Although my travels this summer technically never left Europe, they explored its extremes, with my destinations seemingly worlds apart. Gran Canaria is a Spanish island, but if you head east you make landfall in Africa’s Western Sahara, a place that’s easy to imagine from the rolling dunes of Maspalomas. The high arctic island of Svalbard, meanwhile, is officially Norwegian territory, albeit 1200 miles north of Oslo. But Russia made its mark up here too; press on past Longyearbyen and you’ll find a statue of Lenin gazing out across the former soviet settlement of Pyramiden, frozen in time.
Nor were the differences purely the product of climate, geology or cultural custom; each trip was very different in style, too… I had been considering – with varying degrees of seriousness – a visit to Svalbard for most of a decade. Once I decided this would be the year, I designed endless permutations of the trip, with potential bookends in Norway, Finland or both (I actually had a 72 hour visit via Helsinki booked, until Finnair realised they weren’t allowed to operate the route). Whilst I would be travelling alone, I would be dependent on organised tours for most activities – and was in search of adventures to fill my time. As usual, pulling this off would require milking my loyalty schemes for all they were worth!
Conversely, Gran Canaria had never been on my radar, and the trip fell into place in just a few days of searching for a location that would suit my partner and I. Our simple parameters were sunshine, a hotel near water, and an airport with nonstop service to both the UK and Holland. The plan for once we got there was to do as little as possible, making up the schedule as we went along; the airlines were whatever worked, and the accommodation an independent property pulled from Trip Advisor.
However, I discovered a pleasing symmetry between the two islands; Svalbard is the furthest north I have ever travelled, and Gran Canaria the furthest south:
As usual, I’ve put together a report for Flyertalk, with an (excessively?) in-depth look at the various flights, hotels and airport lounges plus some of the intermediate stops along the way. It ended up being quite a monster, covering:
- Train travel from London to Rotterdam with Eurostar and Thalys
- Flights on Transavia (AMS-LPA in economy), Iberia Express (LPA-LHR in business), BA (Euro Traveller LHR-OSL and Club Europe OSL-LHR) and Norwegian (OSL-LYR-OSL in domestic)
- Eurostar business premier lounge, Aspire lounges at AMS and LHR T5, Sala Galdos at LPA, Business section at the OSL lounge and Club Millesime arrivals lounge LHR T5
- Stays at Gold by Marina, Radisson Blu Plaza Oslo, Radisson Blu Polar Longyearbyen, Svalbard Hotell and Lodge, Park Inn by Radisson Oslo airport
- Sightseeing in Rotterdam, Maspalomas, Oslo, Longyearbyen
Here on The Great Affair I’ve tried for more of a travel writing than documentation style, which I hope does more justice to the destinations themselves. Plus I can do far more with pictures! Thus I’ve restricted the coverage to the following highlights:
- Gold by Marina
- Visiting Svalbard
- The world’s northernmost fjord cruise
- A tour of Pyramiden
Finally, there’s an extensive set of galleries over on flickr if you’d prefer a purely photographic tour.