We got back from our epic 3 month European adventure a while back. It’s taken me a while to get through the thousands of photos and videos but I’m getting there. To get an idea of where we went check out the video animation above from tripline.net. Tripline is a new site that helps you share the places you plan to go or where you’ve been. It’s still in beta so there are a lot of features to be desired but still a cool travel site.
We travelled thousands of kilometers across 23 countries in Europe experiencing the best the continent has to offer. From the thermal pools of Iceland, the polar bears of Svalbard, running of the bulls in Spain, climbing the dolomites in Italy, experiencing the history of Budapest, hiking the glaciers of Switzerland, bobsledding in Austria, sipping wine in Burgundy and so, so much more. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for new blog posts of our adventures through Europe.
The NatGeo Explorer is equipped with inflatable kayaks which is always a highlight with the guests… ourselves included. Kayaking in the Arctic in the shadow of the Holmiabukta glacier is what adventure travel is all about. We travelled along the coast line looking for wildlife hoping to see a Polar Bear. The crew scans the area for Polar Bears to make sure there are none around before letting the kayaks out because a Polar Bear could easily take out a kayaker in the water.
Kayaking in the arctic
Our Polar Bear hunt by kayak wasn’t successful but we did find out later that one was spotted by the crew in an area we had just been. At first we were bummed because we wanted to get one last look at a Polar Bear but its probably for the best because Polar Bears can swim much faster than we can kayak.
Also played around again with some time lapse photography. I put the camera up on our balcony as we went out for the day. You can see the kayaks zipping in and out from the ship. I just wish I could have caught a polar bear chasing a kayaking on video…
After our kayaking we got a chance to go for a quick polar plunge. Miki and I did it in the Antarctic so we figured it best to round out by taking a swim near both poles.
This was our last stop of the trip. We now had to head all the way back to Longyearbyen to disembark the ship and fly back to Oslo. But Svalbard had one more surprise in stock for us. A sighting of the biggest animal on earth. The BLUE WHALE.
Blue Whales are rare to spot around here so it was an amazing sighting and we had two of them that spent a long time playing in front of our ship. Some interesting blue whale facts.
Can eat 4-8 tons of krill per day
Up to 30 meters long
Tongue can weigh as much as an elephant
Babies can weigh up to 4 tons at birth
Babies gain 250 lbs per day
Penis can be 8 feet long
Blue Whale up close
It’s hard to comprehend the size of these animal in pictures but try to comprehend seeing an animal gracefully swimming along that is the size of a basketball court. Check out a interactive comparison to other objects at National Geographic.
Blue Whale passing in front of the ship
These whales were very curious coming very close to our ship and in one very interesting pass, rolled over on its side to get a better look at us. One of the Lindblad staff on the NatGeo Explorer has the nickname the “whale lady”. She has spent her entire career studying whales. She was on the ship wide intercom as this encounter was happening explaining what the whale was doing, giving us neat facts (see above), but when the whale rolled over on her side she was stumped. She had never seen this behavior before. You could hear the excitement in its voice as this was the first time she has seen this behaviour. It’s always exciting when even the experts who study an animal every day of their life get excited about something they see.
Blue Whale rolling over
After this amazing encounter (a definite highlight of the trip) the whales said goodbye and we continued back to port.
Two bue whales at dusk
Lot’s of amazing animal encounters topped off by a visit from the earth’s biggest creature. Not a bad way to end the trip at all…
The beautiful weather of the past 2 days were gone. We woke up to some dreary weather with intense winds but that wouldn’t deter us. Rumor had it that today was the day we were going to see walruses so I was pretty excited. It turned out today was not the day we would see them but we had fun none the less.
Expedition staff all "geared up"
We all got geared up for our landing on Poolepynten and little hike. The expedition staff all carry rifles just in case we encounter a polar bear. They take every precaution not encounter them on land but if you do it’s better to be prepared because letting a polar bear eat a tourist is bad for business.
With very little widlife around I focused on the big and the little. Big landscapes. Little flowers.
Anyone know what this is?
We continued on to St. Johns fiord where we had another landing and found an old trappers hut.
Old trappers hut
Can you imagine spending an entire arctic winter inside one of these?
Inside a trappers hut
at least you have one heck of a view from the toilet.
Arctic toilet with a view
While we had very few wildlife sightings today it still was a good day and we learned a bit about how norwegian trappers live on Svalbard.
Our first day out in the arctic started with a very early wake up call. Humpback whales just in front of the ship the expedition leader said over the ship wide intercom. Having laid out all my photo gear the night before in preparation of getting the call at any moment I was ready to jump on a moments notice. The call came and I was the first (other than the crew) out on the bow of the ship with my camera in hand taking pictures of the magnificant humpback whales.
Humpback whale in the arctic
The excitement wasn’t nearly over that day. Shortly after our first whale sighting we had our first polar bear far off in the distance.
Polar bear through a spotting scope
One of the ways to get good polar bear pictures if you don’t have a mega zoom lens is put a small point and shoot up to one of the many spotting scopes around the ship. Miki was able to get some pretty nice shots using this technique. It’s sure a lot cheaper and more convenient than buying a 500mm lens. But it still doesn’t have the quality that a good slr/lens combo can have… or at least that is what I tell myself to justify all this gear
Polar Bear on pack ice
The reason the bears are out on the ice this time of year is because that is where there food is. This seal was a couple hundred yards away from the resting polar bear. The seal also seemed to be trying to take a nap but always had one eye trained on the bear… just in case.
Seal trying to rest on polar bear infested pack ice
After our whale and polar bear sightings we arrived at our destination for the morning, Gnålodden. It’s a rocky landing with a vertical wall covered with what seems like thousands of chattering geese. The geese weren’t the main attraction of this landing though. An arctic fox shuttling it’s pups from one den to another right in front of us was the photographic highlight of the day. This was a very rare sight and to see it up close was a treat. We were confused what the fox was carrying at first. Looking at the back of the LCD screen it looked like the fox was carrying a teddy bear.
Arctic fox carrying its pup
Arctic fox carrying its kill
In between photographing the amazing arctic fox sighting I took the time look around. It’s important not to get tunnel vision on focus on only one subject. The best shot could be behind you.
One of the top animals on our list to photograph has been the “Ice Bear” or Polar Bear. These elusive creatures are getting harder and harder to spot in the wild but we knew we could count on Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer and their crew to find them for us. We travelled on the National Geographic Explorer to Antarctica last year and had an amazing time. The ship, crew, staff, Nat Geo photo instructors and Antarcitca itself was one of the most amazing places we’ve been to. Many of the passengers on the ship with us in the Antarctic raved about the trip to the Arctic. Since seeing Polar Bears was on our wish list we booked the trip immediately after returning home.
Polar Bear in field of arctic flowers
Lindblad calls the trip to the arctic the Land of the Ice Bears. They market the trip as an 11 day tour of the Svalbard archipelago. In actuality, you only have 5 days on the ship searching for the elusive Ice Bear. All of the other days are travel days or embarking/disembarking from the ship. The trip was still amazing even though it was shorter than we expected. An extra 2 days at sea exploring the archipelago would have been perfect. It would have allowed extra time to search for Polar Bears, Walruses, Whales and most importantly not feel rushed when trying to get that perfect shot. Overall, the photography experience in Antarctica was far superior and I came away from that trip with much better pictures than this one. Even though it was only a 5 day trip they packed as much into every moment as they could and I did end up with a few good photos.
Over the next week or so I’ll do a few posts that describes what we did and what we saw each day we were on the ship. Similar to what I did for our expedition to Antarctica.
The photo instructors onboard the ship put together a video slideshow of the passengers best photos from the trip. Miki and I submitted some of our favorites. We tried to submit pictures that other people wouldn’t have posted so we tried to get a little creative and kept the wildlife pictures to a minimum since everyone else had lots of them.
Some of my favorites.
- Polar Bears above.
The Ice of the Arctic
Waterfall flowing off the Austfonna ice cap. Largest ice cap by area in Europe.
Kayaking in the Arcitc. (Gopro camera attached to end of kayak paddle)