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There are no full time residents of Antarctica and no cities or towns, but there are 66 research stations on or near the continent staffed by scientists from 30 different countries. The exact number varies by season, from around 4000 in the summer to perhaps a thousand that stay through the cold dark Antarctic winter- which is moving in fast as I type.

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Due to a special friendship between our Russian crew and the Ukrainians stationed there, we were fortunate to be given a tour of the Akademik Vernadsky station in the Argentine Islands, named after Professor Vladimir Vernadsky, founder of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine.

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This signpost greets visitors, and shows it's only 15,375 KM (9556 miles) to the green green grass of Kharkiv! The crew had just arrived about 3 weeks ago, replacing the previous crew, and will be spending an entire year there. The station was originally called Faraday Station, built by the British, and they 'sold' it to the Ukrainians in 1996 for £1. Research here focused the world's attention to the danger of the shrinking ozone layer, and indeed, the hole in it over Antarctica. All members wore dark glacier glasses while outside, and they had the ozone forecast and radiation index posted on the wall right above temperature and wind speed: serious stuff, indeed.

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They even took us upstairs to the Faraday bar, a cozy place where they make their own vodka. The bar is quite famous in Antarctic lore as it was built over a season by two carpenters who were supposed to be building a new generator shed but instead turned lumber intended for a new pier into the best (and only) bar in Antarctica. The British Antarctic Survey understandably took a dim view of this and sacked the offenders only to realize that there was no easy way to replace them, so they were reinstated. Faraday base members started a tradition of collecting underwear from any passing ladies and the Ukrainians at Vernadsky have kept this up admirably. There is a spectacular array of lingerie displayed behind the bar!

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The stairway leading to the bar is decorated with photos of past teams.

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We also visited Wordie House (named after James Wordie, a member of Ernest Shackleton's famous expedition), a small hut that was the original research station a short distance away. It was set up as a sort of museum, kept locked, but they gave us the key and we were allowed inside. This was the original British station, and it must have been an endurance test roughing out the winter there. It was furnished as it was originally in 1947, shelves stocked with canned goods, books available for reading, and it looked like the owners had just left for a short while. We felt privileged and humbled to be allowed to walk through unsupervised.

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We also landed at the Argentine Almirante Brown station, which features a religious niche built of stone at the entrance.

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Construction work was being done there, so the station is not open for research, but they graciously allowed us to land and hike to the top of a nice rock formation. Above, supplies are stockpiled in advance of the coming winter.

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Almirante Brown has stunning views of Paradise Bay.