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A Saga of ice and snow: Svalbard in late Winter


janzin
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janzin
Posted (edited)

The trip that almost didn't happen...but the third time's a charm!  As with many other trips planned pre-COVID, our Svalbard trip was postponed twice. During the first two years of COVID, Norway had some of the strictest entry requirements and was completely shut to tourists. It was only at the very last moment, when Norway dropped it's quarantine and strict requirements, that we knew the trip could happen in 2022.  Originally scheduled for May 2020, then moved to June 2021, and finally to late April 2022. And yes, late April is still considered Winter season in Svalbard, although there are already 24 hours of daylight.

 

However, this last move of dates would have a profound impact on the trip, as you will see

 

Prologue:

It seems like eons ago when Vikram Singh of Wild World India, (whom many of you know/have traveled with) invited us on a Svalbard charter which he'd arranged on a 16-passenger expedition ship, the Freya. Although I was a bit nervous about being on a ship for a week, especially in cold weather, we couldn't pass up the chance to see polar bears and the Arctic. Vikram also recruited several other of his past clients, including SafariTalker's @jmharack and her husband Cliff, and @Zubbie15and his wife, along with two other American photographers (Tom K and Joe A.) and a father and adult son from Austria (Marcus and Gerhard.) As we needed more bodies to fill the ship, I invited several of my birding friends, Tom S (who happens to be the author of a major bird field guide) and his wife Wendy, and birding friend Ardith B.  as well as three other New York birders who eventually dropped out. Sadly @Zubbie15 and his wife also bowed out due to COVID and family considerations.  So along with Vikram, the final tally was 12 passengers, many of whom we knew, which made for a really wonderful group of like-minded people and definitely enhanced the experience.

 

My spouse Alan and I flew on American Airlines/British Airways via LHR, and spent two nights in Oslo at the airport Radisson Red, a short walk from the terminal. We wanted to have a safety net in case of delay or delayed luggage because the last thing you want on a cruise, especially such a specialized one, is not having your gear! As it turned out, all went smoothly and we arrived early evening in Oslo. We had considered going into the city the next day but decided not to risk the train etc. due to Omicron, and generally just being lazy. In Norway everyone seemed to act like COVID was done...not a mask to be seen anywhere. So we just spend our free day resting, and catching a few birds around the airport. So nothing to report about Oslo!

 

I won't keep you in suspense after this long winded intro, we did see bears!

 

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janzin
Posted (edited)

More prologue...

 

Our itinerary had one night at a Longyearbyen hotel before embarking on the Freya late the next day.  Several months before the trip WWI informed us that there was a major ski race taking place in Longyearbyen the day after we arrived, with hundreds of entrants; flights and hotels would be full.  So we all our booked flights way in advance, and we checked in with SAS the day before. All seemed in order. We had assigned seats.  But at the airport Alan, Ardith and I had a terrible surprise when we were denied boarding! Panic ensued!! Person after person got on the plane while we three were held back, with no explanation as to why we were singled out. The rest of our group were already on the plane (although Vikram held back boarding as long as possible, trying to intervene, and assuring us he would not let the boat leave without us.) Eventually we were told that the flight was overweight! The very unfriendly SAS staff kept telling us to wait...they were calculating weights. Obviously we were getting more and more upset, I was close to tears (well, maybe I shed a few.) We told the SAS personnel we had a cruise to catch but they seemed unconcerned. Eventually...after many tense moments..one by one...they called us on. In fact I got called first (maybe tears helped?) but it was many more tense moments until finally Alan and Ardith were on board, literally seconds before they closed the doors. WHEW a major crisis averted...and not an auspicious start!

 

Luckily the flight was non-stop to Longyearbyen...most stop in Tromso and require you to go through immigration, because technically Svalbard is not in the Schengen area. I don't understand any of this but we were glad not to have to make that stop (we had to make it on the return.)

 

Incredible scenery approaching Longyearbyen.

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Longyearbyen nestled along the coast.

 

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Arriving in Svalbard early afternoon, we boarded a private bus arranged by WWI which took us to our hotel, the Funken Lodge. This was actually not the hotel we were originally booked in (originally were to be in the Radisson Blu) but due to the race and I suppose overbookings we were upgraded (it seems both hotels are owned by Radisson.) The upgrade had it's pros and cons...the Funken is the swankiest hotel in Longyearbyen, but quite a long walk from town center and the harbor.  (That came into play the next day.)

 

Our first bear--at the airport baggage carousel.

 

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Everyone takes this photo at the airport.

 

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Our lovely hotel, the priciest in Longyearbyen.

 

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(BTW, Judith, and Cliff had arrived the previous day in Longyearbyen and had hired a guide for a private birding trip. I will leave that day for her to write about.)

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janzin
Posted (edited)

After getting settled we were all eager to get out and do some birding, so Vikram called for taxis which took us down to the waterfront. Here are some birds we saw that afternoon, all taken from a short walk around the harbor and waterfront. 

 

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There were rafts of both Common and King Eiders, but most were too far out for decent photos.

 

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Some of our intrepid group of birders.  Did I mention it was very, very cold?

 

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Our fearless leader Vikram getting the shot.

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Back at the Funken, we had a lovely group dinner where we got to know a bit about each other. We all looked forward to more birding and wildlife viewing the next morning, as we didn't need to be at the ship until 3 or 4 o'clock.

 

Before bed, I was excited to see my first Reindeer behind the hotel, right out my window! (Taken through glass...much better Reindeer TK :)

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Alexander33

Glad you held out and (finally!) were able to make this trip. Great initial photo of the polar bear. We are slated to return in August (postponed from 2021), but I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience at a different time of year. 

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janzin
1 hour ago, Alexander33 said:

Glad you held out and (finally!) were able to make this trip. Great initial photo of the polar bear. We are slated to return in August (postponed from 2021), but I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience at a different time of year. 

The time of year definitely matters, in fact the experience can change from week to week. For a good example, @pomkiwiwent just a few weeks after us and it seems his weather and ice conditions were quite different.

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Atravelynn

Oh, this was the Wild World India Vikram trip!  Great start.

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janzin
Posted (edited)

The plan for the next morning was to have an early breakfast and then hire taxis to take us to some locations for Ptarmigan and possible Arctic Fox. Judith, Cliff and Joe had had luck with these spots the day prior with their private guide.  But we hit yet another snag...due to the ski marathon, there was not a single taxi to be had in all of Longyearbyen! The spots we wanted to hit were way too far to walk to. Everyone was super disappointed and we stood around for awhile mulling what we could do, when someone had the bright idea to rent cars.  Most of us were reluctant to drive (in fact neither Alan nor I had even brought a driver's license with us) but Cliff and Marcus came to the rescue and volunteered...IF we could find cars to rent. While Vikram and the guys were making calls and sorting this out, a few of us wandered away to see if we could find something to photograph. There had been reports of Arctic Fox near the church, so we headed in that direction.

 

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We didn't come up with much, a few Snow Buntings which I never got a good shot of as they just flitting about and singing from rooftops. The Snow Bunting in fact is the only passerine (perching bird) generally found on Svalbard...after all, there are no trees!

After about 1/2 an hour of wandering we returned to the hotel but the cars were still "on their way."  We were all a bit frustrated that we were losing most of our time for the morning's expedition, which would be our only good chance for Ptarmigan. I think it was close to 11 a.m. when eventually the cars arrived and off we went.

 

We headed straight to the field near the airport where the others had seen Ptarmigan the prior day, and sure enough they were still there feeding in an empty field.  Everyone had a blast getting down low and photographing; the birds were quite tame and would walk right up to us, at times too close to focus.

 

Beware...lots of Ptarmigan shots to follow!

 

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I just love their feathery feet, reminds me of the feet of Snowy Owls.

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Some Ptarmigan facts: The Svalbard rock ptarmigan is a sub-species of the rock ptarmigan, and it is larger and heavier than either the rock ptarmigan or the willow ptarmigan on mainland Norway.  Both sexes are white in the winter and turn brown in summer, but the male doesn't turn brown until July, whereas the female molts in April or May. Only the male has a large red comb above the eye.  More info here: https://www.npolar.no/en/species/svalbard-rock-ptarmigan/

 

After awhile we piled back in the cars and just started driving the road exploring. We saw some more Ptarmigan, this time with a water background and some that were in their full winter whites.  So more photos...yes, we took a lot as we knew we would not be seeing this bird again, at least not from the ship!

 

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Portrait of a male in full breeding accoutrements.

 

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At this point we were almost at the end of the road that goes past the airport. You are really not supposed to be wandering around out here without a licensed guide with a rifle for bears. We could see many Little Auks (Dovekies) circling around a cliff and Tom S was determined to try to get closer to where they were nesting. As he was with the group in the other car, we left him scrambling a bit up the cliff while our car turned around. Marcus, who was driving our car, really wanted to see the famed Global Seed Vault and it was something we wanted to see as well, so we headed up the road and up a hill to the vault (there are really only two or three roads leading out of the town and they don't go far.)   The Seed Vault, buried in the permafrost, holds over a million samples of the world's crops to insure against climate change or other disaster.

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The Vault is closed to the public but the building is interesting to see and there are some interpretive signs which we didn't bother to trudge through the snow to read, as the snow was fairly deep up there. You can see it didn't look like anyone had been in there in awhile!

 

After a few photos we headed back towards town as everyone was hungry for lunch. But first we made one more stop to photograph some picturesque Reindeer that were grazing along the road. Again, they are quite used to people and let us make a rather close approach on foot. Interestingly both the males and females can have antlers but apparently the females don't develop them until June. https://www.npolar.no/en/species/svalbard-reindeer/

 

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I love his beard blowing in the wind.

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In town, our group reconnected at the Fruene Cafe which served delicious sandwiches (I had an egg salad and lox combo, so good, who would have thought!) The Cafe is also a bakery and chocolate shop and boasts as to being "the most northern chocolatier in the world."  So of course we had to buy some cookies and their famous Polar Bear white chocolates--a box to bring home. I only wish I'd bought more!

 

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After lunch, we headed back to the Funken Lodge to pack up and get transferred to the Freya...let the real adventure begin!

 

 

 

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madaboutcheetah

@janzin- Lovely images and they all look like picture post cards!!! 

 

When's the most ideal time for this trip, in your opinion?  Polar bears are on my wish list - it's this or i suppose a trip to Canada! 

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Athene

Lovely photos and very useful information @janzin

Our Svalbard trip was also postponed from July 2021 to July 2022. We were supposed to stay on the MS Freya which looks bigger and a little bit more comfortable than the MS Malmö where we will stay this year. Our trip is booked with Arctic Wildlife Tours recommended by @Alexander33

Your information to the pre- programme in Svalbard is very useful. We plan to do something similar.

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Zubbie15
Posted (edited)

Ugh, not sure if I'll be reading this report or not! Really sad we missed the trip, and it seems like you guys had fun! Back on the bucket list... 

Edited by Zubbie15
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jmharack
Posted (edited)

I will add a few notes about our first day here, and some photos.  You'll note that our photos aren't as high quality of@janzin, of course.. We were coming from the Midwest, and always like to add an extra buffer day for any complicated trip (which seems to be the only kind of trip we take). Given the ski race issue, we decided to get to Longyearbyen a day early, along with a bunch of skiiers (the flight seemed like a party bus - this race had been deferred two years, and enthusiasm was high). So, we had two nights in the lovely Funken Lodge (due to the upgrade for our group) and booked a half day of guiding from Oddgeir Sagerup, who runs SeeandExplore. We figured it was the best way to get beyond the city limits (you are required to be with someone with a gun). He was a great guide, and as luck would have it, turned out to be the second guide on our boat the following day.  On our first afternoon, we explored Longyearbyen harbor and saw some distant eiders, both common and king.  We saw our boat in the harbor, in the distance, and then went closer. Note that they were testing the zodiacs, which will become important in @Janzin's tale of the cruise (It really seems funny to call this a cruise, but it was a wonderful, amazing trip in a boat, so I guess it was a cruise).  With Oddgeir the next day, we saw the ptarmigan, which @janzin has already documented, a distant fox, and had close encounters with reindeer as well as a hike in the valley. He also got us very close to some king eiders, and I'll post some of those photos later.  It was super windy which reduced our chances for close fox encounters (Oddgeir is called the fox whisperer there), but we saw lots of flying little auks, and had a great first day in Svalbard before traveling around with our group the next day, as detailed by @janzin

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Edited by jmharack
sorry for duplicates, trying to delete one
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janzin
Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

@janzin- Lovely images and they all look like picture post cards!!! 

 

When's the most ideal time for this trip, in your opinion?  Polar bears are on my wish list - it's this or i suppose a trip to Canada! 

The ideal time is very dependent on what you want to see.  I think it it probable to see bears at just about any time the cruises sail. However, if there is any serious interest in birds or whales, for instance, April is too early. We saw no whales and bird species were limited...too early for any shorebirds, most ducks, too early for nesting on the cliffs. This was a bit of a disappointment to many of us, especially Tom S, the author of the field guide (as he is working on another one and wanted photos.) We had a grand total of 11 bird species the entire trip.

 

Another consideration is whether you can do landings. Because of the ice and the snow depth we could do no landings at all, which is something we should have been told before the trip as it was certainly a known factor this early in the season. In fact, several of us purchased expensive "Muck boots" with the prime purpose of doing landings and none of us could even make use of them.

 

Ice conditions of course are variable and there were several times we saw bears at a very great distance, but could get no closer because of the ice.  On the OTHER hand, when the ship sits in the "fast ice" the bears often walk very close to the ship, as you will see later :). And, the ice itself and scenery are breathtaking with the snow cover.

 

Bottom line, if I were to return, and I would love to...I would go in June or early July to maximize birds, whales, and bears too.

 

Oh, and a note about Svalbard vs. Churchill:  We looked into the Churchill idea and that looks amazing as well but it's really a whole different type of experience to see the bears in the ice and the amazing scenery of the Arctic. Plus of course the added benefit (at certain times!) of birds and whales and seals and walrus and reindeer. And actually on a daily basis the Churchill Tundra Buggy trips are more expensive.

 

 

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janzin
Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, Athene said:

Lovely photos and very useful information @janzin

Our Svalbard trip was also postponed from July 2021 to July 2022. We were supposed to stay on the MS Freya which looks bigger and a little bit more comfortable than the MS Malmö where we will stay this year. Our trip is booked with Arctic Wildlife Tours recommended by @Alexander33

Your information to the pre- programme in Svalbard is very useful. We plan to do something similar.

 

Thanks Athene. Our charter on the Freya was actually booked through Arctic Wildlife Tours as well, so we had the same crew and guides they use.  In fact we were able to get a tour of the Malmo after our trip and I'll talk a little bit about that in an upcoming post.

 

If you need a guide pre-trip I would certainly highly recommend Oddgeir whom Judy mentions in the above post. As it turned out he was one of our two guides aboard the Freya and he was awesome and a really nice person to be with. Here is his website: https://seeandexplore.no/

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janzin
16 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

Ugh, not sure if I'll be reading this report or not! Really sad we missed the trip, and it seems like you guys had fun! Back in the bucket list... 

So sorry @Zubbie15, we missed you as well. I can't tell you how many times either Judy or I said we were so sorry you weren't there!

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jmharack
28 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

Ugh, not sure if I'll be reading this report or not! Really sad we missed the trip, and it seems like you guys had fun! Back on the bucket list... 

@Zubbie15I remember your wife suffering with the heat at Tadoba (as did I) and this trip could have been the perfect antidote!  I wish it had worked out for you guys to join us..

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janzin
Posted (edited)

The next few posts will be about practicalities.

CAMERA GEAR

We had several serious photographers on this trip with a variety of gear, but this is what I brought.  Having recently purchased the Nikon Z9 mirrorless, I decided to go entirely mirrorless with the following:

 

Nikon Z9 (full frame mirrorless)

Nikon Z7ii (full frame mirrorless)

Lenses: 500mm 5.6, 70-200 2.8, and a 17-35 for wide angle.  The 500mm 5.6 PF is a very hand-holdable lens and perfect for use in the Zodiac and from the ship.

1.4 teleconverter and a 2x teleconverter for emergency use (could make the 70-200 2.8 a 400 5.6 if something happened to the 500mm (but never used/needed it.)

 

No tripod, and no one else had a tripod either. (Well I think Joe A. said he'd brought one but as far as I saw, he never took it out.)

 

Basically I kept the 500 on the Z9, often with the 1.4 teleconverter, and the 70-200 or occasionally the 17-35 on the Z7ii for scenics and close encounters. Similarly to what @pomkiwisaid in his post, the wide angle for scenics was difficult to make use of from the ship and the 70-200 was probably sufficient. However I did take a handful with the 17-35 (one shown below.)

 

My original idea was to bring both cameras and their lenses in the Zodiac in the dry bag. This turned out to be completely impractical...it was too difficult to get them both into a single dry bag and bring them out in the zodiac, especially wearing multiple layers of gloves. And I had a fairly large dry bag.  I ended up only using the Z9 + 500PF in the Zodiac.  Some people took their entire camera bag out in the Zodiac and if wanting to utilize two bodies, that's what I'd suggest. Otherwise stick to one and you definitely don't want to be changing lenses in the Zodiac. 

 

BTW, SAS did not weigh or even look at the camera bag, which was way over their stated carry-on allowance, and a lot of the skiers had even larger bags.

 

One other quick mention: the two Austrians had a drone and while it is illegal to use the drone in Longyearbyen, apparently it is fine outside of town and from the ship.  I was at first really apprehensive about drone use in this pristine environment but they were extremely respectful of the wildlife and only used it quite distant from bears, never when any of us were photographing, and mostly just over the glaciers. Late in the trip we urged them to hook up their footage to the TV monitor which was in the lounge and we saw that they'd gotten amazing footage.

 

Here is one photo taken with the 17-35 on the Nikon Z7ii.

 

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Edited by janzin
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michael-ibk

We´re getting spoilt with two simulaneous Svalbard reports! Very beautiful photos Janet, the last Reindeer shot is an absolute cracker! Do appreciate yours as well @jmharack, good to see the Snow Buntings.

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janzin
20 minutes ago, michael-ibk said:

We´re getting spoilt with two simulaneous Svalbard reports! Very beautiful photos Janet, the last Reindeer shot is an absolute cracker! Do appreciate yours as well @jmharack, good to see the Snow Buntings.

Thanks, it just seems like so many of us ended up with rescheduled trips around the same time! I know @vikramghanekarwent the week after us as well, and @kittykat23ukis following in our footsteps later this month!

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kittykat23uk

Yes I'm sure there will be more reports to come, hopefully some other Arctic adventures, not just Svalbard either from what I've seen.. 

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jmharack
11 hours ago, janzin said:

The ideal time is very dependent on what you want to see.  I think it it probable to see bears at just about any time the cruises sail. However, if there is any serious interest in birds or whales, for instance, April is too early. We saw no whales and bird species were limited...too early for any shorebirds, most ducks, too early for nesting on the cliffs. This was a bit of a disappointment to many of us, especially Tom S, the author of the field guide (as he is working on another one and wanted photos.) We had a grand total of 11 bird species the entire trip.

 

Another consideration is whether you can do landings. Because of the ice and the snow depth we could do no landings at all, which is something we should have been told before the trip as it was certainly a known factor this early in the season. In fact, several of us purchased expensive "Muck boots" with the prime purpose of doing landings and none of us could even make use of them.

 

Ice conditions of course are variable and there were several times we saw bears at a very great distance, but could get no closer because of the ice.  On the OTHER hand, when the ship sits in the "fast ice" the bears often walk very close to the ship, as you will see later :). And, the ice itself and scenery are breathtaking with the snow cover.

 

Bottom line, if I were to return, and I would love to...I would go in June or early July to maximize birds, whales, and bears too.

 

Oh, and a note about Svalbard vs. Churchill:  We looked into the Churchill idea and that looks amazing as well but it's really a whole different type of experience to see the bears in the ice and the amazing scenery of the Arctic. Plus of course the added benefit (at certain times!) of birds and whales and seals and walrus and reindeer. And actually on a daily basis the Churchill Tundra Buggy trips are more expensive.

 

 

Oddgeir told me that the second week of July is the very best for birding (In addition to being a fox whisperer, he's a great birding expert). But if you want to see bears on ice or pristine snow (like we did on this trip!) , then earlier in the season is better for that.  Really, there's no bad time to go, once the light starts to be so magically long...  

 

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janzin
Posted (edited)

The Freya and life aboard ship

 

A little bit about our ship, the MS Freya. The ship is a 150 ft ice-breaking ship and has space for 16 passengers plus guides, although we were only 12, which was quite a comfortable number. Honestly at full capacity it might have felt a bit crowded.

 

Judy posted a photo of the Freya above, oddly I don't seem to have one.

 

There is one "superior cabin" which is slightly larger than the others, with a double bed (two singles pushed together really) and two windows (not portholes.) Because I am a bit claustrophobic and was really hesitant about being on a ship for a week to begin with, I told Vikram up front that my coming along was contingent on getting this larger cabin, and as I was one of the very first people to book, he thankfully he obliged

Our comfortable cabin:

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There was plenty of room for storage, under the beds and this large closet.

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And a sitting area.

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Here is a photo showing the typical smaller cabin--this is Judith's room. I would not have been that happy in that space, although at least it has windows and not portholes.  Most of these cabins were on the main deck, with a few on an upper deck, but due to our small numbers only Tom K roomed on the upper deck.

 

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The "bathroom" however was the same for both cabins...very tiny but adequate. I didn't photograph the bathroom but here's Judy's.

 

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It was so cold that when the sea water splashed on the windows it would immediately freeze. A few times I went outside and scraped off the ice with whatever I had handy...an orange juice box one time in the middle of the night! The crew was constantly scraping ice off the decks and railings, trying to keep it safe.

 

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And sometimes ice would form INSIDE the window.  But, the room and ship were always cozy and warm and both the room and bathroom had heated floors. Everyone had individual heat controls in their room for both the floor and air temperature, which was great.

 

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It seems that no one took photos of the dining area or lounge but they were comfortable and spacious enough.

 

Interestingly the ship has a sauna and a hot tub--no one used these except the intrepid Austrians! You needed to give a couple hours of notice if you wanted to use either, so they could be heated up.

 

The ship is of Swedish registration and most of the staff, if not all, were Swedish.  The marvelous chef, Daniel, has a vegan restaurant in Sweden and all the food was top-notch for both the omnivores and vegetarians. Actually we had no vegetarians, but two pescatarians, who I think were happy, as many of the meals were fish. There was open access to a fridge which held beer and cold drinks to grab on the honor system, any time you needed something. And hot coffee/tea was always available as well.

 

And I must mention the twice daily fika...at 10 and 3...which is essentially a Swedish custom of a coffee break and most afternoons included wonderful baked desserts...the blueberry cobbler and the cheesecake stand out in my memory :)

 

Our two naturalist guides were Oddgeir (already mentioned) and Svein Wik who is the founder of Arctic Wildlife tours.  Also onboard was Svein's Canadian girlfriend Jeanette, who is training to guide.

 

Here is Svein, with the Freya in the background; you can see the large expansive bridge with it's windows, where we spent most of our time.  

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And I must mention the incredible Titti and Anna, who basically took care of just about everything related to the passengers on the ship...from assisting in the kitchen, running the dining room, keeping everything clean and ship-shape, and most importantly helping us with anything we needed, especially coming to our rescue when getting dressed for the zodiacs. More on that in a bit.

 

Life onboard:

 

The most important area on the ship was the bridge. I would say that we spent at least 90% of our time (when not eating or sleeping) on the ship in the bridge, which had an open policy so one could go up there at any time and hang out as long as you wanted.  The captain, who we were told was named Storm (but his name is really Ludvig) and co-pilot were both the sweetest guys and happy to answer questions, show us on the map where we were, etc. Plus, the captain had a fantastic music playlist (rock from mostly the '80s through 90's--everything from Nirvana to the Smashing Pumpkins to the Cure and Rolling Stones and a smattering of older stuff and more mellow tunes too. )  That really was an unexpected bonus!

 

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Scanning, always scanning....

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Captain "Storm" (photo courtesy of Tom K.)

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This is Captain Ludwig at our last evening's dinner aboard ship, thanking us all for a great trip (of course he was the one to be thanked!) And actually here you can see the dining room :)

 

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You could even sit in the one of the pilot's chairs, which were pretty comfortable. This is Wendy...Marcus and the co-pilot in back.

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 Oddgeir and/or Svein and Tom S basically camped out in the bridge constantly searching for wildlife. (Tom S looking for birds, of course!) Because of the bitter cold, it was impossible to stand outside on the deck for any length of time, so most of us would be up in the bridge all day when we weren't sleeping or eating.  We would run outside from time to time to shoot some scenery or whatever, maybe some Fulmars or other birds...sometimes without a coat or gloves...depending what we had with us in the bridge.

 

I wish I'd thought to take a photo of the digital thermometer that was on the bridge. It usually said something like -15 to -11(Celsius that's about 3 to 12F.) We'd all get excited if it hit -9 (about 15F). And that of course is without the wind.

 

We joked that the only exercise we got all week was climbing the two sets of stairs to the bridge.  And we spent a LOT of time sleeping and eating, in fact life on board pretty much revolved around sleeping and eating when there was nothing else happening. There were a couple of days where we'd get up, eat breakfast, see if anything was being seen, if not go back to bed then get up in time for morning fika, before you knew it was time for lunch, go scan awhile in the bridge, then it's fika time again! And maybe a nap and then dinner time!

 

Of course this was punctuated with bear or walrus sightings, zodiac outings (and attempted outings), but more on that coming up.

 

 

 

Edited by janzin
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The_Norwegian

great report, very nice pictures! Seems like you had a good trip to the cold snowy north :-) 

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pomkiwi

@janzin I'm enjoying your report very much. It was much colder on your trip - I was able to be outside pretty much all the time (apart from two periods of high wind) and our temperatures were usually just below freezing. I think I might have gone a bit stir crazy if I hadn't been able to wander around the decks!

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janzin
8 hours ago, The_Norwegian said:

great report, very nice pictures! Seems like you had a good trip to the cold snowy north :-) 

Yes we really did have a marvelous time even though there were several bumps in the road...only making it even more enticing to return! And of course I still haven't gotten to the wildlife.

 

4 hours ago, pomkiwi said:

@janzin I'm enjoying your report very much. It was much colder on your trip - I was able to be outside pretty much all the time (apart from two periods of high wind) and our temperatures were usually just below freezing. I think I might have gone a bit stir crazy if I hadn't been able to wander around the decks!

Yes even the guides agreed it was much colder than normal for late April. This came into play in several ways, you'll hear more in my next entry.  Believe me, no one was really tempted to spend much time outside, but you know what, we never felt bored or stir crazy.

 

I'm enjoying your report of course as well, very interesting to see the contrasts!

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Alexander33
Posted (edited)

Hmmm, your captain was the same captain we had on the Malmo in 2019.....but we thought his name was Christian! :unsure:  The Freya certainly is the more well-appointed ship, although the other suited us just fine. 
 

Interesting comment from both you and @pomkiwithat you didn’t really use your wide-angle lens very much, as we found that an essential piece of equipment. I’m normally not much into landscapes, but definitely was on that trip. But, then again, for us, we’re talking about August, and from your photos, I guess close accessibility (especially in the zodiacs) to icebergs and other landscape features may not have been as feasible as later in the year?

 

What we did not have was snow on the ground — just sea ice and glaciers in late summer — so seeing the reindeer still with their winter coats and the ptarmigans on snow is a treat and an interesting contrast. 
 

Continuing to enjoy hearing about your “saga” with growing anticipation of our own. 
 

Edited by Alexander33
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