Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Category Archives: General

Iceland: In from the cold

Interesting program from the BBC World Service about how Iceland has recovered from the economic crash in 2008.

Talks about the mistakes in trying to position Iceland as a centre for finance, but then how they’ve recovered with a diversifying economy.


Iceland VAT rate to treble

Bad news for travellers to Iceland this week, as it was announced that the VAT rate on hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions will be more than trebled from 7% to 25.5% from next May.

When I first visited Iceland in 2006 (pre economic crash) it was a very expensive, almost prohibitively so. I last went in 2010 and it was much cheaper – but by the sound of things with this announcement prices will rocket again.

I can understand things are tough in Iceland at the moment but do wonder if this will be counter productive, will people be put off travelling there because of the cost? I’m planning a trip there next month – certainly I’m glad to be getting in before the price rise.

Full story from the telegraph here

The Grindadráp

I’ve just seen the news that a group of pilot whales have become stranded in Anstruther in Fife.

Reminds me of the grindadráp (literally “grind”), the traditional though perhaps controversial whale hunt in the Faroe Islands. The Faroese go out in boats and try and divert passing pods of whales into shallow fjords. As pilot whales always travel together you snare the whole pod, often thirty or fourty whales, in one go. Once in the fjord the whales are killed using a knife called a grindaknívur. The food from the hunt is distributed among the villagers, and in days gone by it was an essential source of meat for the islanders.

These days of course whaling is a far more contentious issue, but I guess as the pod who stranded themselves in Fife (without any human “encouragement”) show, this could be considered Darwinism in action.

BBC short film about reclining sea ices levels in the arctic

Interesting clip from the BBC’s John Hammond about arctic sea ice, set to shrink to a record minimum sometime next week. Summer in Britain has been a bit of a washout, the place to be was obviously 70 degrees North…

World’s Most Dangerous Roads

Just watching the world’s most dangerous roads on BBC2. It’s the first of a new series tonight, and Ed Byrne and Andy Parsons are driving along the road of bones in Siberia in the winter.

Somewhere I’d love to go, and far more remote than anywhere even I’ve been, Alaska included. The mining town of Ust Nera particularly caught my eye, a real “end of the earth” type place, run down soviet architecture, -50 and covered in smog. I’ll have to go one day.

Difficult not to be slightly snobby about shows like this though – at least they’ve got a 4×4, I was in Finland in February driving on what looked to be similar roads, and of course without a backup/film crew for me driving along in a Toyota Yaris 😐 (which was probably the most expensive car I’ve ever hired but that’s a story for another time…)

Where next?

As per my last post, having visited all the countries in the arctic does pose a question – where next? I guess I could just do a fortnight in Spain like everyone else but I’m just not that good with hot weather.

Despite all my travelling in the arctic I’m yet to see a Polar Bear, and I understand that Churchill, on the Hudson bay in Northern Manitoba is one of the best places in the world to see them. Better still, I found out you can get a train there with via rail

There are no roads that far North, so it’s either that or a very expensive flight. The 1000 mile journey takes two days from Winnipeg but I reckon it’d be quite fun. Actually for a long time now I’ve wanted to travel right across Canada – would be great to incorporate this into such a trip but it’s unlikely I’ll ever have the three months or so it’d take to do it until I retire.

So it’s on the back burner for now but one day I’ll make it.

Taking Stock

Following my recent trip to Greenland I’ve now been to all eight arctic nations (defined as having some territory within the arctic circle – in the case of Iceland only just, half the island of Grímsey just sneaks in) I’m going to attempt to list them out, as much as a way for me to keep track as anything else. Pretty much without exception these were all incredible trips, I won’t write much about them now but hope to fill out the details for at least some of them on this blog at some point.

Probably the country I’ve been to the most.
January 2005 – Tromsø – my first time in the arctic and first time I saw the Northern lights
April 2010 – Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen) – the furthest North I’m ever likely to go
Various other trips to Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø.

Only been once, went to Stockholm and ran in the midnattsloppet (literally midnight race), a nighttime 10k road race around the island of Södermalm.

Couple of trips, once to Helsinki and a road trip from Tampere to Karelia.

Flew to Kirkenes in Norway, then got a mini bus to Murmansk on the Kola peninsula, spent a few days there then got the train down to St Petersburg.

USA (Alaska)
Two week road trip around Alaska, taking in Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Talkeetna, Fairbanks, and Whitehorse in Yukon.

Went to the Yukon as part of the trip above.

Denmark (Greenland, Faroe Islands)
Recent trip to Greenland as I’ve written about on here, also a trip to the Faroe Islands in June 2005 as part of a three week trip to Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland.

Once as part of the trip above, and a road trip last year around the North West fjords.

I kept a journal on the 2005 trip I did to Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland so I’ll probably write that one up next. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away and confirmed my love for the far North.

There are actually two ways to define the arctic, either anywhere above 66° 33’N, or anywhere North of the 10 degree isotherm, where the average temperature of the warmest month (July) is below 10 degrees. Both of these are depicted on the map below.