Land of the Midnight Sun
For the last few days, we’ve had no sunrises nor any sunsets – that line in our daily weather information is blank. Daylight is our constant companion. The sun streams through the gaps in our stateroom curtains, generating an effect not unlike jetlag when we finally crawl out of bed for breakfast, and a midnight snack takes on an entirely different atmosphere. Having no night does make you think, however. What if all our days were indeed day-upon-day? What if there were no night? Think of the things that wouldn’t have been written, invented or experienced! No one would have composed Moon river, drive-in movies would need to move inside, Wilkie Collins wouldn’t have written The Moonstone and there would be no Moonshine to brew and guzzle. It is indeed disconcerting to be in constant day. Such is the Land of the the Midnight Sun. But of course, the trade-off is constant night for several month.
I spy ice
Of course, if we are indeed that far north, that means polar regions, and so we have had a spectacular tour, besides seeing first hand the first one or two towns where Santa Claus starts distributing his presents each year – the northernmost town of Longyearbyen which I wrote about earlier, and Ny Alesund, a very small settlement on another part of the Svalbard archipelago – a permanent population of 12, which grows to about 110 in the summer tourism and research season. But it is the ice that is the story, ice in many forms.
On a day when we got up close to the majestic Gullybukta Glacier in the Magdalenafjord and spotted wee little icebergs floating in the sub-zero waters of summer, it was the polar ice that took our breath away. We did not anticipate going to the ice; it was not on any of our published itineraries nor was any advance information given onboard, until Capt Tim announced that we would indeed be paying it a visit. Perhaps as compensation for the small changes to our itinerary? Perhaps as competition to show that the mighty little Prinsendam could go a few degrees further north than the Seabourn Spirit a week or so earlier? Perhaps just because we could?
At just 520 nautical miles from the top of the world, we found ourselves square on with the north polar ice – our bow defiantly and proudly nudging just the very edge of the ice, our ship rising from the waters as if to say, “we’re here and we’re going to take a good long look.” There was no ice shelf to see as we had seen in Antarctica, but instead, patches of ice forming almost a honeycomb effect – almost like lily pads – close together, gently receding towards the North Pole during the relatively warmer weather. My first look was from the comfort of the Crow’s Nest lounge, but somehow that didn’t make it real enough, so I went outside, to one of the top open decks, in the chill of summer where our world was ensconced in fog. However, there was more than enough visibility to see a good amount of the ice. Although only about 4C, it was warm on deck, the warmth that comes from being enshrouded in a wind-less, foggy day, with everyone around me moved at what we were seeing. It didn’t seem possible, but there we were.
Everyone came out to see the ice – engineers, room stewards, cooks, officers, entertainment staff, passengers, waiters – it was one of those experiences that just needed to be shared by all who made this journey.
And yes, we also found certificates in our rooms to prove that we had crossed the line known as the Arctic Circle. To add to our collection for having done some of the great ocean voyages of the world: Antarctica, Cape Horn, the Equator, the International Date Line…and now, the Arctic Circle.
Not far from our earlier port call of Longyearbyen was Ny Ålesund, a desolate, almost abandoned settlement which is the self-proclaimed word’s most northernmost settlement, as opposed to Longyearbyen which is the world’s most northern organised town. The permanent residents share their desolate landscape with a wide range of animals. I didn’t get off the ship to explore, but my husband did, and his and other reports told of a place with a few buildings, including a museum dedicated to mining history, an abandoned steam train, a small store, post office, and a few muddy streets.