To The North Pole

Annual excursions to the top of the world start in April, typically from Khatanga (p289), with a 2V2-hour flight to the military/scientific base at Sredniy Island (79.5°N), where there's a small museum. Another two hours' flight brings you to ironically named Borneo Ice Camp runway, rebuilt annually at around 89°N. From here you can ski or helicopter-hop the last 100km. Recently various alternative routes, notably via Vorkuta and Frans Josef Land, have also been tried.

North Pole Adventures (www.northpole.ru) runs weekend trips to the Pole from Moscow (€6000), with opportunities to attend the North Pole ballooning festival or ice-sculpture festival, or to ski for six days to reach the Pole.

A US$3000 fly-in, fly-out trip from Krasnoyarsk booked through Dyula Tur (§ 3912 591400; Hotel Krasnoyarsk, ul Uritskogo 94) is about the cheapest way to the Pole, but departures are less reliable.

Departing from Germany or Austria and skiing the last sector, you'll pay around US$8000 for an 18-day 'Exnor' adventure with DAV Summit Club (§ 089 642 400; www.dav-summit-dub.de, in German), in alternate years. A similar trip starting in Moscow costs $6900 with Travel Pac (§ 095 933 0951; http://old.pac.group.ru).

If just getting to the Pole isn't enough, parachute onto it with Polar World (www.skypole.ru) or balloon over it with Grinex (www.ec-arctic.ru). Experienced dry-suit divers can even plunge beneath the polar ice with UK-based Divercity Ltd (§ 1908647300; www.divercityscuba.com), whose two-week expeditions cost around US$12,500 ex Moscow.

It's increasingly popular to cruise to the North Pole by nuclear-powered icebreaker from Murmansk, generally stopping in dramatic Frans Josef Land on the way back. Many agencies sell this tour ex Scandinavia, including Helsinki-Murmansk flights, for US$16,450 to US$27,450. Contact Quark Expeditions (www.quarkexpeditions.com), Journeys International (www.journeys-intl .com) or Aurora (www.auroraexpeditions.com.au). Start in Moscow from US$14,155 with Condor (www .condorjourneys-adventures.com).

Perhaps the ultimate icebreaker cruise takes you in 18 days from Murmansk to the North Pole and on through the Northeast Passage. You pass right along Russia's coast via Severnaya Zemlya, theTaymyr Peninsula, the Lena Delta, the New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island, before arriving at Pevek, on Chukotka's north coast (see p293), to fly on to Alaska. The trip is sold by Poseidon (www.northpolevoyages.com) and Victory (www.victory-cruises.com) from around US$23,000.

Taking such an icebreaker trip is ethically ambiguous. Some environmental groups are horrified at the potential for nuclear accidents, but a more mundane question surrounds the question of whether the ships' Murmansk-based operating company is obliged to return profits to the state who so expensively had the boats built - originally for strategic icebreaking.

For unsurfaced winter roads a minimum of four-wheel drive is wise; the UAZ minibuses ('Wazzik') are ubiquitous. Six-wheel-drive trucks or Ural buses are more reliable. There are also tank-like transporter vehicles with caterpillar tracks. Very few of the longer 'roads' actually have public transport per se. Arrange rides with local people or hitchhike with a truck driver.

Digital Cameras For Beginners

Digital Cameras For Beginners

Although we usually tend to think of the digital camera as the best thing since sliced bread, there are both pros and cons with its use. Nothing is available on the market that does not have both a good and a bad side, but the key is to weigh the good against the bad in order to come up with the best of both worlds.

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