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Review of Silver Explorer, Svalbard to Tromso - August 2-12, 2011

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Thought we'd start with our pre-cruise experience in Oslo. As you may recall, it was only about a week after the bombing so we had a few worries, but all was well. The city was quiet, and there were many places where makeshift memorials had sprung up. We never felt unsafe, and we wandered the city at all times of the day and night.

 

Oslo has a reputation as being obscenely expensive and this is somewhat warranted. For sightseeing, the Oslo Pass was a great deal and we used the heck out of our 48-hour passes (and probably would have spent twice as much).

 

Food (dining out) and especially alcohol, can give you sticker shock if you aren't expecting it. It was hard to get out of a restaurant with 2 entrees and a bottle of wine for less than NOK 1000. We didn't find this particularly bothersome because the food was really quite nice - but we have heard lots of others complain about prices. Appropriate expectations are key. Beef is crazy expensive, but lobster is relatively cheap! :)

 

It helped tremendously that the hotel included a very generous breakfast buffet with the room rate. After filling up in the morning we only had to eat (read: purchase) one other meal most days. We heard some less than stellar "reviews" of the included hotel from other passengers but we liked the Radisson Blu Scandanavia Hotel - very convenient location, and nice enough rooms. In fairness to those other passengers who didn't like it, agree that it isn't a "luxury" hotel.

 

The other complaint that people had was location - the hotel is in downtown Oslo ~50km from the airport, and it's a heinously expensive taxi ride (over NOK 1000, per one couple we spoke to). They felt upset paying that much for a one night stay in Oslo, when there is an equally good hotel right at the airport. They have a valid point IMO, though again, we liked the hotel. We had done our research ahead of time and booked the flybussen for NOK 125 each, which dropped us off right at the hotel.

 

We will give some highlights of Oslo - saw the major museums, and enjoyed walking the city. The public transport system is adequate, once we figured out that the T (metro) lines were interrupted on Sunday and not working through the downtown area (oops). The tram lines and buses were sufficient to make up for it.

 

We had a nice dinner the first night on the harborfront at Aker Brygge, and spend the evening in Vigelandparken enjoying the sculptures at sunset. On Sunday, we did downtown in the morning then took the ferry to Brygdoy for the Folk and Viking ship museums. We had dinner by Christiana Torv square in a casual outdoor place; the bowl of mussels with coconut milk and lime was divine! Spent the evening walking on the roof of the opera house which is a neat experience! For the last day we ferried to Brygdoy in the morning for more museums, then out to Holmenkallen and Frongerseteren for some gorgeous afternoon vistas before a farewell dinner on the pier at Brygdoy.

 

The next morning was painfully early as we left the hotel at 6:30 for our 8:30 charter flight to Longyearbyen. As we descended through the thick clouds into Svalbard, the fjord came into view - littered with ice! What a sight - a great introduction to the high Arctic!

 

More to follow... Have posted links to the Oslo and Svalbard pictures below; Tromso is not yet organized but will follow.

 

One last comment - we respectfully disagree with those who said this cruise would be anticlimactic after having done Antarctica. We found it equally great - loved them both, and would (hopefully will) visit each area again in the future!

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+2 -- fabulous photos -- thanks for sharing that remote and very unusual part of the world.

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Thanks for sharing your experience so far. You certainly had some good polar bear sightings. Lots of lovely ice as well.

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Thanks for the report.Rojaan and I did this same trip just 12 months earlier.Un fortunately we had a problem with weather and didn't get to see walrus.And a Blue whale-envious.

Totally agree with you about Antarctica-totally different to the Arctic and both should be visited if you can.

I hope you dont mind me posting a link to my trip report of that cruise,I hadn't yet signed up fot Cruise Critic-and in this one I am Latrobe.Also a link to our Antarctic cruise-though this was on the Orion not Silver Explorer.Towards the end of the Antarctica cruise report I have included a comparison between the Orion and Silver Explorer(or PA11 as she was then).

http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/cruising-svarlbad-the-arctic.5207/

http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/cruise-to-antarctica.5291/

http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/macquarie-island-a-sub-antarctic-gem.4301/

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Thanks to all of those who have viewed and commented. Drron29, thanks for the link; will take a look at your review.

 

Longyearbyen 8/2/11:

 

Arrival in Longyearbyen airport was smooth and we took our luggage to the waiting buses. The original plan had been to bus us to Longyearbyen for some free time and then take us to the ship ~1:30 but that had to be changed due to a tight schedule at the pier.

 

It seems that there is only one pier in LYB that can handle a sizable ship, so the Silver Explorer could only stay pierside until 1:00 PM. At that point it had to shove off and anchor in the harbor so that another ship could dock. So we went directly from the airport to the ship, checked in, and thought about lunch, but decided to wait since the schedule said they were open until 3. Suites were not ready yet but we could leave our carry-ons in the suite which was helpful.

 

At 1PM the buses took us to town for sightseeing (not a tour, on our own). It was kind of chilly and windy (and we didn't have our parkas yet) so we headed over to the Svalbard museum which was decent. Funny thing, though - they don't let you wear your shoes inside! So you have to put your shoes in a locker and take a pair of crocs that they provide to wear inside. The museum was small but gave an overview of the history and resources of the archipelago, and was a decent way to get the flavor of what would await us on the cruise.

 

There were a few "tax-free" stores but we didn't buy anything; looked a little, but we're not big shoppers. After that, it was about a 15 minute walk back to the boat along the "main road" which connects the town to the airport. The cold wasn't too bad, but the traffic on the road was a bit unnerving; no really good place to walk and you end up eating some dust. Zodiac back to the ship, and were ready for some food at 2:45.

 

Unfortunately, the dining room was closed even though the schedule said it would be open until 3:00. Room service was fine and prompt though, and it gave us an excuse to pop the cork on the champagne bottle that had been waiting for us! After the lifeboat drill it was time to take in our surroundings, and the low-lying sun combined with cloudy conditions made the icy fjord look dark and wild, but occasionally the sun would peek through and the light was dramatic.

 

Sail-away at 6PM – a few drizzles. Lots of birds seen on Isfjorden – the guillemots are numerous; they look very similar to penguins, and mainly sit on the water. They dive and swim gracefully, but fly clumsily like puffins. Other more graceful flying birds glide by just above the surface. We stayed out until past 8PM for a gorgeous view of the north side of Isfjorden, with evening light, glaciers, and stark rocky peaks. During dinner the captain slowed the ship so we stayed at the entrance of Isfjorden, then we turned out into the open sea for overnight. One last look outside then try to sleep through the polar day!

 

Prins Karls Forlandet, Krossfjorden, Kongsfjorden 8/3/11:

 

Rougher seas this morning with some motion, out in the open ocean heading up the west coast of Prins Karls Forlandet. Lecture this morning about AECO and briefings for this afternoon and tomorrow’s landings. We are hoping to circumnavigate the archipelago this cruise but of course that depends on the ice conditions north of Nordaustlandet. Today we are planning to land at 14th July glacier, on the west shore of Krossfjorden. Tomorrow we’ll be at Damskøya and Amsterdamøya.

 

Around noon we have reached the north tip of Prins Karts Forlandet and are crossing the North Greenland Sea, at the north of Forlandsundet on our way to anchoring in Krossfjorden. We have just crossed 79° N but we’re hoping for much more this trip! Entering Krossfjorden, the water is shallower, the waves less intense, and the south shore of the fjord is backlit dramatically! My GPS says less than 10 km to the landing site.

 

After lunch we make our first landing at 14th July glacier. A sandy beach with lots of rocks, and a few pieces of driftwood. We hiked partway up the glacier for panoramic views and then hiked the other way to bird cliffs. The birds are far overhead and there’s not much to see here. The zodiac ride back to the ship was a nice surprise, however – we went in close to the sea cliffs and saw nesting guillemots, puffins, and gulls including almost fully-fledged young.

 

The polar night has not been too problematic for sleeping - thought the lighting is similar during the day vs. night, it's not terribly bright direct sunshine so it doesn't really keep you wide awake. The curtains kept out most of the light, and even though we brought our eyeshades from the airplane, we never ended up needing to use them.

 

Tomorrow - on to Damskøya and Amsterdamøya!

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Drron29 - I read your Arctic cruise report - great stuff! We had a few similar stops.

 

Danskoya and Amsterdamoya 8/4/11:

 

We planned to land at Smeerenburg and Virgohamna this morning which are two sites of historical interest. Smeerenburg is a 17th century site where the Dutch whaling industry had a small settlement. Virgohamna is the site where the ill-fated Andreé mission left in 1987 for their attempt to fly over the pole in a hydrogen balloon. Their mission was a disaster from the start, and after finally crashing on Arctic pack ice they did make it to Kvitoya, where all perished. This is a very solemn site and very well protected; it’s extremely difficult to get a permit to visit and we told that we are the only Silversea voyage to visit this year.

 

However, we received word at breakfast that a polar bear had been sighted on Amsterdamoya, and it was now in the water swimming towards Danskoya! With a bear in the water moving back and forth between our two landing sites, it was not safe to land at that time so change of plans… We piled into zodiacs and set off to observe the bear. After swimming for what seemed like an eternity, the bear hauled out west of the Virgohamna site and we were treated to not only that bear, but a second bear who appeared at the actual Virgohamna site, not far from the first! The bears then swam back to Amsterdamnoya and walked along the beach, treating us to spectacular views from our cabin window – all before lunch!

 

We will monitor the bears’ position throughout the rest of the morning before deciding on whether we can land this afternoon as planned.

 

Later this afternoon, the bears have taken up position on Amsterdamoya so we will not be able to land in Smeerensburg today. We made about 45 minutes of landfall on Donstoya, touring the historic sites in Virgohamna. We saw evidence of the old whaling operations, and the more recent ruins of the Andreé and Wellman expeditions. Beautiful views to the North and West form Virgohamna as the fog curled over the mountains and the sun occasionally broke through the clouds.

 

We had a relaxing evening aboard but unbeknownst to us, the day would get even better… After dinner there was an announcement that a blue whale had been sighted off the bow – there was a mad rush for cameras and coats, and we all congregated on deck. Great view for over 30 minutes at less than 100 meters – multiple surfacings, blows, great pictures! What a privilege to see this animal – the crew members were almost as excited as us, because this is only the second time this year they have encountered a blue whale! After a short break, out again at 10:30 for a fin whale, then a few humpbacks gave us a number of tail fluke poses before we finally got to bed at 11:30… What a day for wildlife sightings!

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Great reviews!!! Thanks! (and I gotta say, this type of cruise doesn't appeal to me but I am enjoying reading about your enjoyment)

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drron29 - I (JP) met a doctor with a first name of Ron a few years back; he worked at Gold Coast Hospital. We both were attending a Pulmonary conference in Hawaii at the time. From your cruise pictures I don't think it's you (he didn't have a beard), and Southeast QL is probably big enough for two Dr. Rons... But, thought I'd ask if you were conferencing in Hawaii in February 2006.

 

Really enjoyed your report on the Antarctic cruise. We did the (then) PAII from Ushuaia almost 2 years ago - a neat perspective from the other side of the world. Quark does an expedition that goes between Ushuaia and NZ - maybe Christchurch - but that's a 30-day cruise. Now there's something to strive for!:eek:

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Definitely another Drron JP.

Though I would have loved to have met you on this trip-what an awesome experience with the Blue whale.

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Added pictures for Tromso after we finally managed to get them organized... The are under the pics3 link below. Too tired to add more details about the cruise; maybe the next installment will make it there tomorrow.

 

It's almost 4 AM Norway time and the jet lag is still lingering...:( Time for a nap!

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We were the lucky first voyage to sight the blue whale this season. It was such a thrill to see the world's largest mammal.

Edited by h2so4

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The story continues!

 

Lagoya 8/5/11:

 

A late morning for us today after we were all up late last night – though not for those poor folks in the other zodiac groups! The first landing on Lagoya (“flat island”) started at 7:30. The seas were a bit rougher this morning and the air a touch colder – about 32/0 degrees while we're landing at 10:00. A fog and mist blow in on occasion, and there are times that we can’t see the Silver Explorer from the landing site on the island!

 

There is a lot of driftwood on the beach, and a number of nesting Arctic terns on the island who aren’t entirely happy that we have to walk by. We get harassed a little bit by them as we walk by to the star attraction... The reason we’re here is the large group of 40-50 walruses who have hauled out by the shore and are lying in a large heap on the beach. We have to stand downwind of them so that we don’t scare them, but that gives you the full sight, sound, and smell effects of that many walruses in a tight pile. They are generally calm for our visit though there’s the occasional shoving, posturing, grunting, and stinking as they roll all over each other.

 

The polar plunge will be a few minutes later today as the Captain has decided to reposition the ship to calmer waters even further north of Lagoya. We’re well over 80 degrees north, and we still think there’s a chance to circumnavigate Nordaustlandset – it will depend on the ice report due early this afternoon. If we do try, there will be ice cruising this evening as we force our way through the north passage…

 

After cruising a few miles north it was time for the polar plunge – I (JP) decided to go for it at the last minute while Chris continued the family tradition of one of us having some common sense :o. Since I’d taken the plunge in Antarctica last winter, I figured I’d regret it if I didn’t do it here. The water was frigid but I had expected worse – and since we dove off a zodiac tied to the ship it was not too much exposure. Now I can say that I have swum in the ocean above 80° N latitude with walruses, whales, etc! I just hope I don't accumulate as much blubber from all of the great food they're serving onboard...

 

This afternoon will be quiet, with a few lectures and a recap later. We start moving in an easterly direction towards Kvitoya – hope we can make it! But not to be… The latest ice chart shows several large pieces of pack ice have broken off and the northern passage around Nordaustlandset is not going to be navigable; also, a low pressure system has moved into that area :(. Instead, we backtrack down the Hinlopen strait to the bird cliffs – to see a colony of over 60,000 guillemots! Tomorrow, Palanderbutka and Faksevågen.

 

Tonight during dinner, we cruise into the fjord of Palanderbutka and as dinner finishes, we hear that there is another polar bear sighting! For over an hour we are out on deck photographing a solitary animal as well as a mother and her cub. The clicking of a hundred cameras is an odd sound in the icy fjord but I think we got some decent shots - it was a good chance to use the 500mm lens I'd acquired for the trip. Later we moved the ship over to Palanderbukta.

 

Palanderbukta and Faksevågen, 8/6/11:

 

A cold morning with two landings planned: Palanderbukta which is a polar desert, and Faksevågen which receives much more rainfall and has typical tundra vegetation. Great contrast between the two sites, which are only a few miles apart!

 

Palanderbukta from the ship looks like a gravel beach with little variation in the landscape – once we have landed though, it gets more interesting. The water is choppy and the wind has picked up, so the landing is a bit rough – as we ground the nose of the zodiac into the beach, the waves come over the back of the boat and cover us from the knees down! The fjord is shallow, and the water is turquoise like the South Pacific – it is a bit incongruous to feel the frigid Arctic air blowing on us while the water looks like Bora Bora - looks like a great swimming beach but we are not tempted to re-experience the Polar plunge.

 

We take a short walk along the back of the beach and see random depressions in the otherwise flat surface of the soil that are due to the thawing and freezing cycles – just a meter or 2 down is permafrost, but the top part of the ground thaws every year and remains saturated during the summer. Any little depression in the ground holds scattered plant life – amazing to see that despite the harsh conditions, life can flourish here! After a bit more of a walk we come upon the remains of a Polar bear… because of the dry conditions it is somewhat mummified. The skull is intact and partly covered with fur, though the fearsome teeth are clearly visible – gruesome, but quite spectacular! We would not want to see those teeth up close on an intact animal, for sure.

 

The contrast at Faksevågen is incredible – the beach is littered with icebergs, sea foam, and driftwood. A few feet back from the gravel beach, the ground becomes spongy and the tundra begins. The flora is much more prevalent here, with many more flowering plants. We see a small herd of reindeer moving up the slope away from us – 3 adults and 2 young. They move up the steep slope effortlessly – we will try to get there as well though their hooves have better traction than our gum-boots.

 

The plant life is amazing – we see the moss campion, which at this point late in the growing season, can only manage to bloom on the south-facing part of the plant. The dwarf willow “tree” is only a few inches high; it’s difficult to see how it’s a willow. The shale rocks have split into pieces that look like slices of bread, and they are actually called Troll’s bread because of this.

 

Finally we make it to the top of the ridge and are rewarded with a beautiful view of Faksevågen, and the glacier (Asgardfonna?) which has receded a kilometer or so up the fjord. At the front of the glacier, there’s a stretch of “quicksand” on the tidal plain. Our guide warns us not to go walking there, because the suction of the quicksand will prevent you from being pulled out - yikes! Too soon, we have to pick our way down the slope back to the zodiacs. Wishing we had packed our hiking poles, but having only one suitcase each was well worth it.

 

Afterwards, we continue down the Hinlopen strait to the southern coast of Nordaustlandet, and rounding the tip we encounter Austfonna, the largest ice cap in Svalbard. It’s a huge glacial front covering the entire south and west part of Nordaustlandet, and the most active part is called Bråsvellbreen. Nice pictures of the midnight sun to the north, over the glacier. Tomorrow, we’ll try to reach some sea ice north of Storoya and hope for more wildlife encounters.

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Enjoying the continued story and the areas we did not get to because of ice and a brewing storm!

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Well, our run of "good" weather came to an end and the next few days were a bit less awesome than the others, but still a great time!

 

Ice Cruising and Kvitoya, 8/7/11:

 

We spent the morning cruising through ice to the north of Storoya, maneuvering the ship around or through sheets of ice back above the 80th parallel. It’s foggy and cold with the temperature just around 0° C, and windy. We don’t see any wildlife this morning, so we’re changing course early this afternoon on our way to Kvitoya. Sailing through the ice was pretty neat though - the ship slices right through the sheets of pack ice like they aren't even there.

 

During the late afternoon we anchored off Kvitoya and had a zodiac cruise searching for wildlife. Conditions were windy and cold, with fog rolling in so that sometimes we could not even see the island from our spot offshore. The crew made sure that they programmed the ship's position into their GPS units before we left for Kvitoya, all in one convoy through the dense fog. Robin Aiello lived up to her nickname of "splash" by getting us wet at the very beginning of the ride, but she made up for it with some good wildlife sightings.

 

We saw a mother walrus with her youngster lying on the ice, and later they swam around diving for food. They were really cute together; the little guy was so young he didn't even have tusks! We saw a large flock of Arctic terms hovering over the water searching for food, diving frequently. There was a flock of Eider ducks with numerous ducklings.

 

Robin maneuvered our zodiac to the rocky shore and all had a chance to touch Kvitoya – we couldn’t land there as a polar bear had been sighted ashore and it was resting on the snowy slopes - too far away even for a zoom lens, but you could see him curled up there with binoculars. I guess he was comfortable there because it was clear that he had no intention of moving! Kvitoya itself looks pretty desolate - we saw a weather station and a huge icecap, and that's about it. Most of the expedition staff have never been able to make landfall there so they were disappointed too, but we did touch it. More than many can say!

 

After coming back to the boat for a chance to warm up, it was off to dinner. No briefing tonight as the second group was out in the zodiacs - lucky that we were in the first group because we had really fast dinner service - until the second group of locusts descended on the dining room around 8:15 ;). According to the chronicles we’ll try for more zodiac cruising tomorrow by the Austfonna glacier.

 

Austfonna glacier 8/8/11:

 

We had planned to have zodiac rides this morning by the Austfonna glacier, but those plans quickly changed when we encountered high swells, lots of sea ice, and 40 knot winds - no conditions for launching a zodiac! So instead we cruised by the glacier front and spent some time in close – great views of beautiful striated blue ice, sea “caves” in the face of the glacier, bergs, and brisk cold air. We have all but forgotten the brutal heat that we left behind in upstate New York just 10 days ago.

 

Cruised down to Bråsvellbreen after lunch to see if the weather was any better, but again no luck as the winds remained too high to safely launch the zodiacs. So today ended up being a sea day, which was a chance to get some much-needed rest. After giving up at Bråsvellbreen we went full speed ahead to try to get to the sheltered strait between Edgeoya (tomorrow’s destination) and Barentsoya. We got there around dinnertime which made for a smooth evening.

 

Edgeoya 8/9/11:

 

Edgeoya is the third-largest island in the archipelago - Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet are 1 and 2 (and we've landed on them as well this cruise). The highlight today is Kittiwake cove, which is a formation of cliffs with a huge number of birds. It’s also rumored to be a good place to see Arctic fox – which so far we have not seen.

 

In addition to the shorter hikes just to Kittiwake cove, they are offering a long hike this morning, which turns out to be very popular despite the painfully early 7:30 start time. About 45 of us turn out for this hike, and after braving wind, driving snow, and a very wet zodiac landing we are ready to hike to the top of the bird cliffs. I think many of us are glad to have a chance to walk on terra firma again after the past few days at sea or in zodiacs.

 

It’s a good climb and there is some shelter from the wind – soon we forget about the cold though that’s only temporary. There’s a reindeer feeding on the tundra shortly after we start. As we reach the top of Kittiwake cove the sounds and smell of thousands of nesting birds is hard to miss. The group doing the short hike is visible, far below us. The walls of the cove are jammed with bird nests. And there’s an Arctic fox on the canyon floor moving about shopping for breakfast – hard to see with his brown summer coat - but we click away with our cameras nonetheless.

 

We spend a good hour at the top of the cliffs, moving from side to side to get good views of the birds’ nests and then when the wind gets to be a bit too much we start back down. We now decide to enter the bottom of the canyon and we’re rewarded with another fox sighting – probably the same one – but this time it’s carrying a kittiwake for dinner! The fox hides the bird and enters the canyon again, searching for more food. Multiple great sightings, some from close enough range to get good pictures. Chris gets a shot of him "marking his territory" and from the familiar canine pose, we know it's a he! ;)

 

The zodiac ride back isn’t quite as bad but we do need a hot shower then some hot boullion to warm up. It was worth it to get off the ship, exercise a little, and see the fox, however. The rest of the afternoon is at sea as we make our way down to Bear Island. Tomorrow will be a zodiac day, looking at the bird cliffs there.

 

Next - Bear Island, and Tromso - until next time, Silver Explorer! :(

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Debbie...I hope that your back starts to feel better soon! How horrible...the thought of having to have surgery is just not something I wish upon anyone. Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised and this one will work like a charm :D But, you have a great attitude....I agree...I think a cruise can cure almost anything!!

 

Barbi....so excited for your trip to begin! That sounds amazing. You're going to have such a great time. I can't wait to see all of your pics on Facebook and hear about the European leg of it while onboard OASIS!!!!

 

Karen...that is awesome that you made some extra $$$ off of Glenn's winnings. That's great.

 

We're staying at the Embassy Suites. So...Jan...you say it is near where you guys are at and the Outback? If so...you can count us in for dinner too. I fly into Miami and my flight is scheduled to land about 3:30...so that should give me plenty of time to get my bag, jump in a taxi and make the trek up there in time for dinner at 6:30. My mom and grandma don't have their flight yet (LONG story, but I can assure you it isn't from my lack of trying). If I can get them to agree to the flight I want to put them on they will land in FLL at 12:50 so they will definitely beat me there.

 

This week has gone by so quickly. I can't believe that tomorrow is Friday already...time flies when you're enjoying some time off from the 'norm'. Allright...off to do some laundry (the one thing I can't get away from) and get some dinner. I need to get some rest tonight...PT test tomorrow at 0630...and then back to 'work'. Have a great night all

 

Tonia good luck with your PT test, I'm sure you'll do great! I have faith in you, after all you're our fitness guru! ;) I am so ready for this cruise, I started checking out my closet to see what I might be taking with me...I won't even pack until a day or two before, I know me! Not to mention, I don't have a ton of clothes just for travel; I have what I wear normally for work other than formal clothes so I can't pack to soon! :eek:

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Bear Island, 8/10/11:

 

The weather is decidedly warmer today – about 3° C and wind is light, making for a better zodiac ride today. The cliff formations are stunning, and there is little fog making for great visibility. The kittiwakes are numerous and the youngsters are fledged and flying short distances. The guillemots have mostly left – we see one father with a chick but otherwise it’s only the females who are here feeding up for the winter migration. Numerous other gulls are here.

 

There are tons of sea caves to enter and explore, and it’s very scenic here. Too soon, we have to go back to the ship and sail off ever southward towards Tromsø. Wondering if tonight we’ll have our first real sunset since August 1st, in Oslo. How dark it will get? I was worried about the Polar day messing with our sleep schedule but it really wasn’t a problem – the sun angle was low and the clouds kept it from being too light. We brought eyeshades from the airplane, but never used them; the past few nights we didn't bother with the light-blocking shades, either.

 

We took care of booking another SS cruise this afternoon for next June – Athens to Rome, for our anniversary. We were considering an expedition cruise from Iceland to Svalbard but the cost was more than twice and the dates weren’t as good.

 

We were hoping to see whales as we cruised along the continental shelf between Bear Island and the deeper ocean, but none so far. Wandered the deck around 4:00 and we were rewarded by a small group of dolphins though. They swam off the port side for a minute making a few surfacings, then drifted back and spent a few minutes playing in the ship’s wake. The captain’s farewell party is tonight so dressing up a bit more for dinner.

 

It ended up not getting dark tonight – so we’ll have to wait another day until our first sunset.

 

Tromsø, 8/11/11:

 

A leisurely morning on board, anticipating an early afternoon arrival into Tromsø. We sighted land approximately 9:00 and spent the rest of the morning cruising between the large islands that make up the northern coast of Norway. We docked about 1:00 at the Nansen Oil Plaza dock, and it was a bit disorienting to step off the boat onto dry land – without a zodiac ride first! No rubber boots or parkas, either. Even though it was raining, we felt that we had entered the tropics!

 

Silversea offered a complimentary bus tour that went to the Polar Museum, the Arctic Cathedral, a walk by a lake outside of town, and the University’s botanical garden. All of these places are easy to get to; the first two are within walking distance. But since the tour was free, and admission fees for the museum and cathedral were included, it was a good way to save a few NOK.

 

We have rented a car from the Hertz downtown location which is located a stone's throw from the ship, so as soon as we docked, we had time to go there and pick up the car. We filled out the paperwork, and left the car parked at the Hertz location while we went on the tour for the first two stops. As we were leaving the Polar Museum, I encountered a lady who seemed to recognize me, and it was Lirio from cruisecritic.com! I remembered that she and her husband were embarking on the Silver Explorer tomorrow, and were spending some time in Tromso prior to embarkation – nice to meet them!

 

We left the tour group at the Arctic Cathedral and walked back across the bridge, picked up our car, and went to the gardens on our own. The gardens are very nicely done and well worth a visit – there are so many alpine species that flourish here. The lake (Prestvannet) was pretty and very quiet, and looked popular with the residents of Tromsø as well as their dogs. The ducks on the lake were sorely disappointed that we had not brought food for them; oh well, you can't please everyone...

 

Driving in Tromsø is interesting – there is a main drag along the coast but once you leave that, it’s a series of irregular tiny streets, many of which look like they should be one-way or pedestrian trails. My GPS shows some major roads but I can't seem to find them...:confused: We managed to make it back across the bridge and to the cable car – which was actually quite empty. I’ve heard that Tromsø’s main tourist season is in June for the midnight sun but it was still surprising to see how few tourists were around. The view of Tromsøy island from the upper cable car station is quite nice, and for a few minutes the evening sun broke from the clouds and lit portions of the island in a dramatic fashion.

 

The cable car looks a bit old and rickety, and the descent (we stood right up against the downhill facing window) is actually a bit vertiginous! There is a path up the mountain but it looks very steep and slippery; without hiking poles I don’t think I’d try it. We did see some crazy person who took the cable car up while carrying a mountain bicycle so he could ride down the mountain – nuts! Though he survived the descent; when we got back down, he was waiting to come up again for another shot at it! After a busy evening, we returned to the ship for our “last supper” and to finish packing.

 

Dinner was served very quickly, as I suspect the staff wanted to get done with their work and get off the ship for a night on the town. After packing, we spent a bit of time in the bar saying our goodbyes; some people had very early flights the next morning and were disembarking at 4:30. We had booked our flight for 18:40 the next evening, so we had most of the next day to explore more of Tromsø.

 

Disembarkation and Tromsø, 8/12/11:

 

After a leisurely breakfast we disembarked Silver Explorer at about 8:30 and lugged our cases a block to our rental car. We had managed to get lucky with our pier, which was right next to the Hertz office by some incredible stroke of luck! Even better, we could park at the Hertz building overnight for free - there is no free public parking in Tromsø and it would have cost a lot to use the garages.

 

We wandered over to the University’s Tromsø museum which was small but enjoyable, though it didn’t take much more than one hour to go through the exhibits. We had some time to kill before our planned afternoon drive, so we parked on the edge of downtown and then spent an hour wandering the streets. Downtown is compact and there are some pretty buildings – the library is very modern and actually very interesting looking – but after an hour we were ready to move on - especially since parking was NOK 20 per hour for a metered spot on the street. Back to the pier for a minute to pick up some friends for a trip to the airport, and then we continued onward.

 

On the way to the airport, I figured out where the main roads were... They are under the mountain! Just north of town, the main road turns left and goes into a huge tunnel, which extends quite a bit to the west - almost to the airport. There are roundabouts and numerous other roads in the tunnel which will take you to various parts of the island without having to drive on tiny streets. Oh well, wish I'd figured that out yesterday!:o

 

We took a couple of hours and circumnavigated most of the island of Kvaloy, which is the island to the west of Tromsøy island. Most of the drive was right along the coast and the views were stunning. The weather was incredibly variable - clouds alternating with blue sunny skies. We had intermittent rain showers followed by dry conditions within minutes. There were two very narrow bridges leading to ths islands of Sommeroy and Hillsroy which we explored as well. Luckily, we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic because I don’t think the bridges were wide enough for that!

 

After our drive and a quick sandwich at a local grocery store, and the (always) adventuresome refueling of the rental car, we got to Tromsø airport with hours to spare and spent the time eating obscenely expensive food, but using their free wi-fi. I couldn’t complain too much about the food prices, actually, because I had found an incredible bargain on the airplane tickets – but it was pretty comical that the meal was only $15 less than the cost of one airplane ticket from Tromsø to Oslo!

 

This was the only time we were annoyed with food prices in Norway - $64 for a "fishburger" and "chickenburger" and some fries. At least the fries were tasty; the "burgers" looked and tasted like something that was rejected from a school lunch program.

 

At Oslo, we stayed in the airport Radisson Blu which was very convenient - just a short walk across the street from the baggage claim area. It had a fairly nice restaurant - with the standard cost of about NOK 1000 for dinner for two. The food was quite tasty and we soon forgot all about the airport fare in Tromsø. After a few hours of real darkness, and some sleep, we had their breakfast buffet (included) and wandered back to the airport for our flight to New York. Sad to go, but it was a wonderful experience, and we feel very lucky to have been able to visit this part of the world.

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And so the adventure ends. Enjoyed reading another perspective on the Svalbard expedition.

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Enjoyed reading your report very much. We are doing the Iceland-Svalbard cruise next year that you considered.

I noticed you are going to the Galapagos on the Xpedition. We did that a few years ago and enjoyed it very much except the food. So get yourselves ready for not as good food as aboard the Silver Explorer. You will be fine if you stick to the fish and seafood, but stay away from the beef. It is local and really bad. When you see the cows, you will understand.

I am glad you mentioned hiking poles. We are planning to take ours. I think they will fit in my big suitcase.

Also will ask you the same question I asked the other poster who did this cruise--any idea if they have size 13 boots for hubby?

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Enjoyed reading your report very much. We are doing the Iceland-Svalbard cruise next year that you considered.

 

I noticed you are going to the Galapagos on the Xpedition. We did that a few years ago and enjoyed it very much except the food. So get yourselves ready for not as good food as aboard the Silver Explorer. You will be fine if you stick to the fish and seafood, but stay away from the beef. It is local and really bad. When you see the cows, you will understand.

 

I am glad you mentioned hiking poles. We are planning to take ours. I think they will fit in my big suitcase.

 

Also will ask you the same question I asked the other poster who did this cruise--any idea if they have size 13 boots for hubby?

 

Sorry - we're size 7 and 9 so I can't tell you about size 13.

 

Thanks for the tip about food on X. Didn't know that they use authentic "Galapagos" beef :eek:! After seeing how much our clothes have shrunk this cruise, maybe some less stellar food will be good for us, though.:rolleyes: We are so bloody spoiled aboard PAII / Silver Explorer...

 

Thanks for following along on our journey - hope you have fun in Iceland. It's one of our favorite places and we'd dearly love to see what the expedition staff do there. Maybe another time!

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No fresh food can be imported into the Galapagos, so all fresh fruits, veggies, meats, poultry, fish have to be from there. Needless to say, some things are better than others.

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Just got back from Tromso - Svalbard. Great trip. Soon I will do my review as well. JP, your review is very good!

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Just got back from Tromso - Svalbard. Great trip. Soon I will do my review as well. JP, your review is very good!

 

Thanks, Lirio! Good to meet you, and glad your trip was great as well. Looking forward to reading your review.

Edited by jpalbny
Clarity

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Very entertaining review and loved your pics jpalbny

 

Cheers

Jennifer

 

Thanks, ging466, for the compliments. This was my first shot at a "blog" type of review and it was fun... Would love to take a crack at one like h2so4 did - have you read hers? It's really great, and the pictures are inocorporated right into it. Makes the storyline flow really well.

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Thanks, ging466, for the compliments. This was my first shot at a "blog" type of review and it was fun... Would love to take a crack at one like h2so4 did - have you read hers? It's really great, and the pictures are inocorporated right into it. Makes the storyline flow really well.

 

Hi jp

 

I've just finished reading h2so4's blog & photos - absolutely brilliant. If that doesn't make u want to visit Antarctica, I don't know what would. Thankx for pointing the blog out to me.

 

Cheers

Jennifer

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Thanks for the shout out jp ... I'm having a ball with the blogging concept. Now, if I could just find time to finish up the story of our Arctic adventure, I'll be in good shape ... of course, it would help if I could keep the posts short and simple, but that just doesn't seem to be my style ... no matter how hard I try.

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Thanks for the shout out jp ... I'm having a ball with the blogging concept. Now, if I could just find time to finish up the story of our Arctic adventure, I'll be in good shape ... of course, it would help if I could keep the posts short and simple, but that just doesn't seem to be my style ... no matter how hard I try.

 

That's the problem when the raw material is so magnificent... You can't capture the essence of what it was like there with a short and simple post. I too felt like my reviews were way too long!:o But as long as we enjoy each others' posts, all is well.

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