We joined Silver Explorer in Tromso, so we were already well within the Arctic Circle, with the weird experience of 24-hour daylight. We had an unexpectedly lumpy run through to Bear Island on our first day, but after that the seas were calm and the weather - well what can I say, there were days when we stood on deck and witnessed glorious sunshine, heavy rain, fog and snow simultaneously.
When we reached Svalbard we were blown away by the extraordinary scenery: we could see the very bones of the land. Magnificent glaciers were visible on all sides, and the water was sometimes so still it took on a glassy, oily sheen which was quite magical to see, reflecting the colours of the sky and surroundings. And when I say colour, I mean an amazing palette of white, grey, black and blue such as we had never seen before.
The magic of an adventure of this sort is down to the skill of the expedition team on board, and the Silversea team was outstanding, working hard to devise a varied and exciting programme with something new every day. So we cracked our way through fast ice at the end of fjords and strained through our binoculars as we registered that those black sausage-like shapes were lolling seals. We set forth, all layered up, in zodiacs to watch the birds or get close to the glaciers, cutting the engines to listen to the ice pop. We landed on isolated beaches to check out the hut where Wanny Wolstad, Svalbard's first female trapper, kept her lonely vigil in 1932.
We scrambled onto glaciers, hiked up hills and slid down again on impromptu ice slides. We spent an extraordinary day cruising slowly at 81 degrees north, at the edge of the pack ice - next stop North Pole. We crept along the beach at Poolepynten to see a group of male walrus lounging on the gravel, occasionally raising a pink flushed fin or heaving their mighty bulk into the water for a splash around. We crowded the open decks as we sailed past magnificent cliffs seething with nesting birds, an Arctic fox scampering at the foot in search of eggs.
But I am leaving the best until last - the polar bears. We were fortunate enough to see five. Every time was exciting, but the highlight was halfway through the cruise when we woke early, expecting to take tenders ashore to hike, and were advised that a bear had been spotted way out on the ice, and we were all going to go out on the zodiacs to take a look. And yes, sure enough in the distance, there were not one but two bears, mother and cub.
As we watched they made their way to the water's edge, mother striding ahead and cub lagging behind for pouncing practice or to investigate an interesting smell. For nearly two hours we kept pace with them, close enough to watch with the naked eye, in glorious sunshine on the glassy waters of the fjord, cameras working overtime and binoculars in constant use. It was a magical experience.
Back on board, we delighted in the close cooperation of the teams: expedition, maritime and hotel, to create a perfectly synchronised experience, everything working like clockwork. We ate well, enjoyed fantastic service, learnt lots, and felt completely safe - the perfect adventure!
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