Thursday, 17 July 2014

Simmer dim, the non-quite darkness of the arctic summer nights

Stricktly speaking, the Sun only remains above the horizon in summer nights north of the Arctic Circle (66º N), for some weeks, until the Pole - for some months.

Nordkapp, Norway, 71º N - the most visited.

But sun-enlightened nights can be enjoyed since about 60º N latitude for a short period - the well-known Simmer Dim, visible in the Orkney, Shetland and Faröe islands, or anywhere by that latitude.

Fishing through the dimmed night, Orkney islands, 59º N.

In June, for example, the sun is above the horizon for over 18 hours, rising at 4 a.m. But it is still twilight for much of the night, as the sun only dips just below the horizon.
This period of not-quite darkness is known as the ‘simmer dim’, and some can't get asleep.

Dimmed twilight in the Shetlands by the end of June- a large festival usually takes place to celebrate those sleepless nights.

Kulusuk, Greeland, 65º N.

Deep night, Jan Mayen, 71º N.

Ny Ålesund, Svalbard islands, 79º N.

Lofoten, Norway, 67-68º N.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard, one of the most appreciated by cruise ship travellers, 78ºN.

And to help through the night...

They say it has the exact colour of the summer twilight.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Salekhard, on the Polar Circle -
an historic town in northern Siberia by 66º N

Salekhard is a Russian town located on the right bank of the Ob river, in the Yamal Peninsula, and right on the Polar circle, the 66th parallel.

Salekhard is also close to the northern Russian border between Europe and Asia, on the Asian side, on the east-southern foothills of the Ural Mountains.

Asia / Europe signpost

It's probably the most interesting arctic town in Russia, though its History has seen dark years of human misery during soviet times.

The main spots: 1- main square;  2 - Church of St. Peter and St. Paul; 3 - old town (Obdorsk)

Population: ~ 40 000
Coordinates: 66° 32′ N, 66° 36′ E

Does it look like 66º N

Recently enriched by natural gas sources, the city has been living a boom either in population growth and modern building, as also in public services. But in contrast with some dreadful gulag towns like the nearby Vorkuta, Salekhard keeps an historic heritage among the quirky colourful new buildings, avenues and green areas.

A local administration building - marriages usually take place here.

One of the few wooden houses in the centre.

Window with the city's iconic reindeer theme.

Salekhard was founded in 1595 as a Cossack fortress named Obdorsk, the first Russian settlements founded on the territory of Siberia. The town controlled most of the russian arctic trade, and the local mart was the largest in Western Siberia. By the end of the 18th century, Obdorsk had lost its importance and was mostly demolished.

In the 19th century, Obdorsk became a trade settlement for furs of sable, polar fox, fox, ermine, squirrel and muskrat. Fishery has also been well developed in thanks to richness of fish species in Ob river.

Salekhard acquired its name only in 1933; the word derives from “Sale-Khard”, Nenets meaning “settlement on a cape".

Church of St Peter and St Paul.

Designed by German architect Gottlieb Zinke, it was completed in 1894 and was then the only stone (brick) building in town.

Built on permafrost, this 'polar' temple's golden dome is visible from far.

Pouring warm light in the frosty polar night:

Obdorsk Ostrog 

Obdorsk Fortress is the remains of the first Russian settlement in Siberia.

Obdorsk Ostrog

The fortress was a small quadrangle, with two observation towers. Inside, the Vasilyevsky church, made of wood, from 1602.

Somehow, this is the 'Salekhard Kremlin'.

The Vasilyevsky wooden church from 1602

Obdorskij Ostrog was under restoration, and opened in September 2006 in its historic location.

The Salekhard-Igarka Railway

In the early 1950s, Salekhard was one of the main base stations for the construction of the Salekhard–Igarka Railway, to complete the connection of Murmansk and Arckangelsk to Chukotka in the far-east.

Essentially, this was a make-work project for approximately 60 -120 000 labourers (mostly political prisoners).
Stalin's idea was to build a railroad for the transportation of nickel from the large Norilsk mines to a practicable shipping port - thus he'd improve Salekhard as an Artic Port city. The planned 1 297 km railway was to be part of  'Transpolar Mainline', a transcontinental rail link across northern Siberia to transform the region.

One gulag camp would build eastward from Salekhard; another would move westward from Igarka. A permanent rail line so far north makes no sense, as new tracks became embedded in permafrost or damaged by frost heaving. The conditions for the labourers were almost beyond comprehension: everything was built by hand with very little equipment. The rail lines themselves were not reinforced to deal with the permafrost in any way.

In summer, the marshes and swamps prevalent in the area gave rise to millions of mosquitoes, gnats, and parasites. Come winter, temperatures often plummeted to -60°C, and blizzards struck down many of the workers.

This allowed nature to destroy and reclaim much of what had been constructed in the tundra rather easily. Today, the remains of the railway are slowly fading back into the taiga; bridges, camps and empty villages have fallen into decay.

And Salekhard finally has a rail connection to the main network. In a civilized and clever manner.

Russian train passing the Euope-Asia border

Monument to Parallel 66, the arctic circle

The Fakel ('Torch') bridge, symbol of the Gas industry wealth

The flag of Salekhard - a proud black fox.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Akureyri, Iceland's second:
- cafés and a botanic garden

The first time I ever red the name of Akureyri was in a Tintin (Hergé's comic hero) adventure, "The Shooting Star":

Akureyri was a main setting, the dock was even roughly depicted:

But I could not guess then what a remote northern location that was.

Akureyri is in fact an important port and fisheries centre in northern Iceland. It is Iceland's second largest town, in an area that has been settled from the 9th century.

Population: ~18 000
Coordinates: 65°41′ N, 18°06′ W

Akureyri is at the end of the Eyjafjördur, the longest fjord in the island, and is surrounded by mountains reaching 1500 m. The Arctic Circle in only 60 km north of Akureyri but  the climate is generally mild, with summer temperatures up to 25°C and winter temperatures in average around 0˚C.

The seafront old wooden houses.

Innbærinn, the old town.

The climate in Akureyri is relatively mild due to geographical factors, and the city's ice-free harbor in the Eyjafjördur has played a significant role in its history.

Akureyri city center, Hafnarstræti - the main street.

'Bláa Kannan' coffee house, right in the center.

The 'Blaa Kannan', in Hafnarstræti.

Windows of 'Blaa Kannan'

Shops in Hafnarstræti include Eymundsson bookstore:

Eymundsson book store, one of the town's places of culture.

The Turninn kiosk, a distinctive landmark.

Old Akureyri

The core of the town's character can be found in the Old Town of Akureyri - called Innbærinn.

Akureyri theater, a beautiful wooden building, built in 1906.

Several old timber houses participate in the town's relaxed atmosphere.

Aðalstræti 16

The docks

During the summer there are several festivals in Akureyri and its surroundings - as the medieval festival held every summer at Gásir, or the Akureyri Music Festival, for example. Akureyri has one of the largest libraries in the country. And besides a robust cultural scene, the town also has reputable restaurants, like RUB 23:

RUB 23, on Kaupvangsstræti

Another is the Bryggjan, by the fjord's waters, on Strandgata, the harbour promenade:

Bryggjan, a wooden house built in 1878.

The building's history is an inherent part of  Akureyri, being the oldest house on the harbour promenade.

The Botanical Gardens

Lystigarður Akureyrar, in the vicinity of Akureyri, are the most northerly botanical gardens in the world. Located about 45 feet above the waters of the Eyjafjörður and just about 50 km south of the Arctic Circle .

Founded in 1910, it's the first public park in Iceland. Besides being a place of peace and tranquility, the garden has been testing shrubs, trees and other plants surviving conditions at the edge of the Arctic.

Delphinium, in several varieties

Kaffi Björk

This recently built café displays a large window with a wooden frame that mirrors the tree trunks in the garden.

Large cruise ships became frequent visitors in the harbour - visiting the city and its fabulous surroundigns, like the fjord, the mountains and the famous Goðafoss

The town seems so small in comparison...

Goðafoss waterfall