Friday, December 28, 2018

A Berlin Christmas

Earlier this month I was in Berlin (above) and it looked pretty Christmassy:

You couldn't go more than 100m without having to fight your way through yet another Christmas market: I really don't get the attraction of these.

But it was rather Insta-friendly...

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Christmas 2018!

Happy Christmas to all!

This is the seasonally decorated Cutty Sark in Greenwich. How great does that look?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Greenland Glaciers: Melting in London

Earlier this year I saw the damage that global warming is already causing to our planet. The glaciers in Svalbard are retreating so fast that charts can not be updated quick enough and indicated our yacht was stuck in the ice when the reality was we were floating freely.

But not many get a chance to head up to 80N to see that for themselves. So ice blocks were brought from Nuuk, Greenland to the City so that Londoners could see this melting for themselves.

It was an art installation by Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson and there were multiple sites, including one in the City (above & below, which I saw a week ago) and also another outside the Tate Modern.

If you put your ear to the ice, you could hear quiet pops as it melted, and see the blue layer going through it (top).

I'd rather see them in the amazing wildernesses of Greenland but global warming is all too real, too serious and it is time to do something about it.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Boats! Boats! Boats! .... spotted on the Wesminster to Hampton Court route

Its the shortest day, time to remember those long summer days when did the all the scheduled river services challenge.

On the way from Westminster to Hampton Court spotted a wide variety of boat types out on the Thames:

Alas this bike-boat seemed a little neglected:

It seems to be a different one that that used by the bike-boat bloke posted about a few years ago.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Vikings: Their Life

If you want to learn about Viking life, not just the myth, then what's the best way to do it?

I'd argue not to see exhibitions like the one at the British Museum (as described earlier) but rather read this book.

Vinland by George Mackay Brown is a classic and sums up for me what life must have been like in Orkney around the time of the first millennium, of sailing with the Vikings to Iceland, Greenland, Vinland and Norway. Of the transition from fighters to farmers, from Norse gods to Christianity.

And the life story from boyhood to old age of Ranald Sigmundson.

I also got a glimpse of the Viking's beliefs when in Greenland. Surrounded by emptiness we were watched by a raven, and seeing that familiar bird so far from civilisation was rather spooky.

I really could understand how the Vikings could have believed they were sent by the gods, for what other reason could there be for seeing it in such a remote place?

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Vikings: their ships

In the previous post I mentioned a disappointing Viking exhibition at the British Museum. Ok, it might be that Viking navigation is a specialised subject, but their boats really are core to their identity. What did this exhibition do?

Alas, rather than having a real boat - or even a reconstruction - it had the framework of one made out of metal.

I remember seeing the Sea Stallion in Dublin a few years ago. It's a replica Viking boat that really sails, and in fact crossed the North Sea on a voyage around Scotland and down to Dublin.

Seeing a real boat was so much more than the shell in the British Museum, the smell and feel of its wooden planks, and hearing about the valuable experience of actually being out at sea. The sailors learnt it was faster to windward rowing than sailing, and that the steering mechanism could (and did) fail.

It was a story that would be familiar to W. Hodding Carter who wrote about a similar breakage of their steering oar in their reconstruction of the Vikings discovery of America in his book "Viking Voyage".

The physical presence of the boat together with these lessons are much more informative than a metal frame, however large.

But the biggest impression I have ever had from a Viking boat is when I was on-board the smaller Helge Ask which visited London in 2012. The experts showed me round and then shook the boat from side to side to show its flexibility.

It was really remarkable how the timbers flexed, waves travelling down the boat, alive completely unlike a rigid metal frame.

It would be even better actually to go out to sea on one: not sure how to arrange that but I spotted that the Viking Ship Museum in Copenhagen has that option.

One to add to the travel list...

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Vikings: Navigation

Recently Tillerman posted a comment asking how the Vikings navigated? It was a topic I had meant to address a couple of years ago when there was a British Museum exhibition about Vikings.

However the exhibition had been a major disappointment, and one of the reasons for that was it ignored topics like this one.

So how did the Vikings navigate?

One key tactic was to follow a line of latitude, which means head due east or west - and hence know where south and north are.

On a clear night the Vikings would have been able to see Polaris, but in the summer months that far north there was often no darkness, as we found when we sailed to the Arctic Circle.

During the day they could use the length of the sun's shadow if they had created a sun-dial for that latitude and month, but that didn't help on cloudy days.

So they must have had to rely on natural navigation methods, such as using glimpses of sun to measure the wave direction and use that to keep a constant course.

Other techniques were summed up in the phrase on how to reach Greenland from Norway:

From the west country sail west but keep far enough north of Shetland so that the islands are barely visible in clear weather. Stay far enough south of the Faroe Islands so that the steep, high mountains are just halfway up over the horizon. And stay far enough south of Iceland that you can't see land, but you can just about see coast-bound seabirds.

As we were to find out, that is an incredibly useful navigational instruction.

We too saw the Faroe islands from afar (see photo above) and that could indeed be used as a gauge of latitude.

What's more we spent time observing the birds, counting the numbers at the end of each hour of our watches, and we could determine the distance from the coast simply by the number and types of birds we saw.

It would be have been nice to read something about that in the British Museum exhibition, maybe see the writing quoted above or an example sundial but alas no, nothing....

Sunday, December 02, 2018

North to Svalbard: Tromso

Flights to Svalbard from Oslo go via Tromso and again rather than simply changing planes there, on the way up I spent two nights in this town in the far north of Norway.

One of the best things to do there is head over the bridge and get the cable car up mount Storsteinen which has great views (above and below).

In the town itself there were a number of museums and I went first to the Polar Museum. After the amazing Fram Museum in Oslo I was expecting something similar, smaller, maybe more local, but actually it had a very different vibe. Take this photo:

This was more about hunting than exploring, with the big names the ones that had killed the most animals. There were relics all around the walls:

While not to everyone's taste it must admit if felt an authentic flavour of the old north.

But generally I really liked Tromso and had a happy time wandering the harbour watching the boats and their reflections in the still waters:

I get the feeling that this place is probably better for photography during the long winter nights when the aurora flickers overhead, so maybe worth a return trip sometime.