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Further Afield's Journal

Planes, Boats and Trains

Norway and Finland
Entry By: 
Joe F.

Let me introduce you to a trip of intrigue, enjoyment, colour and sheer beauty. You won’t regret it or forget it. Come fly with me, come fly, let’s fly away, in the words of ‘Frank Sinatra. On the opening day of your vacation you’ll arrive in Helsinki, Finland, the most northern capital city in Europe. Staying at a hotel in the city centre.


The following day experience a guided coach tour of the city with its outstanding architecture and attractions. It has been described as the most beautiful of small capitals worldwide with the relaxed atmosphere, the Bohemian nightlife, an array of second hand shops and the friendly characters you meet.

A train journey takes us to Rovaniemi in Lapland, the home of Santa Claus, on the way you’ll see the hundreds of reindeer in the farms. After seeing the old guy with his white beard you get your photo taken in the workshop.

With all of this snow we wonder how people get around, the answer is simple when you visit the husky safari and enjoy a sleigh ride. These dogs are amazing, their strength, determination and discipline leaves one with the utmost admiration for them and their handlers. Meet the local Sami people of Lapland and spend some time listening to their stories of Northern Europe.

Crossing the border into Norway and arriving in Kirkenes, a coastal town on the Barents Sea, one of the most important ports for harvesting king crabs. The town is 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and it’s reputed for being the best place to view the Aurora Borealis. The Russian border is 10 kilometres away. The Snow Hotel is home for the night.

The train and coach transport has ended for now. The cruise begins in the Arctic Circle, sailing along the northern coast and stopping at the port of Vardo, other fishing ports are Batsfjord and Berlevag. A trip on a snowmobile under the northern lights, stopping at Honningsvag the most northern town in mainland Europe at 71 degrees north latitude. Breathtaking. Rounding the coast the cruise liner heads south. Looking at the fjords and glaciers, the mountains and waterfalls, one thinks of the Vikings and their long boats that left these shores to travel to God knows where. Remembering Roald Amundsen the first man to set foot on the South Pole with his team of four others in 1911.

Crossing the Arctic Circle, the density of population is increasing, towns are bigger, the economy has improved due mainly to the North Sea Oil and Gas fields. Over 60% of Norway’s landmass is afforestation, 90% of housing is timber framed. Arriving in the town of Kristiansten visit ‘The Wooden City’, history museum, it’s also known as ‘The Dried Cod Capital’ of the world, with almost 100% going for export. The fishing boats and processing facilities are so impressive.

Cruising into the city of Bergen at the end of this section of the trip we disembark with our luggage. There’s a coach tour of the city and then to the hotel. 

Morning call for breakfast and another day’s travelling. Boarding a coach to the village of Flam, transported 3,000 feet up to the train station, we pass a small hydroelectric power plant that runs the train to Norway’s capital Oslo. This is described as the world’s most scenic rail journey.

The final day of your vacation is spent in Oslo, touring the city by coach, and enjoying some free time to browse. Join the friends you have made throughout the journey for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant, sharing memories and laughter. Of course exchanging emails, addresses and phone numbers.

We bid a fond farewell to Finland and Norway. To a trip that one will never forget.

Contact Further Afield Travel and Tours for details. 


The International Date Line, Prime Meridian and Time Zones

Entry By: 
Joe F.

In the 1800s world trade and shipping was at such a pinnacle that timings needed to be agreed upon. The British Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London was accepted as the Prime Meridian or 0 degrees Longitude. The British navy, merchant ships, expeditions and exploration had the navigational skills to enforce their beliefs and power.

The Prime Meridian is a North-South imaginary line running from the North Pole to the South Pole. Prior to 1884, Paris, France also claimed to be at 0 degrees Longitude, this meeting in 1884, held In Washington, USA agreed by the 26 nations present that Greenwich, London, UK would be 0 degrees Longitude. This is the astronomical clock, where East meets West.


On the Transit Circle, the Observatory shows, that the earth is a sphere of 360 degrees. Going west from Greenwich and travelling to the halfway point of 180 degrees, you arrive at the International Date Line, another imaginary line dividing the East and West hemispheres, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is the demarcation zone separating two calendar dates, if continuing east you substrate a day while going west you add on a day. This is not by any means a straight line, due to some of the island countries that’s on this line, to prevent a time zone, this line is curved around them, taking up its trajectory having cleared the island. The huge landmass between Asia and North America in the Bering Strait, Cape Dezhnev, Russia is always a day ahead of Cape Prince of Wales, in Alaska, even though there’s only 80 kilometres between them.


Greenwich Mean Time, is standard time worldwide, in 1992 UTC started to be used, Coordinated Universal Time. In 1876 was the first time zones came into being, Sir Sanford Fleming was a Scottish engineer who helped design the Canadian railway system, his desire was to make the railroad more efficient and avoid complications that would be inevitable resulting from different train stations that were setting the time schedules according to their local astronomical conditions. He proposed a system, a circle of 360 degrees should be divided into 24 time zones. Dividing 360 degrees by 24 hours gives 15, so every 15 degrees one travels that gives you an hour difference, plus or minus depending if one goes east or west. To begin with all clocks would be set at midday depending on the readings of the Sun. The system was adapted and now we have 24-time-zones. Yes there are countries that do not use daytime saving but internationally that’s allowed for. 


Sundials, water clocks, and sticks stuck in the ground to measure the shadows of the Sun indicating the length or shortness of the days. In hindsight this worked perfectly well for the areas people lived in. Travelling long distances was not usual and so it wasn’t noticed. Sailors and merchants going overseas realized a drop in temperatures, or the decline in growth and changes in the seasons were different to what they had left at home. Scientists, astronomers, religious scholars, architects, artists and others were becoming aware of a broader universe. Expanding into a different world, times were changing and so were the needs for a more modern understanding of the world.

Saint Valentine’s Day 14th February.

Entry By: 
Joe F.

If Paris and Milan consider themselves the cities of love, where will that leave Dublin, the capital city of Ireland? In 1836 Father Spratt arrived back in Dublin with the remains of St Valentine. Since that day the remains have been on show for all to see in Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin’s city centre. The Shrine contains an alarmed casket enclosing a number of St. Valentine’s bones and a vial of his blood.


The story of St. Valentine is pretty gruesome. In 270 AD he was working as a priest in Rome. The Emperor Claudius II was in power, remembered as ‘Claudius the Cruel’. Roman men were not joining the army when they were married, they cherished the attachment of their wives and families. Claudius II banned all marriages and engagements to get rid of this problem. Valentine realized this injustice and defied Claudius II by continuing to perform marriages in secret for young lovers.


On the 14th February around 270 AD, on the instructions of Claudius II, Valentine was confronted by a group of men who attacked him with clubs and then beheaded him. His martyred remains were buried in Rome. The Catholic Church canonized him in 1537.

Enter the Irishman Fr John Spratt in the early 1800s. A powerful preacher in Rome whose reputation had reached Pope Gregory XVI. After one of his sermons at a church in Rome where the Pope was present to hear Fr Spratt speak, the Pope was so impressed that he gifted him with St. Valentine’s remains. The priest carried the remains back with him to Dublin in 1836, where he in turn gifted them to Whitefriars church. Included was a letter from Pope Gregory XVI proving their authenticity. The remains had a Shrine and a statue erected in the church in the 1950s. The Catholic Church had an enormous following at that time and as word spread of this Shrine, people venerated it from all over Ireland, especially on the Saint’s patron day, the 14th February. As the tourism business became popular in Ireland, thousands of young and indeed, not so young people began to gather on his feast day in Whitefriars Street Church in memory of the Saint of Love. On a walking tour of Dublin this church is sometimes included. 


Entry By: 
Joe F.

In 1958 a competition was set up in Ireland to find the prettiest or tidiest town in the country. Only about 60 towns entered the competition in the initial year. Some boys, with the old flat caps, declared ‘that some politicians have too much time on their hands and that this gimmick won’t certainly last too long’. The Glenties in Co. Donegal won the first one and followed up with retaining the title for two more years.

It’s a voluntary organization, with the main sponsors being the SuperValu grocery stores, with many other organizations also involved, namely Guinness, Tourism Ireland, phone companies, pharmaceuticals, the farming communities, Aer Lingus the state airline, and others. Starting in March of each year, flowers are planted, trees are pruned, shop fronts and houses are given a makeover. Going through towns and villages in the early mornings, it’s an awakening and heart lifting experience to see the dedication and the pride that people have in their locality. Cleaning up the streets, renewing flower boxes etc. People from eight to eighty are involved, schools encourage students from an early age to keep their sweet papers or other rubbish they may have until they can dispose of it in a waste bin. The organization is well established and is administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development. It’s represented by a chairperson, secretary, treasurer and the other members of a board of directors with the skills and know-how, that are needed to deliver the necessary support.


The idea of the competition is not just the aforementioned effort but also to bring attention to these areas. Investment from overseas is a must for all of Ireland and the IDA (Irish Development Authority) has attracted many companies under the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) to set up here. Small and large multinational companies are government funded and grant aided when agreeing to locate. First impressions are everything and the tidy towns are the injection that impresses a company that “what a lovely place to offer to employees’. Schools, churches, community facilities, and much much more are constantly being updated. It’s so important for an area to have this investment, statistics show that for every 10 employees in a work place they are supporting 6 others in that area with money being spent through housing or stores. Another point to remember is, with the UK having left the EU, Ireland is now the largest English speaking country within the European Union, with a highly well educated young workforce. 

With the environment having a more ‘Green’ belief now, it will be more easier to keep offices, government buildings, schools, warehouses, dwellings and all other stores cleaner and less stained by emissions.

Adjudication for the competition takes place in June with results coming out in September or October. No monetary value for the winners. A gold medal for the winning town, silver and bronze for the runners up. Over 700 towns take part now after 70 years. Outliving the boys with the flat caps, even the caps have disappeared. For the towns that win or those that are close to winning the bar has now been raised. The top towns have to try and stay at the top and the runners up have to continue and achieve their ultimate goal.

Best wishes and thanks to all who take part. Driving throughout the country with tourists it makes us as people involved in the tourism business very proud having people remark how lovely everyplace looks. No other country in Europe has this competitive approach to a tidy town. That having been said, when driving throughout Europe one will be impressed by the beauty and cleanliness of their towns and cities, despite the lack of any competition incentive.

Ireland’s Tidiest Village 2023

  • Geashill, Co Offaly

Ireland’s Tidiest Small Town 2023

  • Abbeyleix, Co Laois

Ireland’s Tidiest Large Town 2023

  • Killarney, Co Kerry

Ireland’s Tidiest Large Urban Centre 2023

  • Cork South, Co Cork

Regional Award Winner 2023

  • Midlands & East

Tree Project Award

  • Shannon TidyTowns, Co Clare







Entry By: 
Joe F.

Just where is Mongolia? It’s a plateau of Central Asia between China and Russian Siberia. It occupies an area of about 1,560,000 square Kilometres and has a population of about 3 million people.

When we see the word Mongolia, and our minds immediately flash back to Outer Mongolia, imagining troops of horsemen, charging into battle, the ground thundering and shuddering as these warhorses plough the earth beneath their feet. The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan, who forged an empire by uniting nomadic tribes of the Asian steppes and creating a devastating cavalry. The Empire or the ‘Golden Horde’ as it was called survived for over a century but with rivalry within successive generations the empire began to crumble. The Manchu-led Qing Dynasty of Outer-Mongolia was formed. This territory of China was ruled from 1691 to 1911, until modern day Mongolia got its independence during the Xinhai Revolution. 

The Gobi Desert is the fifth largest Desert in the world and covers 30% of the land mass of Mongolia plus a similar size of China. The climate of Mongolia is very varied, with the mountain ranges of Altai, the Khangai and the Khentti and the desert determining the temperatures of the seasons. The average temperature in winter is from -10 to -30 and summer from +10 to +30 degrees centigrade. 

The numerous lakes and rivers have an abundance of fish from trout, perch, pike, salmon, roach. Birds to be found are plovers, lapwings, egrets, eagles, hawks, ducks, swans, etc. Wild animals, grey wolves, snow leopards, bears, wild horses, camels, foxes, deer, yaks and so many more.

Employment for such a vast country and a low volume of population is a major problem for parliamentarians to have employees for the many vacancies that need filling. The state has a vast wealth of minerals, coal, copper, gold and uranium, oil and textile production are the main industries. Being a landlocked country adds more expense to imports and exports of materials. China is its main trading country, a large number of migrants from other countries are employed in Mongolia, especially in the education, medical and engineering sectors.

Mongolian cultures, traditions, music, art, literature and history are deeply influenced by their nomadic existence. Their sporting identity of horse racing, wrestling and archery is intermingled with the traditional way of life of the Mongols, the farming community of herding animals. The festivals involved in the history and cultural heritage are beautiful to watch. Traditional clothing designs display ones standing within their communities. Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant religion. When couples are getting married, the ceremony begins in the morning with the groom’s family arriving at the bride’s home or the place where the event is taking place. Both families are involved in the ceremony and expenses. The bride leaves her home and goes to live in her husband’s home.

For international travellers and tourists who thrive on adventure and exploration, this is the jaw dropping attraction that will embellish your dream world. People are always anxious to hear of someone’s latest adventure. As such your trip to Mongolia will entitle you to an open invitation to many a party or an event. Retirees or individuals taking career breaks should have this destination implanted in their to-do list. The citizens of Mongolia are a hardworking race of people, graceful and sometimes austere individuals. In the family environment 2 or 4 children are the norm, nowadays when children mature they move to the cities, leaving the rural areas to the older generations, Ulaanbaatar the capital and largest city is the most attractive city for university, college and employment. The youngest son usually inherits the land and family home. 

For more information contact, Further Afield Travel and Tours.