We awoke to calm waters, as during the early morning the Prince Albert II had slipped into the sheltered Isfjorden, Svalbard. A leisurely morning, as we headed up the scenic passage towards Longyearbyen, the northernmost town in the world with more than 1000 residents. Longyearbyen is the capital of Svalbard, and the oldest existing settlement in the archipelago.
We were able to photograph and admire the beautiful scenery of mountains, snow, and calm waters, as we approached the town. Little auks, Brunnich’s and black guillemots, Arctic terns, and kittiwakes were seen, and, as we arrived at Longyearbyen’s pier, we were able to see a small herd of Reindeer off in the distance. We had to wait as several other cruise ships pulled away from the pier, and then we were able to go alongside.
Following lunch onboard, a shuttle service was provided to take us all into town. We were able to wander the small central town area and visit the Svalbard Museum. Typical of any Scandinavian town, the houses in the area were almost all brightly painted – yellows, reds, and blues. A cheerful little town to walk in, we were able to browse the gift shops for souvenirs and trinkets. The Museum had excellent displays on natural history, whaling, mining and other historical features of Svalbard. It moved to its new premises at the shore side of town in 2006, and today is Longyearbyen’s biggest attraction, with 15,000 visitors per year.
Wandering around the town, many of us were surprised to see Reindeer wandering through the outskirts of town. This was in a way a reminder that we are in the Arctic and wildlife is always nearby. Therefore, wandering out of town on your own without a gun is not a good idea. Although it is rare for Polar bears to enter the town, they are sometimes seen in the surrounding areas. Joining the ship today were Geir Berg and Jan Navjord our “Bear Guides” who will be on the ship for the rest of the cruise to maintain our safety in Polar Bear country!