You can't describe Spitsbergen, you have to experience it for yourself. Highlights include huge glaciers that reach into the sea, encounters with polar bear on the pack ice, walruses and bearded seals sunbathing on ice floes, reindeer taking advantage of the short summer to feast on the plants of the tundra and 24 hours of daylight. An expedition on a small ship is the best way to explore this archipelago at 80° North.
An "Once in a lifetime" trip that I can only recommend to every traveller! Already the approach to Spitsbergen makes you humble because of the beauty of the glaciers. Having landed in the main town Longyearbyen, there is still a little time to have a look around the village, before we say in the evening: "Cast off! 10 days without contact to the outside world - no mobile phone reception let alone WiFi - but unforgettable encounters and impressions - an incredibly pleasant experience!
Shortly after leaving the harbour with the Sea Spirit and more than 100 other expectant passengers, a Beluga family, hunting for fish in the Isfjord, makes us happy and lets us hope for further encounters with animals.
The next day we head for Ny-Ålesund - the northernmost permanent civilian research station in the world, which is currently being expanded to enable modern international Arctic research and environmental monitoring. From here the polar researcher Amundsen started his research flights to the North Pole in the 1920s. Mining was just as interesting and typical for this period of Spitsbergen. Old facilities for the extraction of marble and coal deposits still bear witness to this today. Ny-Ålesund is home to 120 people in summer, so a shop with the northernmost post office in the world is a must - almost every visitor writes a postcard against the backdrop of the colourful cottages and surrounding mountains. White-cheeked geese dabble in the sea water and even an arctic fox can be seen and runs to his puppies with his newly captured bird.
Since the days are bright for 24 hours, you lose all sense of time, and that's a good thing.
Arctic seabirds accompany you throughout the journey and tirelessly demonstrate their skillful flight manoeuvres in the ship's airstream.
The next day another highlight awaits you. Through the porthole of the cabin I can see the Monaco glacier. What a magnificent sight. When we drive closer in a Zodiac boat, the dimensions are even stronger and we feel very small and inconspicuous: 40km long, 2.5km wide and a good 220 meters thick, the ice pushes itself forward and calves here into the sea. And it is cold: When you jump into the cool water - the so-called polar plunge - you also become physically aware that from here it is not 900km to the North Pole.
One day later my biggest highlight awaits me and probably also for some crew members: A polar bear! But not at a long distance - but right next to the ship the shaggy friend - just like me the day before - dares the jump from the pack ice into the Arctic Ocean and swims towards us, twice he turns around the boat and smells the delicious lunch. An encounter I will never forget in my life! The further journey through the pack ice also makes you quiet and devout - all even the smallest problems are wiped away.
What I also like about expeditions is the fact that every day you feel solid ground under your feet. During landings with the small Zodiac boats and after the necessary safety precautions by the expedition management, whether there is also no polar bear in the closer environment, I had a few possibilities to marvel at the country from an elevated position on hikes. The panorama is always indescribably beautiful: glaciers calving into the sea, reindeer grazing on the barren tundra meadows and flowers blooming in all colours and shapes.
On the way I meet two more polar bears - what luck! One has just chased a full meal in the form of a seal. I would see another one with binoculars on the horizon.
The days rush by and soon it's time to say goodbye again - to the ice, to the silence, to this great nature and animal world. But a highlight is still waiting for me: a herd of walruses resting close together in the soft sand. All the time some of these colossuses try to get a better place in the majority of the herd. And when they feel hungry, it's quite comfortable - dragging and even rolling - towards the water. You could watch these funny creatures for hours. But the Captains Dinner calls and the following morning it's definitely: Bye and thank you Spitsbergen - for these unique magical moments and experiences.