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Norway, Norway
Fata Morgana
If the aurora inspires wonder, the fata morgana may prompt a visit to a psychiatrist. The clear and pure Arctic air ensures that distant features do not appear out of focus. As a result, depth perception becomes impossible and the world takes on a strangely two-dimensional aspect where distances are indeterminable. Early explorers meticulously laid down on maps and charts islands, headlands and mountain ranges that were never seen again. An amusing example of distance distortion, described in the enigmatic book Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, involves a Swedish explorer who was completing a description in his notebook of a craggy headland with two unusual symmetrical valley glaciers, when he discovered that he was actually looking at a walrus. Fata morganas are apparently caused by reflections off water, ice and snow, and when combined with temperature inversions, create the illusion of solid, well-defined features where there are none. On clear days off the outermost coasts of Lofoten, Vesterålen, northern Finnmark and Svalbard, you may well observe inverted mountains or nonexistent archipelagos of craggy islands resting on the horizon. It’s difficult indeed to convince yourself, even with an accurate map, that they’re not really there! Also unsettling are the sightings of ships, large cities and forests where there could clearly be none. Normal visibility at sea is less than 18km, but in the Arctic, sightings of islands and features hundreds of kilometres distant are frequently reported.

Norway, Norway
Aurora borealis
There are few sights as mesmerising as an undulating aurora. Although these appear in many forms – pillars, streaks, wisps and haloes of vibrating light – they’re most memorable when taking the form of pale curtains wafting on a gentle breeze. Most often, the Arctic aurora appears as a faint green or light rose but, in periods of extreme activity, can change to yellow or crimson. The visible aurora borealis, or northern lights, are caused by streams of charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, which are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field towards the polar regions. Because the field curves downward in a halo surrounding the magnetic poles, the charged particles are drawn earthward. Their interaction with electrons in nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere releases the energy creating the visible aurora. During periods of high activity, a single auroral storm can produce a trillion watts of electricity with a current of one million amps. The Inuit (Eskimos) call the lights arsarnerit ('to play with a ball'), as they were thought to be ancestors playing ball with a walrus skull. The Inuit also attach spiritual significance to the lights, and some believe that they represent the capering of unborn children; some consider them gifts from the dead to light the long polar nights and others see them as a storehouse of events, past and future. Norwegian folklore attributes the lights to old maids or dead maidens dancing and weaving. The lights were seen as a bad omen and a sign that God was angry, and people who mocked the superstition risked incurring the ire of God. The best time of year to catch the northern lights in Norway is from October to March, although you may also see them as early as August. Oddly enough, Svalbard is actually too far north to catch the greatest activity.

Masjid-i-Vakil, Shiraz, Iran
Outside the Arg I walked over to what Bradt refer to as the Bagh-I-Nazar. This is described as ‘a small octagonal reception Pavilion of Karim Khan Zand’. Now Bradt says that, it used to house a small local museum. However the only building that matched this description was a museum, looked quite nice as well – but it was closed. No one nearby seemed to be entirely sure whether this was the Bagh-I-Nazar and I decided to move on. The Masjid – I – Vakil, a 1773 construction was supposed to be walking distance. Bradt say that it is out of bounds to foreign tourists, but I was able to get in without any problems. There is some reconstruction work going on though – with one of the workmen willing to give impromptu guides (in Farsi) – but he usefully did point out the foundation stone. It’s a very large mosque with massive dusty stone pillars and a large courtyard with grass growing between the paving stones. It’s difficult to imagine that just next door is a heaving market with hundreds of people. As usual with these places the only other tourists seem to be Iranian school children and the odd Europeans. Next to the mosque is the Vakil bazaar (18th century, whose rents paid for the mosque). Like bazaars in other cities this is covered, with two of the original four caraveranserai remaining. These were places for traders and travellers to stay, now they seem to be used as offices and warehouses. In Nishapour (north eastern Iran) I had seen a caravanserai converted into a museum and in Isfahan into a kitsch hubble/bubble tea shop.

Jalil Khayat Mosque, Erbil, Iraq
Jalil Khayat Mosque
The Mosque allocated in a very distinct area of Erbil city capital of Kurdistan Region, surrounded by four streets (two of them are main streets), the land area is about (15000m²). The mosque building relies on Islamic architecture and al-Abbasi design except the domes, which built, relying on OTTOMAN Mosques. The Mosque is distinguished by hugeness skeleton, many domes, and tow high minaret, intermediate the mosque skeleton big and huge dome, the height of the main dome (48 meter), and the diameter (20 meter), and around the main dome (four half domes), (twelve quarter domes) and (four domes on the corner) There are also many domes distributed around the Mosque, with the presence of two high minarets with (75 meter) high beside the main sanctum together with domes which cover the sanctum gives a nice architecture view to the mosque. The two minarets are designed and built relying on Islamic architecture, with a square base, and the second nave with an octagonal shape and the third nave with a circular shape, in additional to the columns which bear the crescent. The mosque project is consider the first mosque in Kurdistan Region and Iraq in variegation, design, ornament and skeleton where as the big sanctuary (which specified for men praying) which take about (1500 prayer). The sanctuary has been ornamented from inside by hand which took one year of hard work, as all inside walls and domes carefully variegated and golden ink used to write verses of the Holly Koran. The chandeliers used for lighting consist of original crystal and all the metal gold plated 24 K gold. The second sanctuary specified for woman for praying and listens to the Friday speeches, can take (300 prayers), and also variegated and ornamented from inside. The mosque includes two main gates on the main street, the first main gate is (25 meters) of height covered by a big dome and two half domes, the second gate is built relying on Islamic architecture and covered with bricks, there are also several gates on side streets. On the left side of the big sanctuary there is a big hall can take (300 persons) for the religion occasion, the ceiling of the hall variegated with mirror ornamented and lighted by chandelier which includes original crystal and gold plated. The hall includes annex for food service. Beside the occasion hall there is a grave yard with octagonal shape, over it a circular dome, with a separate entrance. The path ways leading to the occasion hall and other mosque annex and halls is beside the sanctuary and around consists of a corridor built relying on (Al-Abbasi design of corridors) decorated and covered with bricks and colored ceramic. There are three places ablution and annex for departed and pray on, the mosque includes a kitchen to arrange food for poor people at owner expenses. Under the mosque at the basement floor there are several rooms designed to be a library or introduce different services to the mosque. During ten years from the beginning of the project and until the completion hundreds of believer and faithful people work to build this project and introduce this edifice to the Erbil City to be a living evidence during history, beside other Erbil edifice.

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