In the morning we had to have a Covid check and then we had a limited amount of time to explore Longyearbyen before lunch at the hotel. In the afternoon we had an organised Hurtigruten “mandatory tour” before joining MS Spitsbergen later in the afternoon.
Day 5 Thursday, 23 June 2022 Afternoon in Longyearbyen
After lunch we joined the throng in the entrance lobby waiting for the mandatory tour. While we waited a truck backed up and three guys started moving all the stored luggage into a panel truck.
The “tour” of Longyearbyen
Outside a Hurtigruten guide was holding up a sign “German“ (a sign for the future?) This was going to be the first tour bus.
Our choices were now clear, we could stay inside with the throng or stand outside in the high wind and dust. We chose outside. We then had to wait another 15 minutes for the second bus to arrive.
When the bus finally arrived, it stopped on the road at the end of the car park and we all piled into it to get out of the cold and the dust.
This mandatory tour was the way we were to be transported to the ship if we had not taken any of the optional paid excursions. The first stop was to be Camp Barentz which was 20 minutes or so outside of the city limits.
The bus passed another bus and its passengers who were at the side of the road taking pictures of “the” road sign. This was one of the photo opportunities in Longyearbyen. The sign had the warning of polar bears outside of the city limits.
The dusty road went out of Longyearbyen past went coal mines on the hills on the right. They were abandoned with now just one still open.
The one coal mine on Svalbard that was still in operation provides coal for the town’s power station and the rest of the coal is exported. Over the next few years the plan is for Longyearbyen to stop using coal to generate its electricity as part of the international efforts to green the Arctic.
We passed the town’s kennels for sled dogs on the right hand side of the road. This was a very large compound. Next to it we could see lots of ducks nesting and sitting around a pond. The ducks were safe from Arctic foxes as the foxes avoided being anywhere near all the dogs.
The road was not very wide and when trucks came towards us the bus had to move slightly off the road.
Camp Barentz outside Longyearbyen
The bus made a left turn onto an even narrower road and at the end passed signs that announced Camp Barentz.
As soon as we left the bus we were hit with a steady strong cold wind that bit through our clothes. We gathered away from the bus in a circle around our “guide“.
She briefed us about safety as her role was to keep us all secure from polar bears. For this she had a flare gun and the obligatory rifle. As she talked she scanned constantly across the open tundra looking for any movement. This was hard because of the 30+ mph winds and the dust whipping up from the tundra.
In the first “hut“ we had short lecture about Svalbard and more importantly had some relief from the cold wind.
Next we sheltered out of the wind at the side of the hut to listen to a talk on Arctic sled dogs.
In front of us were kennels and dogs. We were all encouraged to go and pet the dogs.
Coffee and pancakes
The last hut had a boardwalk across the tundra and even better a large fire inside. It seems that Barentz‘s expedition had built a similar hut from the remains of their boat that had been crushed by the ice. This and keep them warm and also kept polar bears at bay, even from those that had tried to climb down the chimney to get at the men.
We were fed coffee and pancakes which were both very welcome. As we ate as we watched another lecture.
The other group had now left the camp and we walked back down the path to our waiting bus. The view across the tundra was very bleak.
Back through Longyearbyen to the ship
On the road we did pass a group of sled dogs pulling sleds that were on wheels. The amount of dust from the road and from the passing vehicles must have made this is a very uncomfortable ride!
A few of us asked if we could also pause by the polar bear sign at the city limits. But we were told that we were late and the tour had to get back to the museum. However, the bus did stop and then drive extremely slowly as we passed the ducks again!
This is not my picture but is from one of the walls of the MS Spitsbergen that I took a photo of much later.
Shame the same courtesy was not provided to us to take pictures of the polar bear sign as those on the other bus …
Our last stop on the tour was to the museum that shares a building with the university. It holds lots of artefacts as well as panels showing how Spitsbergen/Svalbard had evolved since it was first settled.
We are there over 40 minutes. This was plenty of time to have a look at the exhibits.
I went outside as I was conscious of all the other museum visitors that were not on our tour and none were wearing masks.
Where’s the MS Spitsbergen?
As the bus left the town and went towards the airport we could see the MS Spitsbergen docked along the coast. Alongside the road was the rope wire with buckets that carried coal from the one working mine to the dock.
The bus turned into the IPSS passenger quay. Confusingly, we were told that we were going to be on a tender to get to our ship. Our Hurtigruten guide explained that the ship at the far dock was the MS Fram! This quay was very busy with passengers and their luggage boarding the National Geographic ship docked there. A number of us did explain that the Fram had already left!
After a short wait and some long phone calls, the bus driver had to back up through all the crowds and leave this area to head back down to the coal dock. This is a grab shot from on the bus as we neared the dock. The bus windows were very dirty.
At the same time I grabbed this shot of another Hurtigruten ship leaving Longyearbyen, MS Nordstjernan.
Day 5 Thursday, 23 June 2022 Boarding MS Spitsbergen
The first day’s MS Spitsbergen Log
23.06.2022 Longyearbyen (from Hurtigruten log)
At around 5pm other guests started to board, many exhausted from their long travels to get to Longyearbyen. As everyone settled in, they picked up their expedition jackets and rubber boots that they would need for the trip. Everyone had their first dinner on board and participated in our mandatory safety briefing.
Due to strong wind in the Isfjorden area we stayed for the night at the Coal Harbour.
The MS Spitsbergen was docked where coal was loaded onto ships, there was no terminal building just a high fence with gates and a lot of coal dust!
The bus came to an abrupt stop as the gates blew closed. We tumbled off the bus and walked across the enclosed area to the quay and onto the passenger ramp. At the top our cards were scanned and we had checked in. Our handbags were scanned and then we climbed the stairs to Deck 7 to look for our cabin.
Our fantastic cabin
The cabin, 719 was a fantastic surprise. It was huge with lots of room around the bed, had two large wardrobes as well as a long desk on the back wall. Our cases were outside and for the first time we were able to finally empty them. A quick sort and we added items to the laundry bag ready for the on-board passenger’s laundry.
Chores and evening meal
We had then a few chores after unpacking. At reception we had to validate a credit card, on Deck 6 we went to the Explorer’s Lounge to try on and pick up our Hurtigruten coats and finally try on muck boots for size. Then it was down to the tender dock to pick up our boots and take them back to our cabin.
Now we were onboard we could look at the Hurtigruten app on our phones. This gave us the next day’s programme and a simple block calendar .
This first evening we had set times to go for dinner. The restaurant was a buffet and had lots of choices. When we entered the Aune restaurant our temperatures were checked, we then had to wash our hands in the nearby sink. Surprisingly, the second sink was broken (no tap!) This was the way it remained for the whole voyage…
We were shown to a table after hand washing and as soon as we sat down we were offered wine or beer – a great start for sure.
In the Aune we attended the mandatory safety demonstration. Just like our expedition to Antarctica we sat and watched in amazement at the full body survival suits been demonstrated. We remain absolutely convinced that we would never be able to put one on ourselves!
We then moved to the lecture theatre for a presentation from the ship’s officers and from the expedition team.
The crazy weather in the late evening
From MS Spitsbergen we took in views of Isfjorden and of the Coal Harbour
Looking out past the Coal Harbour the tundra lead out to the sea.
Or, looking away following the road we could see cabins.
The wind was whipping up waves Isfjorden.
And finally the amazing sky of the sea at 23.02.
MS Spitsbergen remained on the dock as we went to bed and the wind was still blowing down the fjord.
Second day on board – Ny Alesund TBA