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]

Video Of The Day: Polar Spirits Dance Above Norway

Landscape photographer Ole C. Salomonsen’s main area of focus is capturing the arctic lights. Lucky for him, he lives in the right place: the Norwegian artist admits his home country is a “photographers dream.”

“[Tromsø] is one of the best places in the world to experience the northern lights as we are perfectly located under the aurora oval, even during low activity,” says Salomonsen on his website.

Most sequences in the video above were shot in Tromsø, including the city sequence toward the end of the video. Give it a watch and you’ll understand why Tromsø is nicknamed “The Northern Lights City” – and you may be inspired to add Norway to your travel bucket list.

Television Program On Wood Ignites Passion In Norwegians

wood pileIf you’re going to visit Norway, we’d suggest you do some reading before you arrive. And no, we’re not suggesting that you buy a phrasebook or learn how to navigate the local public transportation systems – we suggest that you seek some knowledge about a topic apparently of great interest to the population: wood.

This article in the New York Times today shows the country’s unprecedented reaction to a new television program about wood. Approximately 20 percent of the country’s population tuned in to some part of the show, which aired on a Friday night in prime time and featured four hours of programming and eight hours of a live fireplace shot. The article states that just over 20 percent of the population, a total of 1.2 million people, use wood for their home heating or stoves.

We in America might relate to the latter portion of the program – the Yule Log channel is often part of our holiday repertoire, along with classics like “Miracle on 34th Street.”

But we’re talking about 12 hours of a show on WOOD here, people.

What do you think? Would you attempt to have a conversation with a Norwegian about his or her love of wood on your next visit, or would you stick to something a bit safer, like the weather?

[Image Credit: Flickr user Rubber Dragon]

Discover Scandinavia In Washington DC: Nordic Cool 2013

Aurora Borealis, new Nordic cuisine, ice hotels, hot springs, fjords, moose, meatballs and music? Scandinavia is at the top of the list for a lot of travelers these days. But if you can’t book a ticket to the northern countries this year, Washington, D.C., might be your next best bet.

The city is the host of Nordic Cool 2013, a month-long international festival celebrating the culture of Scandinavia, taking place at the Kennedy Center from February 19 to March 17, 2013.

Featuring theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, cuisine and film, the festival aims to highlight the diverse cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Áland Islands. That’s a lot of Scandinavia in one month.

There is a wide selection of free events that are open to the public, including exhibits on Nordic design and plenty of musical performances. In fact, a total of more than 750 artists, musicians, dancers and writers, will descend upon the capital for the festival, all in an attempt to answer the question, “What is Nordic?”

There’s no simple answer to that, but at least you know it will be high on the cool factor.

[Photo Credit: Nordic Cool 2013]

The Northernmost Castle In The World

the northernmost castle in the world
I’m in a northern state of mind. Perhaps it’s the hail tickity-tacking off my window, or maybe it’s because Gadling is sending me to Estonia this February. That’s right, I’ll be freezing my butt off for your edification and entertainment.

Reading about the great Estonian castles such as Narva and Paide, I wondered which is the northernmost castle in the world. That great provider of facile and not always accurate information, the Internet, came up with several answers.

It all depends on how you define “castle,” you see.

If you’re going for traditional medieval castles, there’s general agreement that St. Olaf’s Castle in Savonlinna, Finland, is the northernmost at 61° 51′ 50″N. You can see it here in this photo by Mikko Paananen.

Called Olavinlinna in Finnish, construction started in 1475. At the time, the sparsely populated Savo region was in the hands of the Swedish crown but the Russians also wanted it. In fact, the Russians wanted it so badly that they attacked it several times, even before the castle was finished. The Russians finally took it in 1714 and kept it until the region became part of Finland when that nation became independent in 1917.

A castle this old always has its share of legends. The most persistent is the tale that a beautiful maiden was walled up in the castle as a punishment for treason. She must have been innocent because a rowan tree grew near the spot, with flowers as white as her virtue and berries as red as her blood. A nearby spring has a water sprite, and the castle was once saved by a giant black ram that made so much noise the invaders fled.

There’s a museum of Orthodox religious items on site and you can even hire out the castle in case you want to get married in the far north. The town of Savonlinna is a four-hour train ride from Helsinki and hosts an annual opera festival.

%Gallery-176848%If you aren’t a traditionalist and any old fort will do, the prize for northernmost castle goes to Vardøhus Fortress at 70° 22′ 20″N on a Norwegian island in the Barents Sea. There was a castle there as early as 1306 to control the fur and fish trade but nothing remains above ground today, so while it once may have been the northernmost castle in the world, it’s no longer standing and doesn’t count in my book.

Instead there’s a well-preserved star fort from 1738 that offers tours. Star forts came into prominence in the late 15th century as an adaptation to early cannons, which could knock down a castle wall before you could say, “We’re facing superior technology, run!” These forts had earthen embankments faced with stone and were laid out in the shape of a star to deflect cannonballs and provide crossfire.

Vardøhus Fortress proved vital to Norway’s interests yet never saw action until World War II. It’s still operating today and the five-man garrison has the duty of firing a cannon on national holidays and also when the full disk of the sun first appears over the horizon on January 21. This event is a holiday in northern Norway. You can find out more about Vardøhus along with plenty of photos over on The Lost Fort blog.

While no stretch of the imagination could make Thule Air Base in Greenland a castle, you have to tip your hats to the men and women of the United States Air Force and their NATO allies for living at 76° 31′ 52″ N. That’s 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It’s said to be the northernmost military base in the world. I suspect the Russians would disagree if they were willing to divulge that sort of information.

Like castles? Don’t miss our posts on the World’s Ten Scariest Haunted Castles and the Ten Toughest Castles in the World. Want to learn about life in a town that has lots of records for northernmost things (including the northernmost ATM?) check out our posts on Svalbard.