#28-2015, The Most Amazing Year Ever

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Spent the entire day sorting out travel pictures and my thoughts, at the same time preparing for my next trip, which is in about 5 hours time.

2015 has been an amazing year. I have no idea where to start. The year started off with a major heartbreak. The agony and pain that I have had to deal with was way more intensive than I had imagined, but on the other hand, this also meant that I had loved. I am glad that I had the opportunity to do that. Being in love meant that I had to leave myself vulnerable, and I think I have not regretted doing that, not one bit, for I have learnt so much more and became a much better person.

Learning to deal with the pain exposed me to another form of love, i.e, self-love. To date, I am still not too sure what it really means, but by my definition it would be the state of being at ease spending time with the most awesome person on earth, me! Learning to find the path to happiness on my own was a different game altogether, and I embarked on this journey filled with doubts and uncertainties. Nonetheless, a life filled with uncertainty is one that is exciting, especially so for someone as inquisitive as I am.

Mid 2015, as I was picking myself up slowly from the heartbreak, I was dealt with another blow. Losing my job. The financial and emotional uncertainties plagued me for a couple of days, until one day, where I woke up and decided to take the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the balls to, and that is solo travel. So there I was, booking my first one way ticket to another country, without any plans or return date. Ironically, it felt amazingly therapeutic. Not having to adhere to timelines, schedules, compromising to the needs of others, getting lost, being on random ferries to random offshore islands, experiencing all the firsts in my life etc, these adventures actually made me feel really at ease with myself. Traveling on my own made me learn so much more about myself, and gave me time away from the crazy city life in Singapore to rethink so many things.

In those months, I traveled to places I’ve always wanted to go to, and revisited places which I had avoided so as not to expose myself to the memories that I was trying so hard to bury. Gathering the strength to face up to these memories, and creating new ones on my own gave me a new resolute to live my life so that I do not regret at my deathbed, so that one day, I have stories to tell my children and grandchildren, and to inspire them to live their lives for all that it is worth in the future.

Traveling made me appreciate so many things in life that I have been taking for granted, especially the people. 2015 is really the year where I learn to be thankful from the bottom of my heart.

1. My Family – Thankful for an amazing family that has accommodated my sporadic trips, been there for me all the time, made me feel so much warmth in my heart even though I took you guys for granted for so many years prior.

2. My Friends – I do not even know where to start. Some of you joined me for parts of my journey, some of you sat through my grouses, some of you were there for me whenever I was down, some of you hosted me when I traveled to your city, some of you made the effort to meet me wherever I was traveling to, some of you became friends with me during my journeys, etc.  I am really thankful for each and every one of you. Believe me, every one of you made a difference to me.

3. My Colleagues – You guys made life so much more amazing and interesting for me. All the late night drinks, dinner, partying, heart to heart chats, I am so so thankful for you guys!

2015 has been the most amazing year ever. I am actually really thankful for everything that has happened to me this year, and yes, that includes the heartbreak. Life is actually really meaningful, and it largely depends on what you make of it.

Really looking forward to 2016, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me!

Have no expectations, and let life take you to happiness and awesomeness!

P.S. One of the most amazing experiences this year (in this lifetime), was watching the northern lights in all its glory in Iceland. Hence this photo! 🙂

#26- A Change in Perspective…

Life is a lot about perspective. A change of perspective goes a really long way. This principle can be applied in every aspect of your life, and more often than not, helps you get out of the rut or the dilemmas that you are facing.

If you choose to see events as positive, then it is something positive, because that is your perspective of it, and it is in effect a “unique relationship” between you and the event that nobody can take away from you.

Positivity takes you to better places. Negativity, on the other hand, drags you down into the deep abyss of the unknown, and with negativity, you just get increasingly negative, and not forgetting, you draw negative vibes towards you.

As we approach the end of 2015, I am now taking the time to reflect on how much I have grown in the last year, and what I am thankful for from the past year. Even though I still feel like I am searching for something in life which at this moment, I still haven’t gotten any clarity on what it exactly is. Until then, I guess I will have to just keep doing things that make me happy, and love life in a positive manner. Looking forward to more travels and learning more lessons in 2016.

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*Photo taken over sunset at the amazing glacial lagoon in Iceland.

Xoxo

Some tips on Chasing the Aurora

Ever since I got back from my Scandinavian trip, people have been asking me for tips on catching the Northern lights, so here I am! This post is dedicated to those who are planning a trip to catch the northern lights. Hopefully it is helpful! 🙂

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*Disclaimer*: The Northern lights are really elusive, and there is no way anyone can guarantee that you will see the lights. However, you can increase your chances by being in the right place at the right time.

To find out more about what the northern lights are about, click on the following link!

What are Northern Lights?

There are 2 major conditions for the Northern lights to be visible to the naked eye.

  1. The sky must be cloudless. (or at least, most of the sky should be clear)
  2. You should be at a location that is completely dark and free of light pollution, including moonlight. Take note of the sunset timings before you plan your aurora hunt, so you can plan your meals around it, and maximise the stuffs you do during daylight. Although it is possible for you to see the lights in the city on nights where the aurora is really strong, this is kinda rare. (I think on the night I saw it, it was visible in the Reykyavik!)  Basically, your chances of seeing the lights are pretty high when you see a clear starry sky without any moonlight.

Where to see them? 

As the name implies, you technically have higher chances of seeing the Northern lights as long as you are in the Northern hemisphere. The further up north you are, the higher your chances are. Personally, I have tried catching the lights on two separate trips, once in Finland for 6 consecutive nights, and another time in Iceland. In Finland, I did not see the lights at all with my naked eye, even though my camera captured a few faint streaks of it in the sky. If you have read up about the lights, you will know that the lights are always there, its just a matter of whether you see it with your naked eye or not.

When I was in the Finnish lapland during mid winter, the constant snowing prevented me from getting clear, cloudless skies. Even though the clouds did clear up on one of the nights, the full moon basically overpowered the lights. It was always one thing or the other that prevented me from catching the lights when I was in lapland.

One tip I have for people is to go to the Artic North not just for the northern lights, but rather, for the destination itself! The lights are just way too elusive, and there is no way anyone can guarantee that it will appear. Even without the lights, there is every reason to appreciate the Finnish lapland.

During my trip to Finland, I got to try all the winter sports that I have never had the chance to such as snowboarding, husky sledding, riding the snow mobile, reindeer sledding, and staying in the famous  Glass Igloo village Kaklausttanen for a night, just to name a few. Every one of these experiences were super amazing, and even if you were just simply walking in the village, the view around you was just breathtaking.

How to prepare for chasing the lights?

Be prepared to be standing in the cold, facing wind chill temperatures that are sub zero (depending on when you go). Make sure you are dressed appropriately and be ready for the wind. If you are into photography, prepare your wide-angle lenses, camera, a strong tripod, and your remote control. This setup would allow you to have some time to enjoy the lights when you are leaving the shutter open during long exposures.

Start following the weather forecasts once you arrive. The Icelandic meteorological office has a really accurate website that will be your best friend when you hunt for the aurora in Iceland. When I visited Finland, I hired guides to take me out every single night (and it wasn’t cheap!)  as I did not want to drive in the snow at night, so I did not really have to follow the weather forecasts. If you are trying to catch auroras in Finland, this is a useful website that provides weather forecasts in Finland. Auroras in Finland

Here are a few sites/apps that I religiously checked multiple times each day during my time in Iceland.

#1 Vedar Aurora Forecast

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This is a super amazing website because the cloud cover forecasts are very accurate. The panel on the right side of the page gives you the aurora forecast, which is an indication of how strong the auroras will potentially be for that night. The website gets updated daily at 6pm, so I would suggest you look at this before you head out because cloud conditions might change. Considering how Iceland’s weather is always so unpredictable and erratic, I think this app is really amazing.

On the first night that we caught the aurora, it was at Grade 6. All we did was drive in the direction of the “white” portions indicated on the map,  and we saw the lights! 🙂 

#2 App: Aurora Forecast

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An app that provides you with all the professional data which you need to see the northern lights. Very comprehensive information on the northern lights (and southern lights!) as a whole. It also tells you the possibility of seeing the lights with your naked eye based on your current location.

#3 App: More than Aurora

A crowd sourcing app where you can be notified of aurora sightings based on sightings by other users around you. All you have to do is to place a marker stating that you are trying to hunt for the aurora at a certain site, and you get notifications when users around you see it. Only problem with it is probably people can use the app anywhere, and when we were there, we saw a pin from someone in Bangkok saying that they saw the lights there? Apart from this, I thought this was a pretty cool idea.

#4 App: Aurora Alert

This app basically tells you whether it is possible to see the aurora based on your location. Of course, this does not take into account the weather conditions such as cloud cover, moonlight, etc.

One other tip that I have would be to follow all the aurora hunters or photography sites by various photographers in the Artic circle, as it would give you a sense of where the lights typically appear. In my case, following the photographers from Iceland on Instagram and Facebook made me realise that Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a common spot for sighting the aurora. We decided to head to the lagoon after dinner to try and wait for it, and we were rewarded the moment we stepped out of the restaurant.

My experience

After having a few days of crazy erratic cloudy and rainy weather, I was really excited to see that we were getting the ideal conditions to see the Aurora based on Vedar’s prediction. After dinner, we walked out of the restaurant, and as we looked up, we saw a tiny streak of green light. Initially, we were not sure if it was the lights or just clouds illuminated by city lights. However, within 5 seconds, the streak got stronger, and grew into 2 streaks! One of our friends who had seen the lights before confirmed that this was probably it, and the rest of us started getting crazy excited. As we drove towards the lagoon, we stopped at a random dark spot and stayed there for 30 minutes when the sky began to be filled by various streaks of lights. The lights put on a really beautiful show for us. From 2 streaks, it became 5 streaks, and before long, it was directly above us! It was a crazy amazing experience, and the 4 of us were just screaming in awe the entire time, hugging and jumping in joy!

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This is a picture I took when we stopped randomly by the road as the entire sky got transformed into green! You can see cars driving toward us because we literally stopped at a random parking lot in the middle of nowhere.

After this, we drove on to Jokulsarlon where we were in the afternoon, and I have to say the place itself is CRAZY PRETTY in the day as well. We spent a good 40 minutes just watching the sunset in the day.

This is a not so typical shot but one of my favourite from the lot.

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When we finally got to Jokulsarlon after dinner, we were greeted by a spectacular show put on by mother nature. It was crazy crazy amazing. At one point, the entire sky was engulfed in a sea of eerie green lights. It was really intense, and nothing could contain our excitement when we saw the lights. The lights danced, changed in shape, and the brightness level waxed and waned continuously. We were literally turning left and right the whole time because a super strong green streak might just disappear before it comes back on 5 minutes later in the form of 5 streaks in another direction, and the sky can become completely dark the next moment.

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We watched the lights from 6-9 pm before deciding to drive towards our accommodation in Hofn. The lights were so crazy that even the locals told us that they have never seen it this strong.

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On the second night, we headed out at 6pm and drove towards the “white patches” based on the forecast. On this night, the aurora forecast was grade 4. We drove out of the city where we were, and kept our eyes peeled on the skies, having had experience the previous night. The skies were just overcast with clouds, and we were prepared to give up when the clouds suddenly cleared up, and streaks began appearing in the sky. We stopped the car in the middle of some random street off the main road, and mother nature began rewarding us with another beautiful lightshow. It definitely paled in comparison in terms of strength compared to the previous night, but it was still a spectacular display.

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I will add in more photos and updates when I get more time to look through the rest of my photos.

DSC_1241-1The above are just based off my personal experience, and I hope it helps you with your planning! 🙂

 

#23- I saw the northern lights~~~

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Just got back from 2 trips. I started off with 3 days in Manila, and then 11 days in Iceland/Finland/ Estonia. I know, the places are totally different. Its been a crazy few weeks, and I am still jetlagged as I write this post.

Seeing the northern lights got me thinking a lot more about life and relationships, in that, it’s always about being in the right place at the right time. I’m not saying that we have no agency in our lives; but there are definitely certain things we have no agency over. For example, whether the lights will appear, or whether you meet this new person who ends up as a new friend, etc. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I strongly believe in fate. 

Life has way too much uncertainties and that’s what keeps it exciting. I’m thankful that I am who I am, and I appreciate those who love me for who I am! smile emoticon

Feeling really thankful for a few things on this trip.

#1 Top of the list, seeing the northern lights not just once, but twice. The amazing display just left me amazed at what nature has to offer. The lights put on a great show for me each time I see it, and left me flabbergasted for the entire 2-3 hours as the show went on. I’m in awe each time I think about it, even though its been a week. Truly blessed and thankful to be able to see it twice!

#2 Icelandic people are super super nice. I recall an instance where an uncle just drove past and passed us 3 copies of calendars featuring Icelandic horses when we were looking at the horses at some random spot. We thought he wanted to sell us some sightseeing tours, but we were left surprised when he simply passed us some brand new calendars of Icelandic horses.

#3 I made a new friend from Finland. Learnt so much more about Finnish culture and it definitely helped in understanding Finnish culture and why certain things are the way it is. Super looking forward to catching up with him again!

#4 Tried Finnish sauna at a traditional sauna house and it was really an interesting immersive experience. Staring at a bunch of old ladies naked in the sauna just felt entirely different from being naked in the Japanese onsen. I guess the difference would be that people try to make conversations with you in Finland, whereas in Japan people just avoid eye contact and leave you to do your own thing.

#5 Visiting Porvoo on my own helped me feel independent and adventurous again. I did a solo day trip to Porvoo right before my flight home, and it was a really awesome trip, getting to see a different side of Finland, apart from Helsinki and the Lapland, gives me more reason to revisit Finland again in future!

#6 Lastly, this trip has been crazy amazing with my awesome in prompt-tu travel mates. I am super thankful to them for coming on this trip and pulling everything together super last minute. 🙂 It would not have been so perfect if not for everyone on this trip!

Thankful for every single thing that has happened in the last amazing 11 days!!

In my next post, I will be sharing on how to plan a trip around chasing the northern lights. Stay tuned! I’m still drooling over the lights as of now…..

xoxo