Weather: Mostly sunny
Air Temperature: 12ºC
Pressure: 996 hPa
Wind: 12 knots
I pulled back the curtains this morning to a beautiful blue sky, with the spectacular mountain peaks of mainland Norway looming ahead of the ship. I hurried outside and was pleasantly surprised by the balmy air temperature, and took a few laps around the outer deck admiring the scenery. The sea conditions were very moderate, with just enough wind to create a gentle rocking motion.
After coffee and some reading the Observation Lounge, I lingered over a relaxing breakfast. Staring out the windows of the dining room, I greatly appreciated the green hillsides in the distance, a color that my eyes were not used to after 10 days in the ice-dominated landscapes of Svalbard.
Following breakfast, I joined Historian Peter Damisch in the Lecture Theater for his presentation entitled, “Fake for the Pole: Peary & Cook, Arctic Frauds”. Peter told stories of the various attempts to reach the North Pole, using sleds, dogs, planes and even blimps. Fatalities were commonplace in the frozen wasteland of the North, and it certainly took a different type of person to even attempt such an endeavour. Interestingly, the first three individuals who claimed to have reached the Pole actually fell short, but claimed they had made it. So it turns out that Roald Amundsen, famous for being the first to reach the South Pole, was also likely the first at the North Pole as well, arriving there in the year 1926.
Following Peter’s fascinating presentation, I spent some time enjoying the beautiful weather conditions outside before heading back in to the Theater for Photographer Richard Sidey’s film documentary of our voyage around Svalbard. Many of us recognized ourselves disguised behind red parkas and rubber boots, as Richard took us through the highlights of our journey together. From calving glaciers to “Polar Plungers”, the footage was amazing and our experiences in Svalbard seemed both years ago and yesterday at the same time.
After lunch, many of us began the task of packing, or put it off a little longer and substituted in a nap or some more time out on deck instead. Signs of civilization became more and more apparent as we approached the city of Tromsø, whether it was in the form of a summer home along the shoreline, or a truck driving along a paved country road. Soon the city came into view, and we watched as the Captain maneuvered the ship alongside the dock in the city center.
Tromsø is the seventh largest city in Norway and, although well above the Arctic Circle, its climate is quite moderate due to the influence of the Gulf Stream coming up from the south. The city center contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789. The Arctic Cathedral, a modern church from 1965, is probably the most famous landmark in Tromsø.
Once the ship was secure alongside and the authorities gave the ship clearance, we were free to go ashore to explore this beautiful Norwegian city.
The final days of this expedition have been dominated by reflection and celebration. We have reached the end of our exploration of the Svalbard Archipelago. This is a special place beyond description, extremely powerful and fragile at the same time. With all that we have experienced and learned, we can return home with a newfound knowledge of how special the Arctic region is, and how important it is to protect it for future generations.