North Pole Travel Articles

A Cultural Look into Svalbard Travel

Svalbard’s largest city is Longyearbyen, located on Spitsbergen and home to about 1,800 people. Longyearbyen, though small, has a thriving community. Residents and visitors on a Svalbard tour can enjoy the swimming pool, the climbing wall, the Sunday cinema, and the squash court. There is also a nightclub, three pubs, three hotels, a church, a school, and several tourist shops. Visitors on a trip to Svalbard may also enjoy seeing the art gallery with its permanent and changing exhibitions by local artists, or the Svalbard Museum, which offers exhibits on the history, flora, and fauna of the islands.

For most of its existence, Svalbard’s major employer was the state coal mining industry; Longyearbyen was essentially a company town whose daily life centered on the mining business. In the past ten years, however, there has been a shift from a mining economy to one that depends increasingly on tourism and research.

Island research generally focuses on weather and meteorology, with facilities for ionospheric and magnetospheric research. In 1993, a cooperation of the four Norwegian universities opened a University Center in Svalbard, which currently draws about 300 students per year. The students study geophysics, arctic biology, geology, and arctic technology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A new Research Centre has just been built, in the hopes that the university will see an increase in enrollment.

Tourism is also a growing sector. Spring and summer are the most popular months for a tour of the islands Svalbard, which have been made far more accessible by the Svalbard Airport, located just outside Longyearbyen. Various tour operators provide guided trips from February to November, offering activities such as hiking, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, kayaking, and even coal mining.

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A Geographic Look at the North Pole

If you are planning a cruise to the Arctic, it is important to note that unlike the South Pole, the North Pole is not located on any land mass. Rather, it is found in the Arctic Ocean, covered by a three-meter-thick drifting polar ice pack that grows and diminishes according to the seasons. If you take an Arctic tour in the summer, this ice pack is surrounded by open water, but by wintertime the ice pack can spread to the solid land of the northern countries. In the winter and spring, the snow cover is about 8-20 inches deep on the ice pack, and is generally present 10 months out of the year.

The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world’s oceans, and has two important waterways—the Northwest Passage north of the U.S. and Canada, and the Northern Route, north of Norway and Russia. These waterways are seasonal, open only in the warmer summer months. Other ocean routes, as well as land and air routes, are sparse.

Half of the area beneath the Arctic Ocean consists of a continental shelf, which surrounds a central basin divided by three underwater ridges. The ocean’s salinity changes from season to season, which can influence the marine wildlife viewing opportunities on your tour of the region. When the ice pack expands during the winter months, the water has a high salinity level, which decreases in the summer when the ice melts.

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Arctic Cruise Journal - Betty Wittels

The Russian officer whispered through the loudspeaker, "A slight curtain of northern lights has appeared." At nearly 11 p.m. on the first night at sea I pulled the duvet up to cover my ears. "No way," I said to myself, as a jet lagged zombie who had just collapsed into bed, having flown 18 hours, was I going to skip out to greet perhaps a phantom 3 stars and 2 green clouds on this chilled dog night. 15 minutes later the message repeated itself with an exclamation,
"This is a BIG aurora...come quickly!" I leaped out of bed, whipped on a fleece jacket over my jammies and raced to the bridge. The wispy green curtains of brightness spread across the entire starlit black sky like the milky way, except it was a mars green, milky way. Like a magician's sleight of hand one side of the green sash faded as another section of 'curtain' brightened into a glowing red. The seamless curtain, rather than splitting open, melted into another curtain as the sheer lines shifted, dissolved, swirled, and then transformed into more swirling lines and finally vanished. The dance lasted about 30 minutes as sections of the curtain gradually faded into the clear black sky. This was a magnificent, auspicious beginning for a sea journey to the Arctic.

Greenland is the largest island in the world: it exists where the Atlantic meets the Arctic Ocean, and is enveloped by cold ocean currents. Northeast Greenland is the world’s largest National park, a land where herds of Musk Ox are still hunted by Wolves, and Walruses relax on ice-floes. The trip included many zodiac landings to see the most of the extraordinary landscapes. Later we visited Scoresby Sund, the world’s largest fjord, at the head of which glaciers calve icebergs, some of which are over 300 feet tall and more than a kilometer in length. To the south of Scoresby Sund, Greenland’s east coast is one of the most rugged landscapes in the world, a land of jumbled ice and cliffs backed by huge mountains, including Gunnbjørns Fjeld, which at 9,100 feet is the highest peak in Greenland and also the highest mountain north of the Arctic Circle. I was on my way to East Greenland where the ship would stride to the 70th Latitude or to just 1100 miles away the North Pole. I was on my way to the Arctic where at one point we would actually push though ice as pancake circles began to form where some ships of old had never been released from the frozen sea.

The first discoverers setting foot in new Arctic lands must have been astonished by the dramatic scenery and the rich wildlife, but their main concern was to combat the cold, eagerly awaiting the return of summer to continue their voyages to find a northern trading passage to the Indies. In 1596 the Dutch captain Willem Barentsz discovered a land he called "the new land of the pointed mountains" (in Dutch and today still known as Spitsbergen). The Dutch did not succeed in their attempts to find a northern route to Asia and the expedition ended with a wintering on what is today the Russian Arctic territory of Novaya Zemlya. The Dutch managed to return to Amsterdam in 1597, still wearing their fur clothes and white fox hats, but without their captain, who had died. Contrary to these first discoverers, visitors now going to the Arctic and the North Atlantic Islands desire to just see one of the last great wildernesses on earth.

The first 1 1/2 days we sailed through Denmark Strait and, like Drake Strait down in Antarctica, the ship rocked and rolled to such a height and tempo that while unlike most passengers, I was not ill and never missed a meal, I could not stand up and walk more than two feet before I was tossed back into my warm bunk bed once again. Fine with excuse to have warm soup served to me by staff with steadier feet than I and I could read the books I had slung into my overweight suitcases. So I slept, read, slept, read, and slept until I could sleep no more. 24 hours latter the waves subsided into smaller ice caps and on the calmer sea my ship legs spurred into an even movement out the cabin door and directly to the dining room downstairs.

I sojourned to the Arctic onboard the Professor Molchanov. Diving is available on a number of the ships departures. Diving the Arctic waters does not only offer ice, but also an interesting marine life: kelp walls, sea-snails, spider crabs, Sea Butterflies, various Arctic fish, Shrubby Horse-tails, soft corals and anemones. The ship may dive with seals and near Moffen Island walruses may approach the Zodiacs. One expedition leader on our ship showed a full video presentation of dive trips, which were spectacular even if it did take mucho minutes to dress to dive!

My cabin had bunk beds, private bath, and even a mini fridge along with two portholes. One window viewed the bow and the other the starboard side of the ship. And, unlike most ships, I did not need to climb onto a couch to see out of the window. The room location was ideal: five steps from the stairs that led to food and 5 steps up to more steps that led to the bridge, along with 7 steps to either outside door. This all became very important when loudspeaker calls were made to peer at seals, icebergs, and of course, the aurora. The quicker one could arrive the more one's eyes could see.

Commands, rules and warnings were stated the first days. We also had a fire drill event: we ended up sitting inside the lifeboats during the drill! We almost suspected the boats would be lowered and we would have a practice run at sea since provisions were already stowed aboard the little white covered capsules. Most of the lectures surrounded the "Don't you dare touch anything." theme along with the usual safety precautions. The bar and souvenir shop were on an honor system for payment which was highly unusual. The ship specifically honored diet requirements. While anyone was ill the hotel manager would visit the cabins, bringing the sick one tea, biscuits, etc. An M.D. was available 24/7 and even meds, if needed, were free. Professor Molchanov holds 52 passengers. The 20 person crew were Russian and the 3 Expedition Leaders assigned to care for the passengers were from the U.K., Algeria, and Italy. The OW ships are modern, ice-strengthened research vessels, built in Finland for the Russian Academy of Science. All cabins were outside cabins and the most spacious cabins I had entered into for years. Trimmed with dark wood and with comfortable central heating even the bathroom was of regular size! The cabins were twice as large as the Antarctica or Galapagos' ships I had sailed upon. I was impressed. I could open both of my trunk-like suitcases and I could even turn around without bumping into the bed or desk. Fortunately, my roommate was a light packer and merely amused rather than horrified by my over-packed maneuvers.

Tea, coffee, cookies, soup, were available at any hour of day or night. We were even encouraged to look through the cupboards where I found hot chocolate packets! This was better than home: if I could not find what I wanted then someone else would find it for me and serve it to me. However one negative: never go on a final sailing of a season as the hot chocolate ran out (I should have hidden the packets from other passengers) as well as Bacardi Rum (I was not the liquor guzzler!), two essentials in many tourist 'sustain me' books. I, for once on a ship, felt this ship was not attempting to coerce every copper penny out of my hand once I boarded. All excursions were included in the original price and there was no pressure to buy anything. Of course I admit souvenir ice floes were difficult to transport back home. We did fish one huge slice of glacial ice out of the sea to dress up the cocktails one evening.

Iceland is the most unique country in geology that I have ever traversed. Years ago a Danish friend and I circled the island on buses and saw geysers volcanoes, waterfalls, an astounding geological beauty. So this time I decided to stay two extra days: one in which to go shopping, of course, and another to visit the Blue Lagoon to experience the blue thermal waters as I imagined my own frozen terrain would be eager to melt and relax there at the end of the trip.

The name, Arctic, is derived from 'arctos', the Greek word for bear. The Great Bear star constellation points the way to the Pole star, Arcturas. Arctos is seen as deliverer of the north wind, boreas, bringing winter ice and snow to the south.

The Arctic area is huge. The permanent ice is 9-12 feet thick covering 8 million square miles. The rivers of ice flowing down from the Greenland ice cap end as glaciers. The largest carve great icebergs into Disko Bay on the west coast, and the lesser ones go to sea in Scoresby Sund in East Greenland. (Sund is where our ship maneuvered), or Svalbard/Spitsbergen. (an island between Norway and Greenland), or the ice ends up at Franz Josef land. East Greenland has only recently been mapped as of the 1930's. Some of the icebergs being created are over a kilometer long.

Baby it was cold outside. I was, also, cold inside. I bought some great hand warmers...these squares that heat up as you shake the packets and then hold them in the palms. My hands would not be so cold if I had not taken off my gloves to use the digital camera so frequently. Of course, by the end of the trip, in Iceland, I found little wool gloves that have a flap which folds over the fingers. Why do I always find ingenious items after I could have used them?

The climate is classified as high Arctic. The winter is long with severe cold and frequent storms. The sun does not rise above the horizon from about November 23 to January 17th. The snow falls in the beginning of September and disappears the following year in July. In October/November Scoresby Sund, the largest fjord in the world, in East Greenland, begins to freeze over. The Arctic is below freezing point for more than half of the year and is a region of high winds and little rainfall. The cold, dark days of winter last 9 months, then a brief summer reigns from May through July when low-lying willow and birch and the earth hugging tiny lichen and moss plants bloom. Fish, harp, hooded, and ring seals, narwhales, and seabirds like auk, guillemots, and geese enliven the Arctic until late August when the birds fly south. The northern lights were on my visual hunger list as the aurora fly to the skies from August to Mid-November and from Mid-February to early April.

Polar animals have suffered drastically in 200 years of murder and plunder. First whales, then seals, walruses, and birds were hunted. Now the polar bears only are hunted at a quota of 20 a year. That is 20 too many to me. But who really knows who poaches what anyway? We saw 3 ringed seals and no whales in 10 days. To see both North and South poles of the earth is to know in dramatic, truly dismal terms how depleted the earth is of life due to humans. The contrast of seeing a few of the huge and rare animals only dramatizes the severity of the loss. The people who never see the animals can only imagine how great the loss. Not a pessimist nor ecologist these voyages have shown me that no environmentalist or animal conservation person is exaggerating anything.

Yes, times are a changing but the rate is just not keeping up with the cavernous, gaping losses. Polar bear numbers now protected by law from safari hunters are now increasing. Walruses are slowly recovering. Eider ducks, taken for down and eggs, are now thriving. In Svalbard reindeer reduced from thousands to a few hundred in the 1920's are flourishing under Norwegian protection. But is there a gap between the actuality and the written 'research?'

Tourist activities in the brief summer on Greenland to offset hunting as an alternative economy to the Eskimos include trekking, skiing, kayaking, fishing for arctic char, and dog sledding trips. We visited the city of Ittoqqortoormiit where see saw Eskimo children, huskies, and numerous snowmobiles. Animals in the area include lemmings, ermine, musk oxen, and polar wolves.

Aboard the ship we had daily lectures from the expedition leaders on various topics such as Greenland history, language, Northern Lights, Musk Ox biology, and Arctic Diving. The leaders were multi-lingual and knowledgeable in numerous fields of study.

Landings were sometimes new to the expedition guides, as well as the passengers, due to unpredictable weather routes, which became detours. One morning the ship slowly moved 1 km./hr. to land on the other side of 'pancake ice:" The round ice slab about 6 feet in diameter ice transforms into pack ice which equals locked up frozen ice water. As the ship's movement became slower and slower the captain decided to turn around. Many of us were talking about what it would be like to become stuck in the ice. One officer said once a passenger zodiac did become frozen in the ice. The passengers had to slowly walk on the frozen sea back to the ship and a work crane lifted the zodiac onto the ship. Several passengers, including I, furtively desired a similar fate complete with romantic rescue. However since the bar had run out of hot chocolate and rum we decided that limited food supplies would cut short a longer languor at sea.

The food aboard the ship was good and sometimes great. Special activities punctuated the normal grazing and sipping throughout the day: We toasted with champagne at the bow at 70 degree latitude. We had an on deck barbeque without bonfire but complete with dance music. We had to dance or freeze! And hot chocolate with Tía Maria liquor was served on deck one sunset hour.

We had open access to the cozy, carpeted, and enclosed bridge 24/7. Some Russian crew could speak English but many of the officers spoke Dutch, German, French, Italian, and English. Passengers were mostly from Britain, Holland and Scotland with only a few from the United States.

The best month to go the Arctic and see the most wildlife is August. My trip in late September was too late in the season. The tundra flowers had vanished, the birds had migrated, and most wildlife remaining was more intent upon preparing for winter than posing for tourists. Despite my unwise choice of timing the northern lights made up for all the deficits. Almost nightly, from 10 p.m. - 2 a.m., the lights streamed, danced, glowed, and flowed though the star studded, cold, clear, sky. Light was too dim for most cameras to record the process as the ship was plowing forward, as well, but we all stood in silent awe mesmerized and at times, screaming 'oohs' as green, pink, and white light streamed down the canvas sky like dripping paintbrush strokes. Or green light would whiz past horizontally to vanish into the black night air. The experience was utterly astounding. It felt as though the lights were a true manifestation of a mystical message or a blessing from above. Nobody cared about sleep and we passengers all agreed that the Professor Molchanov should hire an aurora watcher. All of us were eager to apply for the position.

Trip Notes:

  1. No penguins live in the Arctic. No predators of penguins exist in the Antarctic.
  2. White polar bears are in the Arctic. The bears originally traversed over from Canada and Russia. The best month to go to see polar bears is August and to circumnavigate around Spitsbergen, an island off of Norway
  3. In the Arctic one sees many birds...unless they have already flown the coop. (which they had in late September while I was there.)
  4. Dive trips are a significant activity in the Arctic. One wears dry suits and sees huge soft coral, fish, whales, and walrus.
  5. Land excursions from the ship take place at least twice a day. Most landings are wet but are in shallow ice water so bring those 'wellies' or waterproof high boots. Essential gear are waterproof everything, including jacket, gloves with liners and nylon over-pants along with sunglasses and extra camera batteries as cold depletes batteries quickly. We went by zodiac to roam near icebergs, musk oxen trails, and to spy seals lounging on little icebergs. The life preservers are compact and look like swollen suspenders rather than those archaic orange boxes.
  6. Most walking treks take place over tundra. The ground feels spongy and one's steps seem to bounce along. The vivid black, purple, gold, and red leaf lichens and mosses, along with the heather plants, are tiny but sturdy.
  7. We saw the Aurora Borelais or Northern Lights 4 nights. Supposedly, the solar activity runs in 12- year cycles and 2006 is at a midpoint low. So one might want to wait to travel to see the lights for 2-4 years for frequency and intensity to increase. However, the Aurora Borelais, which I experienced, totally stunned my senses. I will remember it forever.
  8. Bring a bottle or three of your own liquor. Alcohol is expensive on board and in Iceland.
  9. If possible bring a laptop, memory card reader, and CD blanks as invariably you will run out of memory card space taking photos. In the past it was a digital nightmare for me to have to delete photos just to obtain more card space on prior voyages. The unusual terrain and rare animals on voyages like Galapagos, Antarctica, and the Arctic are just too unique to not record or to have to choose to delete. This time I did not have to worry as I recorded images upon CDs.
  10. Do not check your camera on the plane in luggage. I never have before but was forced to by a surly British Airlines agent who thought my carry-on was too large but he refused to measure the bag. I should have let my ipod or 4th pair of boots be diverted to Scotland, instead. However, at London Gatwick I had one minute to decide what had to be checked as the London baggage cop threatened to hurl all of my suitcases to the North wind. Yes, my camera ended up in Glasgow, Scotland for 3 days and missed the departure of my ship. In a long story made brief the British Airways luggage rep, Helga, showed up at the ship and lent me her camera! Talk about door to port service! I wrote British Airways commending her and sent her a CD of my Arctic photos courtesy of her camera. People who go beyond, way beyond, duty still exist!

An animal high point arose on the trip when I least suspected it. Others had gone trekking some distance so I went on the zodiac with one crewman to wander and roam the icebergs in the area. He saw a black speck on an ice floe in the distance so we slowly moved towards it. A seal lifted his head, looked at us and then swiftly slid off of the ice floe and into the sea. A little sad at his quick departure, we kept moving peering into other iceberg cracks and crevices, and then it happened. He saw one seal pop up behind me, then, I saw another peer out of the sea behind the boat diver. The seals just kept on rising to the surface until we were entirely surrounded by a circle of bobbing, shining, black seal faces. He stopped the boat and we sat in utter silence only moving our lips to whisper where to turn our eyes to peer at what was transpiring around the zodiac. Within a few minutes at least 8 seals were popping in and out of the water encircling our boat. Curious and attentive the seals stared and we peered back, all of us in awe with each other.

I could not complete this story without mentioning icebergs. After Antarctica I imagined I would be jaded, burned out, weary of seeing icebergs. Nope. The trillion shades or blue, the millions of shapes, and this time photographing dripping tiny icicles frozen inside a moment was as startling and stunning as ever. Give me an ice blue iceberg, whirling northern lights, a seal, hot dark chocolate, and a warm bunk bed and I could with surety stay a season in the Arctic.

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Arctic Cruise to Frozen Paradise

The North Pole brings to mind a stark land of cold, snow, and polar bears (and perhaps visions of Santa and Mrs. Claus and a group of hard-working elves). Visiting this remote region is a trip of adventure, as you cruise through chilly seas reflecting the high blue sky and scattered with drifting ice. In the summers, the ice pack that covers the North Pole diminishes, making it easier for ships to come near the pole.

Those who take an Arctic cruise may think of the many expeditions that tried—and failed—to reach the elusive 90°. This includes the doomed American Polaris expedition in 1871 and Fridtjof Nansen’s near success in 1895, as well as Robert Peary’s disputed claim of victory in 1909, and Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth’s undisputed sight of the Pole from a plane in 1926.

A cruise through the Arctic Ocean means experiencing the region of the midnight sun, where summers have no sunset and winters have no dawn. Such travel also means the chance to see exotic wildlife, from giant albatrosses to tiny puffins, from beluga whales to long-horned narwhals, and from long-tusked walruses to polar bears whose white coats make them invisible against the ice. Visitors to the Arctic will come to agree that this remote part of the world is a slightly chilly version of paradise.

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Arctic Cruise: When to Go?

Though the austere Arctic landscape is often imagined to be a cold white wasteland, the brief months of summer see the flora blossoming and the fauna emerging from their long winter dormancy. Travelers on an Arctic cruise will have a chance to see an abundance of wildlife, from caribou and moose to humpback whales and ringed seals, and up to 200 species of birds, including fulmars, puffins, guillemots, and eagles.

So when to go? July is the high season in many Arctic destinations, but though the weather is at its warmest, the mosquitoes and gnats are out in full force, which can put a bit of a damper on your travels. Cruises in late May or early June come before the high mosquito season, and these spring months can also be a good time to see the elusive polar bears, grizzlies emerging from their winter dens, and caribou migrating to their summer habitat. Another good time to cruise the Arctic—while avoiding the insect life!—is late August and September. For other wildlife, late summer is prime viewing time. Humpback whales can be sighted off the coasts of Alaska and Greenland in the late summer and autumn months, while caribou can be seen en masse throughout the autumn as they migrate to their winter feeding grounds. Also be on the lookout for the shaggy muskoxen, Arctic foxes, walruses, and several types of seals. Another perk to visiting in August is that this time marks the first of four months of stunning displays of the aurora borealis, which can be a highlight of the dusk and nighttime hours on an Arctic cruise.

Where & when to go to see certain types of wildlife:

Grizzly bears: summer: Alaska & NW Canada; occasionally sighted in Arctic Russia & Scandinavia

Polar bears: spring & summer: during their prime feeding months: rarely seen, but may be viewed in Svalbard/Spitsbergen, Alaska, Wrangel Island in Russia, and Grise Fjord in Canada

Moose: year-round: Alaska & NW Canada

Muskoxen: year-round: Alaska, NW Canada, & Greenland

Wolves: rare, but may be seen in the islands & mainland of northern Canada and Alaska

Caribou: spring & autumn: throughout the Arctic. Domesticated caribou (reindeer) are common in northern Russia, Scandinavia, and Svalbard

Walrus: coasts of northeast Canada, western Greenland, eastern Greenland, Svalbard, northern Scandinavia & western Russia, and the Laptev, Chukchi, & Bering Seas

Humpback whales: late August & September: coasts of Alaska, southern Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, northern Scandinavia, Bering Sea

Orcas: coasts of Alaska, Pacific NW, NE Canada & west Greenland, northern Scandinavia, Svalbard, & eastern Russia; Bering Sea, Baffin Bay, Norwegian Sea, & Barents Sea

Belugas: coasts of Alaska (Bristol Bay & Cook Inlet), NE Canada & west Greenland, Svalbard, northern Russia, & the Bering Sea

Narwhals: northern Hudson Bay, shores of NE Canada, eastern Greenland & Svalbard, and the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Russia

Bowhead whale: western Arctic (Bering, Chukchi & Beaufort Seas), Canadian Arctic (Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, & Hudson Bay), the Okhotsk Sea southeast of Russia, and the far north Atlantic Ocean between Svalbard & Greenland

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Arctic Cruises to Spitsbergen Island!

If you are interested in Arctic adventure cruises, you may want to choose a vacation package that brings you to Spitsbergen. Located in the Svalbard archipelago, it is the largest island in the chain. The translation of the island's name means "jagged peaks," which create a formidable appearance from the surrounding waters.

Small ship cruises allow you to venture the island and explore its natural beauty as few others will ever be able. One of the interesting sites on the island is the town of Kvadehuksletta, with its circular stone structures arranged in a maze-like pattern. This natural formation is believed to have resulted from the cycle of freezing and thawing.

In the past, Spitsbergen was often visited by whalers because of the sizable whale population. Today, you have the chance to catch a glimpse of these magnificent belugas and bowhead whales while enjoying the comforts of cruises around the island. You can also see polar bears and reindeer on the island.

Easily combine your trip of Spitsbergen with an Arctic cruises to the coast of Russia and all the way to the northern islands of Norway and parts of the United Kingdom. You'll have the opportunity to go ashore and camp out, kayak, hike, hear fantastic symphonic music at the Sitka Summer Music Festival or learn more about our history at the Gold Rush Museum. These unique packages are all guided by experts in Arctic travel, committed to responsible tourism and the spirit of adventure.

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Arctic Travel: A Look into History

Today’s travelers to the North Pole will join the long history of explorers who have been trying to reach the pole – latitude 90 degree North – since the mid-1800s. But for decades trying was all they were able to do. The American Polaris expedition, in 1871, was a disaster from start to finish. A party of 25 sailors, guides, and scientists set off in the ship Polaris in the fall of 1871, led by Charles Francis Hall. Unfortunately, he was resented by many of the other members of the group and was not able to maintain discipline. Shortly after the ship docked in Greenland for the winter, Hall became violently ill after drinking a cup of coffee. He accused several of the others of poisoning him. Whether or not this was the case, Hall continued to suffer from vomiting and delirium, and died on November 8. After this inauspicious beginning, the expedition never recovered. The next year Polaris became embedded in ice, leaving the crew to sail south in small boats to be rescued by a whaler. The year following that, those remaining in the party tried to extricate Polaris from the ice, but when the ice began to break up, a group of 19 was separated from the rest of the party. For the next six months they floated over 1,500 miles on an ice floe, and were finally rescued off the coast of Newfoundland by the whaler Tigress. After that, the expedition gave up, having never reached the North Pole.

Two decades later, the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen reached 86° 14´, in 1895 the closest any explorer had come to reaching the North Pole. In 1909, Robert Peary, an American, claimed to have reached the elusive 90°. However, this claim was disputed by some of the others in his party, none of whom were trained in navigation and able to confirm Peary’s calculations.

The first undisputed sight of the North Pole was not from land. Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth first flew over it in a plane during a trip from Norway to Alaska in 1926. Over the next several decades other firsts were accomplished—Joseph Fletcher and William Benedict landed an aircraft at the pole in 1952; a U.S. Navy submarine surfaced there in 1959; and finally, in 1968, Ralph Plaisted was the first person to undisputedly reach the North Pole, coming neither by air nor by sea, but across the surface of the ice. In 1977, the Soviet icebreaker Arktika was the first surface vessel to complete travel to the North Pole. In 2005 the U.S. Navy submarine the USS Charlotte surfaced at the pole through 61 inches of ice.

Over the years, different countries have made claims on the territory surrounding the North Pole. Canada claimed the area between 60°W and 141°W longitude in 1925, but this claim is not universally recognized. Canada, Denmark, Russia, and Norway have claimed certain waters as internal, but those claims are generally opposed by the U.S. and the EU. Prior to 1999, the North Pole and Arctic Ocean were largely considered to be international territory. However, since the polar ice has begun to recede more rapidly due to global warming, the now-open waters have become more desirable, and the northern countries are making claims on underwater ridges and open water. These areas are potentially valuable for the possible reserves of petroleum and natural gas below the ocean floor, and further disputes over these coveted resources are probable.

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Canada: A Land of Plenty

Canada has more than its share of the world’s “most” and “largest”. Canada is the world’s second-largest nation, covering a vast amount of the North American continent. It is bordered on the south and west the by the United States.

This beautiful country has the lowest population density in the world, rendering its rugged and wild places numerous. The most densely populated area is the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River region. As a result, Canada has an impressive amount of undeveloped land and wild places.

A cruise to Canada will yield many of the world’s singular sights. Canada has more lakes than any other country, and therefore a large amount of the planet’s fresh water. The Saint Lawrence River widens into the world’s largest estuary, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The Bay of Fundy, which divides Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, experiences the world’s most significant tidal variations. The northern mainland is partially surrounded by an archipelago that contains some of the planet’s largest islands.

The vast expanse of land hosts coniferous forests in the south, plains and formidable mountain ranges like the Canadian Rockies, then tundra and Arctic barrens farther and farther north. The opportunities for adventurers are endless!

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Canada: From Sea to Sea

Canada covers a sizeable portion of the North American continent, spanning from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and all the way up to the Arctic Ocean; it is second in size only to Russia. Canada also shares the distinction of sharing the world’s longest undefended border with United States. In fact, Canada is one of the safest countries in the world.

The country has a diverse landscape that is home to a wealth of wildlife, from the Arctic tundra and the Canadian Rocky Mountains, to prairies and meandering coastlines. Canada has a park system that spans all of these areas, with opportunities for every type of adventurer. British Colombia is one of the most popular destinations in Canada, with its towering mountains, myriad lakes, and location on the Pacific Ocean. Nova Scotia is another popular spot, an area with its own lively history and sea coast culture.

The people of Canada are a laid-back group, very welcoming and friendly. They enjoy sharing their Canadian cuisine with visitors, perhaps over a discussion of lacrosse or ice hockey, depending on the time of year. Overall, a Canadian cruise offers endless opportunities for cultural experiences, wild treks, or simply relaxing.

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Canada's Weather Diversity

Canada is a sizeable country, and so weather varies depending on where the traveler chooses to go. Winters can be harsh, especially in the Prairie provinces, where temperatures average 5 degrees (F), and can drop to -40 with wind chill. Mountain ranges receive plenty of snow in the winter, especially the Canadian Rockies. For those visitors looking for milder winter weather, coastal British Colombia experiences a rainy season with moderate temperatures. Summer is beautiful in the coastal regions, with average daily temperatures from the high 60s to 70s. Interior temperatures during the summer can be hot, sometimes up to 100 degrees. Travelers to Canada should plan ahead to hit the weather they’re looking for amidst Canada’s wide varieties.

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Canada’s Heritage

Canadian history extends back to the first evidence of people, about 26,500 years ago in the Yukon. The descendents of these First Peoples are now known as Aboriginals or Indigenous Peoples, specifically Metis, Inuit, and First Nations.

Europeans came to the region as early as 1000 A.D.; remains of a Viking village are still present on the northernmost tip of what is now Newfoundland. But the most famous explorers didn’t arrive until 400 years later. John Cabot claimed a vast area for England in 1497, and then died at sea two years later. In 1534, Jacques Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, which he claimed for France. His encounters with the aboriginal people produced mixed results: some trading, some shooting, and the eventual capture of Chief Donnacona of the Iroquois and nine others of his people, whom he took back to France where all but one died.

Cartier was followed by Samuel de Champlain in 1603, who established the first European settlements at Port Royal and Quebec City. French fur traders and pioneers proceeded to settle in several areas of present-day Canada as well as farther south. Soon, the French and Iroquois Wars broke out as the natives attempted to take some control of the fur trade between European and Great Lakes tribes, and expand their territory. The ensuing series of conflicts, which pitted the Iroquois Confederation against Algonquian-speaking tribes, are still known as the bloodiest and most brutal in North American history. The wars began to ebb as the Iroquois lost their Dutch partners and the French worked to turn the Iroquois from enemies into allies against the encroaching English settlers.

English settlers established outposts in Newfoundland in addition to their Thirteen Colonies in present-day United States. The English and French fought for control of western and interior territories in the vast expanse of North America in a series of conflicts called the Intercolonial Wars, known as the French and Indian Wars in the United States. In 1713, Nova Scotia was ceded to Britain, and in 1763, the huge territory of New France came under British rule as well. That same year, the Royal Proclamation carved Quebec out of New France and limited the rights of French Canadians. However, to avert the brewing conflict, the Quebec Act of 1774 expanded Quebec territory to include the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, and allowed French language, religion and civil law to be reintroduced.

In 1783, Canada recognized American Independence and ceded the Great Lakes to the United States, and nearly 50,000 Loyalists fled to Canada. To accommodate the influx, the region was divided into English-speaking Lower Canada and French-speaking Upper Canada. Finally in 1867, the Confederation was created, which called for “one dominion in the name of Canada.”

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Comparing the Two Polar Regions: Antarctica and Arctic Cruising

While the Earth\'s polar regions are similar in many ways, the Arctic Circle at the northern pole and Antarctica to south, also display stark differences. Comparing their environments, geographical properties, climates, wildlife, and amenities produces some rather profound realizations about expectations and real-world discovery. Individuals looking for adventure traverse the globe in opposite directions looking for the ultimate experience. At the furthest points of the globe lie some of the most breathtaking sights to behold.

Both the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic region boast a vast expanse of shivering ice. However, the way in which this layer of ice presents itself varies greatly. In Antarctica, the ice forms a near perfect circle around the pole, at a fairly uniform depth. In contrast, the Arctic ice is quite asymmetric providing wide variation. This difference can be attributed to the strong ocean currents winds, which flow nearly uninterrupted around the continent of Antarctica. Meanwhile the currents surrounding the Arctic vary, with warmer waters flowing from the south often preventing the formation of ice in the north Atlantic regions.

On an Antarctica cruise, one finds a wide ice-covered plateau interrupted by soaring mountain peaks, icebergs and glaciers. This area, which surrounds the South Pole, covers a range of 5,400,000 square miles. It is itself surrounded by ocean from every side. In contrast, the arctic is an ocean, surrounded by continents. The icebergs here are smaller and seasonal; land ice is especially limited in the arctic, the largest piece settling in Greenland. In geographical sense, Antarctica is the yin to the Arctic yang.

The northern Arctic latitude boasts one of the most unique seasonal climates. Throughout the cold winter months, continuous periods of night flow regardless of the time of the day. The same can be observed during the summer when daytime goes on uninterrupted. Both Antarctica and the Arctic stay fairly cool throughout the year. The average temperature at the South Pole is -58 degrees Fahrenheit. The North Pole is much warmer, yet still chilly, with an average annual temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

A generalization about Antarctica may label it an uninhabited continent. Though void of land based mammals, it does provide shelter for a variety of marine mammals including whales, porpoises, and seals. In contrast, the Arctic’s forests and tundra’s provide a much more favorable environment for terrestrial habitation. During an Arctic cruise, visitors can find a variety of land mammals including musk oxen, lemmings, caribou, bears, foxes, hares, wolves, and reindeer. You will also discover similar aquatic mammals to what are found in Antarctica in addition to a few more unique amphibious creatures.

Human activities-
Antarctica has no record of primitive or native people. The first recorded was made by James Cook in 1773. Following through to current day the population remains extremely limited, mainly including bare handfuls of individuals scattered around sparse scientific exploration stations. In a way, the treacherous southern climate protects the continents frozen resources against exploitation.

The Arctic is an entirely different tale. Its native people have left behind a rich tale of a deeply cultural heritage on all the surrounding continents. Beginning at the original prehistoric crossing the populations of the Arctic Circle have solidly expanded towards today’s current rate of over two million people. As with any advanced society, there is widespread exploitation of economic resources as well as technological development.

Separated by a distance of the entire planet Antarctica and the Arctic represent complementary opposites. Together, though smothered in extremes they make an entire range of universal variation existing on the edge of our world and promising none but the most humbling experience.

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Cruise Finland!

Lying to the north along the Baltic Sea is an outdoorsman’s paradise of emerald forests edging up to countless pristine lakes. While Finland is the seventh largest country in terms of land area, it is one of the smallest in terms of population density; Finland has population of only five million. Some 6,200 square miles of protected parks and preserves found in the country’s borders are available to explore during a Finland cruise, making it one of the world leaders in environment sustainability and no doubt contributing to the preservation of some of the cleanest air and water quality in all of Europe. Travelers enjoying trekking, fishing, wildlife viewing, skiing, and canoeing will love to tour this country.

Historically a Grand Duchy of the Swedish Kingdom and later of Russia, the Finnish culture has been able to maintain and cultivate traditions that is distinctly their own. During your cruise of Finland you’ll have plenty of opportunities to become familiar with the local culture. The majority (about 94%) of the population is of Finnish descent; the country has only recently begun to open its borders to an influx of immigrants equal to that of its Nordic neighbors. Presently the culture is being increasingly exposed to outside influences, and with the fall of the Soviet Union, Finns have become determined to globalize and have attained a great deal of success.

Come and experience the culture for yourself on a Finland cruise! You may be invited to take a sauna in one of the two million saunas located across the country, amounting to almost one per household. During your trip, eat the sausage, rye breads, and fruits that have made Finns world-renown for their cuisine options. Relax while fishing or sailing in the Arctic north where the sun stays visible for a consecutive fifty days during the summer. Finland offers travelers a truly unique cultural experience coupled with breathtaking scenery that is sure to cause any person to fall in love with this remarkable country.

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Cruise the Arctic Svalbard Islands

A Svalbard cruise takes you to an Arctic archipelago north of Norway, only about 600 miles from the North Pole. It was most likely discovered by Viking or Russian explorers in the late 12th century, but was not settled until the early 1600s. Since 1925 it has been a territory of Norway, and today it is home to about 2,700 people, mostly Norwegians and Russians.

The landscape is sparse and rugged, much of it covered by glaciers and ice pack. A variety of wildlife can be seen during a tour of Svalbard, from the millions of birds that breed on the islands each year to reindeer, walruses, seals, belugas, minke whales, and polar bears.

The best time to plan a cruise to Svalbard is during the warmer summer months—but even in summer, temperatures only average around 40°F, so those traveling to the area should dress appropriately. The summers also bring several months of midnight sun, which is experienced between April 20 and August 23 each year.

Visitors to Svalbard can enjoy a number of activities, from hiking through the beautifully remote mountains to snowmobiling, and from dog-sledding to kayaking the Arctic waters. Those wanting to explore cultural artifacts can also visit the Svalbard Museum, the Svalbard (art) Gallery, or historic coalmines.

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Cruise the Faroe Islands

Nestled in the North Atlantic Ocean are eighteen majestically protruding islands, secluded from any other civilization by miles of water. A tour of these islands spoils travelers with wave-sculpted cliffs that form almost a mile of coastline. Small rural villages dot the landscape enticing any traveler to take a Faroe Islands cruise and come and experience this isolated world.

Influenced in part by Norwegian and Danish heritage, the Faroese have developed a culture very distinctly their own, complete with cuisine and arts based on the daily life of islanders generation after generation. Having developed their own language, flag, and legislative body, the Faroese are considered an autonomous self-governing community within Denmark. These islands boast multiple nesting areas for sea birds, and contain over 300 species in their tiny 540 square miles of land surface. They also claim virtually unlimited access to the abundant marine life available off the coasts for you to discover during your cruise of the Faroe Islands. The rich marine life also help to ensure the livelihood for those who have chosen to call the islands home. Each small village, including Torshavn, the capital metropolis area, offer a look at the traditions and values that have enabled the small population of less than 50,000 to build communities with strong familial ties.

When on a tour of this tiny region, one might enjoy fishing in the bay, hiking along the rocky terrain or searching for bird nests along the coastlines. However, interacting with the people, learning their culture, or witnessing one of the many village music festivals might prove to be the highlight of your trip to this small isolated wonder. Offering cool summers and fairly mild winters, the Faroe Islands are inviting to visitors year round. But come prepared to be enveloped in clouds blanketing the islands peaks. The majestic landscape views will truly take your breath away!

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Culture of Canada

Canadian culture has most heavily been influenced by native, English, and French traditions. Although these are prominent, Canada has a rich variety of peoples due to a strong history of immigration; most Canadians view their society as multi-cultural.

Some national symbols of Canada that reflect its culture are the maple leaf on the Canadian flag, a symbol that dates back to the 1700s in regional use. It was also chosen in part by Loyalists looking for a common regional symbol in contrast to U.S. imagery of rebellion. And, because so much of Canada’s recent history is tied to the fur trade, the beaver is also an important symbol in Canadian culture.

Canada’s official winter sport is ice hockey, while its summer sport is lacrosse, which Europeans borrowed from native North Americans. Both sports are sources of national unity and pride. A Canadian cruise may include the opportunity to watch one of these exciting pastimes.

Canada ranks among the world’s best with respect to quality of life, a fact of which Canadians are very proud. Violence is low, health care is universal, and the Canadians are known, on the whole, as a relaxed and open people.

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Discover Iceland on an Adventure Cruise

Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the dividing line between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. This small island is northwest of England and east of Greenland. Its northern edge nearly touches the Arctic Circle, but thanks to the warm North Atlantic Current, the climate is remarkably temperate and far less chilly than many other countries at the same latitude. This temperate climate, and its beautiful island features, beckons travelers to experience a tour of Iceland.

The land of fire and ice has something to offer any traveler. During your Iceland cruise enjoy ice climbing, soak in geothermal pools, marvel at the aurora borealis, take a horseback ride, go whale watching, or just take in the spectacular geologic features, which include vast glaciers, geysers, hot springs, lava deserts, and active volcanoes. Iceland’s tourism industry is growing rapidly as the country is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination. Today Iceland is known not only for its unique geology, but also for its excellent educational system, longevity, income, and standard of living.

In the early 9th century, Iceland was settled by the Norse who formed the legislative assembly, Althing, in 930 AD, making Iceland the world’s oldest democracy. The country’s relative isolation has also given its people a fierce independence and self-reliance. Over the centuries this country has developed a rich culture of art, literature, and music. During your Iceland cruise you can enjoy theatre productions, operas, and symphonies, or explore the centuries-old homes and artifacts that have been preserved by the National Museum.

Visitors from Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand do not need visas to travel to Iceland. Travel in Iceland is a little more expensive than European destinations; in recent years the American dollar has fallen against the Icelandic krona. However, Iceland’s rugged beauty and spectacular geology continue to draw an increasing number of travelers.

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Discover the Local Culture on an Iceland Cruise!

Despite being an isolated island country—or perhaps because of it—Iceland has developed a rich and varied culture that invites travelers to come and experience. Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. During your Iceland cruise you are such to notice the passion Icelanders have for literature and the arts. Iceland’s literary heritage dates back to the 12th century and has been captured in the heroic poetry that was written during that time. Icelandic poetry was followed by epic sagas of settlement, vendettas, mythology, and romance. In modern times, several of the island’s writers have gained international acclaim, most notably 1955 Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, for his novel Sjálfstætt folk (Independent People).

Iceland’s long artistic history began with several centuries of religious art, with secular artists coming into their own in the 19th century. Much of the artwork was centered on the beauty and uniqueness of the landscape. On a trip to Iceland today, you will find that painting is still an important part of Iceland’s artistic culture. Traditional arts such as silver working, weaving from Icelandic wool, and woodcarving also hold a significant position in the local culture.

Björk of the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes may be Iceland’s most famous singer. Due to the success of various Icelandic pop singers, in recent years Reykjavik has become an important performing center for musicians throughout Europe. Icelanders also have a rich classical music tradition. If you have time during your Iceland cruise, enjoy the popular Iceland Symphony, or the National Theatre and Icelandic Opera.

A tour of Iceland presents the country’s history, well preserved in old houses and ruins throughout the country, largely due to the work of the National Museum of Iceland. The museum exhibits artifacts dating back to the Viking Age. One Viking cultural artifact that is still enjoyed today by many Icelanders is chess—chess clubs proliferate throughout the country and have produced a number of world-class grandmasters.

Ninety-five percent of the population consists of Icelanders, which are a homogenous mixture of Norse and Celts, while the remaining five percent is of foreign origin. Because of its homogenous population, Iceland has been the subject of various genetic studies in recent years. Icelandic is the country’s primary language, and is closest in origin to Old Norse, but on a trip to Iceland you will also hear English, German, and other Nordic languages spoken. Iceland’s religion is as homogenous as its people and its language, as the Reformation took firm hold in the country in the mid-1500s. Ninety percent of the population belongs to the Lutheran Church of Iceland.

Icelanders take pride in their independence and self-reliance, developed out of necessity due to their country’s relative isolation. The people engage in a variety of sports, from wrestling, swimming, horseback riding, ice and rock climbing, fishing, and kayaking. The rugged landscape of Iceland makes it a wonderful spot for rock climbers, and some brave souls on their Iceland cruise will enjoy the challenge of making their way up frozen waterfalls and glacial crevasses. Fortunately, Iceland has hundreds of hot springs and geothermal pools to soothe strained muscles and tired bodies.

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Discover the Rare Wildlife of Finland

With over two thirds of the country covered in forests, woodland wildlife is abundant, yet often hard to spot. The forests are home to wild bears, wolves, elk, beavers and many other species that have all but vanished from other parts of Europe. Bears and wolves are rarely encountered unless one travels on an organized wildlife viewing trip to eastern Finland. Elk sightings are more common and Lapland residents have to be careful of driving into reindeer. While hunting is allowed, particularly in rural areas, the licenses and season quotas are strictly monitored to ensure the protection of the wild populations.

Bird watching is an extremely popular pastime in Finland given the diversity of species found, and is equally popular activity for any Finland trip. The country provides the habitat for five species of grouse, ten owl species, Wryneck, Woodpeckers, eagles, cranes, waders, passerines, and warblers. The best times to views these birds are during spring when the mating season calls them out of their nests more often. The nature reserves and national parks offer great wildlife viewing opportunities.

The Brown Bear, the national animal of Finland, is actually rarely found in the forests. With an estimated 1000 bears inhabiting the eastern regions, hunting is still permitted. Most bears will often cross over to the Russian side of the eastern border during hunting season, and may return in spring after hibernation. Wolverine and deer likewise are elusive, but there are the rare enthusiasts willing to camp out on their Finland trip in the eastern regions…they may get lucky and spot these mammals.

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Discovery the Faroe Islands’ Geography on an Adventure Cruise

The Faroe Islands – containing seventeen inhabited and one uninhabited islands – cover a mere 540 square miles, equal to eight times the size of Washington DC. The region is best explored on a Faroe Islands cruise. Located off the coast of northern Europe, between Scotland, Norway and Iceland, the islands are strategically located along a common trade route. The islands are bordered by 694 miles of coastline and do not share land boundaries with any other country. The terrain is very rugged and rocky with cliffs along most of the coast limiting habitation to the few coastal lowland areas. The highest elevation point is at Slaettarantindur at 2,894 ft. The islands contain no major lakes or rivers.

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Enjoy a Norway Cruise

Norway, nicknamed “Land of the Midnight Sun,” offers its travelers a unique majesty. Its snow-crested peaks and glacier-born fjords symbolize the wilderness culture. Norway is a balanced mix of traditional and modern cultural elements. Its rustic, stave churches and folk dances are not forgotten in this technologically advanced and wealthy country. With a sophisticated social insurance system, Norwegians are provided with affordable education, pensions, and unemployment and health insurance. The country has only 4 millionpeople, yet you can hear 272 dialects spoken while on a Norway cruise. Nearly 100% of the population is literate, exemplifying the importance of education to the Norwegians. Norway is a country to explore and get lost in its awesome and stunning outdoors.

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Enjoy Scotland Travel to the Islands of St. Kilda

Travelers to St. Kilda may be interested to know that the islands are a World Heritage Site under the auspices of three organizations: The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Ministry of Defense. The National Trust works to preserve the islands’ historical, cultural, and natural values. This includes archaeological research in the summers, as well as a work program that allows volunteers to stay on the islands while helping in the preservation effort. The Ministry of Defense site was established in 1957, and is currently staffed by civilian workers who live on Hirta year-round. This base serves as a radar tracking station for the missile range in the Outer Hebrides islands of the Western Isles of Scotland. It also provides infrastructure to the islands—power, medical aid, transportation—which in turn helps facilitate the work of the National Trust and the Scottish Heritage.

Visitors enjoying Scotland travel will be awed by the immense colonies of seabirds that breed there each year. St. Kilda boasts the largest colony of North Atlantic gannets in the world, and the largest colony of fulmars in the British Isles. Other birds found in the archipelago include puffins, kittiwakes, sanderlings, great skuas, Manx shearwaters, and petrels. Birds are not the only creatures that make these islands unique, however. St. Kilda is also home to Soay sheep, which are descendants of primitive sheep and have probably lived on the islands for over 1,000 years. The St. Kilda field mouse is also a unique mammal, a subspecies found only on the islands. Grey seals can also be seen swimming in the waters surrounding St. Kilda.

Those visiting the island must observe certain regulations. In order to keep the risk of parasites low for the Soay sheep, no dogs or cats are allowed on shore. Visitors are taken ashore on small boats; this practice ensures that rats are kept off the islands, as rats would threaten the seabird colonies. People are encouraged to enjoy their travel of Scotland’s St. Kilda islands, but are asked to take pictures rather than plants, rocks, flowers, or other specimens. They are also asked to avoid sheep with young lambs, nesting birds, and breeding seals, as these animals are very sensitive to disturbance. If everyone shows this respect, travelers will continue to enjoy the history, the wildlife, and the spectacular scenery of these remote islands.

The National Trust for Scotland has a St. Kilda website with detailed information and pictures:

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Enjoy the Culture of the Faroe Islands

Isolated in large part from the outside world, the Faroes have developed a culture that is uniquely their own. Evolving from the Scandinavian cultures of Norway, Iceland, and Denmark, the Faroese have developed their own unique cultures and even their own language. Faroese is the officially spoken language. During your Faroe Island trip you may also hear many Faroese also speak Danish and now English, which is taught in many city schools.

The Faroese population has throughout most of its history been spread out fairly evenly over the islands; the development of urbanized centers did not occur until the last few decades. Industrialization in the country has been decentralized for the most part, enabling the furtherance of the quiet rural culture that is so celebrated by those enjoying travel to the islands. Many peripheral areas with poor harbors are difficult to reach and are often separated from the rest of the country.

The entire population totals a little over 46,000, with the largest metropolitan area around the capital city of Torshavn containing about 18,800 residents. Torshavn is a popular destination for any trip to the Faroe Islands. According to statistics from 2004, roughly 80% of the people are members of the state church -- the Faroese People’s Church -- a form of Lutheranism.

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Enjoy the Local Cuisine on a Faroe Islands Tour

Faroese cuisine has developed largely out of necessity rather than artistry. Being so far removed from other countries to provide additional sources of food, the people on the Faroe Islands have developed a traditional diet based on the need to be self-sufficient with the resources readily available on the islands. Sheep from the fields, birds from the mountains, and fish and whale from the sea have become staples. Be sure to try some of the local dishes during your trip to the islands. Other foods, which can potentially be gleaned from the poor soils on the islands, are grass for cows, corn, and potatoes. Different methods for preserving and drying meats were introduced. During your tour of the Faroe Islands, it is still not uncommon to see fish or whale hanging out under the eaves of homes or for each home to contain a wooden shed, or hjallur, used for drying. Fish are considered the foundation of the daily diet, yet it is very difficult to find restaurants who serve it or even supermarkets selling it since this item is generally considered to be something one catches on their own. Another important staple is whale meat. When beaching a whale, the whole village will share the meat, providing food for a long time. Also used in the traditional local diet are seabirds, such as puffin and their eggs.

Rarely do people eat out, but when they do the chosen cuisine is usually Danish roast pork or some other international cuisine like Italian. Roasted lamb with potatoes and gravy is the traditional food served on special occasions or when guests visit. While on your Faroe Islands tour you may notice a European influence on the local cuisine; many leaving the islands to study cuisine abroad are returning to the Faroe Islands and bringing with them new ideas based on international cuisine varieties. Such examples include whale in prune sauce or stuffed puffin. Perhaps in the near future Faroese cuisine will begin to establish its presence in other European metropolitan areas.

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Environmental Discoveries on an Arctic Cruise

It is especially important to practice responsible travel methods when taking an Arctic cruise. The Arctic Ocean and surrounding area are made up of the extremely fragile tundra ecosystem. Compared to the rest of the earth, there are relatively few plant and animal species, and those that have adapted to the harsh climate live together in a delicate balance that can far too easily be disrupted. Because of its extreme sensitivity, the Arctic is considered an early warning system as far as climatic change is concerned. The ecosystem is both slow to change and slow to recover, and the disruptions caused by global warming, over-fishing, and pollution have had severe impacts in the region. Walruses and certain whales that make their homes in the Arctic are endangered species, and the polar icepack is shrinking due to rising global temperatures. At certain times during the year, there is also a hole in the ozone layer above the North Pole.

While the number of plants is sparse compared to the Amazon Rainforest, those enjoying an Arctic cruise will find the tundra is home to such flora as birch and willow shrubs; berry plants including lingonberries, bilberries, and blueberries; heath, bake-apples, and arctic poppies; and grasses such as cottongrass, lichens, and moss. South of the arctic treeline is the boreal forest, which is made up of trees such as spruce, fir, larch, mountain ash, and birch. The Arctic may consist of a spare, harsh environment, yet it is also a place of stunning beauty. Ice stretches in every direction, the white dazzling beneath bright sunshine.

Resources in this chilly region include sand and gravel aggregates, placer deposits, polymetallic nodules, fish, marine mammals such as seals and whales, and oil and gas fields. Disputes have arisen between the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark over who owns which territory—and who has the rights to the coveted non-renewable resources.

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Environmental Progress

Like most countries in this era, Canada is working to address the ways in which it is affected by climate change. Canada’s Arctic regions are most noticeably changing, as the permafrost thaws and ocean ice shrinks. Because it is a northern, cold country, Canada sees itself as being more heavily affected by climate change than other parts of the world. Environment Canada, a government department, is currently working on research and public education about the causes of climate change and human contributions to it.

Canada is also working to improve environmental quality by reducing air pollution through management and monitoring. The Canadian government is also aware that, because the vast majority of the human population lives along the southern border, most of the country is wild. Therefore, it has several programs in preserving biodiversity, conserving land and wildlife habitat, and preserving and promoting healthy ecosystems. Water is also an issue of concern for Canada; it holds 7% of the world’s fresh water within its borders, and so a complex system of water rights, conservation, and management exists to address the responsible use of fresh water. Overall, those travelers with a destination to Canada should find a relatively clean and healthy environment.

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Experience Arctic Weather on a Svalbard Cruise

Travelers may be surprised to find that Svalbard is warmer than its extreme northern latitude might suggest. The North Atlantic Current runs along the western and northern coasts, moderating the Arctic climate and keeping the waters open and navigable for a Svalbard cruise for most of the year. The summers are cool and the winters cold, with the average temperature in the summer months staying around 43°F and the winter average hovering around 3°F, though winter temperatures have been known to plummet to 20° below zero. Svalbard averages about eight inches of precipitation per year, making the area an Arctic desert climate. The west coast has a stormy but relatively mild climate, while the eastern side is both quieter and chillier.

Its northern latitude does mean that Svalbard experiences long light days in the summer and long dark nights in the winter. The midnight sun shines on the archipelago from April 20 to August 23, while the polar night lasts from October 26 to February 15. Visitors to the area will enjoy the novelty of long summer days when the sun never dips below the horizon.

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Explore Iceland’s Geography

Iceland is a small island country about the size of Kentucky that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean just below the Arctic Circle. Its size, location, and beautiful landscape make Iceland a popular choice for travelers interested in an adventure cruise. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge splits the country roughly down the middle, separating the North American plate from the Eurasian plate and making Iceland a country of active volcanoes, geysers, and geothermal hot springs. Most of the island is a plateau, with the remaining landscape offering its visitors a stately view of beautiful mountains, magnificent glaciers—including Europe’s largest, the Vatna Glacier—and an intricate coastline of rugged fjords, which provide the country with many natural harbors. Because Iceland is so young, geologically speaking, the glaciated landscape is still full of rivers and lakes. Most of the lakes are dammed by lava or glacial ice, while the rivers are either full of glacial debris or clear-running, fed by rainfall and underground springs.

Iceland is a land of fire and ice: ten percent of the landscape is covered by cooled lava, while another ten percent is covered by glacial ice. The 3,000 square miles covered by the Vatna Glacier are equal to the total land area covered by glaciers in continental Europe. The Vatna is also the location Hvannadals Peak, which at 6,952 feet above sea level is Iceland’s highest point of land. Other striking points to explore while on a tour of the island include Iceland’s 200 volcanoes, which have been the source of one-third of Earth’s total lava flows in the past 500 years. Iceland not only has a vast amount of lava, it is also home to the largest number of hot springs and solfataras to be found in any country. This geothermal energy heats all of Reykjavik, the capital, and several other communities, as well as heating commercial greenhouses and providing steam for industry.

Iceland’s nearly 300,000 people live almost exclusively along the coasts. Reykyavik, the northernmost capital in the world is a desirable stop for travelers on their Iceland adventure cruise. Reykyavik is located in the southwestern portion of the country, which has numerous natural harbors and good fishing. Along the western coast the fishing industry is balanced with agriculture, while northern Iceland focuses even more on farming. The east has more fjords, while the rugged, pristine southeast is home to mountains and glaciers, and the lowlands of the south comprise Iceland’s primary agricultural region.

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Explore the World’s Largest Island on a Greenland Cruise!

A Greenland cruise might seem like a surprising travel destination, but tours to the largest island in the world are steadily increasing as Greenland opens its doors to visitors who have nothing but praise and awe to share about their experiences in this artic island. Greenland’s name is a little deceiving; eighty one percent of the island’s surface area is covered with ice known as the Greenlandic cap, and nearly all Greenlanders live along the fjords in the southwest due to its milder climate. Descended mostly from the Inuit culture or a Scandinavian culture, the population of approximately 50,000 predominantly speaks the Greenlandic language. A minority of migrants speaks Danish.

Historically the island has been geographically and culturally an Arctic nation, although strong ties were forged with Europe when the island was established as a Norwegian Crown Colony in the 11th century. Sovereignty over the land was transferred to Denmark in 1814, and self-rule was granted in 1979. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark remains the head of state; a parliamentary democracy forms the core of the government within Denmark’s constitutional monarchy.

The same harsh weather that gives Greenland its unique beauty, also make survival for the island’s inhabitants challenging. But the Inuit have been able to prosper in the natural environment, with a traditional hunting culture that has proven successful for centuries. New hunting quotas, however, are threatening the traditional Inuit way of life in the northern Thule region – many have had to sacrifice elements of their culture to find cash-paying jobs. Only thirteen species of mammals make Greenland their home, and only six of those are land animals. Home to the largest national park in the world, it is a rare treat for the few travelers on a Greenland cruise who are allowed to explore the small strip of gravel that physically marks the North Pole. This is the farthest northern piece of land known to mankind.

The sheer remoteness and isolation of the island helps preserve Greenland as a land of mystery. Greenland has a challenging artic climate, but it offers vast tundra, glistening columns of ice and glaciers tempt trekkers and adventurous travelers to come tour the island and explore its natural beauty.

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Faroe Islands Cruise: Plan for the Weather

The Faroe Islands are in the North Atlantic Ocean. Its climate, however, is much warmer than might be expected due to the warm Gulf Stream currents. The winters have short-lived snowfalls and are sunless, but average low temperatures remain surprisingly mild, reaching a little less than 35°F in January. The weather is often unpredictable, with moments of brilliant sunshine suddenly changing to fog or showers. Summer months are usually the most popular for a Faroe Islands cruise. The summers are more stable with average temperatures between 49°F to 56°F. Most of the year, summer included, is wet and usually overcast, foggy and windy.

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Faroe Islands Tour: An Environmental Discovery

Created by multiple volcanic events, the Faroe Islands are built up layers of volcanic basalt and bands of re tuff, or compressed ash. During a trip to the region, you may notice that all the islands are tilted in the same way, with the eastern shores sloping down into the sea; the western coasts, with high rising cliffs, towering above the water’s edge. In the protected fjords and sounds are the gradually sloping shores where many of the towns and villages are located. Deep green pasturelands grow on multi-leveled basalt layers and rocky peaks protrude around them, giving the mountains an amazing layered look. The western and northern coasts face the bulk of the winter storms. Swells and ocean waves crash against the cliffs. Clouds lingering around the mountain peaks afford spectacular landscape views that appear to be from a mystical fantasy world. Seemingly so tiny, yet so vastly majestic, travelers on their Faroe Islands tour will find the islands a breathtaking sight to be held.

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Faroe Islands Wildlife

The Faroe Islands, or rather the waters around them, offer particularly rich environments for nesting birds. The islands draw in about 300 species of birds. A birdwatcher’s paradise, the Faroes harbor about 40 species of rare or irregularly visiting birds making a Faroe Islands tour a very popular destination for both the novice and experienced birder. With a good pair of binoculars one would expect to see guillemots, kittiwakes, colonies of puffins and petrels, and the gannet who travel long distances to nest in the Faroe summers. Boat trips to the various breeding spots on the islands are available.

A tour of the Faroe Islands is also an ideal destination for any avid fisherman. With river mouths containing scores of sea salmon, fjords filled with coalfish and cod, and the ocean harboring the large halibut, these tiny islands offer great opportunities to catch dinner. Using the resources the ocean provides, the atmosphere on these islands is amazingly relaxed. Local fishermen spending a quick half hour fishing for a meal for their family; rarely is more time needed to come away satisfied. Seldom casting more than a few meters into the water, the abundance of fish and marine wildlife help sustain the human population on these islands.

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Finland Cuisine: A Tasteful Tour

Traveling to Finland invites the opportunity to try new foods and sample delicacies you might not encounter at home. Finland has had a long history of heavy cuisine and hearty foods that are not necessarily good for the body, but great for the soul. In recent years, Finland has altered and improved their country’s cuisine to encourage a more healthy diet. Combining traditional country with upper-class cuisine, Finns enjoy fine cuisine but consume it in moderation. While still embracing the ever-popular sausage (Makkara), which is similar to a bratwurst, Finns have now turned to new cooking methods and entrees decreasing the amount of salt and animal fat consumption. Whether you opt for the healthier version or not, be sure to try some of Makkara on your Finland tour. Using healthier alternatives such as rye bread products and offering increasing proportions of fruits and vegetables in boxed or prepared meals, the Finns have now gained a worldwide renown for their healthy eating habits.

Breakfast is the main family meal of the day, and usually contains toast or porridge, with fruit or juice to provide the necessary daily vitamins. Milk is still a common drink, and Finland is a world leader in coffee consumption. Low fat dairy products are preferred, and lightness and low sodium content are as important to the cooks as is flavor. Farmed salmon is the most common Finnish choice, and smoked fish of all varieties is easily avaible in any market. Finnish meat counters have amazing variety. Mincemeat is a best seller, along with chicken, ham, bologna, elk during hunting season, and reindeer during autumn. Travelers from all over the world enjoy local Finnish meats during their tour of the country. The meats are high quality. Sandwiches are easy to make as shops sell rye bread sliced or pre-cut. Berries are plentiful – blueberry sauce a common commodity across the nation.

Be sure to sample some of the local wines and liquers on your Finland tour. Theses drinks have been growing in popularity. Koskenkorva Viina is the common clear spirit drink. Finnish desserts are often pastries, with Mammi being a traditional easter malt porridge that is baked and served cold later with sugar and milk. Salmiakki is a salty confectionery that is well loved in many Nordic countries, however generally loathed outside of Europe. Finland is truly developing its own style of culinary art, with many delighting in making meals from scratch. Increasing growth in demand for gourmet dining experiences along with the priority placed on a healthy diet, the Finnish cuisine will continue to evolve and is sure to introduce some inventive new dishes in the future.

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Finland Politics: What you should Know Before you Travel

Finland’s government, with a constitution last adopted in March of 2000, is a republic based on a Swedish civil law system. If you are planning on traveling to Finland soon, the current chief of state is President Tarja Halonen, elected by popular vote to a six-year term in 2000. The President then appoints the prime minister from the majority party, or the majority coalition, with the parliament’s approval. The presidency is formally responsible for foreign policy, while the bulk of the executive power lies in the cabinet headed by the prime minister. The Parliament (Eduskunta) is a unicameral assembly with 200 representatives popularly elected on a proportional basis to four-year terms. The three largest political parties are Kesk, Social Democratic Party, and Kok amounting to about 68% combined of the last election in 2003. The judicial courts are divided into a civil and criminal branch, and an administrative branch. Each branch has its own Supreme Court. A Finland political fact you might find interesting when traveling within the country; Finland does not have a constitutional judicial system – the courts do not have the authority to declare laws unconstitutional. Rather such laws are put to a vote by the Parliament. When conflict does arise between a law and the constitution, in theory the constitution takes precedence.

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Finland Travel: A Look at Local History

Pre 20th Century
For seven centuries Finland was a province and then a Grand Duchy of the Swedish Kingdom from the 12th to 19th century. Precariously situated between the heavily Protestant Swedish people and the Eastern Orthodox Russians, it is not surprising that the region became a battleground between the two countries. From 1696-1697 severe famines wiped out a third of all Finns, and the following years during the 1700s were marked by bitter wars with Russia. The fighting ended in 1809 when Finland surrendered to Russia, eventually becoming a Grand Duchy of Russia during the latter half of the 19th century. Gaining a certain amount of autonomy, Finnish nationalism spread and fever for independence was only encouraged when Russification began its oppression. The country’s passion for its nationalism is just as evident when you travel to Finland today.

20th Century
The dawn of the Communist Revolution and the removal of the tsar from power gave the Finnish senate a window of opportunity to declare independence, which they did so on December 6, 1917. Internal violence ensued between Russian supporters and Finnish nationalists. After 108 days of civil war, about 30,000 Finnish were dead, and the nationalists claimed a weary victory. The local politics could do little to heal the wounds, and the massacres that occurred during ‘peacetime’ are still being discovered today. Anticommunist violence broke out in the early 1930s, and the Soviet Union invaded parts of Karelia in the Winter War of 1939. During your Finland travel you will notice how isolated the country is; this isolation prevented help from the Western allies, thus Finland called upon Germany for help in taking back portions of Karelia that were in Russian possession. The Soviets staged another advance in the summer of 1944, and the Finns looked for peace, while at the same time attempting to oust the Germans from Lapland in a bitter war, which lasted until the conclusion of WWII. Finland endured enormous military defeat and faced huge economic disaster due to the reparations imposed by the Soviets. The Finns ceded the Karelian Isthmus and the following presidency of Urho Kekkonen from 1956-1981 became a huge challenge of balancing efforts to globalize without provoking the giant easterly neighbor.

Modern History
Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Finns took the opportunity to free themselves from the restrictions imposed by the Paris treaties of 1947. Finns made great effort to convert the former farming/forestry economy into a more diversified and modern economy. Finland voted to join the European Union in late 1994, and has generally taken positions of neutrality and military nonalignment in other matters. Aside from their UN peacekeeping duties, Finland has no other military responsibilities other than maintaining a strong independent defense. The Finns have managed to build their economy and have become one of the most globalized nations in the world. Finland travel also offers a chance to explore, what the UN has also determined as the 5th ranking country to have the best standard of living.

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Finland’s Celebrated Environment

For those yearning for a nature paradise, a Finland tour is for you! With the largest unspoiled wilderness in all of Europe and its nearly 200,000 lakes, the country offers an outdoor sportsman’s multiple activity options and an escape from the urbanized lifestyle. Finland offers spectacular water and air quality, demonstrated in its beautiful green woods edging up to lakeshores. Helsinki, Finland’s capital city is the cleanest in all of Europe.

Leading the world in environmental sustainability, some 6,200 square miles of protected parks and reserves can be found in Finland’s borders. Lemmenjoki National Park is the largest of these parks and a must for any tour of Finland. The park treats trekkers to desolate wilderness, arctic landscapes and waterfalls. Nineteen of the reserves are specific areas established for scientific reasons and to conserve nature for research. These strict nature reserves, as opposed to the national parks, do not often permit travelers, although some do make small trail systems open to the public. Wilderness reserves have also been established in more remote areas to preserve their natural character. Such reserves are primarily located in northern Lapland.

A Finland tour is also ideal for travelers who enjoy trekking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor activities. In wintertime many ski resorts in the north offer excellent cross-country and alpine skiing. With the midnight sun in summer (particularly in the north where the sun does not set at all) one can enjoy great fishing and canoeing, sailing, and other coastal adventures on their trip. A truly amazing out-of-doors wonderland, visitors to Finland are sure to enjoy their visit to this wilderness treasure!

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Finland’s Weather

Southern Finland is predominantly a northern temperate climate, while Northern Finland borders on a sub-arctic climate with cold and occasionally severe winters. Despite its latitude, Finland is surprisingly warm due to the Gulf Stream current from the Atlantic and other bodies of water, which act as a moderating influence on the climate. This somewhat temperate climate invites travelers to explore the region on a Finland cruise. Summers are sunny, particularly in the Baltic southwest coast, with temperatures ranging between 55°F and 71°F in July. Rain is mild in the summer, and become like sleet in the winter.

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Flannan Islands Discovery on a Scotland Cruise

The Flannan Islands lie about 20 miles west of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. They consist of seven main islands, 45 rocks and islets split into two groups: the main eastern isles, Eilean Mor and Eilean Tighe; and the main western isles of Eilean a’ Gobha, Roaiream, and Brona Cleit. During your Scotland cruise, spend time visiting the lighthouse and ruined chapel on the eastern isle of Eilean Mor.

The Flannan Islands are known as the Seven Hunters because of the large number of ships wrecked upon their rocky shores during storms. Much of the islands’ early history is unknown. Though never permanently inhabited, it is rumored the islands were once used for the private purposes by a wealthy family from Lewis in the 8th century. Later on, monks moved to the Flannans and built a church and monastery, dated around 990 AD. By the 16th century, the monastery was abandoned and the islands came into the ownership of the McLeod’s Clan. Since 1970, the National Trust of Scotland has owned this land.

In 1899 the Flannan Isles Lighthouse was established – a year later, a tragedy occurred that has only added to the mystery and intrigue of these secluded isles. In December of 1900, a ship came to Eilean Mor, bringing lighthouse keepers to relieve the three working on the island. However, the lighthouse was empty, the beacon unlit. A half-eaten meal lay on the table, and barometric readings dated December 15th had been written on a slate. But no sign of the three lighthouse keepers was to be seen—and never would be again. Those investigating the situation surmised that the men had been swept to sea by a freak wave during a storm, but no proof of this was ever found. The story continues to haunt those who take a trip to the remote Flannan Islands of Scotland.

The Flannans, like many other Scottish Isles, are a haven for breeding seabirds. A Scotland cruise to this region allows plenty of opportunities to see guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, gannets, petrels, and puffins. Some of the larger isles also have lush grass and myriad wildflowers in the summer months, which are a soft and colorful contrast to the stark rock stacks, arches, and cliffs along the coasts. The surrounding seas are the habitat of pilot whales, minke whales, and dolphins, making these isles an exciting destination for any wildlife lover.

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Geographical Exploration on a Finland Cruise

The seventh largest country in Europe, two thirds of Finland’s area is heavily forested, while the other third is arctic zone. Containing nearly 200,000 lakes, almost 10% of Finland’s area is covered in water, including marshes and bogs. The terrain is mostly low and flat, with rolling plains and low hills peaking at Mt. Haltiatunturi at 4357 ft. Finland boasts 1250 km of coastline to explore during your Finland cruise. Situated on an isostatic uplift, Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose area is still growing, by about 2.7 square miles per year. Another curious feature to note before you plan a trip to Finland is the arctic zone territory in the north where the midnight sun is experienced every year. In this region, the sun does not set for about 73 days at a time during summer and likewise does not rise for about 51 straight days in winter. The capital city of Helsinki is the largest metropolitan area in the country and is the northernmost national capital in Europe.

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Geography Discover on a Greenland Tour

Greenland is the world’s largest island. It has about 25,000 miles of coastline to explore during a tour of the region, or roughly the distance of the Earth’s circumference at the Equator. Almost 81% of the island is ice-capped (covered by the Greenland ice sheet), making it practically uninhabitable in most of the region excluding the narrow, mountainous, rocky coast. Many travelers are surprised to learn that Greenland is roughly equal to three times the size of Texas. Towns and settlements are found only along the coastlines, with the majority along the west coast. The northern part of Greenland, or Peary Land, is not covered by an ice sheet; the air is too dry to produce the necessary precipitation. Scientists have calculated that if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt completely, then sea levels would rise more than 23 feet and Greenland would most likely become an archipelago. The highest elevation point on Greenland is Gunnbjom at 12,139 ft.

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Greenland Cuisine

Founded on a way of life sustained by hunting and fishing, Greenland cuisine consists largely of wild game, fish, and whale. Produce is not very prominent, as the land does not provide the opportunity for commercial harvesting. On a trip to Greenland you will have plenty of chances to try the local dried cod, cubes of whale skin, dried seal and reindeer meat. These are fairly typical entrees served usually with condiments and desserts. Most small towns do not have cafés or restaurants available, but larger towns tend to offer more choices for dining out. Self-catering is very common for travelers on the Greenland tour. You will find multiple opportunities to purchase fresh fish or sea birds from local fisherman simply by wandering down to the waterfront. A supermarket or shop might also have a good selection of local meat and fish. Almost every town also has what is known as a "Brædtet", or a market place for hunters and fishermen. Typical selections at these markets include geese, ducks, other sea birds, arctic char, wolf fish, red fish, cod, halibut, reindeer, musk oxen, and lamb. Other larger marine options may include seal meat, minke whale, fin whale, and other narwhale. It may be difficult to decide what market would be the most appropriate to visit during your travels, dependent on your desires. Locals tend to have excellent recommendations as to finding the best cuisine opportunities in the area.

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Greenland Politics

When visiting Greenland, you can easily see the Danish influence on the island. But while still under Danish rule, Greenland became a self-governing administrative division of Denmark in 1979. The Head of State is the Danish Monarch, Margrethe II, but the Danish government appoints a High Commissioner over Greenland to represent the Danish government and monarchy. If you travel to Greenland today the current High Commissioner is Soren Muller. Greenland has a thirty-one member elected unicameral parliament, led by the Prime Minister who is generally the leader of the majority party in the Parliament. The prime minister is elected to office by the parliament; Greenland’s current prime minister is Hans Enoksen. Greenland has a number of political parties that participate in government, the most popular of which are Siumut, Demokratiit, Inuit Ataqatigiit, and Atassut. The legal system operates according to the Danish laws, and Denmark is responsible for all foreign affairs, but includes Greenland’s participation in such matters. A High Court resides over matters in Greenland. The highest court authority is the Supreme Court in Copenhagen.

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Greenland Wildlife

Consisting of a harsh and cold terrain and climate, few species of wildlife are found in Greenland. However, the animals found in the region are very unusual and a treasure to witness in their natural habitat. Many people decide to take a Greenland tour specifically for the unique wildlife opportunities. In all, eighty-four species of birds regularly visit the area, and in the high Arctic, this number reduces to forty-seven. A limited thirteen species of mammals inhabit the island, and only six of these are land animals: lemming, ermine, Arctic hare, wolf, Arctic fox, and musk ox. The other seven – polar bear, narwhale, ringed seal, bearded seal, bow whale, hooded seal, and walrus – are marine mammals living on the ice and in the sea.

The most dominant “wildlife” seen in Greenland are the dogs kept in the towns by people needing dogsled teams to get around in winter. These animals are not domesticated pets as some may presume, but rather are very territorial and protective of their homes. During a tour of Greenland you are also likely to come across musk oxen. These large mammals may seem docile from afar, but the oxen are temperamental creatures and have been known to charge with little warning. For this reason in the Kangerlussuaq area, Norwegian wildlife authorities have set a 400-meter danger zone around the musk oxen. Polar bears are also wild animals that should be treated with great caution, however the likelihood of coming across one is extremely rare. The polar bear is mainly a seal hunter, residing predominantly along the eastern coasts where few settlements are found. For the most part, polar bears live on the ice, and can be spotted annually drifting down to the southern tip of Greenland on a broken off ice shelf. To view a polar bear, you should make special arrangements during your Greenland tour to visit the north or in the east at a particular time of year. But the chances of spotting these elusive and rare animals is exceptional. Whale watching is a popular option. Some seasons offer better opportunities than others to witness these large marine mammals.

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Greenland’s Artic Weather

Covered almost entirely by an ice sheet, Greenland summers afford residents the opportunity to enjoy a little bit of sun and some warmer temperatures, reaching the upper 60s. The summer months are the most obvious time to tour the island. While the sudden chill makes wearing a jacket in summer a necessity, residents are able to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. Winter brings another picture – a colder one – with temperatures dropping to -20°F in the north and routinely lingering around 5°F in the south. Up north, in the Arctic Circle, the sun disappears altogether for a time during winter. The weather in Greenland can be extremely unpredictable given the different topography of the area. Low pressures from the southwest combined with high polar pressures in the northeast make for instable conditions that can change suddenly. If you are taking a Greenland trip, be sure to be adequately prepared for all types of weather. Trekkers especially should never set out without proper communications equipment; a sunny afternoon can quickly turn into a brilliant blizzard.

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Greenland’s History: Ancient to Modern

Ancient History
The unique artic environment that makes Greenland travel so celebrated has also proven a challenge for both historic and modern-day Greenlanders. The tale of Greenland’s history is dotted with the reoccurring theme of incredible strength and endurance of its inhabitants, and their remarkable ability to turn an artic climate into their home. Unlike the majority of developing nations, Greenland’s ancient inhabitants were less concerned with conquering or protecting the large island, but rather concentrated their energies on survival. While there is still speculation as to the first people who made this region their home, the majority believes that the island’s first civilization appeared on Greenland roughly 5,000 years ago. They were made up of two tribes of a Paleo-Eskimo culture. Little is known about these first inhabitants. The Saqqaq tribe followed, leaving behind a great deal of artifacts. The Saqqaq would eventually die out for reasons unknown.

In the 10th century, Greenland experienced the arrival of its most influential cultures: the Thule. These people were respectively sophisticated and introduced Greenland to two of its most instrumental survival tools, the kayak and the dogsled. During Greenland travel today, visitors can still see strong influence from the Thule culture; the modern-day Greenlandic Inuit people are the offspring of the original Thule civilization, making them the most successful population to inhabit the island.

The European culture did not make its way to Greenland until the year 982 when Eric the Red, a legendary Viking, was exiled from Iceland as punishment for murder. He journeyed with his family and slaves in search of the land rumored to be across the oceans. After settling two colonies along the southwest coast of the island, he named the place Grænland or Greenland in order to attract more people to come settle there. The fjords of the south were lush and had a warmer climate than you will experience on a tour of the island today. The warmer climate allowed for successful farming and hunting. The settlements appear to have coexisted peacefully with the Inuit, who were beginning to migrate south around 1200. In 1261, Greenland officially became part of the Kingdom of Norway, which in turn entered into a union with Denmark in 1397. For 500 years the colonies endured, but then suddently vanished. Famine or the effects of the Little Ice Age, and even the possibility of a massacre by the Thule or pirates have all been speculations of their disappearance.

Modern History
Denmark-Norway reasserted claims to the colony in 1721. Then in 1814 the Treaty of Kiel placed the island under the possession of Denmark. Norway tried to make claim based on the original establishment by the Icelandic colonists, but lost in court in 1953 officially giving control to Denmark. Although they were made an equal part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Greenlandic people still balked at being under Denmark control. Twenty years later, Greenlanders gained independent rule save foreign affairs which would remain Denmark’s responsibility. Greenland later joined the European Union, only to withdraw in 1985 due to some stringent fishing quotas. Greenland’s modern-day politics and energies have widely been influenced by the whaling industry.

One environmental feature you are sure to witness during your Greenland travel is the island’s adundance of ice. Future plans are afoot to tap this resource. Current estimates attribute Greenland to containing one fifth the world’s drinkable water, which could possibly bring a more stable economic venture to the small population.

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Iceland Travel: Learn About the Local Politics

It may surprise travelers to know that Iceland is the world’s oldest democracy. Shortly after its settlement in the late 9th century, the people formed their own ruling body, the Althing, which, except for the first half of the 19th century, has existed continuously, in one form or another, up to the present. Though in Iceland’s early years only male landowners had any voice in government, today all citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote—and in any given election, about 85% of eligible voters get out to the polls.

After declaring independence from Denmark in 1944, the new Republic of Iceland established a parliamentary democracy with the head of state a directly elected president. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, first elected in 1996, is in the midst of his third term as president. The real power, however, resides with the Althing, which, in today’s political system, is the 63-member parliament. Members are elected every four years, unless the coalition parliament is dissolved and new elections are needed. The prime minister-appointed cabinet must maintain majority support in the Althing; generally the cabinet members are appointed according to which parties hold the most seats in the parliament. In the 60+ years of the Republic of Iceland’s existence, no party has ever held the majority vote, making a coalition government necessary. The prime minister is usually the majority party leader or the leader of the majority coalition. If enjoying Iceland travel today, Geir Haarde, a member of the Independence Party, was just elected prime minister in June 2006.

The center-to-conservative Independence Party has taken one-third to two-fifths of the popular vote since the 1970s. The Progressive Party is generally the second leading party, and other popular parties include the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Party. The Independence and Progressive parties have formed coalition governments from time to time.

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Iceland’s Modern History: What You Should Know Before Your Tour

World War II brought prosperity to Iceland in a time of economic stagnancy. The arrival of British and U.S. forces in the early 1940s brought employment to the country’s 120,000 residents. In 1949, Iceland became a charter member of NATO; two years later the government allowed the United States to take responsibility for defense of the country. If you take a tour of Iceland today you can still find U.S. military forces stationed on a base in Keflavik in southwestern Iceland, though they are currently reducing their presence there.

Fishing has remained a significant portion of Iceland’s economy, but this dependence has also caused the country some trouble. In 1950, Iceland expanded its fishing zone from three nautical miles to 200, sparking protests and military action from the United Kingdom and West Germany. The so-called “Cod Wars” lasted until 1976, when Britain finally recognized the 200-mile limit. In the past 30 years, however, fish stocks in Icelandic waters have drastically depleted, forcing Iceland to impose restrictions on local fishing limits and venture even farther across the ocean to seek adequate fishing areas. Such venturing has not been appreciated by Norway and Russia, and disputes have arisen over Icelanders fishing in the Barents Sea.

More recently, Iceland has sought to grow its economy by investing in such industry as aluminum smelting, and it is also deregulating and privatizing the financial sector. Iceland entered the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1970, and can therefore participate in the European market without having to be a member of the European Union. Recent domestic disagreements have arisen over whether or not Iceland should become part of the EU. If you take an Iceland tour today, the country remains outside the EU, but the Social Democratic Party is pushing for EU membership.

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Iceland’s Unique Cuisine

Understandably, Iceland’s cuisine centers on its fishing industry. Adventurous visitors on a tour of Iceland can choose between some of the more unique traditional foods, which include hakarl (putrefied shark meat that has been carefully decomposed), hrutspungur (ram’s testicles pickled in whey), and slatur (a dish made of sheep entrails). Other dishes use cod, haddock, salmon, whale blubber, puffin, scorched sheep’s head, lamb, and seal meat as ingredients. A popular Icelandic dessert is skyr, which is made of cultured skim milk and served with fresh bilberries. Most of the people drink coffee, and many enjoy brennivin, a liquor made from potatoes and caraway.

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Iceland’s Welcoming Weather

Despite its location and name, travelers on a tour of Iceland might be surprised to find that the island has a fairly temperate climate. Both air and ocean currents affect the weather patterns. A polar wind and the East Greenland Current carry Arctic temperatures and drift ice to the northeast shores, while a tropical air current and the North Atlantic Current help to moderate the weather in the southwestern portion of the country.

Almost any season is a good time to plan an Iceland tour. Temperatures vary relatively little from summer to winter. In Reykjavik, the average July temperature is a cool 51° F, while the average January temperature is an only slightly chillier 31° F. Snow falls on the landscape about 100 days each year in the northwest, while the southeast sees only 40 days of snowfall. Some of the mountains receive more than 160 inches of precipitation in a year, though the average precipitation in the south remains around 80 inches. The winter months bring wild island gales, heavy fog, and long dark days, but in the fall and early winter the aurora borealis can often be seen brightening up the skies with vivid colors. Though the winters are dark, the summers bring long days of sunshine; southwest Iceland clocks nearly 1,300 hours of sun per year.

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Island Discovery on a Jan Mayen Cruise

Jan Mayen is a tiny volcanic island in the North Atlantic Ocean, 600 miles west of Norway and 350 miles north of Iceland. It is dominated by the 7,470-foot-high Mt. Beerenberg, the northernmost active volcano in the world, which last erupted in 1985. It is a territory of Norway, and has no native population. The eighteen people who currently live there operate the weather station, LORAN-C transmitter, and coastal radio station. Their base is called Olonkin City, which is located on the southwest coast. Small planes come in several times throughout the year, landing on the unpaved airstrip to bring supplies to the station personnel.

For many years no one was allowed to visit the island, but recently the tiny island has become available to tourists and a Jan Mayen cruise has found growing interest. As it is a territory of Norway, visitors need a passport to set foot on the island, and must keep in mind a few basic rules. As the environment is extremely fragile, no souvenirs—in the form of flowers, moss, or fungi—may be gathered. Permission to climb Beerenberg while on a tour of Jan Mayen must be requested from the Station Commander, as the glaciers are dangerous and often deeply crevassed.

Travelers on a Jan Mayen cruise will be in awe of the austere landscape—from the majestic slopes of Beerenberg to the curving, rocky coasts. In the summer, bright green moss spreads in a blanket across the land, and small wildflowers, lichens, and fungi also attract the eye. Jan Mayen is home to many birds, from the albatross-like fulmar to the black-and-white puffin. Harper seals and various species of whale can also be seen swimming in the chilly waters.

Some of the personnel who live on Jan Mayen have websites full of pictures and stories of life on the island. Vidar Tiegen’s, with many lovely pictures, is one of them:

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Jan Mayen Wildlife

Jan Mayen has no indigenous mammals, but the island is home to many birds. Both the novice and the experienced birder will be delighted at the birding opportunities during their Jan Mayen cruise. Ninety-eight bird species have been documented by the personnel living at the weather station, though only 22 species have a significant presence. Some of these include the fulmar (a relative of the albatross), the striking black-and-white polar guillemot, the tiny puffin, and the eider duck. Fulmars are most common, with an estimated 160,000 nesting couples, followed by the guillemot, with over 100,000 individuals.

Harper seals and many species of whale—including humpback and Minke—can be spotted during a trip to Jan Mayen. And occasionally even a polar bear will make its way to the island, though this happens less often as there is less ice now than there was a century ago. Polar bears have not been seen on the island since 1990.

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Learn about Local Culture on a Greenland Cruise

Descendants from the Inuit and Viking explorers, the Greenlandic people have maintained a predominantly hunters’ world. Hunting is a revered profession, and most resident’s still hunt part-time to supplement their diets. Several dozen in the more northern Thule region hunt full-time to support their families. During your Greenland cruise you will also notice that many Inuits ice fish, and the regional annual dog-sled races enjoy participation by nearly every team available. These traditional elements of Greenland have attracted travel to their island - contests such as dog-racing, hiking, and cross-country racing invite adventurous foreigners to the island.

In order to sustain a hunting way of life, it has become necessary for at least one family member to hold a cash economy job in order to pay for things like electricity and other amenities. Traditional foods such as seal, walrus, narwhale, and caribou are regular main courses in the northern regions, and many hunters still wear hand-made polar bear skins to stay warm. Many northern region hunters boast world-class skill with a kayak and in harpooning. As valued as this way of life is, the hunting profession is under severe strain due to pressure from environmental groups and new hunting regulations. Hunters in the region say it is very difficult now to survive on the quotas that have been established, especially due to the decline in the sealskin business; this market collapsed due to pressure from environmental groups. It is a difficult situation. While on one hand no one wants to upset or eliminate the traditional cultures of the Intuit, but it is equally important to protect the rare and endangered wildlife in the region. No one would dispute that Greenland’s treasures – both its cultures and its wildlife – are rarities well worth protecting.

During your Greenland cruise you will find that the people of the island are a modern people, enjoying a suburbia lifestyle. While there are certainly a number of Greenlanders practicing the ways of their ancestors – sporting superb hunting skills – but the traditional way of hunting have meshed with modern-day methods, using bullets and motorboats to aid in the hobby. Traditional dancing and music mark special occasions, but in everyday life, most dress according to modern day trends. Travel to the Greenland and you will hear the locals speaking English and Danish.

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Migulay and Berneray Scottish Isles

Mingulay and Berneray

A desired destination during a Scotland cruise is Mingulay. Mingulay is the largest of the Bishop’s Isles in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides archipelago. It is about two and a half miles long by one and a half miles wide, with striking rock stacks, 700-foot cliffs, and a majestic natural arch on the southwest coast. At one time it was home to over 100 people. Today, on a trip to Scotland’s Mingulay Isle you can see two buildings that remain standing as a reminder of the past: a schoolhouse built of the abundant gneiss rock in the 1880s, and a priest’s house built in 1898. Both are moss-covered, crumbling remnants of the village that once existed on the eastern shore of the island. Though uninhabited since 1912, Mingulay is now home to about 500 sheep and tens of thousands of seabirds.

Berneray, or Barra Head, is the southernmost of the Bishop’s Isles, located directly south of Mingulay. It may be most well known for the lighthouse on the southernmost headland, which was built by Robert Stevenson, father of Robert Louis Stevenson, in 1833. It was formerly home to the lighthouse keepers and their wives, but since the lighthouse was automated in 1980, the island has been completely uninhabited. The cliffs of Berneray are not quite so high as those of Mingulay, but at 600 feet they are still impressive.

Most of the land of Mingulay and Berneray is covered by maritime grassland, with some machair and heath. The islands are breeding sites for many species of seabirds—you’ll have the chance to discover about 110,000 pairs total during your cruise of Scotland. Some of these species include razorbills, little auks, gulls, puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, shags, and fulmars. The two islands have been designated a Special Protection Area since 1994.

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Norway Tour: A Look at the Environment

While visiting Norway, travelers may be surprised at the country’s minimum farmland. Only 3% of Norway land is arable, and another 27% is forested land. Because of the lack of farmland, Norway has focused much of its attention to the sea, both for commercial and dietary needs. Scotch pine and Norway spruce are the most predominant trees, but birch, alder, aspen, and mountain ash also grow in Norway. Berries such as wild berries, blueberries and cranberries flourish in the woodlands. The tundra, found at high elevations and in the northern part of the country, is essentially treeless with hardy dwarf shrubbery and wildflowers in the summer.

Although Norway is known for its serene mountains and coasts and overall beauty, its environment is not isolated from the effects of an industrial world. Long-established habitats have seen the effects of the needs of growing human populations. It is important to protect the plants and animals of this region by practicing responsible travel when enjoying a Norway tour, and to show your support for companies and associations that promote conservation efforts.

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Norway Travel: What You Should Know About Local Politics

The Norwegian political system is classified as a constitutional monarchy. During your Norway travel you will notice that the King’s power is mainly symbolical, and his functions include being the symbol of national unity, High Protector of the Church of Norway and Supreme Commander of the Norwegian armed forces. Elections are not held for this position, as the monarchy is hereditary.

The Legislative body is known as the Storting. It consists of 169 members from 14 Norwegian counties for four-year terms. The Council of the State acts as the executive branch and the Supreme Court as the judicial branch.

On May 17, 1814, Norway was transformed from an absolute monarch to a limited democracy. Today, a coalition between the Labor Party, Socialist Left Party and Center Party are in office.

The government controls key areas of business such as the petroleum sector. Norway relies heavily on its exportation of oil, ranking third behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. The government has been concerned about what will happen when oil runs out, and has been putting money into a Government Petroleum Fund, which has already reached $150 billion.

Norway has opted not to join the European Union, yet it contributes sizably to the EU budget and maintains in close relations with the union. Norway is very active in international relations and is a member of many international organizations.

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Norway’s Weather

The climate along Norway’s coast is surprisingly temperate due to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. The interior of the country experiences strong winds and severe frosts. If you take a Norway tour in the summer, however, you can see temperatures as high as 86°F with long hours of sunshine. The west coast experiences year-round precipitation and mild winter conditions. During the summer, the area around Oslo is the driest and warmest part of the country. The northern part of the country inside the Arctic Circle has continuous daylight at midsummer, and twilight all day during winter.

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Politics the Canadian Way

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which accepts an elected or hereditary monarch as head of state, rather than as an absolute power. Canada’s head of state is England’s Queen Elizabeth II. It is a parliamentary democracy with a constitution consisting of written documents as well as unwritten traditions and institutions. Although power is divided between the federal and provincial governments, the constitution contains the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, individual rights that cannot be overridden.

The executive makeup of Canadian government consists of the Prime Minister and a Cabinet, as well as the Governor General, who is the monarch’s representative in Canada. Currently, Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, and Michaelle Jean serves as Governor General.

Canada has four main political parties: New Democratic Party, Liberal Party of Canada, Conservative Party of Canada, and Bloc Quebecois. There is also a substantial list of smaller parties with elected representation.

Canada has been a consistent advocate for multi-lateralism over the last 60 years; its forces served in every U.N. peacekeeping mission up to 1989.

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Recent Canadian History

Canada was automatically entered into World War I when Britain declared war, and sent volunteers to the Western Front. Canada joined the 1919 League of Nations separate from Britain, but it was not until 1931, under the Statute of Westminster, that Canadian independence was affirmed. The fledgling country declared war on Germany three days after Britain in World War II.

In the 1960s, Quebec underwent the Quiet Revolution, which brought social and economic change. Quebecois nationalists began to press for a separate state, and established the Parti Quebecois. Two secession referendums were rejected, the first by a wide margin and the second much slimmer. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled unilateral secession by a province to be unconstitutional in 1997, but the movement for secession continues today.

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Scotland Cruise to Mousa Island

The isle of Mousa is a small, uninhabited bit of land off the east coast of Shetland’s South Mainland. Most famous for its beautifully preserved broch (stone tower), a cruise to Scotland’s Mousa Island also offers its travelers the chance to view a myriad of seabirds and marine mammals.

The Shetlands boast about 120 brochs, which were built in the Iron Age (600 BC to 500 AD), during a period of increasing unrest. Brochs are round stone towers that were used to provide short-term defense against invaders—or neighbors holding grudges. After 100 AD, these structures were probably used less for defense and more as status symbols. Over the years, many brochs were dismantled so that their stones could be used for other buildings. Due to its remote location, the Mousa Broch remained safe from such dismantling, making it the best-preserved example of its kind.

Mousa Broch stands almost 44 feet high, and is built with local quarried stone formed into two concentric stone walls. During your trip, take the spiral staircase built between the walls. It allows visitors to reach the top of the broch and walk around the top of the tower. Hundreds of storm petrels make their homes within the broch’s walls in the summer months, and after spending the days feeding out at sea, they return to their nests under the cover of darkness. Midnight excursions to watch and hear the storm petrels is a thrilling experience for anyone on a Scotland cruise to the Shetland Islands.

Other seabirds that breed on Mousa include fulmars, black guillemots, red-throated divers, great skuas, Arctic skuas, and Arctic terns. Beware of Arctic terns—they fiercely guard their territory, often dive-bombing those who disturb their nesting sites. The sea mammals that swim around the isle are less threatening to those enjoying travel in the region; harbor porpoises are common in the Mousa Sound, and are especially exciting to see in the summer when the young are born. Common seals also give birth in the summer, and those wanting to see seal pups should walk around to Mousa’s East and West Pools. Since both common seals and grey seals have become accustomed to visitors, it is possible to have a great view of these animals, and they should not be missed.

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Scotland’s Beautiful Foula Island

Travelers enjoying a Scotland cruise should include a visit to the small island of Foula that lies 20 miles west of the Shetland Islands. Named after the Norse fugl ey, meaning ‘bird island,’ it is quite remote, and one of the only British Isles that has been permanently inhabited. Norsemen conquered the isle around 800 AD, leaving their influence in language—the local dialect is still strongly affected by Norse—and place names such as Norderhus, Krugali, and Guttren. However, after the islands were returned to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century, the Norse influence lessened. While the population in 1881 was around 250 people, it has dropped steadily in the past 100+ years, with the current population resting at just over 30.

Most people keep native Shetland sheep, while others have Shetland ponies. Tourism also makes up a substantial part of the economy, especially during the summer months when the weather is perfect for a Scotland cruise. The people sell sheepskins, handspun clothing made with local wool, and traditional Foula garments. Intricate wrought-iron work can be bought from the local smithy, who also provides his services to the community. The small number of islanders have created a close-knit community, and their way of life is based on strong values, cooperative working, and an internal barter system. This handful of people also follows a slightly different calendar year, as they remained with the Julian calendar when the rest of Great Britain switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. As such, they are 12 days behind the Gregorian calendar, celebrating Christmas on January 6 and New Year’s Day on January 13th.

Foula travel is beautiful in the summertime, as the days are long, and the flora and fauna thrive. Wildflowers such as sea pinks, blue vernal squill and golden-eyed tormentil carpet much of the land, while marsh marigolds and wild orchids bloom in lower, wetter areas. The moorland is sprinkled with white tufted bog cotton, sphagnum moss, sundew, and crowberry.

The island is famous for its great skua population, but visitors on a cruise of the region will also see Arctic skuas, kittiwakes, and Arctic terns battling for breeding sites. The small lakes (or lochs) scattered throughout the island are home to nesting red-throated divers, while the cliffs are the territory of thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags, fulmars, gannets, petrels, and shearwaters. The bog grasses and stony pieces of land host a variety of shore and moorland birds, including such species as the ringed plover.

Small mammals like the field mouse, house mouse, rabbit, and hedgehog make their homes on Foula, with sea mammals such as grey seals, commons seals, porpoises and orcas swimming in the waters around the island.

The wildlife is diverse and beautiful, but the setting in which these plants and animals live is also spectacular. Five peaks jut up starkly from the land, while the highest cliffs in Shetland rise up majestically from the sea. Kame, the second highest cliff in Great Britain, reaches an impressive 1200 feet above sea level, with the three pillars of Gaada Stack towering 130 feet above the sea just off the north coast of the island.

Whether one enjoys travel to remote islands, bird watching, unique geological features, or simply taking in the natural scenery, the Isle of Foula has something to offer every visitor on their Scotland cruise.

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Scotland’s Canna Island

A small island – only five miles long by one and a half miles wide – Canna is the westernmost of the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides. It has a tiny population of about 15 people, who farm, raise cattle, and run the small tearoom on the island. Canna also has many historical and archaeological sites for travelers to visit during their Scotland cruise. Many of the ancient sites date back to the Neolithic, Columban, and Viking eras.

Canna is well known for its bird population, and has been a bird sanctuary since 1938, with 157 species of birds monitored annually since 1969. On a tour of the region, keep an eye out for golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, peregrine falcons, puffins and Manx shearwaters. The latter are remarkably long-lived; in 2003, a bird that had been ringed as a five-year old in 1953 was retrapped—at 55 years old, the oldest known wild bird in the world.

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Svalbard Travel: A Historic Look into the Region

To enhance your Svalbard travel experience, learn a little more about the history of the region before you begin your cruise. The Vikings and Russians may have discovered Svalbard as early as the 12th century. Icelandic accounts from 1194 tell of a place called Svalbaroi, or “cold coast.” In 1596, the Dutchman Willem Barents made the first undisputable discovery of the archipelago. Soon after his rediscovery, the islands were named Spitsbergen, Dutch for “jagged mountains.” As has happened with many Arctic islands, Spitsbergen became a whaling base for as long as it took hunters to dangerously reduce the whale population. Danish, Dutch, English, French, and Norwegian whalers hunted off the coasts from 1612 to 1720. The Dutch alone are estimated to have taken 60,000 whales from Smeerenburg, their base on Amsterdam Island.

After whaling ceased to be lucrative, trapping became popular. Early trappers focused on Arctic fox and polar bear pelts. During your Svalbard travel today you will notice that trapping is still an important part of the local economy. Because of their convenient northern location, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the islands served as a base for many Arctic expeditions. Then, in 1906, the rich coal deposits began to be tapped, and today coal mining remains the major economic activity on Svalbard.

While Svalbard has been used as a base by many in the international community, it has been administered by Norway since 1925, as a result of the Svalbard Treaty of February 9, 1920. However, this treaty is unique in that citizens of other countries have equal rights to the area’s natural resources. At one time, coal companies from the U.S., the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, and Sweden mined in Svalbard. Today, only the Russian settlement of 850 people at Barentsburg remains; in fact, the Russian population used to outnumber the Norwegian population, though today Norwegians make up about 60% of the people with Russians and Ukrainians making up the remaining 40%.

During World War II, the islands were evacuated. Even so, the Germans bombed the three largest settlements, Longyearbyen, Barentsburg, and Sveagruva, in 1943 and 1944. After the war, the residents were allowed to move back and rebuild, and along with them came teams of geologists from Cambridge and other universities, visiting Svalbard in order to do the first comprehensive and detailed mapping of the area.

Coal mining remains Svalbard’s major economic activity. Sixty percent of the Norwegian population is employed by the state-owned coal company, which also provides much of the local infrastructure and runs the local services in the settlements. The settlements on the islands are more company towns than actual cities. Hunting is also a significant part of the economy, as seal, reindeer, and fox are quite plentiful. In recent years research activities and travel to Svalbard and tourism have been making up a growing sector of the economy.

Today, one of the major news items in Svalbard is the seed bank that the Norwegian government and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are planning on building in 2007. Into a hollow cave will go a copy of all the seeds and genetic material currently available around the world. The repository will be built to withstand natural and man-made catastrophes, from nuclear war to earthquakes.

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Svalbard’s Arctic Environment

Those enjoying a tour to the remote islands of Svalbard will be greeted with austere beauty, which includes a land whitened by vast glaciers and ice fields. The mountains are stark and rugged, and Newtontoppen, the archipelago’s highest peak, rises 5,650 feet above sea level on Spitsbergen, the largest island. Western Spitsbergen is also the location of unusual stone structures, which scatter in labyrinthine circles across the landscape. While these intricate patterns are intriguing enough to be the work of fairies or elves, they are actually the result of the cyclic freezing and thawing of the ground, a process called ‘frost heaving.’

Though Svalbard’s climate is moderated by the warm North Atlantic Current – keeping the surrounding water open and mostly navigable – the Arctic ice pack still surrounds the islands in some of the colder winter months. Deep and jagged fjords punctuate the western and northern coastlines of the islands of Svalbard, forming excellent breeding grounds for the millions of birds that migrate there each year. During your Svalbard tour, keep an eye out for the five different species of trees found on the islands; four are willows and one is a dwarf birch. Because of the Arctic climate, the trees stay very small—travelers will not find the towering oaks or Douglas firs they may be accustomed to. At times, in fact, the grass of these northern islands grows higher than the trees.

Summers are short and cool on Svalbard, giving the flora little time to make seed. Instead, most of the plants propagate by stolons or rhizomes. While the flowers, like the trees, are dwarfed by the climate, tiny bits of color spread across the summer landscape, scattering purple and yellow and white blossoms. A tour of Svalbard also offers stunning views of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), which dance green and blue and red in the sky on long winter nights.

Svalbard’s natural resources include deposits of coal, iron ore, copper, zinc, and phosphate. There is also abundant wildlife, from walruses to polar bears to reindeer to Arctic foxes, and the surrounding seas are full of fish and other marine life. None of the land is arable, and because of the brevity of the growing season, the region grows no permanent crops.

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Svalbard’s Local Island Politics

Svalbard became an official territory of Norway in 1925, as a result of the Svalbard Treaty of February 9, 1920. It is now administered by the Polar Department of the Ministry of Justice through a governor living in Longyearbyen. There are no elections, as Norway’s monarchy is hereditary, with Harald V the current king. The governor and assistant governor are responsible to the Polar Department.

The Svalbard Treaty gave Norway the right to administer the islands. Part of the treaty, however, gives all signatories—of which there are currently more than 40—equal rights to run commercial activities. Those commercial activities have primarily been limited to coal mining (though fishing and hunting fall under the category as well); currently only Norway and Russia are operating mines on Svalbard.

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Taste What a Norway Cruise Has to Offer

During a Norway cruise there are plenty of opportunities to sample the seafood, game meat and dairy products that dominate Norwegian cuisine. With around 25,000 km of coastline, fresh seafood is readily available and the Norwegians prepare their seafood in a number of ways including fresh, smoked, salted and pickled. Smoked salmon is perhaps the most famous seafood dish. Traditionally it is prepared with scrambled eggs, dill or mustard. Other popular fish dishes include cod, herring, sardine products and mackerel. The typical way to cook fish is steaming with light use of herbs, salt and pepper.

Game meat includes elk, reindeer and fowl and is usually accompanied by strong, rich sauces such as wild berry jam or juniper berry. Interestingly, whale meat used to be a cheap substitute to more pricey beef. On a trip to Norway today, you can still find whale local dishes, but is not as popular as it once was.

Dairy products are a staple to the Norwegian diet, and citizens prize their high quality.
Jarlsberg cheese is a sweet, brown colored cheese that is eaten daily in nearly every home in Norway. It is often served with bread and jam at breakfast.

International cuisine is gaining popularity in some of the larger cities, but the Norwegian add their own special touch in dishes such as pizza with reindeer and burgers made of salmon. Other unique specialties that you can choose to sample on your Norway cruise include smoked sheep’s head, boiled lumps of fish paste and slow-cured lamb’s leg.

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The Ancient History of Iceland

Before you begin your Iceland travel, enhance your experience by learning a little more about the country’s ancient history. Island’s history is closely connected with nearby Norway and Denmark, but the first people to actually inhabit the island were Irish monks, who used Iceland as a hermitage of sorts until the early 800s. The monks were followed by permanent settlers from Norway; one early source states that the first settlers were Ingolfr Arnarson and his wife, Hallveig Frodadottir, who came to Iceland from Norway in 874, staked their homestead in the southwest, and called it Reykjavik. Over the next several decades, Ingolfr and Hallveig were followed by hundreds of other settlers, most from Norway, but some from other Nordic countries and settlements in the British Isles.

The settlers formed a parliamentary government system, complete with district assembly, National Assembly (or Althing), code of law and courts of justice. While farmers had political rights, the democratic practice did not include women or common workers. The conversion of Icelanders to Christianity in 999 helped to further unify the people. A tour of Iceland today allows the opportunity to see the influence Christianity still has on the present-day island culture. Over the next 100 years peace reigned and an agrarian economy developed and flourished. The people raised both sheep and cattle for meat, milk, and wool.

By the 13th century the royal power in Norway had strengthened and King Hakon Hakonarson was determined to unite all Norwegian settlements under his reign. By the early 1260s Iceland was under Norwegian power. The next 300 years brought difficulty and turbulence. In the 1300s Icelanders suffered from several eruptions of volcanic Mt. Hekla, resulting in severe death and destruction. Mount Hekla is still an active volcano today, and a popular destination for those enjoying Iceland travel. The volcano is recognized for its notorious history, but also has incredible beauty. In 1380, Norway and Denmark united, putting Iceland under Danish rule. During this time, Iceland’s economy deteriorated, because of deforestation, soil erosion, and an increasingly severe climate, all of which affected the island’s agriculture. Iceland was not immune to the infamous plague that hit Europe; the Black Death struck twice in the 15th century, killing off nearly half of the population.

In the 1530s, the Reformation came to Denmark. The people of Iceland, however, held out stubbornly against Lutheranism for 20 years before their resistance lost its stronghold. After the Reformation, Denmark tightened its hold on Iceland, confiscating all monastery lands, monopolizing foreign trade, and introducing a bureaucratic system. By the early 1700s, the population of Iceland was a little more than 50,000, with most people making their living either in farming or fishing. As the century progressed, some of the people slowly began to cluster into towns. Reykjavik was just a small village in the 1750s, but by the time the Danish governor settled there in the early 1800s, its population had reached 300.

The move for independence began in the early 19th century. The Icelanders expressed a desire to reinstate the Althing as a local representative assembly. This wish was granted by the Danish king, Christian VIII, in 1845. Over the next several decades, the Icelanders and the Danes worked to reach an agreement on Iceland’s status, but it was not until 1874—the millennium anniversary of Iceland’s settlement—that King Frederick VII granted the Althing legislative power in domestic affairs. After several more decades of struggling for independence, Iceland finally became a separate state under Danish rule in 1918. In 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark, the connection between the two countries dissolved. After the war, Iceland severed all ties with Denmark, and established an independent republic. Sveinn Bjornsson became Iceland’s first president on June 17, 1944. If you travel in the middle of June you can experience Iceland’s National Day, which is annually celebrated on the seventeenth.

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The Beauty of Scotland’s Fair Isle

Located midway between the Orkney and Shetland Islands in Scotland’s Northern Isles, Fair Isle is a lovely gem of land with a population of about 70 people. The isle has long been inhabited; archaeologists have found evidence of human settlement dating back 5,000 years. Ancient oval-shaped stone houses, turf and stone dykes remain on the land today. Fair Isle currently has fourteen celebrated historic monuments for you to explore while on a Scotland tour of the region. These range from structures used by the first peoples who settled the land to the remains of a World War II radar station.

The island is only three miles long by one and a half miles wide. The majority of the islanders live on crofts, small agricultural landholdings, on the lower southern part of the island. Most of the farmers follow low-intensity, subsistence farming methods, producing crops like hay, silage, oats, kale, and turnips. Many people keep sheep or cattle as well. Since 1954, Fair Isle has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and, though small, has a successful community that has led the way in developing projects in wildlife tourism, windpower, and sustainable environmental practices. During your tour of this Scotland island you are sure to experience what makes Fair Isle such a popular location for the savvy traveler.

Fair Isle may be best known for its unique knitwear, which has long been a source of income for the people. For centuries, the islanders bartered their knitted wares and fresh produce for goods they could not make on their small island. Today, the term ‘Fair Isle Knitting’ is used to describe a particular type of stranded color knitting. However, the only source of genuine Fair Isle articles is Fair Isle itself, where the small Fair Isle Crafts cooperative produces traditional (red, blue, brown, yellow, and white) and contemporary (natural wool colors of brown, grey, fawn, and white) garments on hand-frame machines, labeling each article with the unique Fair Isle trademark.

The island is a favored breeding spot for thousands of seabirds. Spring and autumn are the best time to plan a Scotland cruise for bird watchers, when a myriad of bird species migrate to their summer and winter destinations, for Fair Isle lies on the intersection of important flight paths from Scandinavia, Iceland, and Faroe. The island’s impressive cliffs are the summer home of fulmars, kittiwakes, gannets, shags, puffins, guillemots, and razorbills, while skuas and terns make their nests on the moors. Fair Isle has been home to a Bird Observatory since 1948, though the current building has only been around since 1970. The observatory has many day activities, from trapping and ringing migratory birds to counting the size of sea bird colonies.

While birds are the most prevalent creatures on Fair Isle, during your trip you may also look forward to seeing sea animals such as grey and common seals, harbor porpoises, orcas, minke whales, and beaked Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Local flora includes over 250 species of flowering plants, such as the bright yellow bog asphodel, purple marsh orchids, and the rare frog orchid. Sea pinks flourish in June, and yellow birdsfoot trefoil cascades down the cliffs along with white sea campion. Though the summer weather may fluctuate between glorious sunshine and dark, stormy clouds, the landscape beneath is always beautiful.

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The Cultural Discovery of a Finland Tour

While the country has an individual culture, today many Finns are increasingly encountering foreign cultural influences outside their previously defined sphere. This includes Russia and the Baltic regions, as well as influence from Sweden and Germany. Karelian culture, as particularly expressed in music, is seen as the one of the purest expressions of Finnic myths and beliefs. Some minorities existing within Finland’s borders, including the Sami, have maintained their own distinct cultural characteristics as well. The majority, however, (about 94% of the total population) is of Finnish descent and is divided into two slightly different cultural categories. The Ethnic Finns have a cultural focus on lakes and woods and are generally strongly connected to nature. The Finland-Swede culture is considered the more outward and urbanized culture exhibited mostly by people living in the coastal areas. The differences between the two are very slight, displaying only minor differences in accents and vocabulary.

Sparsely populated with many expanses of heavily forested land, the country has only five million inhabitants, ranking 162nd in population density. When you are on a tour of Finland you are likely to hear both Finnish and Swedish. These are the two official languages of the country, but Finnish is spoken amongst 92% of the population. The Finnish language is often very hard for foreigners to understand, and is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. Perhaps in recognition of this great communication barrier, the majority of Finns speak English very well, so most travelers should not have a problem communicating during their trip. Other minority languages include Russian and Estonian, and three derisions from Sami. The rights of minority groups to protect their culture and language are protected by Finnish law, but only the Sami languages are considered to be an official minority language. About 500,000 Finns had to emigrate between the period of 1939 and 1970 due to poor economic conditions and political instability with the constant threat of a Soviet takeover. Since the late 1990s Finland has begun to receive refugees at a rate similar to that of other Nordic countries, although the total ethnic minority populations still remain far lower in Finland than elsewhere.

The primary religion you can expect to encounter on your Finland tour is the evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. This is the most practiced religion; about 84% of Finns are members. A minority belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church, which is the only other official state church of Finland. There also exists a small portion of other Protestant denominations, Catholics, Muslims, Jews and some who claim to be unaffiliated.

Finnish Sauna
When taking a Finland tour, you cannot help but consider enjoying their widely celebrated saunas. Well known throughout the world for their adherence to taking a sauna at least once a week, the Finns have incorporated this practice into their culture. Used for relating with friends and family, and for mental and physical relaxation, the sauna is not considered a luxury, but rather a necessity. For the five million people who live in Finland, over 2 million saunas are found, amounting to at least one per household. The whole process of a sauna bath lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours and consists of a number of repeated cycles. First one needs to undress and take a shower without soap. Next one enters the sauna ranging from about 80°C to 100°C in temperature and sit back for about 10-30 minutes allowing the heat to penetrate and open the pores in their skin. Next, exit and cool down outside or take a dip in a pool or lake. The cycle is not usually considered complete at a lakeside cottage without a cool swim. Should the lake be frozen, some may even cut a hole in the ice to jump in. Then they return to the sauna to repeat the cycle all over again. There is no limit as to the number of cycles, however two cycles is considered a minimum. At the end of all the cycles, one takes a shower with soap to clean off. While many do take saunas in coed settings or as a whole family, unspoken social rules govern which situations are appropriate. Almost all public saunas are divided into same sex only rooms. Should you travel to a Finnish home, being invited to take a sauna is considered a nice gesture, and one should be wary of declining the invitation for fear of offending the host.

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The Cultural Side of an Arctic Tour

The peoples and cultures of the Arctic span several countries—including the Eskimo of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland; the Saami (or Lapps) of Scandinavia; the Nenets of northwest Russia; the Sakha (or Yakut) of Russia; and the Chukchi of Siberia. Despite the harsh climate it may surprise visitors on an Arctic tour to learn that people have been living in the Arctic for a millennia. In Siberia, for example, there is evidence of human presence as far back as 40,000 years ago. Humans first inhabited North America approximately 15,000 years ago, while Greenland was settled around 4,000 years ago.

Over the years, these peoples learned to adapt to the climate. When the area was first settled, people made houses from hides, whalebone, sod, driftwood, and snow. As resources are limited in the Arctic, those living there learned to make use of everything possible. When they hunted sea mammals such as seals, walruses, and land animals like caribou, reindeer, and musk oxen, they not only ate the meat, but used the bones, hides, wool, and blubber, wasting nothing. They made their shoes, clothing, their weapons, fuel, and their transportation from the animals they killed. Meat, however, was not their only sustenance. A number of edible plants and berries are found in the tundra, which helped to supplement the diet of meat and fish.

Today, on an Arctic tour you will notice that the peoples of the Arctic have added modern technology to their historic adaptation skills. While dog sleds, skis, snowshoes, and kayaks have largely been supplanted by snowmobiles and fiberglass boats, the traditional methods of transportation are still occasionally utilized. In the past century, many formerly nomadic peoples have settled into towns scattered across the Arctic. Despite the shift from the traditional way of life to a more modern one, many of the native people of the Arctic are still rooted to the land and the natural world. Preserving their ancient traditions is becoming increasingly important, and the people are hanging onto their culture by telling stories, passing on traditional hunting and survival skills, speaking their native languages, maintaining close family ties, and teaching traditional arts and crafts to the younger generations. The Inuit people, for example, make such lovely carvings from soapstone and turpentine that they have received international recognition.

Current issues for the indigenous people of the Arctic include making land claims for their ancestral territories, seeking to be represented in regional government, improving their quality of life through educational reforms, establishing an Arctic College, and promoting the region as a desirable travel destination.

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The Environment and Geography of Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen’s remoteness, its unique geography and environment, has particular appeal to adventurous travelers. This isolated island is located between the Greenland and Norwegian Seas, northeast of Iceland. It is located near the intersection of the Jan Mayen Fracture Zone and Mohns mid-ocean ridge. Though claims of its discovery are scattered throughout the centuries, the first person to indisputably find Jan Mayen, in 1614, was a Dutch whaling captain for whom the island was named. The island has belonged to Norway since 1929, and is home to the northernmost active volcano in the world, Haakon VII Toppen/Beerenberg. This volcano is also the island’s highest point, at 7,470 feet, its ice cap spilling glaciers down the slopes while plumes of smoke and vapor rise from the crater. The volcano has erupted six times since 1732, with the eruption in 1970 the first to be witnessed in modern times. Beerenberg is a favorite destination for visitors on their Jan Mayen tour. The most recent eruption was in 1985, with 250,000,000 cubic feet of lava spewing from the volcano in only 40 hours.

Jan Mayen is a long, narrow island—only 34 miles long and two to nine miles wide—with the volcano dominating the northeastern end. During a tour of Jan Mayen, travelers will have the opportunity to explore the southern half of the island that consists of a mountainous ridge of craters, mounds, and domes. Covering only about 230 square miles, it is only slightly more than twice the size of Washington, D.C. It has no native inhabitants, but there is currently a Long-Range Navigation (Loran-C) base and a weather and coastal services station, which are together operated by 18 personnel.

Because of its extreme northern location and the fact that it is a volcanic island partly covered by glaciers, Jan Mayen has no arable land. There is one unpaved landing strip, and planes come to bring supplies (and transport the personnel in and out) only eight to twelve times a year. While the land is mostly barren and dominated by impressive volcanic formations, there is some moss, grass, and small flowers. While on a trip to the island, keep an eye out for the 75 species of vascular plant, 176 species of moss, 140 species of lichen, and 66 species of fungi. In the warmer months, the moss spreads thick, bright green carpets over the rocks, sometimes so lush that people can sink in up to their calves.

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The Environment of Iceland

Travelers may be surprised to find Iceland’s environment so temperate for its location in such a northern region. The climate supplies Iceland with two primary vegetation zones: the tundra, a zone of treeless plains; and the taiga, a zone of coniferous forests. Prior to human settlement, woodlands and birch forests are estimated to have covered 25-40% of the land area, but by the early 1900s these forests had nearly been exhausted. Today, the number of trees has once again increased due to reforestation initiatives, but unfortunately much of the native forest ecosystem has been lost. One-fourth of the land is continuously covered by vegetation, which consists of forestland, bogs, moors, and grasslands.

Iceland’s natural resources are limited in variety, but each resource in itself is considerable: fish, hydropower, geothermal power, and diatomite. Iceland’s primary industries include fish processing, aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production, geothermal power, and a growing travel and tourism sector. Fishing provides 70% of the countries export earnings, and employs four percent of the workers. Over-fishing has long been an issue, though the strict catch quotas imposed in the late 1980s and early 1990s have helped somewhat to stabilize the fish population. Despite its small size, Iceland also faces increasing issues with air pollution. Water pollution from fertilizer runoff is also a concern, as is inadequate wastewater treatment, but awareness is key and Iceland is taking proactive steps to improve these environmental distresses.

Less than five percent of the country’s workers are involved in agriculture, due to the small amount of arable land and short growing season. Icelanders make up for this deficit, however, by using geothermal energy to heat a large number of greenhouses. Agricultural products include potatoes and green vegetables. On an Iceland tour you are likely to also notice a variety of cattle farms. Many Icelandic farmers raise sheep and dairy cattle, making the country nearly self-sufficient in dairy products.

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The Geographic Appeal of a Svalbard Cruise

Svalbard, formerly known as Spitsbergen, consists of a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, which are situated far north of the Arctic Circle and about 620 miles south of the North Pole. A part of Norway, these islands form both the northernmost part of the country as well as the northernmost part of Europe. Nine main islands make up Svalbard, with various tiny islands within the vicinity. The land surface totals about 24,000 square miles, making is slightly smaller than West Virginia.

Three large islands dominate the territory: Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandlet, and Edgeøya. The other six main islands are Barentsøya, Prins Karls Forland, Kong Karls Land, Kvitøya, Hopen, and Bjømøya. Most of the region’s 2700 people live on Spitsbergen, but Hopen and Bjømøya are populated as well. Longyearbyen is the largest city, and is a popular destination for travelers on a Svalbard cruise. Longyearbyen has a population of 1800 people, and is located on the west coast of Spitsbergen. The second largest settlement is Barentsburg, with about 850 people, most of whom are Russians and Ukranians. Though Barentsburg is only about 35 miles from Longyearbyen, there are no roads connecting the two settlements.

Nordaustlandet is the second largest island, but it is unpopulated, as most of it is covered with ice caps and glaciers, including Austfonna, the largest glacier in Europe. The northern coast is austere tundra, where such animals as reindeer and walruses can be found.

The southernmost island of the archipelago is Bjømøya (Bear Island), and is uninhabited except for the ten people who staff the meteorological and radio station. The rest of this small island (only 12 miles from north to south and 10 miles from east to west) was established as a nature reserve in 2002. The southern third of the land is mountainous, but the land slopes down to the north to form a lowland plain covered by freshwater lakes.

About 60% of Svalbard’s land area is covered by glaciers and snowfields. The land is wild, with high rugged mountains and deep fjords along the north and west coasts. This dramatic geography is one of the reasons that a Svalbard cruise is so desired. The highest peak, Newtontoppen, is located on Spitsbergen and reaches 5,650 feet above sea level. Despite the archipelago’s extreme northern latitude, the North Atlantic Current warms the Arctic climate, keeping the surrounding sea open and navigable for most of the year. However, the area does see extremes in its length of day from summer to winter. In the summer months, the midnight sun lasts from April 20 to August 23, while in the winter, the polar night lasts from October 26 to February 15.

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The Geography of Norway

Norway is located in Northern Europe, occupying the northwestern portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The country is easily accessibly by water, making a Norway cruise an excellent option for travel to the region. It is bordered by Russia and Finland to the northeast, Sweden to the east, the Skagerrak Sea to the south and the Norwegian Sea to the west. Norway is roughly the size of New Mexico, and covers around 324,000 sq. kilometers of land.

The terrain of Norway is glaciated, with nearly one-third of the country lying north of the Arctic Circle. The other two-thirds is mountains, broken by fertile valleys and small, scattered plains. Long fjords, numerous islands and minor indentations characterize the coastline. In fact, Norway’s coastline is one of the most rugged and longest of the world.

Oslo, both the capital and largest city in Norway, has a population of 538,500, about 22% of which are immigrants. Oslo is a popular tour destination within the country. As of 2006, it is the most expensive city in the world.

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The History of Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen has a relatively quiet history – mainly characterized by the hunting and whaling expeditions, but in its more recent history the island has become an important navigation station. Jan Mayen travel is also part of this island’s recent history, partially because its isolation has made travel to Jan Mayen difficult.
While the first undisputed discovery of Jan Mayen goes to the Dutchman Jan Jacobs May van Schellinkhout (for whom the island is named), in 1614, there are stories that suggest previous knowledge of the place. The Irish monk Brendan, known to be a good sailor, may have seen the island as early as the 6th century. After one voyage, he told about a black fiery island he had seen that he believed to be the entrance to hell. In later centuries, Vikings may have come across the island in their travels. In the early 1600s, however, various sailors—including Henry Hudson, Jean Vrolicq, and John Clarke—claimed the island’s discovery, naming and renaming it.
In the years following van Schellinkhout’s landing on Jan Mayen, the Dutch used the island as a whaling base. They established several whale oil boilers to extract oil from whale blubber, and built fortifications to protect their whaling operations. In the height of the whaling years, more than 1000 men lived on the Jan Mayen during the summers. As a result of the extensive hunting, the Greenland whale was nearly driven to extinction, and whaling in Jan Mayen’s waters ended by 1650.
Once the whalers left, the island was deserted for the next two and a half centuries, with only a few ships visiting it over the years. In 1882, however, an Austrian/Hungarian expedition established a base on Jan Mayen, staying there for a year while doing research and mapping. Then, in the early 1900s, Norwegian trappers began wintering on the island, trapping blue and white foxes and polar bears. Once again, overexploitation proved the undoing of the hunters, as the fox population declined rapidly, and the hunting ended in the 1920s.

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The History of Scotland’s St. Kilda Islands

The St. Kilda islands are the most remote of Scotland’s Western Isles. Created by a massive volcanic explosion, the archipelago consists of three larger islands—Hirta, Soay, and Boreray—and several small islets. Small and remote though they are, a tour of these Scotland islands offers travelers stunning scenery, geology, and wildlife. Hirta, the largest island, boasts the highest sea cliffs in the UK. Conachair, on the northern face of the island, rises from the sea in a sheer vertical cliff that towers 1400 feet above the waves. Even the cliffs of smaller Soay and Boreray rise 1200 feet above sea level, treating Scotland travelers to spectacular views. Beyond the islands are offshore vertical pillars of rock, called stacks, with Stac An Armin, near Boreray, the highest at an impressive 650 feet.

St. Kilda has been uninhabited since 1930, when the last 36 residents were evacuated at their own request. Previous to 1930, however, the islands had been continuously inhabited for millennia; excavations have uncovered stone tools that date back four or five thousand years. In the more recent past—a few hundred years ago—a distant landlord rented the land to the small population. Rent was collected during the landlord’s annual visit. Rent was generally paid in raw goods, such as barley, oats, fish, or seabirds. St. Kilda has long been a breeding ground for a substantial seabird population, and St. Kildans used the birds for meat, feathers, and oil. By the 1830s, each tenant worked the same piece of land from year to year, enabling the people to build permanent homes on their rented properties.

The early St. Kildans spoke Gaelic, and lived and dressed in a similar way to the rest of Scotland’s Western Isles. They were a people who loved music, stories, and games, but by the late 1800s the influence of the Free Church of Scotland had somewhat sobered their traditional lifestyle. The church was built in the early 1800s for the resident minister, and by 1884 a school had been built for the small number of St. Kildan children.

The remains of a village exist on Hirta, the largest island. It is likely that this village was rebuilt on various different sites over the years. During a Scotland tour to Hirta visitors will now see the ruined stone houses laid out in a crescent running roughly parallel to the shoreline, a reminder of the last decades of the native population. As St. Kildans began relying more and more on imports, they became less and less self-sufficient, and much more aware of the relative isolation of their home. In 1852, a group of islanders emigrated to Australia. In the early years of the 20th century, there were serious food shortages and an influenza epidemic that decreased the already diminished population. Finally, in 1930, the last 36 St. Kildans asked to be evacuated to the mainland, and the islands were left empty of human life for the first time in a millennia. In 1931 St. Kilda was sold to the Marquess of Bute, who bequeathed them to the National Trust for Scotland in 1957.

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The History of the Faroe Islands

Spotted by St. Brendan and his monks while sailing past the jewel islands, the Faroes were first settled by these Irish monks late in the 6th century. The monks were most likely either seeking pagan souls they could save, or were in search of a peaceful refuge away from pirates and tyrants from the mainland. Large amounts of Viking settlers came to the islands in the 9th century, from whom the current population is largely descendant – during your travel to Faroe Islands you can still see the Viking influence on the region today. The Faroes converted to Christianity around the year 1000 when the King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason claimed the islands. They officially became part of the Kingdon of Norway in 1035. The Kingdom of Norway formally joined the Kingdom of Denmark in 1380, and the Faroe Islands soon adopted Danish laws. In 1655 the Danish government allotted the Faroes to Christoffer von Gabel as a personal feudal estate, bringing oppressive rule and exploitation to the islanders until 1709 when the government relieved the von Gabel family of the islands. In 1814 the Treaty of Kiel separated the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark, within that agreement the Faroe Islands remained under Denmark’s control. The Danish government officially incorporated the Faroes into the legislature in 1849, offering them two seats in the House. Despite this representation, by the 1890’s many Faroese were expressing desires for home rule instead of inclusion in Denmark’s government. This sentiment never came to fruition due to the impact of British presence during WWII and the 1948 Act of Faroese Home Rule passed by Denmark, which changed the Faroe Island status from a county to a self-governing community within the Kingdom of Denmark.

On a tour of the islands, you will experience the flag and language that the Faroese developed independent from Denmark. They also formed their own legislative body refusing to join the European Union along with Denmark. The Faroese are given independence to decide their own affairs inasmuch as it does not affect Denmark. Denmark still controls and is responsible for insurance, banking, defense, foreign relations and justice. In return the Faroe Islands receive a large federal subsidy amounting to around 15% of their total budget. In recovery stages from a serious recession in the early 1990s that lead to a lot of emigration to Denmark, the Faroe economy is picking up again and cod fisheries are reaping profits. The increased popularity of Faroe Islands travel has also helped the local economy. Efforts and sentiment towards establishing independence have once again been revived, and we may see the formation of a new country in the upcoming years.

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The Politics of Faroe Islands

Attaining a high degree of self-government in 1948, the Faroe Island political scene has increasingly taken control of most governmental matters from Denmark, excluding defense and foreign affairs. While national sentiment for independence has been a constantly re-surfacing issue over the last hundred years, the populous is fairly evenly split in their opinions on the issue. During your Faroe Islands travel you may also notice that there exist differences of opinions as to the methods of secession. Some residents prefer a unilateral and immediate declaration as opposed to those who prefer gradual separation with Denmark’s full consent.

Currently the executive branch consists of the chief of state. If you travel to the Faroe Islands today, the chief of state is Queen Margrethre II of Denmark who is represented in the Islands by Birgit Kleis and the head of government, Prime Minister Joannes Eidesgaard. The monarch is a hereditary position, while the prime minister is elected based on the majority party elected to the legislature. The unicameral legislature consists of a coalition formed by the Social Democratic, Union, and People’s parties, as well as a number of smaller parties. The Faroese Parliament, or Logting, holds 32 seats and members are elected to four-year terms by popular vote based on proportions from the seven constituencies. The Faroe Islanders also elect two representatives to serve in the Danish Parliament.

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The Politics of Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen, as a territory of Norway, flies the Norwegian flag. Since August of 1994 the island has been administered from Oslo through the county governor of Nordland, but the primary authority has been delegated to a station commander of the Norwegian Defense Communication Service.

Jan Mayen is subject to the laws of Norway, and any traveler wanting to visit this territory must have a valid passport. Visitors on a tour of Jan Mayen must also remember some basic rules unique to the island: the environment is vulnerable, and visitors are prohibited from picking souvenirs—whether wildflowers, fungi, or moss. Those interested in climbing on the Jan Mayen travel must have permission from the Station Commander to climb Beerenberg; the glacier is incredibly beautiful but can also be crevassed and very dangerous. Visitors should also take notice of the electrical equipment—both because of the high voltage and, in the spring, because of ice falling from the masts and antennas.

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The Unique Norway Culture

While enjoying travel in the region you will easily notice that Norway has a culture distinctly its own. Because Norway is situated so far from some history’s most prominent cultural centers such as Rome, Paris and Florence, it developed a unique culture, very different from mainland Europe. Norwegians today vigorously protect their folk art and music, remnants from their Viking ancestry. Traditional folk dresses can still be seen at weddings and other festive occasions. Storytelling is also very popular, and many of the tales involve trolls. Because of their past union with Denmark, Norwegian culture has also been influenced by the Danish.

Architecture is an important element of Norwegian culture. While on a Norway tour you can see this cultural element in the country’s stave churches, which are among some of the oldest wooden buildings on earth. Norway has also produced numerous famous artists, including painter Edvard Munch, composer Edvard Grieg, sculptor Gustav Vigeland and playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Norwegians are predominantly Protestant, based on the Evangelical-Lutheran religion. Although there is no separation between Church and State, all citizens have the right to practice their religion freely. Roughly 10% of the population attends church services or events more than once a month, as Norwegian religious practice is largely private.

There are three official languages in Norway. The most commonly used is spoken by 80% of the population and heavily influenced by the Danish language. However, while on a Norway tour you have the opportunity to hear some of 272 dialects that are spoken in rural areas. Danes, Swedish and Norwegian can understand each other’s languages, but only 4 million people in the world actually speak Norwegian. English is taught in all Norwegian schools.

Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, and has a very low poverty level. The literacy rate is close to 100%, and a large number of its peoples have completed upper secondary schooling. At all public institutions in Norway, higher education is free for Norwegian nationals and international students alike. Norway ranks second, only to Iceland, in its economic and political gender equity.

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The Weather in the North Pole

The North Pole is a land of extremes, not so much in temperature or climate as in daylight. Summers have no sunset; winters have no dawn. If you plan to take an Arctic cruise in the summer, when the North Pole is tilted toward the sun, the region experiences 24 hours of sunshine, while in the winter months it is darkness that reigns for 24 hours.

The region has a consistently chilly polar climate. The summer season in the Arctic is short—usually lasting only from mid-July to the end of August. Winters are cold and dark, but weather conditions are stable, and the clear air provides a stunning 24-hour view of the night sky and layers upon layers of stars. Summers have 24-hour daylight, but the weather is damp and foggy, and weak cyclones bring rain or snow to the region. Winter temperatures generally hover around –20° F, though occasionally they plummet to -40° or below. In the summer, however, you might enjoy temperatures as high as 32°F during your cruise of the Arctic.

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The Wild-side of a Svalbard Cruise

Both novice and advanced birdwatchers will find much to enjoy during their Svalbard cruise. Thirty species of seabirds make Svalbard their breeding grounds, including black guillemots, puffins, little auks, fulmars, and kittiwakes. The arctic tern, skua, and ivory gull can also be seen throughout the archipelago. The snow bunting and the wheatear are the only two songbirds to breed in the area, and Svalbard’s only resident species is the Svalbard ptarmigan.

Mammals on the islands range from tiny creatures to large, including the Svalbard field mouse, the Arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer, and the polar bear. The latter are so common that residents of Svalbard know to take their rifles for protection when they venture outside the inhabited areas. However, polar bears are protected by the law, which forbids anyone to harm or disturb them. During a trip to Svalbard one can also find several species of seal on the land and in the surrounding waters, from the bearded and ringed seals to the harbour and harp seals.

The seas around Svalbard are filled with a variety of whales, and a cruise offers plenty of viewing opportunities. Most commonly seen is the vocal and social white beluga, whose population is estimated in the thousands. The white-beaked dolphin and the minke whale are also fairly common. Greenland whales used to be found in abundance, but have been driven nearly to extinction. The Northern Right (or Bowhead) whale is also endangered, with a population of only a few hundred. Several other whales that are rare but may still be seen are the handsome black-and-white orca, the long-horned narwhal, the bottlenose dolphin, the sperm whale, the humpback whale, and the fin and blue whales. At a massive 65-100 feet long, the blue whale is the largest animal on the planet, and an awesome sight to see, whether from land or ship.

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The Wildlife on an Iceland Cruise

Being an isolated island, Iceland was long home to birds and fish before the first human ever set foot on its shores. Travelers are most impressed with Iceland’s fantastic population of fish. The lakes and rivers are filled with salmon and trout, and the seas surrounding the island are a great source of varied fish species, though long years of over fishing have effected the marine population. Before human settlement, the only mammal that existed on the island was the arctic fox. With humans, however, came various domestic and farm animals, and other creatures such as rats and mice. Reindeer and mink were later introduced, and many reindeer still live in the highlands of the northeast. On an Iceland cruise don’t expect to see any wild reptiles or amphibians. Due to Iceland’s latitude and climate, the number of insects is low relative to other parts of the world, and these factors have also made it impossible for the country to be home to any native reptiles or amphibians.

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The Wilds of Canada

Canada’s huge expanses of wilderness provide for an abundance of animals. Bears are the most plentiful form of large wildlife. Not just the pervasive black bear, but grizzlies and other brown bears inhabit the country, as well as polar bears in the north. Other large animals that visitors may be lucky enough to see are the lynx, a large grey cat, and its even larger cousin, the rare cougar.

From the dog family, Canada is home to wolves, coyotes, and foxes, even the Arctic fox. Coyotes are the most common sight yielded by a Canadian cruise. As for ungulates, visitors may be lucky enough to come across bison, mountain goats, deer, elk, caribou; maybe even a muskox or the elusive Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

For those looking for water-loving animals, Canadian waters host beavers, otters (both sea and river), dolphins, whales, sea lions, and the great salmon. Adventurers with keen eyes should be on the lookout for bald eagles and great blue herons. A cruise to Canada may unlock a treasure trove of beautiful and wild animals.

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Tour Scotland’s North Rona and Sula Sgeir

North Rona and Sula Sgeir are some of the most remote of the Scottish Isles. North Rona, the larger of the two, lies about 40 miles north of the Isle of Lewis, while Sula Sgeir lies ten miles further west of North Rona. North Rona is no longer inhabited by humans, but it was populated for hundreds of years, making it the farthest island in the British Isles to have had permanent residents. It is said that Saint Ronan lived there in the 8th century, and visitors today can still see the Celtic ruins of St. Ronan’s chapel, as well as cross-shaped grave markers which date from as early as the 7th century. The population held steady around 30 for centuries, with excess people occasionally moving to the Isle of Lewis. In 1680, the introduction of rats and a raid by a passing ship wiped out the entire population. Others attempted to resettle the island, but were killed in 1895 in a boating accident. Until 1844, North Rona was inhabited only by a shepherd and his family. During a Scotland tour of North Rona today the only structures found on the island are a crumbling group of historic buildings, a lighthouse, and a hut that houses students doing research.

North Rona is owned by the Scottish Natural Heritage and is managed as a nature reserve. Its primary residents are sheep, grey seals, and seabirds such as storm petrels, Leach’s petrels, kittiwakes, fulmars, gannets, and guillemots. The sheep are tended by farmers from Lewis, while the seabirds and seals find the isle an ideally isolated breeding ground. North Rona boasts the third-largest breeding colony of grey seals, representing about five percent of all the pups born in the UK. During your tour of this Scotland island keep an eye out for the seals that can be found throughout much of the island, especially in the submerged sea caves along the coast. The isle has an area of less than two and a half square miles, with eighty percent of the land consisting of marine areas and sea inlets; the remaining 20% is comprised of salt marshes, sea cliffs, bogs, and dry grassland.

A few miles away the rock of Sula Sgeir juts up from the ocean. It, too, is famous for its seabird colonies—gannets, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, and puffins—which cover the small surface area in the summer months. Sula Sgeir is also the last isle in the UK where gannets are harvested annually. Each August men from Lewis come to harvest around 2,000 birds, taking the young gannets that have not yet fledged. These plump, young birds are considered a delicacy and are served throughout the world.

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What to Expect from the Weather on Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen has an arctic maritime climate, which causes frequent storms and persistent fog. Though the island is small, the weather can vary greatly from one place to another; travelers on one side of the island might be treated with bright sunshine, while at the same time others will be experiencing impenetrable fog on the other. When the fog clears, however, the views of white-capped Beerenberg are stunning. A day may start out perfectly calm but end in a gale, and it is this wind that makes the average winter day’s 23° F feel like an icy -15°. Those enjoying a Jan Mayen tour in the summer will notice that the Southern Lagoon dries out, leaving a dry, sandy plain, making the eastern side of the island subject to dust and sandstorms.

The average temperature on Jan Mayen is 30° F, with very little fluctuation between summer and winter. In February and March, the coldest months, temperatures average around 20° F. In July and August they stay around 40° F, though the island has experienced temperatures as warm as 64° F and as cold as –22°. The island receives very little precipitation, averaging about 27 inches per year. If you travel in September and October you will see the most moisture, with about three inches falling per month. April and May are the drier months, with only an inch and a half of rain or snow.

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Wildlife Wonders on an Arctic Trip

While the number of species found in the Arctic is not nearly so numerous as in more temperate and tropical zones, the area is home to a number of unique and exotic animals. When on an Arctic trip, one may see birds such as the albatross, with its six-foot wingspan, or the tufted puffin, a pigeon-sized water bird whose orange beak and yellow tufts of feathers along the head are striking against its inky black body. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, snowy owls, and the chicken-like ptarmigans make their homes in the tundra, along with geese, swans, gulls, loons, and ducks.

Mammals that live in the tundra include the arctic fox, which has a dark coat in the summer and a white coat in the winter, as do the tiny lemmings that live on plants and berries. Large mammals include the musk ox, whose abundant wool is used to make scarves and other cold-weather clothing. Large herds of caribou and reindeer can also be seen during an Arctic trip, though reindeer, which were domesticated about 2,000 years ago, are more popular in northern Asia and Europe, as native peoples in Alaska and Canada would rather hunt caribou than herd reindeer. The most well known Arctic animal, however, may be the polar bear, which lives year-round in the tundra. Their white coats blend invisibly into the ice and snow, effectively hiding them from their prey—primarily seals and fish.

Many sea mammals have adapted to the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean and are of particular interest to people enjoying an Arctic cruise. Plump white beluga whales swim and sing, making such a wide variety of sounds that they have earned the nickname “sea canary.” Narwhals, distinctive because of their one long horn, also live in the northern seas. Black and white orcas can be seen swimming in the Arctic as well, their six-foot-tall dorsal fins slicing through the waves. Bowhead and hump-backed whales swim the waters, along with playful sea otters, sleek seals—including the bearded, harbor, hooded, ringed, and harp seals—and enormous, tusked walruses.

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