Nature places in Europe
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© John Smith
The locals call the giant plane tree near the Skhtorashen village Tnjri. It is huge (54 m tall) and considered to be more than 2000 years old. The tree is hollow and big enough for an alter - some have apparently measured the inside to 44 sq m. It can seem surprising that the tree still stands, since the inner is sooty from centuries of fires, but maybe the natural spring next to it has something to do with its longevity.
All over the Pyrenees, but Cirque de Troumouse in particular
Marmots are large rodent that live in mountainous area. They have a dense grey fur and can weigh up to 8 kg. They live in underground tunnel systems, which they also retract to when feel in danger. Luckily they are extremely curious and will rarely hide for very long before they stick their heads up again. The high pitch calls which they use to warn each others are usual the giveaway that there are marmots in the area. The circle valley of Troumouse is particular good place to see this cute animals. Head for the north end of top plateau of the horseshoe shaped valley.
Eldgjá Volcanic canyon
The large and impressive waterfall Ófærufoss lies well inside the world's largest volcanic canyon Eldgjá, that covers a vast area. To get to the waterfall you have to walk for half an hour, but it is a beautiful area with contrasts of sharp volcanic rocks, rivers and extreme green vegetation and flowers. The water in Òfærufoss falls into three levels, and you can walk up via a staircase to the middle of the waterfall and enjoy the view. There has previously been a lava arch over one of the levels that you could cross, but it has now collapsed.
South coast of Iceland
Dyrhólaey Peninsula lies just off the coastal town of Vík in the south of Iceland and is a giant volcanic rock. It takes approximately 5 to 10 minutes to drive to the top with a 4x4 car, and around 30 to 40 minutes to walk up there. The area is rich in birdlife, and especially in the summer time there is a very good chance of seeing puffins nesting. The view from the steep peninsula is quite impressive on all sides. You can see both the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, four distinctive, large lava pillars that rise from the sea, the whole coastline, the town of Vík, and the striking black arch, made of lava, where a member of Parliament once flew through.
On the Golden Circle
Geysir and Strokkur are, guess what..., geysirs! They are part of the Golden Circle, which is a group of tourist sites not all too far from Reykjavik.
The area is generally known as Geysir although the geysir called Geysir (still following?) has been a bit clogged for years now due to earthquakes and people messing with it.
The smaller geysir called Strokkur still erupts very regularly every couple of minutes, just enough time to adjust your tripod and camera settings. It spews its water 30 meters up in the air, only half of what Geysir does but still very impressive!
On the Golden Circle
The Golden Falls (what Gullfoss means in Icelandic) is not the biggest waterfall in Iceland (Dettifoss is more powerful and Glymur is taller), but it sure is amazing. From a distance, it looks like it plunges straight into the earth, while a closer inspection will reveal that it "only" falls 32 meters into the crevice that has carved its way trough the landscape. It is a part of the Golden circle (Gullfoss, Geysir and Pingvellir) which are the must see places in Iceland.
Northern lights (aurora borealis)
Anywhere close to the Arctic Circle.
When solar storms enter our atmosphere, they create this amazing natural light show. You can never really know in advance where you can spot the beautiful northern lights. There is a big portion of luck needed but by travelling to polar regions between roughly September and April you have a pretty good chance of seeing them. You can also try to find a place without a lot of light pollution, especially in the northern direction. Mostly, you will see green lights slowly "dancing" and moving across the sky. The lights can have different colours, from red to blue but green is definitely the most common.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has a pretty accurate aurora borealis website where you can check the aurora activity in all polar regions of the world.
South coast of Iceland
The large waterfall Skógafoss is located on the south coast of Iceland and is visible from the main coastal road. You can get very close to the impressive waterfall and see the large cascades of water pouring down from the long drop. It is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland and has an approximately 60-meter high fall and is 25 meters wide. It is also possible to go to the top of the waterfall via a long staircase and from there also enjoy the beautiful views of the ocean and its special black beaches (colored by lava ash).
Svalbard, but all over Norway
Northern lights (aurora borealis) are a natural phenomenon caused by solar eruptions. It is often associated to the far North and winter, but can be seen at any time of year and at almost any place. However, it's best observed during the dark winter months in a belt around the magnetic pole at a distance of about 2,500 km called the auroral zone, which includes parts of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, Iceland, and Scandinavia. Svalbard, where the pictures are from, lies in the periphery of this belt, meaning the mainland of Norway actually is a better place to see northern lights. On the southern hemisphere, the similar phenomenon is called aurora australis and happens simultaneously with the northern lights.
About 3000 polar bears live on Svalbard, the highest concentration on the planet. Though the Svalbard archipelago is large, bumping into a polar bear is not that unlikely. Any journey outside the town of Longyearbyen requires you to carry a firearm - and know how to use it. A hunting rifle is preferred, but you should at least have a flare gun and spray. If you encounter a polar bear and it sees you, try to scare it right away. Jump, shout, growl and wave your arms. If that doesn't work, try to shoot the flare gun righ in front of it (not into the air), and in worst case scenario shoot the bear with the rifle you hopefully are carrying. Even inside town you are not totally safe, since curious polar bears have in the past ventured into settlements which can have dire consequences - and not just for the bear. So when come to Svalbard, take the polar bear danger seriously.