I’m Going to the Arctic Circle!

On board a Quark Expedition ship (photo courtesy of Quark)

This week, my laptop died.

I was mid-sentence at the time, hovering over which new Spotify playlist to accompany writing a chapter about Peru when suddenly my screen went black. No amount of frantic clicking would wake it up again.

But while I panicked, half-sobbing on my orange fluffy carpet (evidently I was too distraught to remain sitting on a chair), a long-dormant part of my brain spoke up.

“What the hell are you so upset about?” it said, calmly. Because although laptop death is one of the biggest concerns in my current hermit-writer state, there have been so many moments in my life when I couldn’t care less about my computer’s functionality.

Puppy on girl's chest

When puppies in the Ecuadorian jungle choose to nap on you, there’s nothing else more important. Not even computer access.

It’s a strange contradiction that writing a memoir about five years of my travels has required me to sit tight in London for the best part of two months and type from morning till night. From San Francisco to India to Bolivia to Cuba (and with lots of other places in between) I’ve relived the most dramatic stories of my adventures abroad in a crazily quick space of time, and it’s been nothing short of intense.

But a few days ago I finally wrapped up my first draft. All 120,000 words of it. And with that comes a reward I’ve been anticipating for too long, which most certainly doesn’t revolve around owning a functioning computer.

Sailing from Edinburgh to the Arctic Circle! 

Last spring I entered National Geographic’s Travel Writing Competition and thought nothing of it, until a congratulating email from the magazine’s editor informed me that I’d actually won. The prize, a trip to the Arctic with Quark Expeditions, wasn’t scheduled to leave until June 2015: so far ahead in my calendar that for months I thought of it only as this beautiful, wonderful, but essentially unreal trip bubbling away in the background.

As the second year of my Masters programme amped up, I consciously decided to avoid thinking about the Arctic because, well, once I started to get excited I was pretty sure I’d get nothing else done. And of course that plan worked a little too well, because all of a sudden the trip is happening. RIGHT NOW.

Quark trip route, Scotland to Spitsbergen

So, the details. Once I step off the train in Edinburgh I’ll be boarding an expedition ship and sailing up the coast of Norway alongside around seventy other guests and a team of expedition leaders and crew.

For two weeks, we’ll spend each day stopping off at a different location: starting off with the historic Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands; crossing the North Sea and travelling along the Norwegian coast to the harbours of Bergen, Alesund, and Trondheim; then moving past the stunning dramatic landscapes of the Lofoten islands. I’m also stupidly excited to visit the eider ducks who live on Vega island and kindly donate their feathers to making eiderdown duvets (Fyi, they live in little personalised houses with their names on the door).

Because the ship is smaller than normal, we’ll be able to inch our way into Norwegian fjords and past huge flocks of Norway’s infamous bird species in zodiac boats – and then it’s into open water. Walruses and seabirds, the remnants of century-old mining sites, possible polar bear sightings (PLEASE keep your fingers crossed for that one) – and glaciers. So many glaciers.

Ocean Nova ship image-3 (photo: Quark Expeditions)

Image: Quark Expeditions

The ship we’ll be sailing on has a capacity of 73 guests – which I think is pretty small when you look at how big some of these ships can be – and I honestly have no clue who these seventy-odd people are likely to be.

Bird lovers and environmentalists; documentary filmmakers and keen photographers; those who’ve finally splurged on their once-in-a-lifetime trip, and other competition winners: all options are open, but I’m pretty certain it’ll be a fantastically diverse group who I’ll spend the next fortnight getting to know.

Circle of gloves in Reykjavik, Iceland

Exploring Svalbard: Norway’s claim to the Arctic Circle

The Quark trip ends when our boat reaches the settlement town of Longyearbyen on Svalbard – but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore this part of the world a bit further. While the majority of my shipmates pack up their cabins and fly back down to mainland Norway, I’ll be settling into a dorm room at the rather lovely-looking Gjestehuset 102 (who knew there’d be a hostel 1000km from the North Pole?).

Also known by its Dutch name of Spitsbergen, this Norwegian archipelago is pretty much the furthest north that non-Arctic expeditioners have the chance to visit. I’m going to spend five days wandering around the snowy streets, exploring the colourful houses, paying a cheeky visit to the Global Seed Bank, visiting old abandoned mining towns and riding snowmobiles.

And, if all goes to plan, trying my hand at sledging with huskies.

A flying visit to Oslo, Norway’s capital city

After I regrettably say goodbye to my first foray into the Arctic, I’ll fly down to Oslo for a fleeting visit. Two days in the capital city of Norway should be enough to speedily see as much as I possibly can before heading back to London to work on – you’ve guessed it – the second draft of my book.

Despite only being away for three weeks, I’ll also probably be sharing images from this trip for months to come. I get the feeling there are going to be a lot of them.

Oslo waterfront (photo: Free Tour Oslo)

Image: Free Tour Oslo

What this trip means to me

The furthest north I’ve ever travelled is to Iceland, where the landscapes are some of the most jaw dropping and humbling I’ve ever seen. The most alone I’ve ever been is on the Camino, where I discovered a connection to nature which I never knew I felt. And the most I know about the links between Scottish and Norse history, the wildlife of the Arctic, marine biology and geology is confined to a page of scribbled facts in my notebook.

I’m so excited to learn everything there is to know about this part of the world, and I couldn’t be in better company to do so, thanks to the frankly awe-inspiring collection of expedition team leaders onboard the ship.

Walruses and a Quark Expeditions ship - courtesy of Phil Wickens

Image: Phil Wickens

In their professional capacity, these guys include a geologist, glaciologist, ornithologist, and marine biologist; but from reading their brief biographies I also know they’re people with a love for Arctic light, and for the way that humans relate to the Arctic landscape. People passionate for the wild and the remote, with a fascination for the ice shelves and climate change. There’s a man who lived for three months in a frozen tent to study Antarctic penguins, and a woman who speaks five languages and helped put a ban on cluster bombs in Kabul (who just happens to be on board as a marine biologist).

My travelling style has always been about people. So despite this trip’s main focus being the natural world, I get the distinct impression I’ll be looking at it in conjunction with these people as the influencing force behind what I learn.

Zodiac and birds with Quark Expeditions (photo courtesy of Phil Wickens)

Image: Phil Wickens

This trip and its scope for education gives me shivers; that, and knowing just how deliciously insignificant I’m going to feel once I’m bobbing past a huge glacier in a tiny zodiac boat, or watching polar bears living out their lives on ice floes.

I can’t wait.

How can you follow along? 

As I’m clearly still social media obsessed, I’ll be sharing as much of the trip as possible when I have wifi (although it’s unlikely for the latter half of the boat trip). Instagram (@FloraBaker) and Snapchat (@ExplorerFlora) are my favourite networks to use at the moment, but if I get the chance to share actual stories they’ll be heading straight to my Facebook page.

And there’s also a chance I’m going to make an attempt at shooting some video while I’m on this trip, too. No idea how that’s going to pan out!

But above all, these three weeks are all about re-embracing my love for full-on, totally immersive travel. Who needs a laptop when you’ve got glaciers, right? So hold onto your thermal-lined hats, folks. Flora’s off to explore the Arctic!!

Flora holding an icicle, Iceland

Have you ever been to the Arctic Circle? Where’s the furthest north you’ve ever travelled?


About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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20 Responses to I’m Going to the Arctic Circle!

  1. Christine | The Traveloguer May 29, 2016 at 10:01 am #

    Sounds so amazing Flora! Congratulations and I look forward to reading all about it!

    • Flora June 25, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

      Thanks so much Christine! I have so much to write about the trip so stay tuned 🙂

  2. Paige Totaro May 29, 2016 at 1:17 pm #

    How amazing! Well-deserved win. Looking forward to following along.

    • Flora June 26, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

      Thanks Paige!

  3. DreamDiscoverItalia.com May 29, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    Wow, now that’s impressive!! Have a fantastic time and make sure you bring us along please!! Bon voyage!!

    • Flora June 27, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

      Thanks for the well wishes!

  4. LC May 29, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    Super happy for you and also super jealous as I long to go to Longbearyen! Some dudes from my work went up recently to file several reports on the Seedbank and changing climate. The reporter got to stroke the head of an unconscious polar bear. He’s the worst and the best. I hope you get to see one yourself! (Although in this case, probably preferably from a distance!)

    • Flora June 26, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

      Woah that must have been an intense experience! I tried to get to the Seedbank but sadly it was pretty off limits (except for the locked concrete door..) — and as for polar bears, all will be revealed soon…!

  5. Rachel Elizabeth May 29, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    EEEEEEE, that itinerary looks incredible! Congrats! Have a wonderful time, and I can’t wait to read all your posts.

    • Flora June 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

      Haha thanks so much Rachel!

  6. veena lives her life. May 30, 2016 at 4:47 am #

    This sounds amazing, and I cannot wait to read about it and see your photos. Have such a wonderful time, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for those polar bear sightings 🙂 xx

    • Flora June 27, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

      The polar bear hopes paid off!! Can’t wait to write about seeing them 🙂

  7. Kate May 30, 2016 at 7:05 am #

    Congratulations! Sounds like a fantastic adventure. Can’t wait to follow along!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • Flora June 27, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

      Thanks so much Kate!

  8. Leyla Giray Alyanak May 30, 2016 at 7:59 am #

    Congratulations – a well-deserved award made all the more meaningful by your enthusiasm! This got me thinking… I always THOUGHT I had crossed the Arctic Circle but I looked at a map… such disappointment! The closest I came was northern Labrador – in winter it certainly felt like the Arctic, which is where I might have allowed myself to be misguided. I’ll be following – you may be having all the fun, but it’ll be delightful to read about it.

    • Flora June 27, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      I think I’d be hard pushed not to be enthused about this trip, Leyla :p The Arctic Circle crossing is definitely a bit of a weird one – although it was a lot easier at sea because the captain officially announced it (complete with a toasting of champagne!)

  9. eternalarrival May 31, 2016 at 2:09 am #

    Wow, congrats! I’m super jealous — that sounds amazing! I did a trip to the Arctic Circle earlier this year – just three brief days in Kiruna & Abisko in Sweden. I saw the Northern Lights all three nights, which was totally out of this world, especially on the final night when they were dancing especially brightly and quickly. I met some travelers there who had just come from Norway and said it was insanely beautiful, especially Tromso and the Lofoten Islands. I can’t wait to see your pictures!

    • Flora June 27, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

      Your trip sounds fantastic! Alas there was no chance we’d see the Northern Lights as travelling above the Arctic Circle in June means perpetual sunshine – but that was just as surreal to experience 🙂

  10. Ladies what...travel (@LadiesWhat) May 31, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

    Sounds like such an amazing adventure Flora, hope you have a wonderful time and I can imagine at this stage this is a well needed break from the book. Look forward to following your adventures! K x

    • Flora June 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      Thanks so much Keri! It was definitely the perfect way to celebrate the last few months of book writing 🙂

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