Be stunned, be there!
La Dolce Vita investigates the Aurora Borealis
There comes a time in life when it’s worth re-assessing priorities. Once the family is off doing their own thing there’s a little more time and probably no one to please, especially, except oneself. At this time, fulfilling long held ambitions should be a must in my book. Commentators talk about the third age gap year, I think of it more as a subtle shift in perspective that’s a product of experience. Also, time away from routine can effect a very welcome diversion.
Perhaps if you combine a break in the everyday, with travel to beautiful places and the opportunity to experience a phenomenon of breath taking magnificence, then I might even suggest you may well be looking at something positively life changing.
Last year I made just such a decision and booked a trip to experience the Aurora Borealis which was on my own ‘must do’ list. It needed ticking off sooner rather than later I thought. So I plumped for Finland. In addition I felt I could tackle the post-Christmas blues by setting off on my travels in late January. In fact any time between September and April is ideal to witness this particular natural spectacle and 2012 just happened to be a year of unusual sunspot activity.
For those who didn’t concentrate at school, which was me I hasten to add, the sun’s activity can be assessed by the number of sunspots we can actually see which have released energy into space. The more energy generated the more dramatic a spectacle in our skies.
However, like everything natural, the Northern Lights vary and are, in fact, cyclical. Research tells us that solar activity usually goes in an 11 year cycle. Luckily this has been increasing since 2008 so I can only suggest will be a great time to book your trip.
Of course, for me there was research of all kinds to do both in terms of the phenomenon itself and also the best package to book. That’s not all, as a single traveller I wanted to ensure it was a holiday with an element of socialising too. There is certainly a market for single travel and I think it has lost its previously negative connotations. After all there are 101 reasons for wishing to travel solo and it’s not usually to do with having a lonely heart!
Therefore spending time with interesting people who shared a passion for what we had all come to witness is a recipe for some fantastic evenings and I recommend this kind of adventure heartily. If seeing the Northern Lights is something you wish to explore it seems this is no longer intrepid explorer territory; it is open to all.
I soon discovered there are so many ways of viewing the Aurora Borealis and you have a wealth of destinations to choose from too. Iceland, Norway, Finland, Northern Canada, Alaska, for example, are all sites where watching the Aurora Borealis is truly spectacular.
Travel companies are taking their responsibilities very seriously and you can go Northern Lights chasing like I did or you can perhaps participate in a leisurely cruise which will allow you to watch the display in relative comfort. In fact, a cruise allows one to evade light pollution which does so much to diminish the display. But local knowledge plays a large part in ensuring travellers see what they have travelled miles to experience and I was lucky enough to be with people who knew the hot spots.
Cloud cover too can be a difficult thing to evade of course; Icelanders call the Northern Lights ‘The Temperamental Lady; you can decide why for yourself and I make no comment! Yet if you do make the effort to go in search of this incredible natural spectacle you will experience so much, not least the clear air and that feeling of being in the presence of something other worldly. I did feel extremely small and insignificant it must be said, but some would say that is not a bad thing!
However, it’s not all about nature; modern technology is being harnessed to make the very best of the experience and in Finland, for example there is a Geophysical Observatory in Sodankylä which sends messages to tourists just when the night sky is going to be at its best. This necessitates jumping up from whatever you are doing, wrapping up warm and stepping out under the night sky. Never has a text message been quite this exciting and I was rewarded by some stunning displays. It really did feel like being jolted awake in the crisp night air for something I may well never experience again in my lifetime.
Standing with my head back as far as I was able, I finally understood how the Aurora Borealis forms when solar winds come up against the Earth’s magnetic field. Particles and dust are snagged and brought down until they collide with gases in the Ionosphere causing the distinctive glow of the Northern lights. There you see, I was concentrating but then it was exhilarating!
I also discovered why the light glows in such different colours; that’s down to the types of gas. The most dramatic is high altitude oxygen which gives a blue or red display or Aurora as they are called. I would have been a scientist if physics lessons had been anything like that and as a consequence of my trip I have developed a passion and thirst for knowledge on this subject which is a lasting legacy.
I enjoy holidays and there was a time when lazing by the pool with a stack of books was my idea of a break and all I needed. But these days I want more. Perhaps it’s the thought of time’s winged chariot at my heels or the fact I am looking for something to add to my life experience rather than simply being an escape from it.
I know, having seen the Aurora Borealis, my life will never be quite the same. And life has taught me how to appreciate the moment rather than always looking for the next hit.