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Mother Nature’s Light Spectacle: The Northern Lights

Northern Lights (2)

There are several spectacular light shows around the world, but nothing will ever beat Mother Nature’s incredible display of the Northern Lights. One of the best places to catch this spectacle is in the North Magnetic Pole.

The northern lights could be spotted from late October till the end of March, of course in order to see this you would need clear dark skies and lady luck on your side. Since the Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon, getting to see the northern lights would sometimes depend on chance. There are ways for you to increase your chances but how far are you willing to go in search of this natural light show?

One option is to rid of all sunlight and venture off to a place where the sun doesn’t rise. Bathing in complete darkness, Off the Map Travel has released a 24-hour northern lights itinerary called the ‘All Day Aurora’. The trip will take visitors to Svalbard between November to late January, when the sun doesn’t completely shine above the horizon.

Northern Lights (1)

With the Aurora Borealis, this unpredictable phenomenon can frustrate even the most patient northern lights hunters. There would be times where the conditions for the light spectacle would be perfect but it would still not show or the skies may not be as clear but the lights would appear, dazzling the visitors unexpectedly.

Despite how romantic it sounds, being in complete darkness for more than 24 hours could make one feel uncomfortable where the almost-tangible feeling of vitamin D leaving your system can make you feel oppressed or claustrophobic even. Take note that the only ray you would have is the blue half light that peeks through the snowscape, which would only last a good few hours.

There are a number of places you could travel to to catch the northern lights. The most well known places would be Svalbard Norway, Kakslauttanen Finland, Jukkasjarvi Sweden and Reykjavik Iceland. No matter where you go to watch the light spectacle, it would still withhold the same criteria — clear, dark skies and a bit of luck.

Visit Norway’s Most Scenic Destinations

One of the best ways to explore Norway is by taking a drive along some of its most scenic routes where nature is complemented by art, design and architecture. The Norwegian Scenic Routes initiative puts its plans in place with the help of some of Norway’s best designers and architecture. There are about 18 scenic routes around the country and here are some of those drives.

Senja
Senja
Image credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Senja, the second largest island of Norway, is a mix of breathtaking views of the sea, mountains, beaches, fishing villages and inland areas. The steep mountains dipping into the deep ocean is a remarkable feature of this stretch.

The island reflects the livelihood of the residence that had to survive through fishing and agriculture that could only provide so much. The island maintains both a storytelling tradition and culture that are as awe-inspiring as its landscapes.

Hardanger
Hardanger is a traditional district in the western part of Norway. The region is framed with several dramatic sceneries, specially by large waterfalls such as Steinsdalsfossen, Latefoss, Voringsfossen, Skjervsfossen and Furebergfossen. Each waterfall has their own unique qualities.

For example, Steinsdalsfossen has a pathway behind the cascade in which you can follow and Latefoss is the famous twin falls that showers the old road nearby. Best visited during spring and summer, explore Hardanger’s winding roads through an abundance of sceneries.

Låtefossen Waterfall
 Image credit: Ernst Vikne

Gamle Strynefjellsvegen
Sometimes the drive itself can be as breathtaking as your destination. Surrounded by a mountainous panorama, Gamle Strynefjellsvegen is a route which brings you from Western Norway to Southern Norway.

During autumn, the mountains by Gamle Strynefjellsvegen looks awe-inspiring. The autumn colours that dons the mountains and the surrounding gives the roads a golden radiance and a magical-like experience. The roads are also lined by old stone masonry and rows of guard stones, providing a sense of travelling back in time to the 19th century.

Oppland Gamle Strynefjellsvegen
Image credit: Zairon

Rondane
With summits that are over 2,000 metre-high in a single landscape, blanketed by blinding white snow that reflects the low-hanging sun, Rondane is a place to visit for tranquillity and quiet. The mountains rest on the road, taking you alongside the Rondane National Park. While driving, you’ll see the landscape slowly changing with its towering mountains.

Rondane is perfect for people who love hiking, terrains that are manageable for children are also available. You can take a pit-stop in just about anywhere because of the abundance of cabins and hiking paths.

Rondane
Image credit: melenama

Sognefjellet
From the flourishing meadows to the rich cultural landscape of Bøverdalen, you can get a glimpse of the towering mountains from afar as the road slowly ascends to the valley. Sognefjellet is the highest mountain pass in all of northern Europe, making its way up to the summit at 1,434 metres.

As you ascend through the valley, your expectations rise before you as well. The route provides a naturally dramatic setting that leaves a long-lasting impression. Temptation to stop in the middle of the drive to soak in all the beauty of nature is completely normal. Driving down towards the mountain region of Sognefjord where everything seems so untouched, the Hurrungane Massif towers up to the skies and the mountains opens up and the landscape suddenly changes.

Sognefjellet
Image credit: Ximonic

Would you pay S$140 for ‘pristine’ bottled water?

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Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the rise in water bills in Singapore. It may be a hot topic of contention, but while we’re on the subject of water, here’s one that can make environmentalists boil.

Read the rest of this page »

Svalbard and farting sled dogs

Imagine this: you’re sitting in a dog sled, sliding comfortably and silently through the powder white snow surrounded by a gorgeous mountain landscape. Seems idyllic, and that’s how the brochures sell them. But when you’re on the sled, it’s a different story. Whether you’re sitting in the sled or standing on it, the odour of dog fart wafts past you at high speed, and doesn’t seem to go away. Some experienced dogs actually manage drop a few poop nuggets while they run, and you try not to squeal with your mouth open. Your eyes start to water, and you’re wondering what you got yourself into as you zoom past the (beautiful) landscape at a dangerous 50km/h.

Sliding through the silent landscape

Most people imagine sled dogs to be cute, fluffy dogs who love nothing more than mush on command. However, real working sled dogs are wiry and lean – a product of running around the Arctic for 12 hours nonstop if you let them. All they want to do is run. The moment you harness the dogs to the sled, you have to put a brake on them – otherwise the dog and your sled would be miles away faster than you can say “F***”.

Excitable dogs

Needless to say, learning to brake is the most important element of sledding – without it, you’ll be dragged through snow, stones and ice upside down. It’s not like they know where to run to – the lead handler usually has to stop and point the dogs to the right direction.

The real fun in mushing is going over little streams, across holes in the snow or up and down steep inclines. There’s little chance of injury, as you’re surrounded by fluffy white snow and dressed in a puffy overall. Unless you encounter a polar bear looking for fast food.

Adorable Husky puppy!

What most people don’t realise about the dogs is that they don’t ever get washed (so you can smell them before you see them). Even so, these dogs do crave affection and enjoy a good rubdown after a run. If you’re lucky, you get to go to a puppy farm to play with tiny, fluffy, blue-eyed Husky puppies before they turn into huge, stinky, excitable sled dogs.

With just 45kms of roads in Svalbard, the only ways around the back country are by boats, snowmobiles and of course, dog sleds. Local mushers can take you into the adjoining valleys for half-day trips, past glaciers and herds of grazing reindeer. You’ll ride in pairs – one driving and one sitting – and learn how to “mush” on the fly. The landscape – with glaciers and snowy mountains – is amazing, and with hardly a visitor for miles around, the trip truly makes you feel like you’re riding in the final frontier.

Svalbard, the northernmost of Norway
Located 1,000km north of Norway, this once no-man’s-land now has the trappings of a modern city, minus the crowds. With more than 40 nationalities among its 2,000 residents, it’s definitely the Arctic’s most cosmopolitan place.

Nothing but pure scenery the whole way

Longyearbyen is the unofficial capital, where you can get everything from reindeer tom yum to Wifi access. In summer, it experiences the midnight sun and is home to Arctic creatures like reindeer and Arctic foxes that can be seen wandering around town. Most visitors come to spot the elusive polar bear (stuffed bears can be found pretty easily), walruses and seals – all of which can sometimes be seen on ice floes near the airport.

IMG_5954

A (cold) Barrentsburg scene

A boat ride (or sled excursion) away is the Russian coal mining town of Barrentsburg, home to 400+ residents. Those with a fascination for all things Soviet (dreary buildings, stone-faced Russians, etc) will find this settlement  – with its snowed-in buildings and soot-covered streets – a kooky gem. Don’t bother drinking at the bar – they only accept e-roubles.