Monday, July 13, 2015
It’s becoming the buzzword of the day aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as we enter our second full unscheduled day onboard after fog shutdown Longyearbyen Airport and SAS cancelled our charter flight to Oslo for two days. Any time something inexplicable happens, guests just throw up their hands and say, Longyearbyen!
More than just a state of mind, Beautiful Downtown Longyearbyen, Svalbard was ours to explore today. I use the phrase slightly tongue-in-cheek, because at first glance Svalbard’s largest settlement has all the sparkle and charm of Dickensian workhouse. You know. The kind where Oliver Twist begs for food. That kind. The whole thing looks like the set of a Michael Bay movie without the explosions.
But, in its odd way, Longyearbyen is charming. You just have to let it in.
It was a relaxing day aboard the Silver Explorer today as the fog continued to envelop us, and our Expedition Team tried to extract any and all information from SAS regarding our charter flight from Longyearbyen to Oslo. It was cancelled yesterday, cancelled today, and now guests waited with abated breath to see if we’d be going anywhere tomorrow.
We had to leave our berth yesterday evening and anchor in the harbour to allow other vessels to berth. We’re far from the only ones being affected by this fog; seven vessels – including Hapag-Lloyd’s Bremen, G Adventures’ Expedition, and one Quark Expeditions ship were with us in port today – and all were discovering they were going nowhere fast, too.
Now, I don’t want to downplay this: this is a stressful time for me. I have a river cruise that’s supposed to leave tonight from Amsterdam. I have a flight to Amsterdam that cancelled out at 7pm because I couldn’t establish a reliable phone or internet connection with KLM. I have no hotel in Oslo. I have articles backing up on the blog, and two magazine pieces I can’t deliver – not to mention my weekly column in The Province, which is looking wholly unlikely at this point. It’ll be the first time in four years I’ve missed a week.
And yet, what can I do? I can’t will away the fog any more than the Expedition Team can, so why should I lose my cool over it? Some guests have, and I can understand that. They’re worried and not in control of the situation. One can imagine what the mood must be like over at the Radisson Blu in Oslo, where over 100 guests are waiting to fly here to embark the Silver Explorer for what has become an 8-day voyage instead of a 10-day one.
Still, I have no cause for complaint. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are still provided. Our suites are still “ours”, albeit with a few modifications. The interactive TV system doesn’t work; a victim of the new voyage switchover. Fresh fruit isn’t available. I didn’t have my scotch. But who the heck cares? I get two more nights in a gorgeous suite. Butler service is still there. Room service is still there. Three square meals a day with free-flowing wine is still there. The bar is still open, and the entire ship’s company is bending over backwards to ensure we’re kept comfortable.
The Expedition Team is also running continuous Zodiac service between our anchorage and the landing site next to the Port Agent office. So, I took that opportunity to go in hunt of the elusive Wi-Fi signal in Beautiful Downtown Longyearbyen!
Of course, if you have to be “stranded” somewhere, be stranded on Silversea! Martinis, free-flowing wine, staff that are there to help you and care for you and provide emotional support when needed…it’s honestly not a hardship. Sure, it’s inconvenient. Sure, it’s frustrating and sometimes maddening that this world in which man seems to have mastered can collapse like a house of cards with something as simple as a little concentrated mist. But you’re far from being Robert Falcon Scott. He was, to put it politely, totally effed when he got stranded in the polar climes.
I can see my Silversea Expedition Journal now….
Day 37. Longyearbyen. 78°N.
Things have taken a terrible turn: we ran out of Merlot last night, and I don’t think the Pinot Noir can hold out much longer. I’m starting to return to a disturbing level of lucidity. My left hand is gaining muscle tone back from having to actually do work for myself, and I’ve blisters on nearly all my toes from the tepid, two kilometre walk into town. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write much longer…the cognac is too good.
Honestly, this has been a wonderful experience. It’s made the trip of a lifetime into the journey of a lifetime. Let me tell you why.
I’ve had the opportunity to see how the talented crew of the Silver Explorer responds in a crisis – and they have all, without exception, risen to the occasion.
When they couldn’t open the shell doors yesterday because of the tide, they hand-loaded the luggage up a 20-foot gangway, piece by piece.
When we had to move our berth to anchor, they ran a continuous Zodiac shuttle service.
They’re rebooking flights and finding hotels in Oslo – something that can only be done on shore because of the lack of connectivity onboard.
They are treating us like gold. That, to me, says a lot about the way the line operates in general.
Tonight, we learned SAS intends to operate the charter tomorrow. We’re going home. And honestly? I’m a little sad. This has been one of the most stunning experiences I’ve ever had. It crept up on me slowly. The Arctic didn’t reveal herself in one massive go like Antarctica did. I went from being sort of impressed with the region to falling in love with it. Even crazy Longyearbyen is charming in its own way.
But more importantly, everyone on this adventure bonded. I gained an enormous amount of respect for the crew of the Silver Explorer, particularly those who I had sailed with before. Not enough praise can be loaded upon Hotel Manager Marcelo and Expedition Leader Juan. These guys are pros. They’re the best of the best. And Silversea is lucky to have them, and the entire crew, of the Silver Explorer, working on their behalf.
As author and general muckraker Hunter S. Thompson once said, the objective in life isn’t to survive without any bruises or scrapes. It’s to slide to the finish line in a cloud of dust, banged up and torn, exclaiming, “Wow – what a ride!”
|Day 1||Arrival in Oslo|
|Day 2||Embarking Silver Explorer in Tromsø|
|Day 3||Bear Island|
|Day 4||Burgerbukta, Svalbard|
|Day 6||Adventures at the Polar Ice Cap|
|Day 7||Torellneset and the Ice Blink|
|Day 8||Hiking Fakesvagen|
|Day 9||Polar Bear Hunting|
|Day 10||The Abandoned Settlement of Ny London|
|Day 11||Longyearbyen, Fog, and An Extension of Our Voyage|
|Day 12||Longyearbyen! Embracing Delays|