We live in Western Michigan, where the summers are delightful and fruits and veggies are in abundance. However, it can sometimes get warm and humid -- the two things in summer that I just don't like! We thought, what a great idea it would be to go way north where snow still hangs around for July. So we did!
We headed first to Boston where we boarded an Icelandair jet to Keflavik Airport. Icelandair, is in my opinion, one of the best European airlines. After a change of planes, we proceeded to Oslo, Norway. My, has that airport changed in the 15 years since I had last been there! It is crowded, yet efficient. You can actually find airline and airport personnel who genuinely go out of their way to help.
I thought it would be an easy transfer to Svalbard, north of the Arctic Circle, since it is part of Norway. Yet, we had to go through immigration in order to get to the gate. I questioned the immigration agent -- something I would NEVER do in the USA -- who pleasantly told us that while Norway administers Svalbard, it actually lies outside of the Schengen Agreement of European nations. This stems from a treaty in the 1920s where several nations agreed to allow Norway to control Svalbard, but anyone from any nation who signed this agreement, could live there, no questions asked! So far, 51 countries have signed this document.
Svalbard is a magical place. It is made up of several islands, Spitzbergen being the largest. The biggest town is Longyearbyen, which is where we landed. There are only 3500 people in all of huge Svalbard, with 2100 living in Longyearbyen. The large island only has 60 km of paved roads.
People carry rifles on the street like Americans would carry a cell phone! Why? Because there are more polar bears here than humans. Only recently, a young girl was attacked and killed by a polar bear outside of town.
We went to see the International Seed Vault which supposedly has the seeds of every type of plant on Earth. We were told there are also DNA samples of animals in there. The entrance is small and unprotected... and locked. You can only view from the outside. The complex, not seen, is dug out under the nearby mountain.
There was plenty of snow and ice, just at the edge of town. The scenery is breathtaking. Here you will find the world's most northerly church, as well as the Radisson Blu Hotel, which was moved here piece by piece from the Lillihammer Olympic Games in Norway.
Onward to Iceland. We have been here many times and just love the country and the people. Where else do the police stations close at 4 p.m. daily and stay closed all weekend! ( of course, there are emergency numbers you can call.)
Anyone visiting this island in the North Atlantic should take the Golden Circle Tour, which lasts all day. You will visit Thingveillur, the site of the original Viking government and precursor to the oldest continuous government in the world. Iceland's government is over 1000 years old!
Here you will also find the tectonic boundaries of where the European continent meets the North American continent. You can actually stand with one foot on each simultaneously! Cool!
We also visited Gullfoss, or Golden Waterfall, a spectacular multiple falls surrounded by snow-capped mountains. If you climb a long staircase, you will be at the restaurant and visitor center that serves refillable lamb stew, Icelandic style! A great treat!
Just a little further down the road is the Geyser park. Every few minutes, a boiling stream of sulfuric water shoots skyward and wows the crowds. Be careful walking along the paths and do not wander too close to the bubbling steampots along the way. The warm breeze from the steamy fissures feels good on a cold and windy Icelandic day.
Next, we went on a day trip with Air Iceland from the domestic airport in Reykjavik to Kulusuk, Greenland. There is a gravel runway on which to land -- that was interesting -- and a 5km walk on dirt roads to the town of under 300 Inuit people.
On the way to the town, we crossed over a small glacier with a view of the surrounding fjords and ice flows. Quite amazing! The locals still hunt for whales and seals with spears in small boats. There is no running water and no flushing toilets. So, use the bathrooms at the tiny airport before you hike off.
Greenland is owned by Denmark, so is technically part of the EU. They use Danish kroner but will sometimes accept Icelandic or American money. Then again, there is only one tourist store in town!
Greenland is awesome, but, I would not want to live there. In July, snow over my head still lined parts of the dirt road we walked on.
Back to Iceland to visit friends, then a quick visit to the Blue Lagoon near Keflavik Airport. The volcanic water really is blue! It is usually packed with tourists coming from the airport that need to spend some relaxing time before they can check in to their hotels in Reykjavik.
We flew off on the new Icelandair flight to Anchorage, Alaska. On the way, we were able to see the northern Canadian islands of Baffin and Ellesmere. Very exciting to be this far north. We had excellent views of the Yukon Territory and as we entered U.S. airspace, Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, was clear as a bell.
Anchorage has just under 300,000 people. That is about equal to the total population of Iceland! We toured around the city visiting Earthquake Park, the seaplane port, the original Gold Rush railroad station and then spent time outside of the city at nature preserves and rugged coastlines. Alaska is truly the last American frontier.
We were away for three weeks. During that time, we never saw nightfall. We had 24-hour light in every location. We ate amazing seafood, reindeer, whale ( yes, it is legal in Iceland) and wild lamb. It was an Arctic adventure which everyone should experience at least one in their lifetime.