Saturday, April 25, 2015

Top Sights in Norway

 We've all heard of the Vikings, the cold weather and the Scandinavian stereotypes of Norway. But is the country actually worth a visit? The answer is a definite yes. Oslo, the capital, is a very interesting city and is fun to explore. However, most of the worthwhile sights lie far beyond Oslo. Here are some of the more spectacular ones that are definitely worth your time.

1. Svalbard

Svalbard, Norway

This is by far the most beautiful place in Norway. Not only are the icebergs and waterfalls breathtaking, but there is also a fair chance that you will spot a polar bear. If you are still unconvinced, just look at the picture! The entire archipelago lies within the Arctic Circle, so make sure to visit during the warmer months. Many companies also offer cruises with stops in Svalbard. Visiting this icy land is a MUST during your lifetime.

2. Trollstigen

Stelvio Pass - 48 hairpin turns to the top of the Italian Alps.

Trollstigen literally translates to Troll's Ladder. This treacherous road has eleven hairpin bends as it winds down the Norwegian Mountains in the Rauma municipality.You are free to take a hike and admire it from a distance, but if you decide to take the drive, then don't go too fast! You won't be alone, though. During peak tourist season, about 2,500 cars traverse the road. There is a viewing balcony off the road that displays the downward road and the Stigfossen waterfall.

3. Kjeragbolten

This precariously located boulder is wedged between two cliffs on the Kjerag mountain in Rogaland. It is wide and sturdy enough for a person to stand on. However, most do not have the guts because the boulder is situated right above a 984 meter deep abyss. Even if you don't feel like posing on top of the boulder for a picture, you can still hike up for an amazing view.

4. Trolltunga

Norway is full of cliffs and outstanding views, and so another one has made the list. Trolltunga means Troll's tongue, and the name fits its appearance. To get here, you will have to brave a four hour hike up the side of the mountain. The hike is very challenging, and you will spot waterfalls, mountain springs, and streams along the way. Part of the hike is climbing a ladder built into the mountain to reach the cliff. This is not an easy place to get to, but the view is unforgettable.

5. Geirangerfjord

Of course, I couldn't end a list about Norway without including a fjord. This particular one stood out to me because of its picturesque waterfalls, such as the Seven Sisters waterfall in the picture, which is the tallest in Norway. The fjord itself is 15 kilometers long. The easiest and best way to admire the scenery is to take a boat ride along the fjord. This way, you will be able to see the entire length of the fjord.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Five best places to see the Northern Lights

 The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are quite a beautiful phenomenon that occur during solar storms, when a solar wind is blocked by the Earth's magnetic field and creates a colorful light display in the sky. The auroral zone is the region where most auroras are visible, and the zone is a circle around each pole. The best places to see the aurora are typically within the zone. Because of Europe's location near the north pole, it is a great place to witness the northern lights. Be prepared for some cold weather, though, since the best time to catch a glimpse of the lights is in the winter when the solar winds are the most active. If you have your heart set on seeing the aurora in person, then here are the best places to go.

1. Tromso, Norway

Tromso is an ideal place to see the northern lights. Not only is it well into the auroral zone, but it is also a hospitable city with friendly locals. It is a vibrant city, but not so bright that the city lights would dim out the sky. Getting to the city is possible by bus, plane, train, or ferry. The city is in a remote location, but it is not a tiny Scandinavian town like some other locations nearby. Even if you can't manage to witness the aurora, skiing is always an option in this mountainous town. When it comes down to accessibility and convenience, Tromso is by far the best option on the list.

2. Isafjordur, Iceland

All of Iceland is completely in the aurora zone, but Isafjordur is a particularly good place for viewing the northern lights. Isafjordur is a small town in the northwest of Iceland with a population of 2,600.  The scenery is very beautiful, and there are many hiking trails around the town. Kayaking is also a fun activity here because of the calm waters. The view of the lights will be spectacular since there are no city lights and the town is relatively high in altitude.

3. Luosto, Finland

It would not be a complete list without mentioning Finland. The main attraction in Luosto is the famous Aurora Chalet, where you are given an "aurora alarm" that beeps whenever the lights are visible. This makes viewing the northern lights much easier, since you don't have to stay up all night watching the sky. The Aurora Chalet is one of the top hotels in Scandinavia, and it is surrounded by the Pyha-Luosto National Park, so there are plenty of activities in this remote area in Lapland.

4. Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

This is a more expensive option, but those that can afford it can get a good view of the aurora by staying at the world's first and only ice hotel. You can book a Northern Lights room with artistic depictions of the lights carved onto the ice walls. Every year, the hotel is rebuilt and new artists are hired to carve designs onto the ice. The hotel offers many other activities such as ice sculpting, snowmobile tours, and even a trip into space! The rooms fill up very fast, so don't hesitate to check it out as soon as possible.

5. Murmansk, Russia

Murmansk is located on the Kola Peninsula, which is mostly inside the Arctic Circle. The reason that Murmansk is number five on the list is because of its inconvenience. A visa is needed to travel to Russia, and Murmansk is quite far from Moscow, so you will either need to take a plane or a very long train ride to get up here. Murmansk doesn't have as many attractions as the other places on the list, but the reason is it on the list is because flights to Moscow are extremely cheap. If you are traveling on a tight budget and really want to see the lights, this might be your best option.

Some other locations outside of Europe great for watching the aurora are:
  • Denali National Park, Alaska
  • Nunavut, Canada
  • Southern Greenland
Some locations for watching the aurora australis, or the southern lights, are:
  • Ushuaia, Argentina
  • Southern Australia 
  • Southern New Zealand
  • Antarctica
 Remember, even if you do travel to these places in the right time of  year, you may have to wait for up to a month before the aurora appear. With time, patience, and a little bit of luck, you will have a great chance at witnessing an extraordinary sight.