A pristine Eden of mountain peaks, glacial structures and pretty much every shade of blue known to man, this winter wonderland sometimes seems too beautiful to be real. Polar bears, whales, reindeers and walruses dot the ice-strewn land and seascapes while wildflowers bloom on the inland plains. Come the seasonal equinoxes, AuroraBorealis throws up its dazzling display of lights. On some summer nights the sun never sets. Enchanting, stark and about as remote as you can get while crossing parts of eight countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland,Greenland, Russia, Canada and the USA – the Arctic Circle really is poles apart from the typical travel experience.
Unlike Antarctica with its vast penguin colonies that require nothing of the explorer but a beach landing, the Arctic rewards a hunter-like patience and persistence. Standing on deck, warm in your layers, eyes trained on the distance as an infinity of pack ice slips by like time, the jubilation you feel when you, or the keenest spotter aboard, ultimately cries “bear!” is exponential. Or you’re hiking across the spare expanse of tundra on Spitsbergen’s coast, thrilled by a simple close encounter with some curious reindeer, expecting nothing more than the sight of seabirds circling overhead—and suddenly a surprise party of beluga whales cruises the beach.Itineraries, route-lined maps—nature acknowledges neither. Heading out on any of the expeditions detailed on the following pages, as our 50+ years of polar experience has taught us, means always being willing to accept those moments when the Arctic veils or unveils its breathtaking beauty. We may find the opening to a destination fjord blocked by ice. Or a felt-thick fog might settle and slow the ship’s pace to a cautious crawl. And suddenly, like a cape-clad magician, the Arctic will—voila!—open a lead bristling with narwhal tusks, or send the sunburning through to reveal floes studded with harp seals, as far as the eye can see—a moment of such solemn splendour no one on the entire ship can speak.
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