No visit to Vernadsky Station, an active research base in Antarctica, is complete without doing vodka shots in the southernmost bar in the world!
In an environment as remote and pristine as Antarctica, in a global climate as fragile as this current one, conducting scientific research has never been more important.
During our Antarctic Peninsula adventure with One Ocean Expeditions we had the opportunity to learn about the science being studied at the Vernadsky Research Base on Galindez Island.
Even though hanging out with penguins and sea kayaking are the obvious highlights of a journey to the White Continent, we were extremely excited to delve deeper into the greater good that was coming out of these stations.
No one lives permanently in Antarctica, however the continent is peppered with around 75 research stations, 45 of which operate year-round.
These research bases work on a variety of different scientific studies, but they are primarily based around monitoring the environment.
The Vernadsky Station was established in 1947 by the British Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, today known as the British Antarctic Survey, and originally named ‘Base F’.
In its early days, Base F operated on the nearby Winter Island, but moved to Galindez Island in 1954, later being renamed Faraday Station in 1977 to honour the British Scientist, Michael Faraday.
The British ran Faraday Station for almost 50 years, monitoring the climate and taking on basic scientific experiments before it officially changed hands.
In February 1996 the British sold Faraday Station to the National Antarctic Scientific Centre of Ukraine for an absolute bargain at one pound, with the Ukrainians then changing the name to Vernadsky Research Base.
The first excursion of our second day in Antarctica was a visit to this iconic research station to learn about what life is like for the scientists living in Antarctica, and to sample some of their famous vodka in the southernmost bar in the world!
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Our excursion was broken up into two parts – a visit to the fully operational Vernadsky Research Base, and exploring the defunct Wordie House, the original hut for the station and now a historical monument.
The zodiacs took us to Winter Island first, and the onboard polar historian Glenn Stein gave our group a walking tour of the restored building.
Wordie House was built with salvaged material from Port Lockroy and the Deception Island whaling station, and in its prime had 4-5 people living in it at any one time.
When the British decided to move their station to Galindez Island, Wordie House was left ‘as is’, complete with old typewriters, canned goods and fire extinguishers.
Glenn led us through the structure, giving a brief talk about the history of Wordie House, but mainly allowing us to do our own exploring.
Wandering through the timber dwelling and studying the items left behind was like stepping back in time. Old board games were left on shelves and sketchbooks lay torn and tattered on the floor.
The temperature inside was warm on that bright summer day, but we could only imagine how it must be in the dead of winter, with 5 men huddled around the fire, trying to pass the dark nights at the end of the earth.
Being careful not to disturb anything, we took our photos of the fascinating museum and made our way back to the zodiacs.
Vernadsky Research Base
We pulled up at Galindez Island and were met by a cheerful bearded Ukrainian man. Besides being an Antarctic scientist, he also acted as a tour guide when expeditions stopped by the station.
Outside was a collection of boats used by the scientists to get around, and a large signpost giving distances to most of the major cities around the world.
The guide allowed everyone to take their photos before leading us into Vernadsky Station. In the entrance we took off our boots and walked in wearing just socks. Keeping the snow and dirt out of the building was pretty important for a place conducting scientific studies.
Our brief tour took us into many of the rooms inside the main building. There was a communications room scattered with ageing computers, a laboratory with a variety of rocks spread out next to microscopes, a medical room and a change room filled with skis.
The lead scientist explained the importance of the work being undertaken at Vernadsky Station. They were studying various elements in meteorology, ecology, biology, glaciology, seismology and physics, and it was in this very station that the hole in the ozone layer was first discovered.
The atmosphere in the station felt more relaxed than we expected, and the scientists wandered around cracking jokes with each other and the fellow tourists. Being confined to a small building with a group of men for months at a time means having friendly banter is essential to maintaining sanity.
We walked outside and had the large weather stations and antennas pointed out to us, but almost everyone became instantly distracted by the penguin colony that was wandering around right next to the station. Where else in the world do you have gentoo penguins for neighbours?
The Southernmost Bar In The World
With the tour coming to an end we were then taken to the place that Vernadsky Research Base is perhaps most widely known for – being home to the southernmost bar in the world.
Decked out like a British pub with souvenirs, trinkets, banners and pictures hanging everywhere, the Faraday Bar is by far the most popular spot in the entire station. A dartboard and pool table are ready to go, and there’s a small library and collection of boardgames as well.
Contracts to work at Vernadsky can last anywhere from four months to one year, and drinking alcohol is an obvious way to pass the time.
Because deliveries are few and far between, the Ukrainians have taken to distilling their own vodka right there on the premises. The bar is always open, and our group couldn’t wait to give the Antarctic Vodka a taste.
Keeping up with the quirky style of the pub, ladies can trade one bra for 3 vodka shots. Judging by the large collection of underwear hanging behind the bar, quite a few women had taken the Ukrainians up on their offer.
Opting to keep her bra, Alesha instead bought her shot for US$3 – an absolute bargain considering where in the world we were.
Almost everybody lined up to down a shot, with the serious-looking bartender pouring the glasses to the brim. With a loud cheer we all took turns sampling the surprisingly smooth drop.
Next to the southernmost bar in the world is the southernmost souvenir shop in the world. From fleeces to patches, and of course shot glasses, if you want a memento from your visit to Vernadksy Research Station, this is the place to get it.
This is also one of the few places you can send a postcard from Antarctica! For $2 you can buy a postcard, and for an extra $5 you purchase a stamp to mail it off to your friends or family. Delivery time is measured in months however, so chances are you’ll beat the postcard home.
Before we knew it our time at Vernadsky Station was over. We said our goodbyes to the Ukrainian scientists and headed back to the zodiacs.
It is a rare privilege to visit an active research station, and having the opportunity to explore one in a place as remote as Antarctica made the experience all the more rewarding.
Even though we didn’t leave a bra, Vernadsky Research Base left a mark on us.
How To Visit Vernadsky Station
Being at 65° south means a visit to Vernadsky Station isn’t something that just anyone can do. The only way to reach this place is by boat.
While a very small number of people visit Vernadsky on private sailboats every year, the vast majority of people head there on an organised tour with a licensed Antarctic operator.
We visited Vernadsky Research Base with One Ocean Expeditions, who operate two Russian research vessels and do regular trips to Antarctica every season.
If you are lucky enough to visit Vernadsky Station on your trip to Antarctica, make sure you bring $3, or a bra, to try some of their vodka!
Our trip to Vernadsky Research Base was made possible as part of our partnership with One Ocean Expeditions. All thoughts, opinions and shots of vodka are, as always, our own.