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THE VOYAGE Hurtigruten provide an excellent book- let explaining what to bring on this voy- age but there were several other things worth noting. Do bring some interior shoes with a good grip for the in- terior of the hotel in Longyearben and on board ship. Waterproof trou-


sers are also a good idea – an Arctic rainstorm can come out of nowhere and sometimes crossings can be a bit chop- py. It’s also an extra layer of warmth. Sunglasses and


sun cream are also advisable and a small backpack is very handy to carry binoculars, cameras, extra clothing, etc, on your trips ashore. We took some


Norwegian Krona for small purchases in Longyearben but I would recommend Euros as well for any airport transfers you may have. Oh, and don’t


forget your swimsuit for the Jacuzzis!


The town is also the first place you realise you really are about to go on an expedition as much as a cruise. Spitsbergen is located where the warmer currents of the Gulf Stream meet the cold air and water from the north, making it a biological hotspot for wildlife, which includes birds, seals, walruses, reindeer, Arctic foxes and the undisputed king of this land, the Polar Bear.


T


he town is surrounded by warning signs tell- ing you not go beyond the limits without a gun or trained guide.


The next morning after shopping we had our


arrival briefing with the expedition team in the hotel, and it was impressively geared towards


us being visitors in the bear’s realm. We were instructed in what to do if our group had a close encounter with a bear, including a variety of strategies to frighten them off. Shooting them is only ever a final resort. That afternoon we boarded the Fram, Hurtigruten’s specialist polar exploration vessel, to be equipped with our polar jackets. Then, in early evening, we slipped out of the harbour headed for the unique Russian mining township of Barentsburg. Many went ashore to enjoy a traditional folk song and dance evening in this unusual enclave of Mother Russia, but the committed wildlife spotters among us decided to stay on board and scan the sky and seas for the area’s specialities. We were almost immediately rewarded with a


school of some 30 Beluga whales swimming just in front of the ship. Looking for all the world like white jelly babies cavorting in the surf, they were once hunted nearly to extinction and to see them so early in the cruise told us this really was going be something special. The Fram is a wonderful ship and we soon


struck up friendships with people from a range of nationalities. The atmosphere is boosted by the surprisingly elegant standard and style, with open


78 WORLD OF CRUISING I Winter 2011-12


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