Sunday, November 27, 2016

Svalbard Part II

Good things come to those who wait....;-)
It was quite a busy fall, but as promised, here part 2 of the Svalbard adventure:

The top map shows where about Svalbard is located and the bottom map shows our particular trip (the highlighted locations are the ones featured in this blog). Due to the very mild winter and an early and comparatively warm spring almost all of the ice was gone and we could circumnavigate the island.

For those of you who want a quick refresher to Svalbard, Part I, click here.

Day six brought us to the area of Worsleyneset, where the exploration of Villa Oxford and an extended hike was planned. Finding an old hut called Villa Oxford certainly peaked my curiosity....A Norwegian hunter by the name of Hilmar Nøis built a few huts in the area, his first one was called the "Texas Bar". With this kind of wit he also put an old transport box to good use and built "Oxford Villa". The box originally carried airplane parts for an English expedition, with the goal to carry out the first aerial photography over this part of Svalbard. The leader of the expedition was George Binney from....Oxford! This hut was built in 1924 and it is in excellent condition.

Just as we had our first peaks around the hut, a very exciting radio call came in....there was a polar bear in the vicinity...
We jumed back into the Zodiacs...

and everybody was looking forward to see a polar bear up and close.

And here he was...

We followed the bear for most of the remaining morning. It was interesting to watch a bear so close and observe his behavior. A moving zodiac and the collar though were not the best conditions for stunning wildlife photography ;-)

In the afternoon we headed to Monacobreen, breen stands for glacier in norwegian, and this glacier was named after Duke Albert I. of Monaco, who mapped the glacier in 1906/7.

As we left the ship, the weather did not look too promising, but this outing ended up being one of my favorite ones of the whole adventure.

Blue sky came through and illuminated the most amazing icebergs I've ever seen.

A bearded seal chillin' on an ice float.

Here a GIF of a "mini" calving of an iceberg, caught from a moving and rocking Zodiac as we were passing by.

Ice sparkling...

...and amazing reflections!

As always, please click on the image to see them in more detail!

After this excursion it was hard to go back "home".

The following day the sea was a bit rough which worked out perfectly as we had planned to check out  Sallyhamna on the east side of the Fair Haven strait, which was named so by 17th century whalers for it's convenient navigation conditions. Sallyhamna itself is a little bay protected by a peninsula, so the waters here were nice and calm.

The whalers have left the remains of their doings in the form of several blubber ovens and graves. This dwelling shown here was built by Waldemar Kræmer, who named the place after his wife Sally who joined him occasionally here.
The hut is built on top of an old blubber oven with a whaler's grave inside...shudder!!
Searching for a remote vacation cabin?

Beautiful turquoise icebergs took our attention away from blubber ovens and graves, and let us, at least for periods at a time, forget, that icy rain was hitting us from the side...

The Black Guillemot and the

Barnacle Goose were quite oblivious to the weather.

After a hearty lunch we were out again, this time to visit Smeerenburg..."Blubber town"...
Smeerenburg was was one of the largest and is now one of the best known whaling stations.  At it's peak around the 1620's, seven Dutch companies and one Danish company with up to 200 men stayed at Smeerenburg during the short summer months. Smeerenburg is also the the site of the first, intentional, wintering of Europeans on Svalbard. . A guard of seven men succesfully wintered here from 1633 to 1634, the very following year though, none of the seven guards survived...

Wind and weather took away most of the dwellings, but some artifacts are remarkably well preserved.

For me the best part of the landing was, that we could head out for an extended walk, which gave ample opportunity for macro photography, away from blubber ovens and a grim whaling history.

Feather with rain drops

Artifacts with rocks

Droplets on purple saxifrage

On day 8 we landed at Ny London in the morning...
Two huts and lots of artifacts are telling a story typical for Spitzbergens' mining "gold rush". Between 1910 and 1913, the NEC (Northern Exploration Company) invested a lot of money in trail mining here, in the hope to find large quantities of high-grade marble.

And they found marble, but in such a low quality, that it was not worthwhile to exploit it. In this time though up to 70! men worked and lived there during the summer months. hence it is one of the most extensive sites of cultural heritage in Svalbard.

Later Ny London was used by overwintering hunters and trappers. Now it is taken care of and used by the scientists and people from across the bay, Ny Alesund, for scientific and recreational purposes.

To visit this site was a real treat, as we not only had the chance to photograph all the artifacts, but we also went out for a long hike.
Below a panorama taken from the highest point, overlooking parts of Kongsfjord. Please feel free to click on the panorama to see it in greater detail.

We also witnessed two juvenile reindeer playing, they were so immersed in their playing that they didn't even mind us.

In the afternoon we went on a Zodiac cruise to the 14th July Glacier, named by afore mentioned Duke Albert I. of Monaco. He also mapped this area and took the liberty to name a few places in his favor. This glacier is named after Bastille Day, a national French holiday.

The glacier was magnificent but the winds pushed heavy waves into the bay and photographing from the Zodiac was quite a challenge.

An Atlantic Puffin, taking off...

Our last day lead us to Alkhornet. And in typical Spitzbergen summer manner, the name-giving horn-shaped mountain was covered in fog.

Huge Kittiwakes and Guillemot colonies fertilized the tundra around the mountain and a surprisingly dense and versatile vegetation is thriving here through the mild summer months.

Tufted Saxifrage

And the lush vegetation of course attracts the reindeer.

With this peaceful image of a reindeer grazing next to a gurgling small waterfall our adventure concluded and we headed back to Longyearbyen and civilization. 


Maps: Courtesy of One Ocean Expeditions

All my historical and geological references are from Rolf Stange's book: Spitsbergen - Svalbard, which is available in English as well as in German. This is THE comprehensive book for anyone interested in Svalbard!

A very good read is also Christiane Ritter's book "A Woman in the Polar Night" by an Austrian painter Christiane Ritter, who spent a whole year (1933/34) in a hut on Spitzbergen's north coast together with her husband and another companion. Well written and spell binding! 
Für meine deutschen Freunde, am besten im Orginal lesen: "Eine Frau erlebt die Polarnacht".

Monday, September 5, 2016


Last week the day had was time to fly with Mika to Montreal. 
I'm not sure if I felt excited, anxious, scared or nervous...probably a mix of all of the above. 
The main purpose of this trip was to get Mika settled, to get the last remaining questions answered and to eventually say good-bye. 
But aside of this, we also wanted to explore the city.
And that we did!!
The following blog is by no means a complete Montreal city tour, it is more a collection of the highlights we explored.

On our first day in Montreal the weather was rather uncooperative, rainy, windy and warm. Humid east coast weather Mika will have to get used to. Nevertheless we had a blast.
First on our list, since it was just around the corner from our hotel, was the Basilique Notre-Dame.

There is so much history in Montreal. Before we even approached the basilique we had a close look at the fountain,

and then stood in line to see the famous inside.
Absolutely stunning.
The blue background and the many stars made from real gold give an almost unreal feeling of depth.

Saturated from so much splendor we wandered around the small, old alleys until we stumbled upon a sculpture...
Called "The illuminated Crowd" this sculpture is one of Montreal's most photographed landmark. The special weather resistant material looks a bit like butter, so Mika nicknamed it right away "The Butter Sculpture". It is a bit of a disturbing sculpture, as the pictured people in the front are "illuminated" and the farther one goes towards the end,

people seem to be less illuminated, some seem to wriggle in pain, some seem famished, and at the very end they even appear dead...

While wandering through Montreal we saw lots of hybrid and electric cars and a quite extensive infrastructure with "electric gas stations", but also a more affordable clean energy solution for quick transportation. Rental bikes! You can rent them for an hour, half a day or a whole day. You rent it at one place and return it at any rental venue of your choice. Super idea and the bikes looked really well maintained.

Chateau Ramezay was built in the 18th century as a prestigious residence for Claude de Ramezay, governor of Quebec. It was the first building in Québec to be classified a historic monument and was selected by a team of experts, in collaboration with UNESCO, as one of the 1001 historic sites you must see before you die!

We postponed visiting this museum and decided to keep strolling and window a shop window I just could not pass...

Some magnificent street art

and more art at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Though we just looked through the foyer and headed towards the underground mall.

Art everywhere in Montreal,

even in the mall!

Totally exhausted we made it back to our hotel, and caught the right moment to see one of the fire displays at the La Joute fountain, the Palais des Congress with it's colored glass front in the background.

Knowing now about the spectacle I photographed the scene as seen from our hotel room the following night.

The next day was mostly McGill oriented. Mika moved into his residence and we took care of all the logistic and formal tasks. Done with this we still had part of the afternoon to explore. We started with a late lunch at the observatory of the skyscraper at the Place Ville Marie. This newly renovated observatory and restaurant offers an amazing 360 view over the city and some delicious food!.

Restored we took a short metro ride to Quartier Latin and Le Village.
Le Village is a whole urban district dedicated to all gay people. The 'boules roses' that cover the main street, Rue Ste. Catherine, go hand in hand with the cheerful vibe one finds there.

Even the signs are pink ;-)

Passing the Chapelle Notre Dame-de-Lourdes in beautiful late afternoon light we headed up

Rue Denise. This summer decorated with blue umbrellas. I have not quite figured out the meaning of the umbrellas but saw images of yellow and red umbrellas spanned over the Rue Denis on the mystery I need to uncover....

One of the reasons we wanted to stroll Rue Denise was to see this major mural, picturing parts of the 'Le Refus Global' a manifest from the late 1960's that the CBC calls: "one of the most important and controversial artistic and social documents in modern Quebec society". The authors and artists of the manifest are eternalized by the red birds in the mural.

Further up Rue Denis we reached the Carre St. Louise.

Unfortunately the sun was about to sink and I had not too much light left. But this is one of my favorite spots so far in Montreal. The Carre is surrounded by lovely and well maintained Victorian houses

and in the middle stands an old stone gazebo which is transformed into an ice cream and coffee place.

The picture above is so Montreal....people reading in the last light of the day, kids playing peek-a-boo and an older lady sitting there with her pink bike, how awesome is this?

Hard to top this, but the following day did just that. While waiting in line for a taxi the evening we arrived, I had seen an ad for a 18th century market on the coming weekend. I researched this and found out the the market was just around the corner. So, after our obligatory croissant breakfast we went to check it out.

Along the Place Royal many different wooden stalls had been built and vendors dressed up in 18th century clothing offered goods in line with the times.

Together with maps from Montreal and vicinity at the times

and street musicians

the whole market had a wonderful authentic flair. When you closed your eyes and just listened to the voices mingled with the music one could really imagine to be back in the 18th century.

Adjacent to the Place Royale is the Museum Pointe-a-Calliere, and this bill board of an ongoing exhibition caught my eyes...

This tower is part of the museum and we wondered if we would be able to get to the top.

Yes, we could and from up there we had a great view over the market and

the old port.

Before we even got to the horse exhibition we got drawn into the underground of the museum which was built on original parts of the old city.

Lots of archeological history here. Right now they are restoring wide parts of the former under-ground channels and in short time, museum visitors will be able to wander along these old tunnels.

Being a harbour city Montreal was on the front line of epidemics.... this "news" illustration from 1875 shows the grim former day scare.

After this quick side trip to Montreal's history we finally enjoyed the horse exhibition. Amazing objects of art, all around the horse, collected by Emile Hermes.
The absolute highlight - Pegasus!

The exhibition was a worthy closure to this amazing short trip.

Montreal, I will be back!