The 39 Days.

I think it’s time to review my recent five-week spot of globetrotting. Not the longest of world tours for me, but still sufficiently intense – and, as ever, thoroughly enjoyable.

It went like this:

Moscow – Gatwick – JerseyNormandy – Paris – Buenos Aires (connection) – UshuaiaAntarctica – Buenos Aires – Porto SeguroSint MaartenAmsterdam – Dubai – Moscow.

Read on: Seven countries, four continents, eight events…

What Does Amsterdam Smell of?

A month ago the first leg of my month+ journey went in a smooth arc southwest from Europe, then down – right down to the bottom of the earth; then it was back up north (er, where else?:) to Saint Martin (the island) – specifically the Dutch 40% thereof (not the French 60%) (confused?!?!) – where the worlds’ craziest beach is and where we had our SAS-2017. Next, it was back home to Moscow. But not directly…

No. First of all, that would have been impossible (no direct flights). Secondly, it would have been boring, as we’d have missed out…: Amsterdam!

So off we flew – from the same runway where we were getting our kicks on Route 66 Beacon Hill Road earlier that day. Only… we didn’t blow anyone over. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, normally planes begin their acceleration from the beach end of the runway, blasting the tourists behind them as they do; but our KLM plane did it the other way round. Another strange thing: flying from the Netherlands to Holland took… eight hours and 15 minutes. And there was me thinking the country was not so large :).

All righty: Amsterdam!…

So, as the title asks – what does Amsterdam smell of? I mean – in the old city center along the banks of the canals? Yep, you guessed it: ganjer! Practically everywhere!

Read on: so we went to a museum…

The World’s Craziest Beach.

Our experts + other experts + our media crew + international press + Sint Maarten = work hard, play hard. Sun, sand, surf, palm trees… and the cybersecurity avant garde. Yep – it was SAS 2017.

Hmmm. What’s this fence doing here – practically on the beach? And all those ‘Danger’ signs?

Aha – yes; you’ve guessed it: it’s that landing strip – the one that ends just short of the beach!

Read on: The pretty unusual feeling…

Who Discovered America?

Hi folks!

After my Antarctic series on this here blog of mine, it looks like another series may be on the horizon – a historical one. Yesterday we had an alternative history of so-called crown dependencies; today – more history; not of a (British) crown dependency but a former (British) crown colony, no less…

So, who… you know, got there first from overseas? I was just curious after reading various scholarly versions and falsifications. So I read up more on the subject, and I discovered the following:

Episode 1: Homo Sapiens.

So who first discovered America? You know, like a zillion years ago? Well there’s no precise answer to that question one as it was… a zillion years ago, before things like writing and the keeping of records, and a zillion other useful things were invented. But, apparently, it was someone who was from what is now Siberia, who, at some point during the spring of the ice age, crossed the (possibly, at least in parts, dry) valley between the two glacial mountains on either side of what is today the (very wet) Bering Strait.

Who knows today what the Bering Strait looked like back then? Was it completely dry? Was it a swampy marsh? Or was it much like it is today – a sea? Did that first Siberian walk it? Canoe it? Swim it? We’ll probably never know, unless…).

Read on: What made them decide to go east?…

An Alternative History of Crown Dependencies.

My recent short trips to the Channel Islands (in particular, Jersey) had left me with many unanswered questions and much bewilderment. And of course what amazed me most was the official status of these mini-territories, and the fact that some have their own currency and even Internet domains.

Mercifully, my friend and colleague, V.G, (inter alia, our resident history buff) filled in the blanks in my knowledge regarding these so-called crown dependences in a blogpost he recently put on our intranet on the Second World War – in particular, on the Nazi occupation of crown dependencies. I was going to give you my version of what he wrote there, but, on second thoughts, I decided it’d be better straight from the horse’s historian’s mouth, as they say. So here’s his post – verbatim. All righty. Here we go…

—8<—
 In August 1940, a month after the beginning of the Battle of Britain, the German occupation regime of the Channel Islands – up to that moment crown dependencies of Great Britain – was finally established. These islands became – and remained, until May 16, 1945 – the only territories of the British Commonwealth occupied by the Wehrmacht.

A crown dependency is a territory dependent on the mother country (the United Kingdom) – not a colony; this had been the custom since the times of the Dukes of Normandy, and became law in 1563. In 1565, Elisabeth I introduced the institute of governors of the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and others. The island of Sark falls under the jurisdiction of Guernsey and is ruled by a constitutional monarch with the title Seigneur of Sark or Dame of Sark. 

Read on: Back to the island of Sark…

The Terrific Travels and Astonishing Adventures of Midori Kuma.

Midori Kuma came into this world in Tokyo, Japan. We know little about his childhood, in fact – almost nothing at all…

In his youth he led a somewhat free-and-easy, unrestrained way of life – indeed the antithesis of the archetypal Hikikomori. According to folks who knew him back then, Midori Kuma was often to be found at various Japanese parties, presentations, exhibitions and conferences. In other words, he led the same kind of life he leads today – that of an active participant doing the rounds on the society circuit.

Read on: Midori Kuma gets attention from ladies…

A Floating Hotel – Almost.

I can’t tell you all about my Antarctic adventure without telling you all about the ship we sailed across the Drake Passage on. So here we go folks, a post on the one and only Akademik Sergey Vavilov. Here she is, in all her glory:

First up, the engine room. Here’s it’s all about electronic automation, but more of an analogue kind (see the analogue dials) than the full-on digitization of today – a sign that this ship was born in 1988. Yep, that’s when the ship first hit the water – in Rauma in Finland (be ready for quite a bit of Finnish language coming up…). Back then this was state of the art; still today it does a grand job…

Read on: Big thanks to all the crew!…

The Passage of Drake – Sure Makes Ships Shake.

[Titles ON]

On the recent Antarctic adventure I was accompanied by:

  • Our green bear (in Japanese – Midori Kuma, or 緑熊);
  • My travel companions A.S. and D.Z.;
  • A large troop of modern artists taking part in the Antarctic Biennale;
  • Journalists, photographers, bloggers (inc. moi!), etc.;
  • The crew of the Akademik Sergey Vavilov;
  • The OneOcean team (who were absolutely great, btw) (// I’ll be doing a special advert for them later on; for now – modest props:);
  • If there’s anyone I haven’t mentioned – apologies; will make up for any oversight.

[Titles OFF]

So, how does one get to the Antarctic Peninsula?

Well, you could go on a special plane (yep, they have aerodromes there), or, like most polar adventurers – by ship. By ship you’re likely to set sail from the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage to the northernmost tip of Antarctica (yes, that does sound an odd combination:).

You thought it was a mere ‘English Channel’ between the civilization (bed, shower, toilet, Internet) of southern Argentina or Chile to the wilderness (not much besides ice, whales, penguins, icebergs) of the northernmost Antarctic islands? No, it’s a lot further than that – a whole 1000km (600 nautical miles) – and all of them in the Drake Passage, meaning the icy winds of the 60th parallel south, which are fiercer than the Roaring Forties.

Read on: But we were lucky…

The Intriguingly Unique World of (Antarctic) Polar Stations.

After artists, penguins and whales, the time has come to talk about… Antarctic polar stations!

This may at first seem rather a dull topic, but I can assure you it isn’t. I mean, just how do folks live their daily lives so far from civilization? Remember – civilization here = ~0! No roads, no comms, no utilities, no shops, no schools, no… people – hardly ).

Just how folks live here depends on the location of a particular polar station.

Both the American Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station (right next to the South Pole) and the Russian Vostok Station at the southern Pole of Cold have a winter running ~ from May to September, when it never gets light – non-stop blackness for nearly six months! – plus temperatures among the coldest on earth. Both stations run completely autonomously every winter – meaning no one comes or goes for six months, and it’s hardly worth even stepping outside it’s that cold and windy. Lovely. Even the International Space Station is more hospitable for Homo Sapiens – at least they can hop down to earth when they need to. Here – the residents have to wait until summer for the privilege.

And talking of privilege, I was privileged enough to have been inside the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station – the new, roomy, two-story one that’s still there today. Have a look at my pics – here. It even has its own hothouse.

The polar stations on the Antarctic shore have it easier – and the further north from the polar circle, the better (warmer). The inhabitants we met say that living conditions at the Belllingshausen Station are more comfortable than in the Russian Far North. And the pay’s better!

Here’s Bellingshausen, from both the inside and out:

So, fancy a stint of ultra-isolation for half a year? Thought not! Actually, even if you did – you’ve hardly a camel’s chance in Antarctica: the competition to be among the chosen few is really tough, we were told. Who’d have thought it?

Read on: Oh my gorilka!…

Humpback Whales Having a Whale of a Time.

Hi folks! Herewith, more tales from the Antarctic side…

In this installment I’ll be telling you about the third most-important inhabitant of Antarctica – whales.

Whales are third-in-line in the Antarctic pecking order after penguins (second-in-line) and Antarctic Krill (top dogs crustaceans). What the Krill? King Krill? Never heard of them, right? Well this lesser known species is Antarctic city hall since it’s first in line in the food chain down here. It’s because of the abundance of this crustacean (I’m talking probably megatons thereof in polar seas) that both whales and penguins are able to get more than their fill of animal fat. However, Krill live underwater all the time so you never get to see any – and that went for us too, so I’ll not be telling you about them. I’ve already told you about penguins here. So next up – whales; specifically – humpback whales, which were the ones we saw…

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The #Antarctica whale story. We had LOTS of whales around (mostly humpback whales). The captain who sailed this seas for a dozen years can't remember so much whales around. It was really oveWHALing! Whales logging, feeding, breeding, any sort of whales. But I never complaned :) | А теперь о китах в #Антарктида. Это был прямо какой-то китовый суп! Там и здесь, спят и кормятся, прыгают и шлёпают хвостами, вдалеке и в метре от лодки. Наш капитан признался, что за свою долгую полярную карьеру такого не видал. Было круто! #ekinantarctica

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Read on: a veritable