Friday, 28 September 2012

Aurora! How and Where to Find the Northern Lights

How to find Northern Lights - green auroraThe Search For the Northern Lights: Where, When, and What Are They? 

Beautiful glowing lights in the night sky - smudging streaks of colour, snaking along underneath the stars... What are the Northern Lights? 

The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon taking place in the dark skies of the polar regions, around the winter months - approximately October to March in the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern hemisphere experiences the same phenomenon in the Antarctic regions, visible at the opposite time of year but less accessible.

The proper name for this incredible phenomenon is Aurora Borealis or Aurora Australis for the Aurora in the Southern hemisphere. It takes place around the winter months because that is when the skies become dark enough to see them.

How to find Northern Lights - green auroraBecause of the latitude of the polar regions, the sun doesn't really set in the summer, and doesn't really rise in winter. In the peak of summer the sun never sets in places above the arctic circle, and when it eventually does set the darkest hours are merely twilight. Hence the reason you can't see the lights until the winter when the darkness sets in.

The Northern Lights are caused by solar flares from the sun. Particles from significant flares are sometimes pulled into the Earth's atmosphere by our magnetic field and as this is centred at the poles, the particles enter the atmosphere around these points. The lights are caused by the electric particles reacting in various gasses in layers of the atmosphere. The various colours of the Northern lights depends on which layer of the atmosphere they are reacting with.

Green is the most common Aurora, along with white, then red. They can also be yellow, pink or turquoise in colour.

Best Places to Find the Northern Lights

The Arctic has a much more forgiving climate than the Antarctic (although still harsh and unpredictable) and it has much more land, settlement and development, therefore we will focus on places in the Northern polar region. That said, you may be able to see the 'Southern Lights' in the Southern Hemisphere from the South of New Zealand's South Island, South Australia and Southern Patagonia in South America (Argentina and Chile).

In the Northern Hemisphere's polar region (The Arctic) You can commonly see the Northern Lights in the areas around the Arctic circle, and a few hundred miles South of it. You can see the Northern lights in the following countries - some more accessible than others:


More expensive to fly to from the UK, but not as expensive as Scandinavia once you're there. Spectacular lakes and scenery. Very cold, usually dry atmosphere (less damp).


Alaska (U.S.)

Again, more expensive flights, but cheaper than Scandinavia for hotels, trips and general economy. Very cold, usually dry atmosphere (less damp).



The Northern half of Sweden is the place for the Northern Lights, especially Lappland. Cheap flights to Stockholm from the UK and trains and flights to the North are not too expensive. Typically expensive Scandinavian economy, but high standard of living. Some good places with less likely cloud cover - such as Abisko, see below in the 'Where I have Seen the Northern Lights' section.

Unspoilt landscape with hundreds of lakes, rivers and forests. Very cold, usually dry atmosphere (less damp).



Again, you need to go North to see the lights, preferably above Trondheim. Cheap flights to Oslo from the UK and train and flight infrastructure within Norways is good. Norway's budget airline Norwegian Air is good for getting to the North. Typically expensive Scandinavian economy, but high standard of living. Norway has a slightly worse exchange rate than Sweden and is more expensive for car hire. Spectacular mountains and fjords, but beware of more likely cloud cover. Not quite as harshly cold as some of the other countries due to the long coastline and proximity to the sea.

For more information on Arctic Sweden and Norway, visit my Arctic Scandinavia Article



Some cheap flights to Helsinki from the UK and trains and flights to the North are easy enough to arrange. Typically expensive Scandinavian economy, but high standard of living. Some good places with less likely cloud cover. Beautiful lakes and trees, as well as wildlife. Very cold, usually dry atmosphere (less damp).



Cheap flights to Reykjavik from the UK and flights to the North are not too expensive. Iceland has a budget airline called Iceland Express. Typically expensive Scandinavian economy, but high standard of living. A surprisingly mild climate due to the Gulf Stream which also keeps the UK mild. Unspoilt scenery reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, fascinating geysers and volcanic activity including geothermal pools for swimming (e.g. the Blue Lagoon). Very changeable weather, often more damp nearer the coastline. Much colder in the interior.

For more information on Iceland visit my Iceland article



Harder to access, not such as great infrastructure in the North. Off the beaten path appeal, but areas like Siberia are very wild and untouched to the point of inhospitality. Very harsh climate.



Very hard to access in the winter months. Very harsh climate. Usually only organised tours.

Faroe Islands (Denmark)

South of Iceland, North of Shetland Islands. Very changeable weather, often damp and snow is not around for long.

It is also possible to see the Northern Lights from the North of Scotland, especially the Shetland Islands. Wherever you go, the Northern Lights are generally brighter and more directly above you in the sky the further North you go.

Best Conditions for Seeing the Northern Lights 

Crisp, cold nights - the coldest nights with the most 'crisp' air are the ones which appear to make the Northern Lights more likely. This may be because there is less mist or cloud on nights like these, but either way, a night like this is a good night for the Aurora.

Clear sky - cloud cover makes the Northern Lights nearly impossible to see. I have personally seen them from beneath a thick cloud but it has to be very bright for that to even be possible. Also, although it is still unsusal, it's not nearly as impressive.

To see the bright colours, streaky patterns and ethereal movement of the Aurora you need to see as much clear sky as possible.

New moon (no moon) - The moonlight drowns out or 'dilutes' the Northern Lights as it reduces the darkness in the sky (and therefore the contrast). Avoid a full moon and if possible go when there is a new moon. I have seen the Northern lights with a full moon hiding behind a mountain, which helped, but without any strong moonlight at all, the Northern Lights will be much stronger. If it is a full moon, the good thing is that you'll be able to see the landscape and scenery alot better in the 'polar night' (the name for the seemingly endless dark twilight which prolongs throughout the day in the Arctic winter).

Dark sky - Avoid city lights or street lights of any kind as they also drown out the Northern Lights. The good thing is that in the Arctic, outside major cities, there is rarely too much civilization, so the dull orange glow that we are so familiar with here in the UK is easily avoided by driving out into any sort of wilderness. Organised Northern Lights tours usually get away from cities and towns for this reason.

Hours around midnight - These hours are the most likely for seeing the Northern Lights because the 'Aurora belt' passes over the

11-year cycle - The solar flares (which are responsible for making the Northern Lights happen) reach a peak every 11 or so years. This peak is predicted around 2013 so we are coming up to it this winter! This means the Northern Lights should take place more often, more brightly, and they may be seen in more places (i.e. further South, even as far as England).

How to find Northern Lights - moonlit sky with clouds
Full moon and clouds - this doesn't bode well for a sighting of the Northern Lights!

Where I have seen the Northern Lights!

Abisko National Park, Lappland, Sweden

Some places are more likely to experience cloud cover due to mountains, sea and general geographic reasons. A place called Abisko in Sweden lies in a 'rain shadow' meaning that the surrounding mountains catch the rain clouds, often leaving clear skies in the flat expanse near the wide frozen river. This is an excellent place for good chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

The Abisko village (Part of the Bjorkliden area) has a tourist station and coffee shop/restaurant at the top of one of the mountains, with a cable car ride to the top (including hire of Arctic jumpsuits and boots, and an Aurora talk in the information and display room). There is also great accommodation options - cabins and hostels, at the 'Turiststation'

For nearby accommodation, Northern lights info, and skiing info visit the Bjorkliden website 

Iceland - Golden Circle

When the moon is full, it can drown out the Northern Lights, and if they are not very strong, you won't see them. The low mountains in Iceland around the Reykjavik area are good for hiding the moon but still allowing a good view of the sky (when the moon is low).

I saw the Northern Lights in exactly this way the first time I saw them. I was worried the full moon would be a problem for viewing the lights, but it was meant to be. A low mountain hid the moon from view and sure enough Richard and I caught sight of the lights in the rear-view mirror of the car as we were driving along towards Thingvellir from Geysir (on the Golden Circle tourist trail an hour or so outside Reykjavik).

For my story about the first time I saw the Northern Lights, see this blog post

Bardufoss, Norway - near the Snowman Ski Resort at Malselv

Higher up on the mountainside, driving the E8 - also signposted as the 'Northern Lights Route' we pulled over as soon as I announced to my friends 'there it is!' after just having been in the car about half an hour. The green stripe spread across the sky and very soon we were watching in awe as the bright shapes were spreading and swirling directly overhead!

Above all, remember a sighting of the Northern Lights cannot be scheduled or guarranteed - that is a big part of the magic! Make sure you have other things to look forward to on your winter holiday, such as husky sledding, skiing, reindeer trips, etc, and the Northern Lights may or may not show, just wait and see...!

Text, Images and Videos Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

Friday, 21 September 2012

English East Coast: Southwold and Gorleston Seaside Resorts Thriving in the September Sun

Southwold colourful chalets - pretty town on the East coast with blue flag beach

Weekend on the English East Coast of Norfolk and Suffolk: Southwold and Gorleston in the Surprise September Sun. Clean and Sandy Beaches, Colourful Beach Chalets, and Boutique Art Galleries

The East Coast of England often comes with a complimentary chilly wind whatever the time of year but with the right clothes it is a delightful, often sunny place. This sunny weekend in September however, saw hundreds of British holidaymakers out in force to enjoy a particularly hot and sunny few days on the wide, sandy beaches of the East Coast.

Southwold-On-Sea, Suffolk: Lively, Upmarket Seaside Resort on the English East Coast

Southwold is a quaint, historic (and upmarket) town in Suffolk. Property is sky high, but why wouldn't it be? The long sandy beach has a blue flag status, making it one of the cleanest in the area, the streets are lined with upmarket shops and boutiques, and there are so many many varied attractions here to enjoy. 
The delightful little shops and restaurants in the town include boutique art galleries featuring stunning general art and scultpures as well as art pieces inspired by the local seascapes.
The colourful chalets along the beachfront, each with their own theme and name, give Southwold seafront its own unique feel.

The Southwold Pier houses a quirky mix of shops and handmade funny games machines. See the solar powered moving signs, and the view of the town, beach and colourful chalets is great.   
Make sure you have arranged a lift home after a trip to the Adnams brewery - the free samples you will experience are apparently very generous! Book in advance for this tour as it is very popular. More information on the Adnams Website - Brewery and Distillery
The late 1800s lighthouse is an iconic image of this town, seen on many a postcard and magnet. A 20 minute tour is possible depending on weather conditions. Phone Trinity House on 01502 722576 to book in advance.
The Southwold Museum focusses on local and naturual history of the area. It is on Victoria Street and is £3.00 per person to enter.

Gorleston beach - clean, wide sandy beach on East coast in the sunGorleston, Norfolk: Quaint and Upmarket Seaside Location on the English East Coast

The wide, sandy expanses of Gorleston beach in the South of Norfolk, just South of Great Yarmouth, are a great place to stroll and unwind. On a particularly warm and sunny day like this one, it is a great place to take a dip and sunbathe! The clean beach has a promenade higher up on the land where there are lots of well-maintained sports areas including tennis courts, an obstacle course, pitch and putt golf, and the customary bowls lawn!

Down on the waterfront there is also a wide path. At the Northern end of the beach near the quay, there is a water pool used for motorised remote-controlled minature boats - some of which are so advanced and ornate they can't just be called 'toys'. In this area there is a small collection good cafes and pubs including one restaurant with excellent views of the beach. It has an outside decking area with heat lamps, and a protective glass barrier.

Text, Images and Videos Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Edinburgh Fringe and an Extremely Insightful, Interactive Performance

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Interactive Performance - street performance colourful outfit.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival can only be described as a frenzy of drama, display and interactive performance, all mixed in with some colourful weirdness and social imagination...

Edinburgh Fringe Festival - Interactive Performances. Outdoors in busy streetSome may find all this performance and obscenity just a little too awkward or just plain weird. However you can't knock it until you've tried it and the atmosphere is just something you can't miss.

One particular 'site-specific performance' I saw this year offered a fantastic and entertaining insight into the interpretation of the all-too-common employment let-downs and job interview failures.

'Would Be Nice Though' (link below) was expertly written and performed by Odd Comic (Holly Bodmer and Dot Howard), and features an unusal start to the performance events, in an unusal setting. The almost abstract montage of scenarios and interpretations of the harsh world of employment are played out with a very small, intimate audience. The performance is emotive and accurate, whilst being funny and touching at the same time. It is truly unique and so very entertaining.

This performance may be performing in other various locations - check out this website for details about performances in Norwich in October.

Would Be Nice Though - By Holly Bodmer and Dot Howard

The Edinburgh Fringe is definitely a very unique experience, in an equally unique and beautiful city. This should definitely go on the top ten list of festivals around the world, or travel entertainment experiences.  

Edinburgh Accommodation Suggestions

The Harborough Apartments at Ocean Terminal, near Leith are within easy access by bus to the City Centre (approx 5 mins). They are clean, spacious and stylish with gym and pool access included (at the time of writing). For use during festival season book early.

Student accommodation is available at the Universities througout the festival season, which enables self-catering also. Check out the university websites, or

Eating out in Edinburgh

During festival time most restaurants in the centre do not take bookings, just show up and most waiting times are around half an hour, to an hour. There are some excellent foodstands in the street also, and an enormous amount of choice available.

A good restaurant I would reccommend for its unusual menu and tasty quality food is the Buffalo Grill on Chapel Street in Newington - a few streets from Holyrood Park. There is also a Buffalo Grill at Rabeburn Place, near Stockbridge.

Other Edinburgh Sights and Activities

There is a whole host of exciting things to do in this stunning city. My Edinburgh page provides more info.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Phantom Seasickness and The Night Ferry (Ways to Cope With Nausea at Sea)

view of mountains from ferry (Corsica)






A Seasickness Phobic's Ferry Journey to Corsica

I wake up from a shallow sleep. It's pitch black and I have no idea what the time is. I don't feel drowsy at all, in fact I can't believe I'd even been asleep. The ferry's been swaying for a while and it's gotten worse. I knew I shouldn't have eaten those chips - God, how long ago was that? I have no idea. It can't be more than 8 hours - that's the length of this crossing to Savona from Corsica. It will surely be over soon. I lie on my side and close my eyes, trying to will myself to remember I'm safe, upright, and just in a lovely little ensuite cabin on night time mediterranean seas, rocking gently with the calm waves. There's nothing at all to worry about. I'll feel more sick if I keep thinking about it, so I'd better suck it up. For goodness sake I just need to go back to sleep.

I roll over angrily. I hold the edge of the pillowcase I brought along for comfort and will myself back to sleep. It's no good, the swaying is getting worse and I'm wide awake now. My heart hammers in my chest, I just want to get off.

I sit up feeling my stomach rumble. There's a lump in my throat and I'm wishing we had just flown to Corsica. What was I thinking going on a ferry journey this long! No, don't be stupid. Tomorrow when we're driving to Turin I'll feel totally different. I wouldn't change the route we've taken for the world, it's been fantastic. But oh God how I want to get off this boat... My stomach lurches as the ferry seems to sway more violently. I call Richard's name through the darkness.

"I need to find a window, I'm sorry, I can't do this."
"Oh no worries, give me a second and I'll come."
"No! Stay there, I'll be fine, you need the sleep, you have so much driving to do tomorrow."

I leave the cabin before Richard can argue, fumbling for the keys and my pillowcase. A long well-lit corridor. I turn off to the left, more doors. I turn back and go right. More doors. I carry on, staircase. I climb up, closed door, private. I go back down and carry on. I climb more stairs, reception. No windows anywhere. I just need to see the water and I have no idea why. The more I can't find a window the more I need one...

I hear people - young lads. Oh God I look a mess, and I have a blankie! How pathetic but I just don't care, I need to see the water. I'm so dizzy and I'm so scared. I can feel my face crumpling and all I can see are corridors and stairs. The further I get from our cabin the more likely I am to get lost, so I turn back the way I came, panicking at the sight of the sheer amount of alarmingly similar corridors. The doors are green but I thought they were blue. God, I'm delirious with fear. No - wrong floor. I go down. Blue doors. I look at the cabin numbers. Way off. I turn left and the swaying gets worse. Finally, 115. I stick the key in the lock and with relief I see Richard in his bed.

"I can't find a window" I hear myself whine.
"Ok, ok, I'm up."
"I'm sorry!"
"It's ok, don't worry" Richard sounds so kind.

He shoves on some jeans and comes with me back to the reception area and we climb some stairs that I didn't try. Up to some glass doors and at last, black windows splashed with salty seawater. We open the doors and head out onto the outside deck. There's still lots of people in the little pool, and milling around by the bar. All smiling, all having a good time. What's wrong with me? Although I feel better almost instantly, the minute I hold on to the edge and stare down into the frothing water. The dark horizon is tilting, but so much less than the one in my imagination.

After a little time outside we head back inside and sit down. I accept the rhythm of the swaying and see that it hasn't gotten any worse, so I agree to go back to bed. With heavy eyes we traipse back along the corridors and climb back into the covers. I can do this. I can do this. The beds are so narrow but Richard comes in with me. I fall asleep almost straight away.
I sleep right through until the piano music wakes us up in the morning on arrival at the port. I did it!

Cabin on ferry to Corsica


Ways to Cope With Nausea at Sea

'Mind over matter', 'psychological', 'all in your head'... Whatever you hear people say about your seasickness, they are probably not far wrong if they are coming out with annoyingly understated comments like this!

When you feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseous at sea, it is because your inner ear's ability to sense balance is being thrown into a whirlpool of confusion:

The cochlear fluid is swimming around and the inner ear expects a visual scene to match the swishing, topsy-turvy-ness. This is why it often helps, or even aleviates the symptoms, if you see the horizon. This reminds your senses where (and how much) the boat is swaying, and therefore your sense of balance and sight match up with the same expectations which can stop the nauseous, dizzy feeling.

When you're concentrating on the dizzyness or swaying you can make yourself care about it too much:

Find something that distracts you. This has to be something you really care about though. Take a book you just can't put down, or take some sort of addictive game. Or even read the travel/holiday guide of the place you're travelling to. On a ferry when I'm not trying to sleep I'm usually reading a gripping book I can't put down. (Examples of these below, with links! Highly reccommended!


I'm sure you know all about Fifty Shades of Grey and it's almost irritating addictiveness.

Room is a fantastic story all about a young boy of five years old who is born in the captivity of a shed and all he knows is his captive mother and their meagre belongings. It is written from the boy's perspective and the storyline is consistently addictive, alarming and gripping.


When the ferry's swaying badly it can help to stand in the centre of the boat:

This is the part which sways the least, and also the lower down you are on the boat, the less movement/swaying you feel - avoid the top deck if it feels worse up there.   

Ways to cope with nausea at sea and seasickness on a ferry. Night ferry to Corsica. Ways to cope with fear of boats

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Travel Novels: Inspiring and Gripping Fiction Books Set in Unusual and Beautiful Places

Greek Church at sunset. Travel novels - inspiring fiction stories set in strange countries







For new insight into extremely unusual and mysterious parts of the world, read these gripping novels. Be inspired about new places to travel to, and see them from a totally different point of view.

FACT 1: I've still never been to the actual places these books are set in

FACT 2: I haven't been able to stem the flow of travel ideas and inspiration I've experienced since reading books like these

FACT 3: I've now visited places I never thought would be on my list

FACT 4: I still need to visit the actual places these books are set in...

Sun at Midnight - Rosie Thomas

Antarctic wilderness, totally undiscovered, freezing and stunning waste at the end of the world. This novel features a scientist's unexpected and lengthy visit to Antarctica and the relationships she forms with diverse people she encounters at the research station. Excellent plot with surprising twists and turns. Gripping and highly descriptive.

Click image to buy this book (U.K.)

Click image to buy this book (U.S.)
This novel inspired me to visit the frozen wilderness of Arctic Scandinavia and experience such an untouched natural beauty, almost totally deviod of human life. I now desperately want to visit the even more severe and unimaginably vast Antarctica (the Southern arctic) in summer, see the midnight sun, and stay long enough to appreciate such a wild place. It's the contrast between the purity, vastness and simplicity of the Antarctic waste with the rest of the teeming world that attracts me to have an enduring experience in Antarctica.

(See my articles on Iceland and Arctic Scandinavia)


The Mermaid and The Drunks - Ben Richards

Colourful, emotional and unpredictable Chile, beautfiul and mysterious, evocative and passionate. This novel focusses on a British young lady's return to her heritage home of Chile, and the drama she encounters on her Chilean travels as she meets people caught up in mysterious troubles, as she discovers her own parents' history. The novel evokes a dramatic, stunning and slightly frightening country with an addictive passion.

Click image to buy this book (U.K.)

Click image to buy this book (U.S.)

This novel has inspired me to visit Chile but this plan has now evolved into Argentina as I want to see the Perito Moreno glacier and Argentine Patagoina. It's the South American passion I also desperately want to experience and The Mermaid and The Drunks totally sells this to me.


The Island - Victoria Hislop

Historic and traditional Greek Islands, steeped in heritage. Complex stories from the past etched onto the arid and mediterranean landscape. The Island is a truly gripping story, capturing heart-wrenching and touching parts of life on Crete and its leper colony Spinalonga during the 30s, 40s and 50s. Very real and complex characters with almost tangible relationships and emotions. The intimate link between the people, their traditions and their land is beautifully realised.

Click image to buy this book (U.K.)
Click image to buy this book (U.S.)
I read The Island whilst I was in Kefalonia. The landscape and general 'Greekness' just made the experience even more rich for me, and I can't wait to book a trip to Crete, amongst all my other travel plans. The island of Spinalonga is possible to visit and is apparently just as Victoria Hislop describes.

(See my article on Kefalonia)



Stolen - Deborah Moggach

Manic, colourful and desperately heart-wrenching Pakistan. Mysterious, magical and dangerous. This is a novel that will simply capture your heart. Incredible insight into the experience of two young English children stolen by their Pakistani father and taken against their will to Pakistan. This descriptive and emotional story follows the English mother's journey to Pakistan, and her incessant and dramatic search for her treasured young children, through the melee of the city of Karachi.

Click image to buy this book (U.K.)
Click image to buy this book (U.S.)

I have definitley been inspired to visit this stunning, exciting and dangerous place, however the safety aspect is preventing me at this moment in time. I am half Pakistani and have never visited so it would be very interesting and enlightening, however this is perhaps best saved for a time in the future when it will hopefully be less of a volatile place, or a time when I have a little more experience of places like this.


About Grace - Anthony Doerr

Two amazing places: Wild, severe Alaska, and blissful St Vincent in the Carribbean. This novel follows the life of a father who flees his beloved infant little girl Grace and her mother due to a terrible premonition that he will play a hand in Grace's death whatever he does unless he never sees them again. The novel follows the main character David from his home in wonderfully magical Alaska to the colourful, tropical paradise of the Carribbean. These fantastic locations are so well entwined with the story you feel like you're right there with the lovable characters.  

Click image to buy this book (U.K.)

Click image to buy this book (U.S.)
This book has added to my love of the arctic, but also it inspired me to visit the Carribbean. Logistics of weather and hurricanes lead me to visit Aruba instead (it lies just outside of the hurrican belt) however the bubbly character and warm soul of Aruba is just as infectious as I imagine any other Carribbean island to be, each with its own originality. 

(See my article on Aruba)


The Kashmir Shawl - Rosie Thomas

Magical, unfamiliar, teeming India, and the mysterious and foreboding lands of Tibet. A recent and popular novel, this fantastic story takes its reader on a journey to India with a young Welsh lady on a quest to find out the unknown and beautiful story of her Grandparents' life in India as missionaries during the second world war. The experience of these wonderful and magical places through the character's encounters adds to the reader's sense of atmosphere and reality. The traditions, landscapes and cultures are beautifully captured and described.

Click image to buy this book (U.K.)

Click image to buy this book (U.S.)
I am desperate to visit Tibet and experience the mystery and spirituality. It is way up high on my list!


Travel-inspiring, gripping novels featuring strange and beautiful places and countries.