Northern Lights Best Viewed At Sea, On A Yacht, French Style

northern lightsConsidering a trip to see the Northern Lights? This year may very well be the best time to go. 2013 is the height of the 11-year solar cycle. September and October offer peak activity. They can be seen in Alaska, Norway, Finland and Canada on a clear night. Better yet, try viewing on a ship at sea.

Common tips for viewing the Northern Lights say to go North, inside the Arctic circle, bring along a good guide and get away from light produced by cities and towns. That’s exactly what Compagnie du Ponant, a little French-flagged cruise line is doing this autumn for one of the best aurora borealis viewing opportunities possible.

Specializing in expedition sailings to the poles, Compagnie du Ponant sails small ships that feature custom technology designed to preserve fragile marine ecosystems.
northern lightsThe 15-day sailing begins in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on September 5, 2013 and ends in Quebec, Canada, whose old town is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Bringing along naturalists and experienced guides, passengers will get prepared for what they are about to see with background information and lectures about the origins, myths and mysticism on the way.A 10-year veteran of the Arctic, Compagnie du Ponant knows the best places to see the northern lights. Their luxury 264-passenger yacht Le Boreal will sail to the heart of the northernmost territory in Canada where passengers will view the polar lights from the bridge of the ship.

As if viewing the Northern Lights in near-absolute darkness was not enough, the voyage will visit a number of other trip-of-a-lifetime quality places like the village of Sisimiut in Greenland as well as the Inuit land of Nunavut, also a prime viewing location. There will be whale watching in the Baffin Sea and Saint Lawrence, white bears to see on Akpatok Island and a stop in Perce, known for its rock and Northern Gannets. To see all that, the state-of-the-art Le Boreal is complemented with a fleet of expedition Zodiac boats outfitted with satellite tracking.

On board, passengers will find five-star French service, including a choice of 132 staterooms or suites with sea views and private balconies, restaurants offering dining from casual to fine, a bar and lounge, and 24-hour in-room dining. There is also an outdoor pool with bar, panoramic terrace adjoining the indoor bar and lounge, library with Internet stations, medical center, Wi-Fi, in-room and on-board flat screen satellite TV with complimentary on-demand movies.

The all-inclusive experience is priced from $8,922 per person, based on double occupancy, flights included.

Want more on the Northern Lights? Check this video taken from the International Space Station:



[Photo credit – Flickr user Moyan_Brenn]

Peru’s Mysterious Animal-Shaped Mounds

Peru, effigy mound
It’s always an odd experience to see a familiar name in the news. Dr. Robert Benfer was a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia when I was getting my master’s in archaeology. I was studying the early medieval Europe while he taught about prehistoric Peru, so our paths didn’t cross much, but I did go to some of his lectures. I especially remember his skewering of the controversial book “The Bell Curve” for its shoddy use of statistics.

Dr. Benfer has announced that he has discovered several effigy mounds in Peru — artificial hills in the shapes of birds, including a giant condor, a 5,000-year-old orca, a duck and a caiman/puma monster.

“The mounds will draw tourists, one day,” Benfer said in a university press release. “Some of them are more than 4,000 years old. Compare that to the effigy mounds of North America, which date to between 400 and 1200 A.D. The oldest Peruvian mounds were being built at the same time as the pyramids in Egypt.”

An interesting aspect of this discovery is that it shows how science works, and occasionally doesn’t work. Because it was thought there were no effigy mounds in Peru, nobody looked for them. Benfer himself admits to not seeing one that was right in front of him. Once he noticed several animal-like patterns on Google Earth, however, he rethought his assumptions. He set out to survey six valleys and found effigy mounds in all of them. Another old theory is discarded in the face of new evidence.

Some of the mounds are more than 1,000 feet long and are only clearly visible from above, much like Peru’s famous Nazca Lines. Dr. Benfer suggests they may represent the Andean zodiac. Indeed, many appear to have astronomical alignments. A giant condor’s eye, for example, lines up with the Milky Way when observed from a nearby temple.

Dr. Benfer’s discovery has been published in the journal Antiquity and he is heading back to Peru this summer to look for more effigy mounds.

Photo courtesy Dr. Robert Benfer. More photos, including Google Earth images, can be seen here.

Prague’s astronomical clock gets a makeover


The famous astronomical clock that is Prague’s most popular tourist attraction has lost some star players for the next two months. The four outside figures, including a skeletal Death, have been removed and are being repainted to protect them from the elements.

The clock was built in 1410 and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. Dials show the position Moon, position of the Sun on the zodiac, and other astronomical events. Every hour there’s a parade of painted figures representing the 12 Apostles. Four other figures, representing vanity, greed, death, and pleasure, stand outside. As the bells chime the hours and the Apostles do their walk, Death shakes an hourglass to remind you that everything is transitory.

It’s quite a show, as you can see from this video by the folks at In Your Pocket: Essential City Guides. They have a free downloadable guide to Prague and many other cities on their website.

The clock will continue to function as the four figures are repainted. Legend has it that if the clock stops, disaster will strike the city.

Photo of the Day – Antarctica ice arch

The frozen climes of Antarctica are considered by many to be one of the last relatively untouched natural environments on Earth. In addition to flocks of penguins that number in the millions and pods of whales, you’re likely to encounter massive icebergs that easily dwarf any manmade object. Take the photo above by Flickr user SummitVoice1 as an example. Captured in Antarctica’s Brown Bluff area, the shot positions a tiny zodiac craft packed with visitors as it hovers precariously beneath a massive ice arch. You can almost picture the expressions of the tiny passengers aboard as they gaze up in wonder at structure above.

Taken any great travel photos of your own? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Celebrate 2008 Year of the Rat with red rat-themed panties!

Thanks to the Internet that allows us to travel and educate ourselves without getting out of our pajamas, today we can be privy into lifestyles and traditions of radically different cultures. And, when culture and superstitions blend, it’s almost impossible not to have an an interestingly strange (if not explosively bizarre) outcome: believing that wearing red panties with rats on them will bring you good fortune, for example.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Malaysia: Chinese women are buying red panties — this year with rat motifs — in order to get lucky as the Chinese Year of the Rat is about to begin on February 7. They say if you really believe in something, it will probably come true and if wearing red panties will strengthen your belief, why the heck not, eh!?

The Chinese new year is celebrated with a bang throughout the world. Most Chinese cities will have a 3-day public holiday to bring in the new year, and Chinatowns around the world will rejoice the beginning of the rat year through parades, firework displays, multi-course banquets and parties. Unlike the rest of us, the Chinese party for a good month post their new year’s day.

The Lunar Calendar determines the Chinese New Year. Although the western calendar is what’s mainly referred to by the Chinese, the zodiac Lunar Calendar still holds much importance.

I have never followed the Chinese calendar nor do I entirely understand it, but I do know that according to it I’m a monkey. The last Chinese Year of the Monkey was 2004, so if it’s a 12-year cycle, I suppose I’ll be celebrating in 2016?