Sunday, 28 September 2014

A very nice two days in mid-Norway

As we travel south on the coast of Norway, and as you might expect, temperatures continue to get milder. Norway spans so many degrees of latitude that we have gone from the chilly Arctic to relatively balmy northern Europe, and we have never left the country!

Yesterday we visited the island of Frøya and enjoyed the opportunity to stretch our legs in town. A local salmon magnate had donated 55 million Norwegian kroner towards the building of a beautiful new cultural centre for the town.

Some brave passengers ventured into the stormy sea on two fast boats for an amazing rafting excursion. All came back wet and happy!

The hurricane-force storm we have been in for the last two days abated a little but it was still a bumpy night as we sailed further south to our destination of Åndalsness, but the bumping and grinding was worth it! What a beautiful place Åndalsness is! 

The town is set on a fiord at the entrance of a spectacular, steep-walled glacial valley.  Excursions took us on bus rides up the valley to the Troll Peaks and Trollveggen- the tallest rock wall in Europe at 1100 metres from top to bottom. It is a famous climbing location and is also used as a platform for base jumping. Still others participated in mid-level and intense hikes up mountainsides near town. We then venture further, up 11 switch-backs to an amazing vantage point up the valley.

Once we returned to the ship, we had a very important visitor in the form of King Neptune. The king never forgets that some of us have never crossed the Arctic Circle and although we did this a couple of days ago he still found time in his busy schedule to visit the ship and “ordane” his new subjects!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Another day, another new place to explore!

Today we woke up in a fjord close to Svartisen, Norway’s second biggest glacier. The glacier lies just above the Arctic Circle, and extends into several different valleys, north, south, east and west. From our breakfast table we can see the glacier bending down a steep and narrow valley, almost reaching the colorful Norwegian autumn forest below. Next to the sandy beaches lies big green fields with grassing sheep and cows, and even though it’s raining it’s a very welcoming sight and we can’t wait to get out!

Once ashore we can confirm that the weather forecast was right; it’s rainy and windy, but also quite warm, so not really a problem – after all we can dry up on the ship in front of our TV-screen fireplace later! The guests are eager to get going despite the weather and start heading towards the glacier, a few kilometers walking from our landing site, with spectacular views on the way, including rapid weather changes(referred to as both English and Norwegian weather!).

Some guests go as far as we have agreed on, while other use the lovely hut that is about halfway as a stopover to dry up. The hosts serve sparkling wine with 2000 year old glacier ice and it’s a big hit! The fireplaces are lit and there is room for everyone, a perfect place to have a rest on a day like this. Around 1300 we head back to the ship, wet to the bone, but with big smiles all around. Drying up after being outside in the rain makes you appreciate things you perhaps didn’t think of before.

The rest of the day is spent with lectures, briefings for the next day, cruising, and of course the expedition staff quiz! Before the quiz  lectures were stopped so that we could all witness the crossing of the Arctic Circle, marked by a monument in the form of the globe. In the next day or so, King Neptune will no doubt visit the ship to inaugurate those who crossed this "line" for the first time. Later we will also have the legendary crew show, so this should be a proper Friday!

The reason we went to Svartisen was to seek some shelter from an incoming storm. However, in order to make our schedule we have to move south, so now we are going into the storm during the evening and the night. Fram is already rocking steadily, but it handles wind and waves with such ease it’s simply amazing! Now and then we pop out on deck 7 to play in the wind, but it doesn’t take long before we run freezing in again with saltwater in our hair and big smiles on our faces.

Tonight we will be rocked to bed by Mother Nature herself, can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring, life is good and spirits high!

Thomas (Junior)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

...from one of our trainees

Today’s blog is written by Johannes C. Apon, Arctic Nature Guide and owner of Outdoorlife Norway.

I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to join the M/S Fram, as a trainee, on her expedition from Longyearbyen on Svalbard to Bergen on mainland Norway. Being new on this vessel, and having grown up in the flat Netherlands, I feel grateful to participate in the many logistical processes on board, work together with inspiring colleagues, interact with our lovely guests from all around the world, and visit all these beautiful places on Svalbard and along the Norwegian coast. Blue glaciers and ice bergs, rugged mountains, breathtaking fjords, dancing Northern Lights and majestic creatures like the polar bear, fin whales and eagles: this expedition has it all.

Today’s landing took place at the village of Oppeid, on the island of Hamarøy in Northern Norway. Hamarøy is best known for being home to Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), a famous Norwegian author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. In Oppeid, the guests got the opportunity to visit the Hamsun Centre, devoted to Hamsun’s life and writing, and famous for its architecture.

Landings (going on shore) provide a very nice opportunity to stretch your legs, explore and interact with nature from a different perspective. While our guests were enjoying the architecture and scenery, Expedition Team members Stian and Thomas – who together with me, for reasons we can only speculate on, go under the nick-name “Backstreet Boys”, given to us by the crew and rapidly adopted by the passengers – took a little group of enthusiasts on an extended hike to a hill top. From here, they enjoyed some very scenic views.

I was invited to join our Danish (living on Greenland) kayak guide Jimmy as second guide and of course I said yes. Together with nine guests, we made a three hour long easy-going paddling excursion along the shore, following the inlets and bays around Hamarøy. The guests were paddling in pairs in tandem kayaks. After they had figured out how to coordinate the paddling and steering, I noticed how silent the group became. We didn’t say much. We didn’t think much. We just enjoyed the beauty around us and interacted with nature. Noticed the bright autumn colors of the forest on shore. Felt the clear cold Arctic water running through our fingers. Pointed at starfish and other small creatures on the sea bottom. Sensed the absence of noise. Ate delicious chocolate while resting on a desolate beach in a small bay. We simply seized the moment, without any concerns or distractions. That must be one of the highest commodities in our modern society. After the trip, the guests thanked Jimmy and me for the trip. But we hadn’t done much more than let nature speak for itself.

Back at what after just a week already feels like home, the M/S Fram set its “sails” for Kjerringøy, a small peninsula, to enjoy white sand beaches and sharp mountain peaks plunging straight into the sea. And I was ready to create and share another memorable nature experience. Being an Expedition Team member is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Trollfjord, Svolvær, Reine and Å

We continued south along the Norwegian Lofoten Islands to almost the end today. In the early morning we found ourselves in a very narrow and very famous fiord called Trollfjord. At the entrance, the fiord is only 100 metres wide but it is plenty deep for a ship like the Fram. In fact all the Hurtigruten ships travel into the fiord in the summer time both going north and south. Some passengers decided to take the optional Polar Cirkel boat ride out of the fiord, which was spectacular with the morning light hitting the tops of the mountains and the Fram following behind. The light show continued as we exited the fiord and into Raftsund and ran south towards Vestfjorden and open water. Along the way we had great views of several majestic European Sea Eagles.

Eventually the Polar Cirkel boats and the Fram ended their respective journeys in Svolvær, a bustling centre in the Lofoten region. Their we stopped at the quayside for several ours and enjoyed all that this delightful town had to offer. It became clear in Svolvær and later on in the day in Å, how important fishing, and in particular cod, is to the local economy of the Lofoten Islands. We saw the drying racks for salt cod in several places, including the town of Svolvær.

Later in the afternoon we were planning a landing at the southern tip of the Lofoten chain, at Å, but wind conditions were not good for tendering to the shore there so we adjusted our plans and went alongside at Reine, then bussed down to Å. There,we were treated to a fantastic tour of this historic community, which still has cod liver oil running through its veins!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Just a more than perfect day

We started our day with whale watching around 07:00 hours. The sea in front of Bleiksegga is famous for its population of Sperm Whales, but this morning we were not successful in seeing any. The only whales we should see today have been the whale pictures in Tomas´ whale lecture!

FRAM reached our destination of the today, Skipnes and Tinden, after lunch at 13:00. The weather has been magnificent. The sun was shining out of a clear blue sky. The autumn vegetation - like the northern birches - was glimmering in the sun.

Skipnes and Tinden are two old fishing settlements, but today they have more importance for the tourism than for the fishing industry. Most of the houses are now a museum and we all had the possibility for a guided tour of the buildings

Off the Skipnes wharf we saw several types of jellyfish swimming. 

Those passengers who liked to hike got the possibility for a good nature walk from one settlement to the other one. The others moved between the villages in our Polarcirkel boats. Most of the passengers took the chance for a hike through the tundra, especially under this amazing weather conditions. Even though the hike was perhaps for some guests a bit hard, we have to say: “congratulations to everybody, you have been brave passengers”. Along the hike we were delighted to see many plant and fungi species.

Even nearly everybody has been quite tired after such a sunny and active landing we could not go to bed early. An amazing Northern Light forced us to dress up warm again and to stay outside for a longer time. Many photos have
been taken this evening, but to stand once under the Northern Light, that gives a feeling you will never ever forget.

Monday, 22 September 2014

North Norway and Tromsø- Getting warmer

As we sailed south from Bjørnøya, you could feel the air getting just a little warmer. This morning we could see land- the north coast of Norway. And then we saw trees cladding the hills on one side of the sound we sailed through on our way to Tromsø. Having not seen any trees for the last few days, they were a delight, made more so by their changing colours of autumn. Some snow squalls ran over us as if to remind that we were after all at 70° north!

We arrived into Tromsø just after lunch in brilliant light and blue skies. The sun never gets really high in the sky in the Arctic, even in mid-summer, but now the sun stays relatively low and makes for wonderful images. There is also a warmth to the light, belying the temperatures, which were around 5°C. Tromsø has many old buildings, unlike Finnmarken to the north and east- the most northerly part of Norway- which lost many buildings at the end of WWII.

Old warehouses stand at the old shoreline, all with their characteristic little winch houses at the top front.

The first residence in Tromsø to have electricity

One of the modern buildings in Tromsø- The Polaria- Polar Aquarium
Tromsø is a fine place, sophisticated and bustling, but always with the reminder of where you are provided by the surrounding mountains, this day covered in a light dusting of snow that had fallen the previous evening. We had about 6 hours to enjoy the place, which people did by visiting the city of over 70,000 people, taking a guided walk around the city, or climbing the mountain over on the mainland and coming down by cable car. There is so much to see and do in Tromsø that you really need a week to sample the restaurants and coffee shops, visit the museum, aquarium and many historical points of interest. One thing is clear, Roald Amundsen figures prominently in this city!

It is the sort of place that beckons you back, as evidenced by the many people on-board the Fram for whom this is not the first trip, nor will it be their last.