by Serra Gören
What is your most unforgettable Escape?
Traveling to the Arctic Circle, basically the North Pole atop the National Geographic Explorer. I flew to Oslo, Norway and then took a four hour charter flight north to Svalbard, which is a Provence governed by Norway and the Arctic Council. I finished what was my most amazing trip, by jumping into the freezing ice cold Arctic waters.
What was the purpose of your travel?
Self exploration. I wanted to do something different. Not just traveling to another mainstream city with a list of restaurants gathered from friends and family. It was important to me that this trip added substance to my life. I was also eager to see something that very well may not exist in a few years.
With how many people did you travel?
I went alone. However, the Ship had 150 guests from all over the world, including alumni from my alma mater, Cornell University. In addition to these guests, there were National Geographic photographers, archaeologist, underwater divers, ornithologists, and the Arctic Council's governing members.
Where did you stay?
Aboard the National Geographic Explorer ship.
What did you most like about the trip?
No cell service! No wifi! I was at peace! I really got to absorb everything to the max. The scenery and glaciers took my breath away!
Could you share an unforgettable memory about the trip?
Diving in to the 0°C Arctic waters in my bikini. Was it cold? Yes. The interesting thing is that once I dove in it wasn't cold anymore my body got completely numb and then I swam back to the ship get out and felt completely warm again.
Your most surprising find during the trip?
Seeing three polar bear cubs with their mother. You would actually think that just because you're in the Arctic you would be lucky enough to see a polar bear right? No, the week before us the ship and its guests did the exact same tour for one entire week did not get to see even one polar bear. We were lucky to see 14 polar bears.
At around 2 AM we got an announcement in our cabins that we had encountered three baby polar bear cubs with their mother. So, of course, we rushed upstairs with our cameras and watched the family for about 2 1/2 hours. Unfortunately, some slept through the announcement. One of the rarest things is to see three baby cubs with its mother. Adult male polar bears kill off the baby cubs, even if they are their offspring. Throughout the entire 15 years of the National Geographic Explorer being at sea, no one has ever seen three baby polar bear cubs; including Carl Eric who lived in Svalbard for two years working for the Norwegian government and the Arctic Council, except for one crew member.
Favorite restaurant(s) or food you have tried during your trip?
We ate aboard during all three meals. There was no assigned seating, I met many different National Geographic professionals and guests from all around the world who had much to share. The staff, most of which who worked there for 15 years, are from the Philippines. Every meal was served with the utmost attention to detail on presentation. Breakfast and lunch were served family style. Dinners were served in three courses.
What are the must tries of the city?
Where should I begin!?!? Kayaking was a lot of fun and some good physical activity. Hiking throughout the beautiful scenery, another must. We got to explore the terrain learn about many plants, flowers, organisms, and ran into some friendly animals along the way.
To finish off: A polar plunge! Diving into the freezing water which was 0°C !!!
Any hidden gems you could whisper to us?
With 24 hours of daylight, too much to pick from, it's all fantastic!
Would you go back?
Definitely! However, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I don't believe that this is a trip that you just up and go and see it really takes a lot of mental and physical strength. Instead of going to the north pole next time I would like to go to Antarctica, the south pole.
Could you list a few of your favorite finds you came back with?
- Nothing should be taken for granted. We were lucky enough to see 14 polar bears while the previous trip saw none.
- Don't consume more than you need. Global warming is happening. There is a photo of me on a kayak, where I am located in the photograph is where three of the glaciers behind me used to meet to form one glacier five years ago. I was able to compare the photos side-by-side.
Any tips that might be useful to know before going there?
Next stop you would like to visit?
I would love to go down to Antarctica, India, Bangkok, and see Cuba before it becomes commercialized.