Expedition to the Far and Lonely North

A truly amazing sight today: not everyone gets to see the edge of the polar ice cap in their lifetimes; a fact not lost on guests today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A truly amazing sight today: not everyone gets to see the edge of the polar ice cap in their lifetimes; a fact not lost on guests today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

– Ernest Hemingway

It was nearly at the end of my expedition to Arctic Svalbard aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer when I realized that there were two different mindsets of my fellow guests about the Arctic. While everyone enjoyed it, I’d estimate that roughly a quarter of the people onboard found the Arctic a gloomy, desolate place. One guest remarked that our final port of Longyearbyen wasn’t much to look at; another suggested the town council needed to do something to spruce the place up.

I didn’t really understand the need to “spruce up” anything. After all, if everywhere we went looked like Las Vegas, what a terrible world we’d live in.

Today, we got a real taste of the moody, ethereal character of Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests onboard Silversea’s Silver Explorer get taste of the moody, ethereal character of Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

An expedition, by its very nature, is meant to be raw and unfiltered – and Silversea does a magnificent job of presenting the Arctic in all its cold, lonely beauty. Yes, on its monochromatic surface, Svalbard is not a place to be envied. It’s a place that has broken many a tough spirit, unraveled many a strong man and woman. The climate here is so harsh and unforgiving that no one dares to give birth in Longyearbyen; women leave for the safety of Tromsø on the mainland long before they’re due. They say no one really dies on Longyearbyen, and that’s (almost) true as well: the melting permafrost makes burying anyone here an impossibility.

So why did I fall in love with the Arctic? Precisely because of its difference – and because Silversea knows how to present this delicate and foreboding land with the reverence that it deserves.

...Polar Bear! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…Polar Bear! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our full Voyage Report:

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Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer has sadly come to a close, but more adventures are surely on the way. Be sure to follow along with all our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

If You Have to Be Stranded Somewhere…Be Stranded On Silversea

Silversea's Silver Explorer in heavy fog at her anchorage off Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Our unexpected delay when fog closed the airport is actually a gift. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s Silver Explorer in heavy fog at her anchorage off Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Our unexpected delay when fog closed the airport is actually a gift. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Monday, July 13, 2015

Longyearbyen!

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!

Day breaks, but the fog that cancelled our charter flight yesterday from Longyearbyen still remains. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Day breaks, but the fog that cancelled our charter flight yesterday from Longyearbyen still remains. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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.

Silversea ran a continuous Zodiac shuttle service for us to go ashore and make the most of our unscheduled day in Longyearbyen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea ran a continuous Zodiac shuttle service for us to go ashore and make the most of our unscheduled day in Longyearbyen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Walking into town along the only major road in the city. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Walking into town along the only major road in the city. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

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Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer has sadly come to a close. A full recap and updated ship tour will follow in August. Be sure to follow along with all our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

Vienna: City of Wonder

Vienna! There's nothing else on earth like it. Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

Vienna! There’s nothing else on earth like it. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Friday, July 24, 2015

Today Viking River Cruises’ Viking Lofn continued her 15-day Grand European Tour to Budapest with a call on my absolute favorite city along the Danube: Vienna, Austria.

For the first-time visitor, Viking offers a comprehensive Ringstrasse tour, as the ring road that encircles Vienna is called. They also offer optional excursions to Schonbrunn Palace and an evening classical music concert in the heart of the city.

Not sure how to take the U-Bahn into Vienna's Inner Stadt? No worries: Viking will provide you with all the necessary details! Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

Not sure how to take the U-Bahn into Vienna’s Inner Stadt? No worries: Viking will provide you with all the necessary details! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The coolest thing Viking offers, though, is a walking tour to the nearby U-Bahn, or underground, stop. There, you’re shown how to purchase tickets (which are actually bought for you by Viking), and your guide rides with you to Stephansplatz, where St. Stephan’s Cathedral is located.

Having learned how to take the metro in the past courtesy of Viking, I now had all the tools to get into town on my own. But I always want to do something new in Vienna. To guide me through this fantastic city, I talked last week to Viking Vidar’s friendly Hotel Manager, Thomas. Born and residing in Vienna, I explained to Thomas about what I’d done in the past, and he made some great new suggestions, even going so far as to print out some information for me and circle locations on a map.

A Mapl and a Plan. Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

A Mapl and a Plan. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

With a map and a plan, I set out to see and do more in Vienna than ever before!

Take the U-Bahn!

From our docking location near St. Francis of Assisi Church, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the Vorgartenstrasse U-Bahn station (which will be listed as Vorgartenstraßs on maps due to the special character in place of the double ‘s’). All U-Bahn stations are marked with a blue square with a ‘U’ character, making them easy to find on maps and in person.

Here's how to get to the U-Bahn from most docking locations: go up onto the pedestrian deck of the bridge...Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

Here’s how to get to the U-Bahn from most docking locations: go up onto the pedestrian deck of the bridge…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...cross the bridge deck...Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

…cross the bridge deck…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and find the station entrance marked "Reumanplatz." Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

…and find the station entrance marked “Reumannplatz.” Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

To get to Stephansplatz in the heart of Vienna, take the U1 line bound for Reumannplatz and get off after the fourth stop, Stephansplatz. Announcements can be hard to hear, but most newer trains have digital displays announcing the next station. Alternately, you can get off one stop earlier at Schwedenplatz and be right on the Ringstrasse next to the Altes Rathaus, one of the oldest buildings in Vienna.

12 Minutes Later: Stephansplatz, and St. Stephan's Cathedral! Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

12 Minutes Later: Stephansplatz, and St. Stephan’s Cathedral! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Total time from boarding the U-Bahn to getting off: 12 minutes. Total cost: just €2.20 for a single trip. A day ticket, which allows unlimited use of the U-Bahn, bus and tram system, runs for €7.60. Ticket machines are marked in red, and their text can be changed to English using a button located on the lower left corner of the screen. Purchase the number of tickets you require and, if you plan to use them immediately, have the machine validate them. For day passes, validate your ticket using the small red boxes just prior to entering the track area.

Vienna’s traffic is legendary, and the U-Bahn subway is far faster than the bus, which can take an hour to hit the city center. If you want to get in and get going – and feel like a local doing it – I highly recommend the subway as your mode of transportation for increased flexibility.

Vienna's narrow, winding streets hold many charms and secrets. Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

Vienna’s narrow, winding streets hold many charms and secrets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Vienna Opera House. Photo ©  2015 Aaron Saunders

The Vienna Opera House. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I have a love affair with Vienna – or, as the Austrian’s call it, Wien. I’ve loved it since I first arrived there on a cold December night back in 2011. To me, Vienna is a beautiful woman; a lover I cannot get enough of. This is my seventh trip down the Danube, and my seventh visit to Vienna. It’s the port of call, aside from Budapest, that I am most excited about.

Why? Vienna is – and was – the epicenter of culture in Europe. If you were anyone at the turn of the last century, or if you were a nobody who wanted to be somebody, you came to Wien.

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Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Lofn’s Grand European Tour continues tomorrow from Bratislava, Slovakia! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

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