctic trip, are caused by sunlight refracting through fog droplets. Fogbows form a white arc, with just a hint of rainbow colours at the bottom edge. Very beautiful. 

We anchored. In the distance a pod of walruses, females with pups, were pulled out on the ice. The current slowly brought them closer and closer to the ship. Finally they decided they’d come close enough and they slipped into the water. Mother and pup combinations swam off together.

After lunch, as ice started to close in around the ship, we went on zodiac trips. My group was second up. What happened for several (but not all) of the zodiacs on the first group out was hard for the rest of us to take. They spotted a Polar bear on the ice, and went in close. The bear stood up on hind legs, then got rather interested in the nearest zodiac. She came closer and closer, and those on board not only had a close encounter but a somewhat alarming one. The zodiac further out had a good watch of bear approaching the zodiac. This happened near the end of their time on the zodiacs, and before that they had even walked on the ice.

All this delayed the return of the first group. My group finally got out. We had perhaps 20 minutes in the zodiacs, saw no bears and just some ice, before being called to return to the ship. The fog and the ice were closing in, and the bear was somewhere in the water. So let’s just say our experience was very disappointing. I do try to be philosophical about it. After all, we had that great viewing the other day, and it seems the first trip out this year saw only one Polar bear and that was at a great distance. But I still would have liked to have been in one of those two zodiacs. Or even to have longer going past the ice. Or to even be one of the zodiacs that got stuck and had to be pulled free!

That evening the expedition leader said how sorry he felt for the second group. He had ‘bought thirty bottles of wine’ so that we could have all a glassful. Our dinner this evening was a BBQ on deck. We dressed for dinner—in our warmest clothes—and sat outside as the ship made her way through the pack ice. A rather interesting if somewhat cold experience.

The evening’s entertainment was a 1969 movie called ‘The Red Tent.’ A rather overdramatised version of the tale of an attempt to fly an airship over the North Pole, which promptly crashed. A large search and rescue operation was launched, which saved some of the men. There was a whole doomed romance subplot and although he had top billing Sean Connery appeared for very little of the film.

25 July

Another remote island, Isispynten, this morning. This one used to be entirely covered by snow and ice, but in recent years the ice has mostly melted revealing gravelly land. Birds now nest on the island, in particular Arctic terns and Eider ducks. Usually a Polar bear is spotted raiding the nests for young and eggs. 

Our group was first out. Although we saw no bears, there were a good number of icebergs which had broken off the nearby ice shelf. Some were white, others in mixed shades of blue. Smaller bits of ice had been washed on to shore. We saw some seals in the water and evidence that there was a bear around—the Arctic terns were very disturbed, flying around in the air and complaining about something.

Our group came back. My cabin mates decided to try out the sauna, whilst I stayed in the cabin and worked on photos. Fortunately my cabin mates had returned when the call was broadcast for our group to return to the mud room. A Polar bear had been spotted, and the previous group was coming back and our group had the chance to go out again. So of course we all did.

The Polar bear, which the biologists on board think was a young male, perhaps four years old, was ranging up and down the island, crossing from one side of the spit of land to the other. He looked very lean and was obviously very hungry as he ate what was in the Arctic terns’ nests. I discovered exactly how difficult it is to photograph a moving bear from a zodiac! There was a bit of a swell, so just when I had the bear in my sights the zodiac would lurch in the water. So I have lots of nice shots of bear head or bear legs. That’s the downside of using a large lens to zero in.

On the way back our zodiac driver stopped, very excited. There was a group of Brent geese in the water, with two goslings. ‘Forget Polar bears,’ he said, ‘you can see lots of them. These geese are very rare.’ I’m not certain many in the zodiac would trade bear for geese!

We had hoped to then ship cruise past the massive ice face. However the fog closed in. The ship had to carefully pick her way past icebergs in the fog. Then we were out in open water and heading for our next destination, with a wake up call scheduled for 6am!

Around midnight a Polar bear was spotted on shore. My cabin mates rushed into outdoor clothing but I stayed in bed. As I thought, the bear was far away from the ship and basically just a blob of white. I think I’m getting a bit picky about what sort of sighting will get me out of bed.

26 July

Our wake up call actually came at 6.30am. We were scheduled to land on Barentsoya and go for a walk. Last night we signed up for four different groups; Fast walkers (emphasis on exercise, no time to stop for photos); medium walkers (emphasis on exercise but possible stops); plants and photography (looking at the plants and taking photos); and crawlers (who would probably stay on the beach). Due to the foggy conditions it was decided that all groups would stay near the shore, but we’d still go ashore in those groups with the fastest first. In the end the crawlers were taken on a zodiac cruise along the shoreline.

Not only was it grey, but we had drizzle. I’d neglected to bring out a camera cover (I was wearing my waterproof camera backpack) but I discovered that the parka hood, when zipped off, made a good camera cover. Others in the group followed suit. We looked at various flowers, mosses, and fungi. And a pile of fresh Polar bear droppings, which most people decided to photograph.

The drizzle showed no signs of stopping, so I put my camera away and pulled out my small waterproof camera for a few shots. Having lost two expensive cameras to water in eighteen months I am a bit paranoid about protecting my equipment. Soon later we had rain, so I was glad that my hood was back on my parka.

We spotted some Reindeer nearby. ‘Well,’ said our guide glumly, ‘that does it for the plants.’  I did pull out big lens and 7D for a few photos. We saw a female and a calf. The faster walking groups saw more Reindeer, including males. 

We were a bit later leaving than had been planned. The ship put on some speed to get to our next stop, Edgeoya. The island is really only accessible at high tide as the waters near the shore are quite shallow and there are rocks and logs around. We were told that we would only have 15 minutes per group at the canyon (although in the end it turned out much longer than that).

What we were going ashore to see was a colony of Kittiwakes who nest in the canyon. Arctic foxes feed on the eggs and chicks. The shoreline itself was fascinating as there were various large whale bones scattered around with flowers growing nearby. As our group walked up to the canyon at flock of Kittiwakes, on the ground near the hills, took off and drifted like snow across the brown backdrop. An Arctic fox pup emerged and seemed to be playing in front of us.

At the canyon I decided not to go inside but to stay outside to photograph the birds. And another fox which appeared on the slope. The sound of the Kittiwakes calling to one another filled the air. And several times bird droppings splotched to the ground in front of me (not on me, I think). One guide with a rifle was on the ridge as look out, and at one point a fox slowly made his way up the ridge as if he were hunting the guide. 

The sun came out briefly as we left. I tried to take a few quick landscape shots before putting camera safely back into waterproof backpack. We had to push off carefully from the beach, and the driver took his time navigating the shallow waters and avoiding the submerged rocks. And we had some rain to accompany the sun.

Our boots were very muddy so we did our best to clean them with the scrubbers and hoses. The ship set off at quite a pace, which made it a bit alarming when four passengers were asked to confirm that they were on board! (You have a personalised card with a magnetic strip which you swipe through a card reader when leaving and then when returning to the ship. We’ll assume those four people neglected to swipe.)

27 July

We were now slowly heading back to our port, so we swung further south and west before then going north up along the west coast of Spitsbergen, the main island of Svalbard. At breakfast the fog was playing around the mountains and glaciers of the Hornsund fjord. Many of us stood on deck to admire the views sliding past both sides of the ship.

Our morning activity (or ‘operation’ as the expedition leader prefers to call them) was a zodiac cruise alongside one glacier front. The waters were very choppy near the ship, which meant slow and careful entry onto the zodiacs and an equally slow and careful trip out to the ice around the face of the glacier.

We motored to the edge of the drift ice. The sound of ice chiming against ice was like musical bells, quite beautiful. We were looking for the Ivory gull, and were treated to a number of views. Icebergs of various shades of blue, formed by wind and water into various shapes, bobbed around us. The ship looked rather small against the backdrop of the tall peaks. I knelt down in the front of the zodiac to try to brace myself a bit better for photographs. Near the end of our hour long trip we saw part of the glacier front fall off into the water (which is called ‘calving').

Our zodiac driver advised us that we were going to head back. I put both cameras into the waterproof bags which, according to their manufacturer, would protect any equipment from water. Well, the zodiac trip back was a great test. Since I was at the front I got soaked with sea spray (so I also found out that my photography trousers were also as waterproof as advertised; not only has the warmth been welcome but also the built in knee pads). As did these camera bags. It was on a zodiac ride in the Antarctic that sea spray killed one of my cameras, so I was a bit worried. But when I got back to the cabin I discovered that the waterproof bags had been worth every penny. Inside was absolutely dry and I still had two fully functioning cameras. Whew!

In the afternoon we headed back out of the fjord for our afternoon landing. We all were taken ashore and had up to two hours (we could go back earlier) to walk onto a glacier and near the front. I hasten to add that a rather stable end had been chosen and we were to keep on one side of erected flags just in case the front decided to calve. I didn’t realise we’d have so long on land so sadly I had not taken my tripod on shore. So I made do with a lot of crouching to take photos of the ice on the beach. 

By evening I was beginning to suffer from a cold which is doing the rounds of the ship. I went to the small on board shop to buy some throat pastilles. $15.00 (US) for a packet of Strepsils! Oh, well, I guess they can’t just pop out to a chemist to easily buy some more. And the sweets did help. As did some scotch on glacier ice later that evening.

We were told that the next day would be spent off the coast of Spitsbergen to do some whale watching. I must admit to not being terribly enthusiastic. In my experience whale watching means spending ages looking for the briefest glimpse of disappearing whale backs. I did stay up, despite the cold, to photograph the midnight sun. One woman told me, at 11pm, that she had already done this the night before. ‘Oh, I photographed the midnight sun at 10.30pm last night,’ she told me airily. ‘That’s close enough.’

There was some lovely light on the mountains as we pulled out to sea at midnight. I then went to bed, where I did spent quite some time coughing myself awake.

28 July

I think you could have successfully smoothed wood with the inside of my throat when I woke up. I’m not the only one with the ‘ship cold’, and no doubt many, like me, were pleased to sleep in until 7.30am before stumbling upstairs for breakfast. 

I had thought, with my past experience of whale watching, that we’d have a rather uneventful day. Hmph. Just as breakfast was finishing there was an almight commotion ahead of us. Hundreds of Kittiwakes were swooping around a bit of ocean. The reason for all their excitement were two pods of cetaceans, one of Fin whales, the other of White-beaked dolphins. The Fin whales, in particular, were swirling up their prey and coming up to gulp down great amounts of plankton. The fish disturbed by all this effort were being grabbed by the dolphins and the Kittiwakes. The sight was fantastic and, we are told, very rare. Even the expedition leader came out with his camera to record all the activity. It lasted about an hour and I took 830 photographs. We also had dolphins jumping clear of the water and riding next to the bow of the ship. Not all the Kittiwakes, it seems survive their dashing in between surfacing whales. We did see one battered body float past the ship.

The next excitement was Humpback whales. We saw their distinctive fluking (tail fins raised into the air) as they dove. Then more dolphins and Fin whales. All this interrupted a lecture about Walruses. As did a great appearance of a Sperm whale.

Finally a bit of break. And lunch. In the afternoon a lecture on glaciers was put on. The lecturer was only a few minutes into his talk when Sperm whales were spotted. So all out on to deck again. We were able to resume the lecture after thirty minutes. 

At the end of the lecture we discovered that one Kittiwake was taking a rest on the front of the ship. He posed quite beautifully for photos for about twenty minutes before taking his leave. Then just before the evening briefing there was more feeding activity. The main birds this time were Fulmars, who rested on the water searching for their meal rather than diving like the Kittiwakes. 

We had our briefing about our departure procedures (boo, hiss) and a recap on the day. And then the plan for tomorrow. Which includes a visit to Pyramiden! Oh, well. Maybe this time it won’t be raining, and I certainly won’t have Minke on my plate for lunch.

After dinner there was a costume competition. The theme was white, so we had a lot of Polar bears. One staff member was an ‘applause meter.’ The more we applauded an entrant, the higher his arm rose. The winner was someone who had (with the help of a team) dressed in the part of a Walrus. She acted it very well too.

I went up to the Polar Bear Bar around 10.30pm. The crew have a band called ‘Monkey Eating Eagles’ and they were playing cover versions of old pop favourites. It was a rather mild night, the sea was so calm that birds flying near the surface were reflected in the water. Dancing eventually happened, including a congo line for ‘I’m gonna be (500 miles).’ I finally went to bed after midnight.

29 July

Oh dear. Not a good day. I’d eaten the sweet and sour pork knowing full well that sometimes I react badly to the batter which is used. My system decided that today would be such a time for a reaction. I woke up not only with my cold but a distinct queasy feeling in my stomach. 

I skipped breakfast, but did manage to go out on the zodiac cruise in Isfijorden. We saw a few puffins, and a few young foxes. When we returned I went back to bed. And I stayed in bed, skipping lunch, until we boarded the zodiacs around 2.30pm to go to Pyramiden (the ship’s captain did not want to try to use the dock).

The sun did make occasional appearances. The tour was slightly shorter, but with the same guide, who told the same jokes as last time. When the others went into the Cultural Centre I stayed outside. For ten minutes there was only me and the armed guard. Pyramiden did really now feel like a ghost town. There were no other people in sight, and the only sound was that of Kittiwakes calling to each other over and over again. 

The Kittiwakes nesting in the window ledges have chicks, and we did spot an Arctic fox. I skipped the bar and took one of the first zodiacs back to the ship. By this time I was much improved, and I ate crackers whilst doing my packing. 

We had the end of cruise celebration of the staff and crew members. Sparkling wine was offered but I stayed off all alcohol. I ate most of my dinner. Afterwards we had an auction (funds go to a charity which removes plastic from Arctic beaches) and then a slide show put together by the official photographer. I told people who had asked earlier in the trip what I did for a living. Actuallly there are two priests on board, the other is from the USA, an Episcopalian, and was sharing the holiday with her wife. 

30 July

The only good thing about being ill for a day is how well you feel in comparison on the next. I still have the cough and runny nose from my cold, but my stomach was back to full working order and my head was clear. Just as well, as we had a 6am wake up call. Disembarkation day! Our check in bags were to be outside our cabins by 6.30am when we went up to breakfast. After breakfast we gathered together the last of our stuff and waiting in the lounge to be called to leave the ship.

At 7.30am most of us shuffled out in an orderly queue. One couple barged to the front, as they had done for most of the voyage. Some cultures don’t have the great British tradition of queuing/American understanding of standing in line. Our bags were outside, and we each identified our bags before they were loaded onto trucks. The bags belonging to those flying out today were taken to the airport, and those staying on in Longyearbyen had their bags taken to the Radisson Blu.

All of us were taken to the Radisson Blu, as the flight wasn’t due to depart until 1.30pm. The hotel offered free coffee or tea, and free access to their wifi. So all of us suddenly had access again to the outside world. One of my cabin mates has another week before she flies back home, so she was attempting to book travel and accommodation in Norway. I worked on photos, and then discovered that I was sitting next to yet another priest. Another woman, also Anglican, but from Australia. Three female Anglican priests on board one ship! She asked me whether I’d consider taking on a parish in the Diocese of Perth, who are in need of priests. I told her that I’ve emigrated once in my life, and that’s enough.

At 11.30am we were taken by bus to the airport. As you can imagine it’s a very small airport, with one runway and around four flights a day. When we claimed our luggage and went to check in there was only one person there. She told us that she had called for help, and after about 10 minutes all four desks were processing people. There was a small shop on the other side, selling food and drink, and people bought sandwiches and settled down to wait.

Dreadful conversations started between people who had been on different ships going around the Arctic. There was a breakout of (excuse the pun) one-upmanship. How many Polar bears had been seen, what types (mother with cubs ranked higher than single males), stories were traded off between Walruses swimming up to zodiacs and Puffins photographed with eels in their beaks. On our ship we had come to call the bear which hung around the ship for an hour ‘THE bear’, although between crew and passengers seven bears had been seen. Whilst in the queue to board the ‘plane I said something to one of my ship mates about ‘the bear.’ Immediately I heard in front of me two people who had been on another ship saying to one another smugly, ‘Did you hear? They only saw one bear.’ I wasn’t going to play this game so I said nothing. As our expedition leader said, you should never worry about  what you didn’t see. 

Our flight was a bit late coming in, but only 10 minutes late to depart. I had booked a window seat, so I had some good views of Spitsbergen as we lifted off. I was also glad to have the window seat so I could turn my head to one side to cough and to blow my nose. I felt rather sorry for my seat mate. 

We landed in Oslo at 5pm. Very good to see trees again (no trees taller than a few inches in the Svalbard!). I claimed my bag and took the shuttle bus to my hotel, the Comfort In (my flight to Heathrow isn’t until tomorrow afternoon). There was a moment of concern at the check in desk when they couldn’t find my reservation. ‘When did you book?’ she asked me. I looked at the print out of the reservation. ’28 August 2013,’ I told her. The man behind me said, ‘Wow, you plan far ahead, don’t you?’

I had a simple sandwich and a beer in the hotel cafe. I had found a discarded British newspaper in the airport, so I read it to catch up on the news and depress myself. Then I went to my room and cheered myself up by working on yet more photos. I had an extraordinary sight at 10pm—the sun set! I haven’t seen night darkness for nearly two weeks. 

31 July

Nose kept me up a bit late but I finally fell asleep. I let myself have a lie in until 8am, when I went down to get breakfast at the hotel buffet. A large group of Japanese were just about to leave. As I worked out how to use the coffee machine one man came up to me with an empty water bottle. He spoke to me in Japanese, pointing at the empty water bottle and was very polite but insistent in demanding to know how it could be filled. I responded in English, politely but insistently, that I didn’t know where he could fill his water bottle. He persisted, so I continued to explain that I was not a member of hotel staff.

As I ate a woman arrived with three children, oldest about six, near around four, last say two years old. She told them (in English) to stay at the table and then she hurried to organise breakfast for them all. I took pity on her and got her a coffee and the middle child a glass of apple juice. The four year old went into a tantrum because the glass of juice did not come with a straw, so at that point I decided to beat a hasty retreat.

I caught the shuttle bus back to the airport and had a hassle free experience booking in and getting through security. My ‘plane seat was by the exit, so extra leg room but all items had to be stowed away. 

Flight was uneventful, as was the drive home. So now it’s time to get this blog uploaded and also to get to work on the photobook. I do try not to class my holidays, but I think I have to declare that this was the best one I’ve been on to date. 

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