Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Tuesday 29th June 2010

With a long and helpful sleep, I have awoken fresh and recovered from yesterday's slept deprivation. However, this will be another long day with the going down the hill to catch the Hurtigruten coastal steamer, at around 11:30 pm.

In the late morning I headed off down the hill for the day's activities. I have packed the thermal long johns and left the down jacket behind. Now it is back to the fleece jacket and no merino layer. The sun's warmth was noticeable although my computer weather software indicated a cool 10 degrees outside. It certainly felt a bit warmer than that and the day's high estimate of 13 degrees seemed to exceeded as the day wore on.

A quick visit to the post office to send some CD's and a DVD home together with some souvenirs. I had a helpful counter assistant, which always helps make posting home easier.

One of the highlights of Tromso is the University of Tromso's Museum. It includes a exhibition of Sami. While I was waiting for bus 37 to take me there I wandered around the stalls at the Market Square. Most were the same as last week but there were some additions such as the truck selling fish and the Thai food stall. Both of these stalls were doing a steady trade but some of the other stalls were just as unvisited as they had been last week. I wonder how people make a living from apparently such a small number of sales.

The bus ride to the University cost 26 kroner. It wove its way around the main streets before heading up the hill and travelling along the narrow residential streets. There was a mixture of older homes and more modern ones. Trees were plentiful. It seems strange to be back amongst trees after being in Svalbard.

Suddenly I noticed that the bus stop we had reached said Tromso Museum. So I grabbed my back pack and hurried off the bus. The museum was around the corner and a couple hundred metres walk. I was just walking up the path to the museum when I realised that I did not have my camera. I was sure I had it on the bus but not now. I was just checking inside my pack when a bus tooted. I looked around and behind me was my bus with the driver holding out the camera with a smile. The bus had done a loop back to find me. I was so thankful. What a good advertisement for the kind of people who live in Tromso.

The museum was certainly worth a visit. It had sections of the geological history of the area which included several meteorites and sample sections from others. There was a section explaining the Northern Lights. I took the opportunity to watch the 10 minute slide show of Northern Lights photographs in the theatrette. The photos were often breath taking. It certainly must be fascinating living in a 'lights' area. These shots certainly made my one observation in Canada last year pale into insignificance.

The upper floor was mostly given over to displays on Sami culture and a photographic display on the struggle for the preservation and acknowledgement of their identity and culture. Outside amongst the trees there is a Sami Gami or mid walled hut. A local Sami university graduate mans the hut and will discuss the culture with you. Inside it has exposed thin birch tree trunks shaped a bit like a teepee, but curved over at the top. There were also some snow curved trunks joined together to form a supporting arch. The trunks were lined on the outside with birch bark before the earth was piled up on top. The hut has already been standing there for over 30 years. On the floor, small birch twigs and branches had been laid down as insulation and reindeer hides laid on top. Sami would rest on this for their bed. One other person and I had a great conversation with this young Sami, but once the German tour party arrived, it was time for me to leave. I knew that more would follow. Out in front of the museum were eight tour buses with yet another arriving. The remaining exhibition halls were crowded.

The Sami informant had been preparing coffee on the open fire inside the house. However, I decided that rather than wait I would buy coffee at the cafe.

Back in the museum, there was an interesting collection of photographs which had been taken be a school teacher who had taught in Sami schools during the 1950's. His photos now provide an important collection of visual documentation of the Sami way of life in the early Post-War period. The museum now has a project underway to photograph contemporary Sami life to supplement this older collection. In time the new pictures will be just as significant as the original teacher's collection is today.

Other exhibitions included religious art which was mostly old altar pieces and wooden statuary from churches. A small but interesting collection. Another was about the establishing of an off shore gas field near Tromso.

A bus back to the Sentrum and then I waited around for the next bus which would take me up and over the impressive bridge spanning the harbour. It seemed to be quite a steep climb up the city side of the bridge arch. We reached the top and because of the shape almost as quickly started descending on the other side. Once back on land, we drove past the Aortic Cathedral. This is a tourist attraction in its own right. It is white and looks a bit like a series of ice blocks pointing upwards to the sharply peaked roof. A bit like young fold mountains perhaps. You pay to visit so it would have been a good idea to get there around 2 pm when the organ recital was on each day.

But I was going further. My target was to ride up the aerial cable car to the top of the mountain. I have been able to see the cable car's cutting through the bush as a sort of scar on the hillside, from across the harbour. Now I am going to ride up it.

I have always been apprehensive of travelling on transport such as this. However, this time I did it without a thought. There are two little yellow cars attached to overhead cable. They have standing room only and would carry say, 20 at a time. From their rounded design and from the general look of the building, I deduced that the cable cars have been in existence for a long time.

The ride up the mountain side give a bit over 400 metres rise in altitude. When I got out at the top and went into the visitors' centre that you flow into, I realised that the top of the mountain was a bit higher up but hidden from below. There were various tracks which people were walking along round the mountain and up to the summit. What I had done in my ride was to rise above the tree line and I was now in an alpine tundra area.

From the viewing platform, in fact from anywhere, the view was great. I looked out across the harbour, across the island which Tromso is situated on and across more fjord areas to the mountains behind. There was still quite a bit of snow cover on them. However, at the hotel there is a large panorama taken from this spot. It shows Tromso on a winter's day. It is covered in show and it all looks very attractive. Well I was in the right spot, the view was great but the snow was mostly missing.

The restaurant – yes there has to be one at the top of a cable car- had tables set out on the viewing platform. I guess it would be great to dine outside with the clear cool air and bright sunshine and snow all around. However, my feeling was that the restaurant prices were high for what they offered. I mean, the equivalent of NZ$12 for a hot dog, even if it did come with fries, did seem expensive to me.

I went to catch the 7 pm cable car down and found it was full with six unable to fit in. However, although the next car down would have been 7:30 pm, once the up coming car reached the top, it loaded us in and went back down again. That was nice.

There was only a ten minute wait for the bus and then back across the bridge to the city. I collected some bananas, water, cheese and bread rolls for the trip tomorrow from the supermarket. Then back up the hill to the hotel to pack and get ready for the next stage of the journey.

I a month's time I will already be back in New Zealand.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Monday 28th June 2010

(Photos above show the Guesthouse 102 at 2:25 am, The valley mountain side at the same time, the glacier at the head of the valley and looking down the road to Longyearbyen also at 2:25 am. Quite special I thought. )

The started at midnight as I looked out of the window at the bright view across the valley. One o'clock was the same as was two. Beautiful bright sunlight and a clear blue sky. Just like you see in some tourist poster for a tropical paradise. But this was not the tropics. This was a polar location, Svalbard. It is true that some sources call it the polar tropics. But there are no palm trees, in fact there are no trees of any kind. Hardly any grass either. What there is, is tundra type and low mixed with colourful tiny flowers.

I am awake trying not to fall asleep in case I miss the shuttle bus for the airport at 2:30 am. I am not the only person awake though. Outside my window I hear the happy conversations of a group standing on the front steps smoking and drinking. From time to time a car goes past or someone walks up the road. Inside in the hall way there are occasional voices or the sound of feet walking past.

I know I could set my phone alarm, in fact I have, but there is the question of would it work or would I be in deep sleep and not hear it? So I chose to stay awake and sit in a chair. I am all packed ready to go and I do at 2:15 am. It didn't take very long to reach the bus stop and turning point outside a neighboring guesthouse. On the balcony of that building a man is standing with his camera taking photos. I am reminded that the Guesthouse 102 manager told me that he has guests who return each year, sleep all day and go out into the midnight sun to photograph.

Quite soon a couple emerge to wait for the bus, which by now I can see way down the valley heading our way. We load our bags in the underneath lockers and take our seats. Then we are off, back down the road calling into each hotel or guesthouse. By the Radisson near the shops, the bus is full. The driver stops just past the last stop and makes his way along the aisle collecting our 50 kroner fares. Then off to the airport.

Everybody is grabbing their bag and rushing into the terminal to queue up for check in. I get into a short queue and ask for a aisle seat and get 2D, which proves to have more leg room and tray room.

I didn't think there would be much chance of a window seat.

There was a large waiting lounge with floor to ceiling glass windows so that you could see the stunning view across the fjord. The sun streamed in the tinted windows but still made the inside hot. In fact I shifted out of the direct rays and into a shadow area.

0415 seemed an unearthly hour to catch a plane but there was one to Oslo at 0450 and already the shuttle was arriving with the load for that flight.

By convenient positioning I was at the boarding check as soon as they announced loading. Using a fingerprint ID I got my seat receipt and strode out across the tarmac to the plane steps. I don't thing that the plane was full, certainly there was a spare seat next to me and across the aisle were a couple free seats as well.

Take off was delayed as Tromso was closed. They were doing runway maintenance and we had to wait. When we got to Tromso we had to circle around while the heavy equipment was moved off the runway.

We took of without too much delay. For the next ten minutes of so the plane flew low so that it was about mountain top height. We flew along fjords and crossed into more fjords and along the coast. While not a perfect position to see all that was on show, I did see the glaciers we visited on the first boat trip. I could see more mountains in the distance behind the ones that had been on view during the boat trip. At one point I could see quite large coastal area which was snow free. It also looked as if it could be reasonably flat land as well.

The we climbed up into the clouds and came put on top. Breakfast was served. Orange juice and a large filled ham roll with coffee. All except the coffee, just the cup, came in a paper bag, which made delivery and collection of the rubbish a very easy task. Repeats of coffee were also offered. If the flight is over 40 minutes and before 9 am (I think it is) then SAS serve a free breakfast.

We landed at a wet and cool Tromso at 5:40 am and most people hurried off. However, I hung around waiting for the first airport bus to depart at 8:15 am. I knew this would be the case so was prepared for it. I did find a table and worked on the computer for a while. The terminal was extremely untidy with rubbish lying all around. Obviously the cleaners don't start all that early in the day.

The bus took off and I basically went straight to sleep. I missed going through the tunnels and woke up in the main street of Tromso. The last stop was downtown and there was no way this driver was going to take me up to the hotel as the first one had done. He pointed the direction out for me although I knew full well that it was going to be along there round the corner and up the hill.

I was pretty exhausted when I arrived at AMI Hotel. I stored my bags and sat in the lounge for an hour or so and more or less slept. I know I got some strange looks from the guests. I came too after some coffee and a orange justice and went off down town for a walk. They were just starting to clean my room so I knew when I did come back that it would be ready.

I headed for the Tourist Office to sort out the details for getting on the Hurtigruten on Wednesday morning. It sails at 1:30 am. The tourist counter staff was a man who turned out to have been born in the Hutt Valley, as I was. He has married a Norwegian woman and has lived here for six or eight years now. He was very helpful and had good English of course. I was given the chance to view the Hurtigruten deck plans on his computer and he gave me suggestions on where to find quiet seats which you could sleep in.

I had a quick lunch in a near by shopping centre and then headed back to the hotel and my welcome bed. I felt like a walking zombie by the time I got into my room. I pulled the curtains and changed into PJ's and got into bed. It was around 1:30 pm.

When I awoke later my watch indicated that it was 7:45. Normally it is set on 24 hour display so my thought was that I had slept right though the afternoon and night. It was quiet. I showered and dressed and went down for breakfast but there was nothing out. For a moment or two I felt quite disorientated. Then I pressed the display setting on my watch and found that it was in fact only about 8:15 pm. I still had the whole night ahead.

Fortunately the hotel leaves out a small selection of food mostly the breakfast kind. So I was able to have juice, bread, two cold boiled eggs, some cheese and some pressed meat. For this I needed to pay 20 kroner. I was happy to do that as I had no strong desire to go down town again.

So it was back to the room, watched some TV – River Queen was on one channel but I put the BBC on for a while. I started the blog but then headed off to bed again.

In terms of travel, this has been what they call a 'Rest Day'.


Monday, June 28, 2010


Saturday 26th June 2010

Today I am taking another trip on the "Polar Girl" except that this time I am heading up the fjord in the opposite direction to the last trip. Another difference is that the pick up is at 10 am, an hour later. That's good. Oh and the weather does not look as bright and clear as it was for the previous trip to Barentburg.

When I walked a few metres down the road to the pick up point I discovered another difference. There was a large bus waiting and not a taxi van. And the bus filled up. But when we got to the wharf, the bus went off to pick up another load. Oh boy! Is the boat going to be crowded today. It's not that it could not take that many, it is just that when you have done a trip with a dozen on board you have got use to having space and seating where ever you moved to. And there was room at the rails to look at the special sights. Today you had to plan ahead to get a rail spot on either deck level.

Standing at the adjoining wharf was a large cruise liner, one of those really big floating hotels. I was somewhat amused to see that it was called "Mien Schiff" which, if I have got the spelling correct should mean 'My Ship'. A good choice I thought as then the tourists could just say things like "Where's My Ship?"

It did of course make your little vessel look even more tiny. Actually there seemed to be one cruise boat a day but they were certainly not all this size. Some were designed for exploration and others seemed to be Russian – perhaps ice breakers? I was told that at this time of the year it is not likely that an ordinary vessel could get right around the island as there is still too much ice present.

Eventually we pulled out and headed on our way down the first fjord. We passed a low slopping beach or coastal area on one side and I noticed quite a few scattered cottages and houses. The only way to get to them would be by sea. However, mostly they were just a family's week end cottage type of thing. But they would certainly provide a change to town living, once they had got across the wide fjord. On today's trip we were to have several times were we were able to see how choppy the sea can get, where as at other moments it was mirror calm. I guess it all had to do with the way the mountains funneled the wind.

Well the trip along the fjord was pretty much the same as the last one exception the features were different. But it was snow covered mountains, mountains without snow or much snow, glaciers, dramatic cliffs, steeply sloping foreshores, a hut or two, close views and distant views. At one point I counted 8 ( I think it was) glaciers. Then there were all the U shaped valleys where there had once been glaciers. Small waterfalls down the cliffs, eroded steep gullies, scree everywhere, some times in a wider valley there was a small braided river running across the stones and gravel.

But there was beauty about the views. Some were rugged beauty while other views were of majestic beauty the beauty of mighty glaciers or oh so smooth snow fields on the mountain tops and in the wide rounded basins. Where the snow was smooth and extensive, it seemed to have a velvet sheen all over it. At first I had thought that it was a low layer of mist but it was not that. I have had several explanations when I have mentioned it.

  • it is to do with the varing pressure on the snow

  • it is refraction of the blue skylight

  • it is to do with how much air is in the snow

  • and here were more but I can not remember them at this stage. All I know is that I do not recall ever having seen this particular effect before.

Everyone settled down in the space they preferred. I got chatting to an American male from Denver. He is now working on his doctorate at the Scott Polar Institute at Cambridge in England. He told me that his area of study was polar shipping from 2000 onwards. He was a geographer. His name was Will and he was a very friendly lad and spent a lot of time chatting to people on the ship. We had several conversations over the course of the trip.

Along the way we edged into a small fjord to look at the site of an old mine. All there was to see was the mine entrance, a wooden boat up on the beach, a reindeer grazing and a well maintained house. This had been part of the mining but now is maintained for local fishermen. A couple of these had just landed from their motorboat and were walking along to the house. Apparently the mine was for gypsum. I think that the name of the mine area was Skansbukta.

Shortly afterwards it was Pyramiden. It was possible to see this from a distance as there were tall powerhouse chimneys and a number of buildings visible. Although abandoned as a mining settlement, there are still about 10 Russian caretakers left there. Also visiting researchers and scientists come and go. There were a couple of red shipping containers on the wharf, which have been converted into accommodation for them.

Pyramiden (pyramid) is named after the imposing mountain backing the settlement and into which the mine shaft was tunneled. "This was Russia's pride of the Arctic and you can sense some of the atmosphere which must have existed here" (trip brochure). The town was obviously planned and laid out in a pleasant manner. There are large lawn areas between many of the buildings. No one walked on the grass as it was maintained as areas for children's play only. Most of the buildings are standard Russian multi story apartments constructed in brick mostly. There were some in timber which had been given traditional fretwork around windows and doorways.

There was a helicopter landing spot, hotel, post office, indoor swimming pool, cultural centre and so on. Outside the post office was a tall flowering tulip mock up. Artificial yes, and it wouldn't fool anyone for a minute, but it did bring a touch of colour.

On the post office and hotel building, sea gulls were nesting above the window frames. On the apartment buildings they were using the top of jutting out cool storage cupboards or fridges.

Yes, they had their statue of Lenin located in a commanding position, looking along the wide lawn area.

I spied the kindergarten, now disused. In the fenced off grass playground, the equipment still stood waiting for the next child to use it. Swings, slide, play house – just the same as you would find in New Zealand. All there but abandoned.

The industrial sites all looked blacken with coal dust and in various states of disrepair. Framing standing like black skeletons on the landscape. The braided courses of mountain streams running through a landscape of scree, coal and coal dust, broken down mining buildings. There was an imposing double track covered rail system rising up to the mine entrance 400 feet up the side of the mountain. The miners had to go up to the mine each day and I assume that the had wagons to take them up. Otherwise it would take them a while to walk up, especially when the snow was around.

The mining was abandoned because it was not of a high enough grade. However it would seem that it is politically important for Russia to want to maintain a presence here as at Barentberg. It must cost a bit to do that though.

As we walked around, the boat's guide led with a bear gun over his shoulder. At the rear another crew member walked with the flare pistol. He also checked around buildings when we stopped to hear descriptions. Because the apartment buildings are all raised off the ground, there is always space for a bear to hide underneath. The crew member ensured that the group kept together and wanders were brought back.

We had about an hour here before sailing off to visit the Nordenskioldbreen Glacier. This imposing landscape feature dominated the view down the fjord for most of our trip. But from Pyramiden you just looked across the water at it. I thought how much it would have dominated life in the town, walk out the door and there it is facing you. Of course, because of its size it did look closer than it actually was to Pyraminden. In fact while we were sailing across to it, we had time for lunch. Today it was BBQ salmon, salad and a potato and spring onion salad mixed in thick mayonnaise together with a corn meal type of bread. The BBQs had been set upon the aft deck.

We sailed in through small scattered blocks of ice towards the glacier and then hove to for everyone to have plenty of opportunity to view and photograph. The glacier had some blue patches but it was no way as blue as the glaciers I saw in Alaska. Nor did we see any calving here. It was all very peaceful with not even a seal to be seen. I do find it quite fascinating to look at the great cliff of ice which is the end of the glacier. The shapes of the ice blocks and vertical crevices are all varied and intriguing. So as usual, I did take a range of photographs.

Then the boat turned and we sailed away. Now we were heading back the way we had come. The difference was that coming we tended to stay on one side of the fjord and returning we were closer to the other side. At times the expanse of sea was quite extensive and the wind was able to build up a chop and spray splashed up onto the deck. Then we would move into a more settled area with a mirror like calmness.

A feature of the tour was to see the Diabas bird cliff. Well you do see the cliff with the white areas of accumulated droppings washing down the cliff face. But the problem is that you never get in close enough to actually see the birds in any detail. From where the boat sailed the birds are like tiny spots on the rocks.

We came back to the wharf about nine hours after departing. The bus was waiting to take us back up the valley. I think that the trip was good value and more than just enjoyable. It was a very pleasant day out. And they have senior prices.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Longyearbyen Airport Monday morning at 3 am.

Yep! this really is 3 am, three o'clock in the morning. Look at the bright sun through the window and the crowds waiting for flights. The shuttle bus picked me up at 2:30 am and yes I was awake. Actually I don't really think I had ever gone to sleep as I sat in a chair waiting for the alarm to go off. Now at 6 am I am sitting in Tromso Airport where the temperature is 8 degrees and it is raining. The airport bus does not run till 8:15 am and there is no reason to pay for a taxi to arrive too early at a hotel which still has to check out your room's previous



Sunday 27th June 2010

(Saturday's blog still to come)

Today was to be a gentle activity day and so it was.

A 9 am pick up for a four hour Fauna and Flora trip around the coastal area. There were five of us on the trip plus the guide and a trainee guide.

Essentially we were driven to a series of coastal locations on both sides of Longyearbyen, where we had the chance to look for birds. In fact the trip turned out to be more about birds. There was a chance to get some pictures of the many small flowers around the areas we stopped at but this seemed somewhat incidental to the search for birds. That was a pity as the flowers were more easily photographed than the birds were.

Certainly we saw birds and some flew over our head but mostly they were a little distant to see clearly even with binoculars – well with mine anyhow. We saw Arctic Tern which I could recognize as being terns. We may have seen puffins and some others I did not recognize the names of.

When we stopped near the end of the road, the guide brought out a powerful telescope on a tripod and we were able to sight rows of birds on a nesting cliff side location.

It was here that we had coffee and a sweet bun. Sitting on the foreshore rocks which were piled up into a steep wall by wave action.

Towards the end of the trip we stopped beside a husky kennels and looked at the Elder Duck nesting and at some of the chicks. The ducks have worked out that this location which was also right beside the road, was so close to the dogs that the Aortic Fox and Polar Bears would stay away. They could nest in peace. So were so close to the log barrier that I could have reached over and touched them. A small stream flowing down from the mountain side was pounded to give the ducks a small swimming area. The Elder Duck is what the best down comes from for sleeping bags and jackets.

There was a White Aortic Gull flying around here as well.

From here we carried on along the road and past the fresh water lake which is used for the town's water supply. I was interested to find large areas still covered with ice. Further along the road was the only working coal mine in Longyearbyen and on a high hill top were a couple of large satellite bowls. These are there for research project into particle emissions from the sun. Apparently there are some interesting things happening in the sun's inner levels. At the other end of the road there were about eight large white domes which covered other dishes being used for research. In the hillside just under them but in now way connected, is the great World Seed Bank. Here there is a long tunnel bored deep into the mountain. Then there are secure chambers where they are attempting to collect samples of every known food seed and store them. They have about 500 of each seed in storage.

As far as wildlife went, we had an Aortic Fox's lair pointed out high up a mountain side. However the only animal life we saw were some reindeer. One a single animal chewing its way around someone's cottage. Down the hillside some more there were a couple of others doing the same.

We did stop at a polar bear warning sign and posed for photographs.

The guides were knowledgeable and gave lots of local detail. The were friendly. However, part of the interest of the tour was the composition of the group. One husband turned out to be a chemical engineer working in the oil industry. He was involved in risk analysis and his job was to make sure that the oil and gas kept flowing without any hindrance. He was an interesting person to chat to and very informative. Working for a major global oil company he has travelled a lot in his job and has spent time in several countries for his company. He is now located in Stavanger Norway and is involved in the flow of North Sea gas.

I got the guide to drop me off at the Svalbard Museum. This is an award winning establishment and has an interesting display set up on Svalbard and Spitsbergen. It covers the European exploration, the hunting and the mining. There is some information on the geological history. I liked the comment that someone had made that Svalbard today is like the world was at the end of the Ice Age. I hadn't thought of it like that but I did think a bit about that idea. Very interesting I thought.

They also had artifacts rescued from some of the early explorer's camp and base sites, as well as from whaling and hunting camps.

I did buy a CD here and a couple fridge magnets, but realise now as I pack, that I must have left them on the seat at the museum. Like every other museum and gallery in town, you have to take boots off and swop them for slippers. I think I left the small bag on the seat after my boots were back on and I had gone to the locker to reclaim my back pack and jacket. That was bit of a waste of money unfortunately.

During the two mile walk back up the valley to the guesthouse, I did stop to take some flower photos. Several pretty little bunches of flowers were growing in the gravel along the shoulder of the road. Incidentally "up the road" certainly applies here as there was a steady gradient upwards.

There are a group of guesthouses in an area called the new town -Nubian. Once these had been the mine workers hostel accommodation but now the act as tourist accommodation. As I approached the first and lowest building, I just happened to glace sideways and there just perhaps 20 metres away were a couple of grazing reindeer. Once I got over my surprise, I took the opportunity to take some photos and video – well not actually 'some' more like 'lots'. Quite soon others had joined my photo shoot, one young male with a very mighty looking long lens on his DSLR – a Canon I think. One deer wandered on up the road eating as it went while the other went down and across the road. I caught up with the deer heading in my direction and took more pictures of it eating the little flowers before I headed on to the guesthouse.

I was very pleased that I had decided to walk up the road as on two previous afternoons when I have seen a single deer on the road, I have been going past it in a bus or van and unable to stop. I heard today that there are an estimated 10,000 reindeer on the island group. That does seem a lot. Apparently some years shooting is allowed and you can apply for a lenience to shoot a single deer each. I imagine that it would be for a trophy as they do not appear to have anywhere like enough flesh to provide a meal.

Now after dinner it is the long wait for the airport express at 2:30 am. I am a bit afraid to sleep incase my alarm does not work and I miss the plane. I have three hours to go. So I am writing blogs and listening to Morning Report on Radio NZ via the Internet, but I have stopped as I am hearing the same news items for the fourth or fifth time.

I must confess with all the walking and climbing and standing on boat decks over the last five days that my legs do feel rather stiff and tired. It does take a little bit of effort when I get back to the bedroom, to get up from the chair and head off to make dinner. But there is often some one interesting to chat too. Last evening I spent time chatting to young mail from Ukraine although he has been studying in Stockholm. Tonight it was a 32 year old Dutch GP who has volunteered to do a voyage as the ship's doctor on a small expedition ship. There is another Dutch female doctor of a similar age who is here to do the same on a different ship. Sounds an interesting way to fill in a couple of weeks as although volunteers they do get their return airfares paid for.



25th June 2010

There are two activities which stand out today. The Airship Museum and a trip to find fossils.

To start with I set off walking down the valley towards the Airship Museum, which is on a back road to one side of the valley. In hindsight, I should have left the guesthouse perhaps an hour earlier, but I thought that there was enough time to do everything.

On the way down the road I stopped off to visit an interesting looking art gallery. I had assumed that there would be photographs on display but in reality, it was all painting of some sort or another. Most were abstracts of flying snow and white out landscapes. So I wouldn't say that it was the most gripping display. While the front area was free to view, i.e. the shop, to go into the permanent exhibitions a charge was imposed. You did get to view a 6 minute (approx) video on the area down through history. The film was the best thing. There were some historic maps of the island as well and this was interesting to me. Many were from the 17th century. The gallery appeared to be part of a building which contained a range of local artisits' studios or workshops or sales points. I didn't go to see what was upstairs though.

Next I went to the Svalbard Airship Museum. Round about a 2 km walk. While it would be unusual to find an airship museum anywhere, to find one in this remote and small township did seem very strange. The old building was not large and I wondered as I approached it just what it would contain. In fact, would the walk be worth it.

I was the only visitor although others turned up while I was there, including a whole bus load of German speaking tourists. Ah a cruise boat must be in. The owner was Italian and greeted me with interest. He had been to NZ but only to transit at Christchurch coming and going to the Italian research base in Antarctica. When chatted for a while.

Mostly the contents were photographic plus some video. There were not a lot of actual items from airships. All the very detailed captions were in English so I got an information over dose, in fact I had to finally give part of the exhibits a very quick walk past as I was running out of time. I found it all very interesting. And there was no mention of the crash of the Hindenburg.

But why airships here in Svalbard? Well simply because there were a number of attempts to fly airships of various sorts to the North Pole and they started from some place on Spitsbergen, usually to the north. Most did not make it or in some cases get very far at all. But one, the Nord, actually flew over the North Pole and continued on to Alaska. So with that in mind the museum really only featured those airships or information about the men who flew them in other exploits.

Now another longish walk across the valley to the shopping centre. I had hope to visit the Svalbard Museum but I could see that I would not have much time to visit it in detail. So perhaps on Sunday.

Then it was off to the Supermarket to stock up for the days ahead. I had arranged for my Fossil Hunting trip at 4 pm to pick me up from down town. That way I would not have to carry the groceries up the valley. Nor pay for a taxi. Clever I thought.

Well, that idea worked and at 4 along came the mini van to pick me up and then around to the Radisson Hotel to collect another six. The van took us up the road to a point just a few hundred metres beyond my guesthouse. Then we walked or more correctly mostly climbed, across the rubble covering the valley. This was a mixture of rounded river stones and less rounded moraine debris.

I had assumed from the trip description that we left the transport and made a short walk to the base of the moraine. But no – this was a 45 minute walk and then climb. Sometimes we were making our way across piles of stones and at other times there was a formed track and even an old mining road. We crossed a small stream by using a few rungs or a short ladder laid across from bank to bank. Every now and again there were small patches of tiny mountain flowers. We crossed a snow patch and then another and then a steep climb up through snow for a while. Generally the theme of the 'walk' was up and up. I did find this somewhat exhausting although I was going OK along the flat bits. The guide even took my jacket and stuffed it into her pack to help me cool down for the climb. That was nice of her.

We past an old abandoned mine shaft going into the side of the mountain and the foundations of the mine buildings located on top of a moraine mound. But finally we reached the highest part of the moraine piles and across the mass of stones was the ice of the glacier. The guide reached into her pack and brought out seven heavy rock hammers, the sort fossil hunters would use. Once the group started enthusiastically chipping away at the rocks lying around, the guide began to get the tea and coffee set out on a flat rock. I sat down near by on a large flat rock and began to look at smaller stones lying around. In no time I had found fossilized grass, but the real find for me was to find a couple of stones with the imprint of 50 to 60 million year old leaves imbedded into them. Although I continued to chip away at rocks I did consider that I had all that I needed to take home as souvenirs.

Then it was back down the way we had come. Now much easier. The husky that the guide had with her bounded around as much as its lead would allow. Then we got to the van, exchanged the rubber gum boots for our own footwear and I was driven the short distance to the guesthouse. I did feel tired and stiff, especially my left leg.

The guide of course showed no such exhaustion despite taking two groups up a day. But she was a tough young woman who had done military training in the Latvian Army, had done parachute jumps fully laden with equipment and had also injured herself jumping. She had some interesting stories to tell. But we did have confidence that if we should met a polar bear then she could use the flare pistol or as a last resort, the bear gun both of which she carried. The last bear in the area was less than a month ago and had wandered around the guesthouses at the top of the road, before being scared away by flare guns.

This doesn't happen very often.



Thursday, June 24, 2010


Thursday 24th June 2010

A beautiful sunny morning with clear skies and only a few distant clouds, made this the perfect day to go on a boat trip. Which I was already booked in to do.

A maxi taxi collected fellow voyagers from surrounding guesthouses and me at 8:30 am. By 9 am the passenger deliveries had been completed and we were setting sail.

The 'Polar Girl' is a red and white painted vessel. It looks as though at some time in its life it has been an off shore trawler, but now it is set up to carry passengers. Not the lap of luxurary but comfortable enough. There is a lounge with bar for coffee and drinks. Next to that cabin is a dinning room. It is possible to go out onto the fore deck from this area or go back and down to the aft deck. You can also go up two open decks for better views. There was an invitation to go into the wheel house and chat to the captain.

The aft deck had picnic tables and chairs and it was here that the hot meal was served. It was spaghetti with a salmon cream sauce to go on top plus bread. Drinks were charged for. At first I enjoyed the meal but I did find in the end that it made me feel a bit unsettled. I go out on the same boat in a different direction on Saturday and I am betting that the meal will be the same.

We sailed down the Advevtfjorden which is the one Longyearbyen is situated on before joining up with the much larger Isfjorden. As we set out we passed the edge of town, the airport and a number of scattered housing along the coast until we soon passed the end of the road. This would be less than 10 km from the town.

We sailed down the centre of the fjord with snow covered mountains in the distance in every direction. The had varying amounts of snow cover but the tops were always white. I began to pick out the various glaciers some of which end in the sea.

There were a number of surface swimming and diving birds around. They were small but I do not know their name. At one point there was great excitement as we sighted a White Whale (Beluga). I really can not say I saw anything. Yes there was a quick flick or a tail on the surface – well I think that is what it was but it was too far away to see much. I don't think Beluga jump out up out of the sea like some whales do. A bit of an anit climax really especially as I have seen whole schools or pods of them from the air in Canada.

As we headed into a glacier, we passed three seals at different distances sleeping on floating ice. It was a magical experience approaching the glacier. The floating ice was just small pancakes, although over near one shore was a much larger ice sheet which had not yet broken up in to the smaller pieces we were passing.

While there was a yacht in close to the glacier, our ship stayed a much greater distance from it than I had expected. Perhaps the sea was too shallow, but I never found out. I don't think that we were actually told. My pick is that we stood off at least a kilometre from the glacier. Certainly we did not go anywhere as near as we had at Tracy Arm in Alaska. There were mini icebergs floating there as well.

We headed out of the glacier's fjord and across Isfj orden to another fjord. As we did so, the hot meal was served.

We were heading for a mining settlement. This one is inhabited whereas most of the old mining settlements are often, long, abandoned. But we were heading for Barentburg which is a Russian coal mining settlement. However, as they have had a fire in the mine for a couple of years, very limited production takes place at present. None is leaving the port and only enough to run the local power and heating plant is extracted.

The settlement was similar in many ways to the mining towns I passed going in and out of Murmansk. There were a number of older buildings, some no longer in use, some still in use. They were in various states of disrepair. One had a line of nesting seagulls above all the windows. However, there are modern buildings, mostly built in the utilitarian Soviet style. But there were none of the really high rise apartment buildings. Perhaps four levels was the highest. They had a modern hospital building, a traditional style church, a post office, a large enclosed swimming pool and a couple of souvenir shops. We saw in their hotel at which it is possible to stay. Light wood panels, long tables and bench seating. They had some sample meals set out and they looked very familiar Russian.

Roads were made from large slabs of concert with steel loops in each corner to aid placing or lifting them.

There is a school but not a lot of students. Once they reach the last two senior years they have to return to Russian to complete their schooling.

There is no money in the settlement. All the inhabitants have electronic cards and there are used a bit like debit cards I suppose. However in the souvenir shops they were happy to take Norwegian currency. I wish I had thought to bring my left over rubbles.

While our ship birthed and one of the wharves, the settlement itself is built high up on a series of terraces. There was a general moan when our guide told us that there were 240 steps to climb. There were several senior citizens in our small group and they made slow progress. I was glad that I had been doing so much walking as I think I handled the climb better than I expected.

There was a sense of some pollution and I think coal was lying around mixed with the stones and gravel. There was little vegetation because of the climate. The mine was a couple of kilometres away and a rail track carried the wagons to and from the mine head.

At the wharves there are bulk loading systems.

In a prominent position there was a bust of Lenin. Our guide told ua that every town in Russia had or will still have such a statue and none is the same. Each is an individually designed and produced item.

At one end of the town was a small science community with varying numbers scientists present at any one time.

The population is made up of Russian and Ukrainian workers there although previously there were others from the now independent Soviet states. They sign on for a two year contract and then can leave or resign. The guide did say something about a current option of a six months contract as well.

We had 90 minutes on land here and it went rather quickly I thought. I didn't get to the museum and I don't think any one actually did. I was interested to learn that they have a helicopter and can go into Longyearbyen a couple times a week. A place from Moscow comes every two months with supplies and mail I expect. Sometimes a ship comes as well.

So the whole community just exists there waiting for the mine fire to go out and for full production to start up again.

So now on this trip I have had the chance to look in on two different samples of Russian life.

We set sail, well actually motored, back to base. This was a couple of hour long and so I think the vessel went a bit faster than it did in the morning. We slowed down as we passed another very small abandoned mining settlement. About six multi story buildings, all very much abandoned. The Norwegian Government has decreed that any pre-1946 remains are protected. So from what I can read, there are a lot of little huts and foundations around the islands which are protected.

Along the cliffs I spotted a mine shaft coming our on the cliff face. I wondered if it was an entrance or just a ventilation shaft.

We also slowed down a little as we passed some bird roosting and hatching areas high up on steep cliffs. I got a much closer view of this sort of thing on the King Crab safari. We passed a zodiac with perhaps a dozen passengers who were on a bird watching trip. I am glad I didn't book on that, as although they were closer to the cliff, the birds were in general, still too high to get a decent photograph.

Back at the wharf maxi taxis were waiting to takes use back to our accommodation. As we neared our Guesthouse the same old reindeer as I saw yesterday came ambling along the road.

Although I had not done a lot of walking today I had done a lot of standing as there was no good seating on the foredeck. So much to my surprise I did feel rather tired and exhausted for a while. But now four hours later I am a 'box of birds'.

It is 10 pm and somewhere the sun is shining. A small group have just walked up the road towards the glacier. An evening stroll perhaps.



Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Wednesday 23rd June 2010

I looked out the small window, two seats away from me. We had come out of the clouds and were flying down between snow covered mountain walls of both sides of us. It was a bit of a surprise. I assumed correctly that the plane was flying along in a fjord. As we came down lower I began to see the shoreline with various buildings on it.

Then with hardly a bump the Boeing 737-800 had landed at Longyearbyen Airport and I was on Svalbard or Spitsbergen. I did feel somewhat excited and amazed that I was actually here. This is, as far as I can work out, the closest commercial airfield to the North Pole. In fact just a few more degrees northwards and the permanent ice is in place. We were told be the the captain that the temperature was 5 degrees, but I hardly noticed the cold as I walked down the steps and across the tarmac.

I had caught the Airport Express bus and traveled again through the amazing complex or road tunnel under the island hills to come out near the airport. I had noted on the map that there were several entrances which would explain the road roundabout – infact I now think there were a couple. In the tunnel I noticed escape doors and stairs for emergencies and pull over bays. Regularly along the tunnel walls were SOS bases – each with a phone and a fire extinguisher.

In the terminal I worked the check in matching easily but was a bit put out to only find centre seats to choose from. I picked on in row 6. Then at baggage hand in I mentioned this to the assistant who immediately got me an aisle seat 3C. She apologized that all the window seats were taken. Then I had to have a finger print reading of my index finger. This would be my check on ID. Sure enough at the gate some passengers were handing over boarding cards but I joined the finger line and pressed it on the pad. Out shot a seat confirmation and I was onto the air bridge. I was surprised to find the plane already nearly full and little overhead locker space. Then I realised that Tromso was just a stop for a flight which had most likely come from Oslo.

I had a spare seat between myself and the lady in the widow seat. She did cough a lot during the flight.

Free coffee only but that is an improvement for SAS. It wasn't that long ago I had to pay them for even plain water.

At the airport baggage claim area a large polar bear stands guard over the conveyer belt. OK I know it was only a stuffed one but it did look like it was doing that job.

The waiting SAS shuttle bus took me on a tour through the little settlement as it dropped people off at their hotels. My accommodation was two mile up the valley and the last stop. So I got a familarisation tour as we went along.

Guesthouse 102 is where I am staying. I have a nice sized single room with a wash hand basin but the rest is shared. But the WC and shower are just near by. At one end of the corridor is a guests' kitchen and dinning room for our own use. At the other end is a TV lounge. Nice and homely. Once, this building and others nearby like it were accommodation for the coal miners who worked near by. In fact one pit head is right up the side of the valley wall, just along from the Guesthouse. The remnants of the old bucket convertor system are still in place. A series of towers which held the cable still stand and run across town.

To some extent it does look a bit like a ski village just after the main snow has retreated. The ground is covered with stones and boulders. The hillsides have great skirts of scree. On the valley sides and at the top of the steep U shaped sides, there is still a coating of solid looking snow. Anywhere that has an indentation still has snow or ice in it. Consequently the area is a mass of white patches of all shapes and sized.

Just up the road and within a few hundred metres is the end or snout of the glacier which most likely carved out this valley. In this part of the valley, buildings are scattered around, but further down they are closer together and do look more orderly and 'town like'.

I wandered down the road to the small shopping centre although as it was 5pm most of the shops were closed or closing. The supermarket however still had several hours to go before it too shut doors for the night. Besides being a supermarket the shop also sells the range of goods you would find in a departmental store back in NZ. It is not huge but it obviously provides for the small local population.

One unusual feature is to see all the skimobiles parked around the place. Some are in long lines and most have a protective cover fitted over them.

I will leave it to the photographs for you to see what the buildings are like. Most look modern, none so far have a garden and few have any vegetation anywhere. There is a bit of tundra like grass along the road but not much.

It will be exciting to see what I learn about the place over the next few days.


Monday 22nd June 2010

Population = 66,500

Midnight Sun - 18th May to 25th July

Polar Night - 11th November to 15th January

Average temperature: July = 11.9 C

January = -4..4 C

If July averages nearly 12 degrees, then it has a long way to go in the next few days. Today has consistently remained around 6-7 degrees. It has also lightly rained enough to keep the streets wet.

So once I headed out from the AMI Hotel, it seemed sensible to try and find a few activities which would keep me inside. I headed down the steep streets and stopped to take photo of the Radhuest or City Hall. A tall modern building it has lots of glass windows. I went into the foyer and looked at the glass roof several stories up. Different floor levels on three sides looked down onto the entrance level. It was all light and spacious. I realised that on the floor below and accessed from another street was the Focus Cinema. I had noticed a old turn of the 20th century building down the road which was named KINO. This was freshly painted and had lots of character and must have been the city's cinema until recent times.

It was only a block to the Perspektivet Museum.

This museum prides itself on the documentary photography and special exhibitions which it displays from time to time. The, but from a positive viewpoint. Reception gave me a warm welcome – but I soon noticed that everyone got that as well. The Museum is free so what ever was there would be good value.

Their special short term exhibition was photographic. About 50 large colour prints be a South African photographer, illustrating the problem of HIV/AIDS. This showed a positive side to the disease. Care workers providing support to victims, grandmothers looking after the children of deceased parents from AIDS. Attempts to provide education and outside activities to keep young people away from drugs and other problems. There was also shots of small local industries set up to give employment. Perhaps a sewing machine or assistance setting up a vegetable growing business. The photos were all well taken and they did present and interesting side to the epidemic which we do not normally see.

On the next floor there was a combined exhibition – mostly photographic, covering the history of trade between the area and Russia. Before the Russian Revolution there had been a vibrant trade flow between Tromso and Murmansk. Each year once the ice cleared, Russian sailing boats would come with a cargo of furs, birch bark and other goods and take back loads of salted fish.

As a result of this annual trade stretching over many years, Norwegians learnt Russian and Russians learnt Norwegian.

Some settled in the other cities and some intermarriage took place. Once the Revolution occurred the whole trade stopped and contact was lost for 70 years. Since the end of communism there has been an opening up of contact again. Long split families have been able to reunite and the exhibition told some touching stories about this.

Russian trawlers became active in Norwegian coastal waters and for a time were accused of fishing out the local fish stock. This may have happened. As a result the regular birthing of Russian trawlers in Tromso was not popular for a time. The second part of the exhibition covered the life on board a Russian trawler. These boats go out for 6 to 9 months at a time and load catch onto mother boats. One captain's wife featured commented that although they had been married for 20 years their actual time together would be not more than six years. She regularly went to the local Orthodox Church to light a candle for her husband whenever she was worried about him at sea.

On board fish is the main food provided along with bread. They have to work in very rough and freezing conditions with ice on all the deck fittings. They have large video tape library to entertain themselves.

The comments from some of the captains showed that they appreciated the exhibition revealing their lives as they thought rather isolated from the people of Tromso and didn't have much contact when they birthed in the harbout.

Having recently been to Murmansk and also learn about the increasing contact in Kirkenes, where the ability to even speak Russian will get the person a work contract, I did find this an informative exhibition. It added to my understanding of the northern area. I had not realised how much contact had gone on in the years prior to the Revolution.

On the top floor was a further photo display of Tromso in the past – mostly around the early 1900's. This didn't interest me as much other than to see how small the town had been then.

There was one other small permanent display relating to a Norwegian author who had once lived in this very building which now housed the museum. She had started off as a painter and quite a competent one judging by the reproductions of some of her work. But in the late 1920's she started writing and became very successful. Many of her stories were set in her childhood experiences in Tromso. I am sure that many Norwegians would find this little collection of interest but I had never heard of her.

My next visit was just a couple of blocks away and at the waterfront. This was the Polar Museum where most of the exhibits dealt with the Norwegian expeditions into Polar areas – mostly northwards. They especially featured the exploits of Roland Amundsen who had a lot of contact with Tromso although I could not work out if he was actually born in the area. Certainly he headed north from here at least once and his fatal air trip departed from Tromso.

There is a statue of Amundsen overlooking the Hurtigruten wharf and this is where I first realised the connection yesterday. Now outside the museum is a bust of him and at least a further one inside.

Outside also are five or six harpoon guns set up with harpoons intact. They certainly looked gruesome weapons. Some had expanding heads which would lock into the whale and not easy pull out. The largest looked as though it could contain a small explosive charge.

Near the museum, is a small ship repair year with a slipway. I was interested to see a ship up on the skids and to watch a worker cleaning around the ship's propeller.

The museum attendant was not able to give me an English language guide. They apparently run out, someone was using the last one. When I went back later and asked if it was now available he said no. But a woman at the counter said yes and handed me a printed booklet of translations for all the displays. The male was surprised and it appeared that he did not know about it. He was handing out the general museum information leaflet.

I had already been right through the museum by that stage so just sat down and read through the booklet to clear up areas I had not been able to work out.

The first room covered the history of Svaldard. William Benentez was a Dutch explorer who had a good look around the island in the 17th century about 1642 if I recall correctly. He named it Spitsbergen. However, the existence of the islands had been know for several centuries previously and the display suggests that even early man lived there during the Stone Age hunting and gathering period. They would have followed reindeer and other animals across an ice bridge reaching from Russia through other island groups to Svaldard. Not much evidence for this although some implements have been found.

Quite soon after the Dutch exploration the island group became a centre of whaling and later seal hunting. Several nations established bases and often had government forces to support their claim to the space. Soon the whales and then the seal supply was largely exhausted and the industry declined. Soon mining for coal replaced the sea as a source of income.

So the islands and the small population became the last stopping point for several zeppelin expeditions to attempt to fly over the North Pole. Most did not succeed, but one with Amundsen on board sailed all the way to Alaska and was the first airship or plane to fly over the Pole.

Then people were trying to fly float planes over the area as well but tended to disappear in the attempt. There were also several sailing endeavours were the boat was either crushed by the ice or trapped in ice for one or more years. There were some brave men around at that stage – and I suspect some foolishnes as well.

The museum had set up life sized fur trappers hut, a captains cabin, and several other displays.

It was informative and you did learn a lot about a few key individuals related to Tromso in some way or another.

It was still cold and damp when I came out of the museum and so I decided to just go to a shopping centre and after looking around go to the supermarket and get items for dinner. Then I climbed up the hill to the hotel and enjoyed its warmth.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


1 Bicycle outside a Wool Shop
2 Spectacular bridge over Tromso Harbour
3 Looking across the harbour to the opposite side.
4 Interesting item in shop window. Mosquito made from tea strainers.
5 Amudsen the famous polar explorer had quite a lot to do with Tromso
6 Harbourside view 

Monday, June 21, 2010



Monday 21st June 2010

Tromso is cold and is the coldest place so far as best I can recall. Currently it is 7C but when I checked from Kirkenes this morning it was 5C then 6C. In fact yesterday, Kirkenes was the warmest location in Norway, despite the rain which was falling gently. Weather can be a funny thing. Because of the Gulf Stream you would expect a coastal location like Tromso to be warmer than say, Kirkenes.

After breakfast which again included marinated herring I spent time packing. Incidentally, I have had herring now several mornings. Not large amounts, just two or three pieces perhaps a inch or two long and wide. Because it is marinated in an onion marinade it actually tastes rather sweet, but has a sort of soapy feel to it. I am really not sure if I actually like it but as I am in Norway and this is part of their diet I am prepared to try it, for the experience.

I checked with the reception about the best way to get to the airport and they recommended a taxi, which just happened to have their office right outside the hotel door. Strange that. However, the tourist office was close down Sunday and I didn't have time to check this morning. So taxi it was and a 15 minute ride to the airport. On the way I noticed a flybussen returning to Kirkenes, so obviously there was a service available. However, it was good that I got there a bit early. There was a queue stretching out side the door and more arriving all the time – including a full minibus from Murmansk. Same bus I had travelled in. Inside the door finally and the queue divided into two lines to slowly creep towards the check in counters of which there were not many. There was a separate lane for self check in which was not busy. So I decided to give the system a try. I put my credit card in and up came my name and flight I pressed correct and the number of bags and out came the bag's ID strip. On the screen was a message no boarding pas required. OK I thought on we go. I was sure my bag was about 20 kg, a little under I would hope but the flight limit was 15 kgs. Not a question at the bag hand in. Perhaps my NZ passport helped but more likely it was just because the crowds that had to be processed. OK I moved on and snaked my way to security. Somehow I had got into the middle of an Italian tour group so it was like being in the frame of an Italian movie without the English subtitles. A very nice sounding language though.

At security I lost my bottle of water. I should have remembered and I had to remove bracers and belt but not my boots. I went through easily without a hitch and that doesn't happen all that often.

That process had taken just on an hour from leaving the taxi. I was pleased that I had given myself plenty of time.

We boarded on time and I found a double seat for myself. The plane was not full and behind me a woman was nursing a cat or dog in a plastic travel cage. The plane was a turbo prop and it was a Dash 8- 311 series. I have not been on a Dash 8 for quite a few years. This was larger with double seats on each side of the aisle. We took off and for a just a short time got some good views or the landscape. The effect of the ancient ice shield could be clearly seen in the shape of the rocks and the general evenness. There were small lakes and some fjord views before the cloud cover was reached. I managed to get some photos before the cloud blocked out everything.

Although Windroe is a SAS company, I was surprised to find that we got free coffee, in fact we got two cups of free coffee. Food alcohol and junk food did have to be paid for though. I had a oat bar from my NZ supply with the coffee.

As we got close to Tromso I began to notice brief gaps in the clouds through which I could see lakes and mountains with quite a bit of snow on them. I spied a road or two as well. I wondered if this was the road I would have been on if I had traveled by bus.

Getting lower coming into Tromso and we appeared to be flying above a fjord with a road along the edge. As we got closer to landing and lower there were more houses most likely farm houses and then we were touching down.

As I gathered my things together I noticed how every one – well almost everyone- had warm jackets on. I had packed mine away into my camera bag back at Kirkenes airport to get rid of the bulky coat and I carried my camera.

Getting down the steps from the plane and crossing the tarmac to the terminal was cool – well actually it was cold. But the warmth of the planed stayed with me for half the way and then for the rest of the distance I was deciding that yes I would get my jacket out as soon as I was inside.

Bags came quickly and then out onto the waiting SAS Flybussen. The ride cost 55 kroner which is a bout NZ$13. I checked with the driver about my stop and he said not to worry as it was the end of his run. We set off and dropped some passengers abs a big flash hotel and then carried on. Suddenly we were moving into a tunnel and I spotted a sign indicating that it was 1.8 km long. How exciting, the longest road tunnel I think I have ever been in. Certainly the only tunnel with a round about in the middle and roads from different directions coming in to it. Then there was a road junction where we had to give way. How interesting I thought. I could remember Robyn telling me in detail about going through even longer tunnels on her first visit to Norway years ago.

The downtown streets of Tromso looked cold and bleak. Quite a winter's look with everyone wrapped up warmly. But the narrow streets were crowded with vehicles and people.

After a few more hotel drop offs I was the only one left. The driver checked my hotel name and then proceeded to drive my right up to the front door. I did not have to walk through a park as I had expected from the hotel's Internet description.

The hotel is a older building as they al are in the area. It looks out over a small park and over the town harbour and settlement on the opposite shore. Obviously it is on a hill and quite a steep hill at that. I climbed up it latter.

This is a great little hotel. My room is spacious enough, has flat screen TV, a fridge, a telephone with free land line calls throughout Norway. There is a desk and chair, a coffee table and an office easy chair with a separate foot rest. There is a hand basin but the bathroom and shower is down the hallway.

What I like is that breakfast is included, that they leave a collection of basic food items out for you to perhaps use for lunch or tea providing you pay 20 kroner. There is a coffee dispensing machine which we can use at any time and not only does it give a full selection of coffee types but it also has a couple chocolate choices. I think it produces the best chocolate that I have ever had from a machine of this type. And that is all free. We can use the hotel kitchen dinning room and there is a small lounge. The wifi works in my room. I read that they have 17 rooms and have 35 beds. It is a family run business.

After settling in I wandered down the hill to the shopping street which has been closed to traffic

for much of the shopping length. A fairly straight forward mix of the usual shops but none that I looked at or went into are very large. Well I didn't go into H and M and I suspect that this will be larger.

Most of the buildings with shops are single or double story and some have quaint shapes. There is a market square on a couple levels of the hill side. There were several stalls but they were not busy even with the tourists from the Hurtigruten (the daily coastal ferry boat) wandering around. A bit later as I wandered along the waterfront, I actually saw my first Hurtigruten. I had sort of assumed that it would be a bit like the Alaskan ferry I was on last year. But no, this was like a medium sized cruise ship that just happened to had a door along its side for cars to drive in and out of. All the deck space is fully enclosed.

The Dutch tourists I went up the Pasvik Valley with yesterday had just done the cruise and were commenting that you didn't have to dress up for dinner each nigh as you would on a normal cruise liner. But it seemed that people did change into tidy (and flash?) casual clothing for dinner.

I called into the Tourist office first to thank them for sending me broachers earlier in the year and then to talk about tickets on the steamer. So as a deck passenger there will be no problem and as I am past 67 I will get a 50% reduction. So the 17 hour voyage I have planned for in a week or so will only cost me around 550 kroner which will be about NZ$125. That's good because everything else is so expensive. My microwave sweet and sour meal for one tonight cost 59 krone which is over NZ$12. I did taste nice though and much nicer than similar NZ packets.

While I was shopping I was surprised to find only alcohol free beer on sale. Behind curtains I could see the normal stuff. So I asked about that at check out and was told that after 6 pm on week days and 4 pm on weekends, they were not permitted to sell alcohol. I found that interesting and wondered how our NZ supermarkets would accept that.

By 5 pm the town was empting out as folk started heading home and tourists to the boat. However, the sightseeing buses continued to drive slowly along the roads. The town had a decidedly wintery feel, like in the UK or Dunedin. By 6 pm you were really convinced that it was time to go back to the hotel.

Actually with my down jacket I didn't feel the cold so much. Also a pair of long johns has kept my legs warm. I thought that this would be a good test for Longyearbyen.

Tromso is situated on a fjord harbour. There is a strikingly high curved bridge linking both sides of the harbour. On both sides the town climbs up the hill sides. I can see the modern cathedral across there and the cable car to the mountain top which I plan to do tomorrow. Bus 26 goes all the way to the cable car terminal. So I shall ride over the high bridge.

Quite a few people have described the city as a pretty little place and I think I would go along with that. The hills round about have ;opts of snow patches across them. Any depression still has snow. Across the harbour where the hill drops a bit I can see a snowy mountain in the distance. A bit like Alaska actually.

There are a few fishing boats and down on the wharf by the Hurtigruten bow I watched a couple of men fishing. One pulled up a length of thin rope but the other caught a fish a good 600 mm long. I it would make a good meal. Then I noticed that he already had several in a plastic shopping bag at his feet.