The Arctic always seemed like one of those magical places, where nobody but scientists ever went, so when I turned 18 and my mum and stepdad discussed the idea of going, I was blown away. Can a mere mortal go to the arctic? The answer is yes, and I would highly recommend it.
Two days after my final A-level exams, I flew out of Birmingham International Airport towards Oslo, Norway where I spent a day enjoying the bustling streets and blue skies of Norway, It was hard to see this warm and metropolitan city as a stopping point to one of the coldest and desolate places in the world. The connections around the city were perfect and we stayed in a lovely hotel close the airport, Oslo is definitely going on my list of places to revisit because the next day we trekked back to the airport to fly away from the bustling streets of Oslo towards the tiny village of Ny-Alesund with its population of 35. This was the Arctic I had read about.
Ny-Alesund is a picture perfect town, mainly filled with scientists, and the constant filling and emptying of tourists who come in by boat. If you take an arctic cruise, on one of those mammoth cruise liners that serve every food imaginable and give you evening entertainment, Ny-Alesund is as far North as you get, because of this every time one of these ships pulls into the harbour the town gets overrun by the thousands of occupants who disembark and take over the once-tranquil town. If you manage to spend some time at Ny-Alesund when there isn’t a cruise liner docked, you can walk around the ghost town; in between houses and around small streets without ever bumping into another living soul. It’s an introvert’s dream spot. The town is resting on the side of a mountain as seemed to slowly peter away into the water, past the water are breathtaking views of glaciers and mountains that look like they could be straight from a Christmas card.
All the members of our arctic expedition met in the town’s only hotel and waited for our boat to be ready. We sipped of warm cups of hot chocolate and stared out of the large windows at the spectacular views and the boat that, for the next 2 weeks, we would call home. Aboard the boat, there were 3 levels, the top housed the seating area, dining room and the suites on board, the most expensive and luxury rooms. In the bows of the boat stood the shared room my family and I were staying in, squeezed in between the crew cabins. We had 3 single beds, one which pulled down from the wall, a desk and chair, a small wardrobe and a bathroom the sort you would get inside a ferry. With everyone on board, including crew the boat could take up to 130 people, and I loved it.
Each day we would wake up and go to the dining room which was always filled with breakfast food; cereals, french toast, and cooked breakfast everything was amazing. We would go back to our cabin and get ready for our morning outing, most days we would leave the boat twice a day, getting into the small 12 man Zodiac boats which would take us to the nearest shore or would allow us to get up close to the glaciers and spectacular landscape than we could on the large boat. These experience aboard the lifeboat-sized boats were always my favorite we explored abandoned whaling communities that were made up of a few small huts and littered with the large skeletons of the Whales they hunted or got within meters of a calving glacier as we raced back to boat jumping through the large waves the ice had made in the water. In the Zodiacs it felt like there was little between me and nature, sat in a small boat you could feel the cold air whipping off the ice, see the enormous size of them and watch closely as the birds sat nestled in their cliffside nests.
Every day aboard the boat felt like an adventure, one evening the crew hosted a BBQ dinner to us outside on the deck. We all sat at picnic tables and watched as the meat cooked, we even had another visitor who was interested in the smell of our food; a Polar Bear! As we ate the Polar Bear got closer to the ship as we watched with a keen eye through our binoculars to see if it would be getting any closer. Unfortunately, the bear didn’t come much closer, however, the trip after mine the bears came really close to the boat, in fact, the bear was right up against the side of the boat- I’m not jealous though honest!
The morning after we were awoken early by an announcement over the ship tannoy that there were Narwhals in the water surrounding the boat. The large Whales with a big ‘tusk’ swam around the side of the boat, as we watched from above.
Towards the end of the trip when we were on the Zodiacs, on one of these trips to shore that we were given the opportunity to swim in the sea. We had been travelling for a few days without stopping, trying to get around a large sheet of Ice, so hadn’t been able to get off the boat, they had promised us earlier in the trip and opportunity to take a dip in the icy water we had been surrounding us, and they announced that morning that we would be able to do the swim that day. I hadn’t realised that we would be able to go for a swim before I arrived on the boat, however, I knew they had a sauna, A room next to the boiler, so I had packed a bikini, just in case.
So it was time for us to get onboard the Zodiac boats dressed in 3 layers of clothing and my thick winter coat with my little bikini on underneath, ready for my swim. Once on land we gathered around and waited for towels and the boats to be ready to take us back to the ship once we had completed our swim. A small group of us hung around the shoreline waiting for the 5 swimmers, including myself, to take the plunge into the frigid waters, once we were ready we slipped off our warm winter coats and layers of thermal clothes and stepped into the ridiculously cold water.
Calling it a swim in the arctic may be a slight exaggeration, I wasn’t exactly swimming lengths up and down the shoreline. However, I submerged my body and did a slight doggy paddle around an iceberg before I rushed out of the water grabbed a towel and tried to pile my warm clothes back onto my body before boarding the Zodiac and heading back to the warmth of the ship and my room.
On our final days, we had the opportunity to come face to face with both Reindeer and Walrus. They were both spectacular creatures and ones that I had never thought I would see in real life. However as we stood in a line staring at the dominant Walrus of the pack I didn’t appreciate the rest of the group pushing me forward meaning that I was alone ahead of the crowd and almost face to face with the mammoth beast.
Swimming in the arctic, seeing Polar Bears, Narwhal Whales, and Reindeer and having a BBQ on the deck of a ship overlooking icebergs and glaciers were all memories that will stick with me forever. My Arctic experience was truly one I will never forget; now I just need to head down to the Antarctic and finish the set.