Ever since Fred. Olsen first started cruising to Svalbard it has been my ambition to visit this area. In July this year my wish came true when I sailed from Southampton on the M.S Balmoral.
Our first port of call in Norway was to Alesund a town destroyed by fire in 1904 and rebuilt in the Art Nouveau era. After two days at sea I decided to walk the 418 steps from the town park to the viewing area on Mount Aksla for a spectacular panoramic view. Many people took the train that goes around the town and then up the mountain, and then walked down.
Before we reached Tromso we sailed pass Vikingen Island that has a Globe statue, this marks the start of the Arctic Circle. Tromso is set well within the Arctic Circle and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it is often referred to as ‘Paris of the Arctic’ because of its cultural sophistication, good food and night life. The Midnight Sun appears from mid May until the end of July and even if the sun does not shine the nights are bright. Tromso has the northern most Botanical Gardens and Brewery. Mack’s pub is worth a visit, the beer is not bad and don’t forget the T shirt. The Arctic Cathedral a masterpiece of modern architecture is well worth a visit.
The cruise from Tromso to Honningsvag was just unbelievable, we had the pilot with us for the duration as we weaved our way though numerous islands. At night we sat in the Observatory Lounge watching the incredible scenery in daylight with a sky every range of red. Many of us were so mesmerized that it was 1.30 am before we could leave the view.
Honningsvag (North Cape) the world’s most northerly village was a delight, a lovely little fishing port with attractive coloured buildings my idea of the perfect Norwegian village. That night again we sat in the Observatory and were rewarded as we saw the Midnight Sun, a big red ball just sitting on the horizon, we felt so lucky as it had been cloudy earlier on in the evening.
For those of us who did not take the excursion to the North Cape Plateau we were fortunate that the ship slowed down so that we could watch the sheer cliffs that rise 307 metres above the Arctic Ocean. We also could see the Globe situated near the edge of the cliff which is a monument to the children of the Earth, symbolizing international co-operation and friendship.
Longyearbyen is deep in the Norwegian Arctic, during the summer months the sun does not set for weeks. Located at the end of the Advent Fjord and surrounded by snow covered mountains it is amazing to find that this is home to 1600 people. It has a wonderful shop that tries to stock everything and a bar that is the life and soul of the community at night. I have never seem so many skidoos (don’t know how to spell it Ali, not in my dictionary). I think every inhabitant has one. If you are feeling very fit it is possible to hike on the Longyear glacier or go Summer Dog Sledding.
The next day we arrived at Ny Alesund the furthest northern settlement. this is home to about 30 permanent scientists working in the research stations. During the summer the population increases to about 120 with all the visiting scientists. Several polar expeditions have set off from here, one was Roald Amundsen. Umberto Nobile used the Anchor Pylon to launch a successful flight in the airship Norge across the North Pole to Alaska in 1926.
Standing on deck it is amazing to see the Kongsbreen & Kongsvegen ice fields and the distinctive Tre Kroner peaks which rise from the ice. Had I see a painting of this area, I would never have believed that so much incredible landscape could be captured in one picture. Just a few hundred yards from the settlement were warnings not to go any further without a rifle because of Polar Bears. The day before we arrived a Polar Bear had to be encouraged to leave the area, it would have been lovely to have seen one from a safe distance
We cruised for two days to Kristiansund, the old town has wooden buildings dating back to the 17th century. It has Norway’s only living ship-building museum with ancient vessels moored alongside, certainly worth a visit as its only a short walking distance away from where the ship moored. The Atlantic Road is called the most beautiful road in the world and is used in many car advertisements.
Our last port of call was Olden, a charming village with green meadows, pretty houses with brooks running between them. Set back from the village is the Oldendalen Valley flanked by near vertical cliffs. Olden is all you imagine a Norwegian village to be, it was delightful.
At all these ports of call Fred. Olsen offer a wide variety of excursions to suit everyone, or you can just meander around under your own steam. I cannot recommend this cruise enough, it was everything I had hoped it would be and much, much more. Go soon because I believe that the licences to operate in this area are up for renewal in 2015. There is great concern to the damage to the environment by the number of tourists and ships that are now operating in this area and it has been mentioned that licences may not be renewed.
Apart from the wonderful itinerary on this cruise, I found the Fred. Olsen staff were as good as ever, so helpful and friendly, nothing is too much trouble. The food was excellent, there are many dining options available, altogether I can say I had a great time.