Old Town Ny-Alesund & Puffins: Day 8
Our last two expedition outings: the first to the research town of Ny-Alesund, once a mining town and more recently since the second half of the 20th century, an international gathering place for Arctic scientists. It has a store and a post office, walkways and even a very small airport — and beautiful views toward glaciers and mountains.
We enjoy walking around the town on the allowed paths when, as warned about but not really entering our comprehension, some of us are attacked from overhead by diving terns! We were told to put our hands above our heads to scare the off but they are not deterred. At one point a tern came and pecked at my glove. And later while Claudia and I are taking our second walk around the town on a more deserted stretch of land, 2-3 terns begin diving at us and zeroed in on Claudia, who had her hands protecting her head but is not wearing gloves — the result is a sharp peck, breaking skin and drawing blood, on her hand! Although it is only a small wound, we go to the on-ship infirmary to get the cut disinfected and bandaged with the doctor warning Claudia to watch to make sure it does not become red and puffy. However, one of the naturalists told me that it is too cold in this locale for usual bacteria so that the chance of the bird carrying something that would impact Claudia is very small — and this lack of bacteria also means that people don’t easily develop body odor here!
In the afternoon, our final excursions allows us to finally see some Atlantic Puffins, nesting along with a great many terns, along a cliff side. There were also reindeer grazing on the green hillside although at a far distance and we could hear the squawk of many birds who are bringing fish to their young in their nests.
As we fly back from Longyearbyen to Oslo tomorrow and this excursion ends, I will say some final words about this expedition. The Ponant ships are a fleet of high-end luxury vessels which cruise not only Antartica and the Arctic but all around the world. So what, I wondered, would be the Disney touch to the experience to make it an “Adventure by Disney”? The answer is the 4 dedicated Adventure Guides trained and employed by Disney who chaperoned us every day to make sure everything went smoothly, provided daily entertainment and humor along the way, and were the strong adhesive to the group experience. This included our arrival and departure and hotel nights in Oslo and our flights to and from Longyearbyen on a dedicated plane of only our tour members.
In addition to these Adventure Guides, the 14 naturalists on board the ship were a very important component as they acted as both the Zodiac drivers, lecturers on various aspects of the Arctic North, and purveyors of information about the flora and fauna around us while we were out on the sea and land.
At the end of the cruise, the whole ship staff stood up on stage and were introduced to us — who numbered in total more than the 118 guests. There were 18 chefs in the kitchen preparing a large array of food. Meals were served in your choice of either a beautifully appointed sit-down restaurant with menus on the second deck or a well-laid out buffet on the 6th deck, both basically providing the same food in different formats. The waiters were mostly Philippine or Indonesian with managers all French. As this cruise is almost entirely Americans, we asked about the percentage of French on the standard Ponant cruises and were told they were often about 75% French. This may explain the expectation of high quality food.
Back to Oslo: Day 9
I ended this tour on my own the last day in Oslo with a trip to the really wonderful large New National Museum near the harbor which opened about 2 years ago. It gave me a feeling I sometimes get in great museums and art exhibitions — that I am experiencing something really important and worthwhile, some coalescing of disparate parts of the whole that is life. The exhibit was chronological and through its native art described the history of Norway ending in many galleries of very contemporary art, as wild and creative as anywhere, and leaving one with the question that was specifically raised in one of the gallery rooms, What is Art?
So ends my exploration into Arctic Norway, 10 days of wonder at the natural world in the cold North of our Earth.