Northern Lights Over Norway

El Sol, not satisfied with just doing his day job of bringing sunshine into our lives also adds light to our nights with colorful auroras over the northern and southern latitudes. This year the solar charged show is especially dramatic. Here are some picturess I took of the aurora borealis over Norway on New Year’s Day.

Graveyard Bingo

Shakespeare wrote, “I’ve come to bury Cesear not to praise him”, but there are tens of thousands of people every year who do just the opposite.  Long after the body has been buried, they show up at the graves of various celebrities to pay tribute and by their presence, in effect, praise the life of the departed.

Most of these pilgrimages to the grave sites of famous people are conducted by folks who’ve never bothered to visit the graves of their own relatives after the funeral.  And yet if they are in, say, Seattle then Jimi Hendrix fans will make an effort to locate the cemetery where he’s buried and drop by to see grave, and maybe leave some flowers or take a picture.

I was reminded of this second career as a tourist attraction that death provides for some celebrities when I recently visited the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where numerous famous people are buried, such as Oscar Wilde, Marcel Marceau, & Chopin.  In fact there are so many well known persons buried there, that you need a map to help you find them all.  Those maps are for sale, so  we bought one and played a kind of celebrity bingo trying to find all the celebrity tombstones.

It got me wondering which celebrity graves worldwide are the most visited, and also left me with questions about why we have such a strange fascination with going to the grave sites of people we’ve never met, and often people we never even saw in person, and sometimes people who were dead before we were even born.

Street Music in Estonia: Sounds of Freedom

I went to prison & I went to church, both voluntarily, in Tallinn, Estonia.  I also took in the performances of street corner musicians creating a soundtrack for a country relishing their freedom now that they are out from under the thumb of the Soviets.  I may have also started a church service or caused some people to reset their clocks when I climbed a bell tower & banged on one of the bells.

Sights & sounds from Tallinn include a guy wearing a mouse ears hat and singing, “Hound Dog”, a young woman giving street corner violin concerts for spare change, a dancing shrek, and a private tour of a former Soviet run prison, that stands as a vivid reminder of what life was like here before independance.

Froggie Went A-Courtin’

As beautiful as Gothic Cathedrals may be, I can only look at them so long before I start thinking I need a little wildlife viewing to spice up the day. That’s why on our recent trip to France, I got very excited when I heard the frogs croaking in the garden pond at our hotel.

The sun had already set so the light wasn’t good for filming, but it didn’t matter to me.  I got my camera and started shooting because I finally had some wildlife action to entertain me and I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass.

I decided to put some of the scenes from my day time sightseeing together with my evening frog encounter because there was a theme connecting the two, courtship and marriage, or as Bob Dylan sang it, “Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride, uh-huh.

Churches in Macedonia SRO

I like to discover new adventures whenever I travel.  When I heard the city of Ohrid, Macedonia claimed to have 365 churches, I knew I had found my next challenge.  365 churches meant you could go to a different one every day for a year, but I didn’t have a year.  I didn’t have a week.  I had one day.  I told my guide Jane Josifovski from Macedonia Experience, to skip the usual stops and let’s just go to churches, as many as we can in one day and find out how many we can visit.

Fortunately it wasn’t a Sunday because we didn’t have time for any sermons, just a hit and run experience.  Stop, grab a quick photo, go inside for a look around if possible, or in some cases just check out the exterior and move on to the next one.  I soon learned that what qualifies as a church is in some cases more like a religious shrine, with no way to go inside.  But there was always a cross and usually a religious image or icon, and a place to offer prayers.  Some were in big buildings, some were in caves, but in none was there a place for the congregation to sit down.  No pews, none.  In these Eastern Orthodox Churches it’s standing room only even if they aren’t full.

This is the story of my day of church going as told on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend” complete with a little gospel piano backup.  It’s an adventure that may take care of all my church going needs for the next decade.

Caving in Macedonia

To borrow an old description, me trying to explore the Gornaslatinska Cave in Macedonia was like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle.  Thankfully I had some good kneepads because there was a lot of crawling under stalactites and over bat guano to squeeze through the seriously dark, wet, bat poop covered claustrophobic spaces.  We talk about the adventure this week with my guide Stole Misev on my radio show National Geographic Weekend.

Macedonia Moonshine

Drinking home brew in Macedonia. Rakija is the favorite social lubricant in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  When the people are so welcoming, and insist on filling my glass how can I refuse to partake?  I discuss my visit to Macedonia, and my rakija encounter this week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend.

Polar Bears on Thin Ice

Skating on thin ice.  That could be the story line for polar bears this past summer in the Norwegian Arctic.  When I was up there in the waters around Svalbard, Norway it seemed as if the ice was disappearing faster than in previous years.  Without ice the polar bears, don’t have a platform from which to hunt seals, the main source of fat rich food.

We did get lucky and see a good number of these, “ice bears”, from the deck of our ship, Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer.  Part of the reason for our good fortune may have been due to bad news for the bears in that there were more open seas and less ice on which they could roam or hide out.  Sometimes we would spot the bears off in the distance and slowly move the ship towards them, and other times the bears would spot us and come in for a closer look.

Lindblad naturalist Steve MacLean talked with me for my radio show National Geographic Weekend about some of the problems facing polar bears and other arctic creatures due to a warming planet.  Here’s part of that interview as well as video of some of the polar bear action we got to enjoy.

The Walrus Dance

Do the Walrus.  It may just be the next big dance craze.  Before you rush to judgment and think I’m just making this up you might want to check out some of their booty-shaking moves.  As you might expect when anything as big as a walrus starts rockin’ and rollin’ you can’t take your eyes off it.

I was treated to the walrus version of, “So You Think You Can Dance,” while in the Norwegian Arctic this summer on the “National Geographic Endeavor.’  We were fortunate to see several groups of walruses doing more than just sleep on the beach.  Elyse Lockton, a naturalist for Lindblad Expeditions, who’s spent many summers watching these giant marine mammals told me about some of the other things walruses do that make them a most interesting animal.  It’s probably a good thing they have some unique abilities, because they may also be on many people’s top 10 list of ugliest animals.

You can hear part of my interview with Elyse in this video as well as see the dancing walruses, and you can catch the entire interview this week on National Geographic Weekend.

Attack of the Terns

Typically it’s only in an Alfred Hitchcock movie that you have to worry about an all out attack from dive bombing birds, but arctic terns will turn that fiction into reality if you step across some invisible line in the sand they’ve drawn around their territory.  Recently on a trip to the Arctic with Lindblad Expeditions aboard the National Geographic Explorer I apparently crossed that line.

The arctic terns were putting on quite a show at one of our stops in Svalbard, Norway.  It’s true of many creatures, humans included, that nothing motivates a male more than his desire to impress the opposite sex, and these guys were doing some spectacular aerobatics in an effort to curry favor with the ladies.  They would hover in the air like a helicopter surveying the water below until they spotted a small fish, then dive down, grab the fish and carry it back as present to the female.  The gift is apparently the tern equivalent of expensive jewelry.

But in the course of filming the action, I stepped to close to a nesting area and got a fish eye’s view of diving terns.  My head was now the bombing target and the bird’s beaks were raining down like incoming missiles.  Looking around I spotted the nest.  It was a safe distance away and in no danger of being stepped on by me, but the protective terns had decided I was close enough and launched their attack.

I talk with Lindblad naturalist Brent Stephenson about arctic terns and their behavior in love and war on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend.  So tune in to the show and tune in to adventure.