8 Cool Cities For Summer

Many people’s winter vacation plans understandably revolve around sand and sun and colorful cocktails sporting tiny umbrellas. But summer in the states can be just as oppressive, whether you’re battling sweat-inducing humidity, malodorous public transportation, or overzealous mosquitoes. So for those who want to skip the sunscreen (I know, I know, you’re supposed to wear sunscreen all year round) and instead wrangle that favorite fuzzy sweater out of storage, here are eight cooler cities to visit. A few are in the Southern Hemisphere, offering a double helping of winter. Others have an Arctic vibe. And some made the cut because they stay relatively chilly all year round. Forget endless summer and embrace its polar opposite.

Anchorage, Alaska
Explore the U.S.’s northernmost city this summer by walking or biking the 11-mile Tony Knowles trail. The paved path curls along the spectacular coastline where you might even catch a glimpse of beluga whales along the way. And, since temperatures stay pretty cool, you won’t even break a sweat doing it.

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
If you think Canadians in general are nice, Newfoundlanders will blow your socks off – and then give you their own socks because your feet might be cold. St. John’s, the capital, is the foggiest, snowiest, wettest, windiest and cloudiest of the major Canadian cities. Have I sold you on it?Katoomba, Australia
Only an hour from Sydney, Katoomba is the main town in the Blue Mountains region – a wonderland of eucalypt forests and gorges where Aussies often vacation. Katoomba is also the home of Yulefest, where, throughout July, the entire place pretends it’s Christmas. Area restaurants and hotels serve up multi-course traditional holiday meals, even hiring local carolers and Santas to complete the picture.

Galway, Ireland
Summer temperatures in this west coast city don’t typically top 65 degrees and nights are frigid enough to justify rounds of Guinness at the local pub. At the end of July, Galway hosts an awesome Arts Festival, not to mention an incredibly popular seven-day horse race, the longest in all of Ireland. Be sure to ask a local lady’s help picking out the right fascinator for the event.

La Serena, Chile
Located 300 miles south of chaotic Santiago, La Serena is Chile’s second oldest city. A normally overpopulated beach town during the summers, La Serena transforms into a friendly, laid-back locale in winter, making it the perfect time to visit this “City of Churches.” There are more than 30 of them, many dating as far back as the late 16th century. Where better to keep warm?

Reykjavik, Iceland
It might be the land of the midnight sun, but you definitely won’t overheat in Reykjavik. Arrive by June 21 for summer solstice festivals that take place around the city, including ones where residents wear traditional Viking garb. Don’t think that you can shirk your sartorial duties just because it’s chilly, though; Reykjavik residents dress to impress when they go out no matter the season.

Queenstown, New Zealand
Known as the “adventure capital of the world,” spend your Kiwi winter skiing, bungee jumping, mountain biking, skydiving or paragliding. You can even go canyon swinging if choosing from several ways to launch yourself off from a 100-meter-high, cliff-mounted platform sounds appealing. I hear it’s easiest if you just let someone push you off the edge.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sure you can tango, eat the world’s best beef and load up on all kinds of leather goods, but you can do that any time in Buenos Aires. So instead check out a distinctly winter event this July: the Annual Buenos Aires Chili Cookoff. This ex-pat organized affair has quickly become a must-attend for locals, too. And word on the street is they still need judges.

[Flickr image via Unhindered by Talent]

Iceland Volcano Adventure Tour Is No Mountain Stroll (VIDEO)

Iceland’s Thrihnukagigur volcano has been dormant for 4,000 years but will open up next month for escorted adventures deep within the volcano. It promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both skilled and novice hikers.

“It’s been over four decades ago since the first man set foot on the moon. But it’s only now that humans are offered the chance to see what a volcano looks like on the inside,” says Inside The Volcano, a website operated by 3H Travel, a licensed tour operator in Iceland.

After a short hike across lava fields and a safety briefing, participants will descend 400 feet via a cable car, deep into Thrihnukagigur volcano. Veteran mountain climbing and trekking guides insure safety as the tour group spends about an hour of the 5-6 hour tour on the floor of the magma chamber.

“The distance from top to bottom is a little short of three NYC’s Statue[s] of liberty planted on top of each other. The beauty of the crater lies in its enormous and, to some extent, intimidating size,” says 3H Travel.

Returning to the surface via a cable lift, participants are served a traditional Icelandic Meat Soup before being returned to their hotel in Reykjavik.

Get an idea of what it is like in this video:

The price? ISK 37,000 (about $300).

St. Brendan: Did An Irish Monk Come To America Before Columbus?

Today is St. Brendan’s feast day. To the Irish, St. Brendan needs no introduction. For those less fortunate in their birth, let me tell you that he may have been Ireland’s first adventure traveler.

Saint Brendan was an Irish holy man who lived from 484 to 577 AD. Little is known about his life, and even his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia is rather short. What we do know about him mostly comes from a strange tale called “the Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator,” written down in the ninth century and rewritten with various changes in several later manuscripts.

It’s an account of a seven-year journey he and his followers took across the Atlantic, where they met Judas sitting on a rock, landed on what they thought was an island only to discover it was a sea monster, were tempted by a mermaid, and saw many other strange and wondrous sights. They got into lots of danger, not the least from some pesky devils, but the good Saint Brendan used his holy might to see them through.

They eventually landed on the fabled Isle of the Blessed far to the west of Ireland. This is what has attracted the attention of some historians. Could the fantastic tale hide the truth that the Irish came to America a thousand years before Columbus?

Sadly, there’s no real evidence for that. While several eager researchers with more imagination than methodology have claimed they’ve found ancient Irish script or that places like Mystery Hill are Irish settlements, their claims fall down under scrutiny.

But, as believers like to say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and there are some tantalizing clues that hint the Irish really did journey across the sea in the early Middle Ages. It’s firmly established that Irish monks settled in the Faroe Islands in the sixth century. The Faroes are about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. Viking sagas record that when they first went to settle Iceland in the late ninth century, they found Irish monks there. There are also vague references in the Viking sagas and in medieval archives in Hanover hinting that Irish monks made it to Greenland too.

%Gallery-155425%From Greenland, of course, it’s not much of a jump to North America. The monks wanted to live far away from the evils of the world and were willing to cross the ocean to do so.

How did they sail all that distance? In tough little boats called currachs, made of a wickerwork frame with hides stretched over it. One would think these soft boats with no keel wouldn’t last two minutes in the open ocean, but British adventurer Tim Severin proved it could be done. In 1976, he and his crew sailed a reconstruction of a medieval currach on the very route I’ve described. The boat, christened Brendan, was 36 feet long, had two masts, and was made with tanned ox hides sealed with wool grease and tied together with more than two miles of leather thongs. While Brendan says sailing it was like “skidding across the waves like a tea tray,” the team did make it 4,500 miles across the ocean. His book on the adventure, “The Brendan Voyage,” is a cracking good read.

Although Severin proved the Irish could have made it to America, it doesn’t mean they did. Severin had the advantage of modern nautical charts and sailed confident in the knowledge that there was indeed land where he was headed. So until archaeologists dig up a medieval Irish church in North America, it looks like St. Brendan’s voyage will remain a mystery.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Video Of The Day: Midnight Sun Shines In Iceland

The “midnight sun” is a natural phenomenon occurring north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle when the sun never fully sets and remains visible 24 hours a day. Since there are no permanent human settlements south of the Antarctic Circle, countries and territories that experience the midnight sun are limited to those crossed by the Arctic Circle, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia and Iceland, plus Alaska in the United States.

Filmmaker and photographer Joe Capra sought out capturing the midnight sun in Iceland. To make the above film, he traveled solo around the country for 17 days, shooting both day and night. He slept in his car, hiked in the middle of the night and ate whenever he had a moment of free time. When he returned to Los Angeles, he brought with him 38,000 images in total from the trip.

In an interview about the film, Capra told photographer Michael Levy he chose to travel to Iceland in June because the month is a little early for the tourist season, giving him a chance to film when some popular locations are less crowded. More importantly, at this time of year the midnight sun allowed him six or so hours of fantastic “golden light.”

“I am the type of person who does not want to go on vacation and just walk around cities or just lay on the beach all day long,” Capra said. “I like to get out and see and experience the countries I visit. Going alone also allowed me to go where I wanted, when I wanted, and stay at locations as long as I wanted without having to worry about the needs of another person with me,” he continued.

On his Vimeo page, Capra encourages everyone – photographer or not – to visit Iceland. Although Capra is not sure where he’ll go on his next trip, he relayed that he’s researching Patagonia.

Adventurers Needed For Expedition Across Europe’s Largest Glacier

Travelers looking for a completely new and unique challenge will definitely want to take note of an expedition being organized by adventure travel company Secret Compass. Later this summer, the outfitter will send a small group of trekkers on one of the first commercial expeditions across Europe‘s largest glacier, the Vatnajokull ice cap located in Iceland.

The 12-day journey is scheduled to take place July 13-24 and will give travelers a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore glacial valleys, ice caverns and snow capped volcanoes across Vatnajokull’s massive expanse. They’ll also experience beautiful waterfalls, steaming hot springs, rushing rivers jammed with ice and the incomparable Northern Lights.

Participants in this adventure will certainly want to be in good physical condition, as the entire journey will be made on cross-country skis. They’ll also be pulling all of their gear and supplies behind them on sleds, just as polar explorers in the Arctic and Antarctic have done for decades. If that isn’t enough, the intended route will even take the group to the summit of Hvannadalshnukur, the tallest mountain in Iceland at 6923 feet.

This is an epic adventure that isn’t for the faint of heart. Secret Compass has put together an expedition to an extremely remote and wild place that few humans will ever have the opportunity to experience. For that reason alone this new offering is likely to appear on many bucket lists in the year ahead.

The cost for the trip is £2099 (about $3365) and only 12 lucky people will get to join the expedition. For more information click here.