The World's Friendliest Territorial Dispute Could Finally Be Over

The dispute between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island, called the world's "most civilized conflict," could finally be coming to an end, according to Radio Canada International.

The island, which lies in the Arctic on the maritime boundary between Canada and Greenland (which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark), has been in a tug of war between the two countries that doesn't involve armies or weapons, but does involve alcohol. In what has been dubbed a "whisky war," the Canadian and Danish militaries alternately leave bottles of Canadian whisky or Danish schnapps along with their respective flags to assert their sovereignty. But the countries are finally ready to put the pranks behind them and get serious: On May 23, officials from Canada and Denmark announced that they plan to create a joint task force to resolve three outstanding boundary issues in the Arctic, including that of Hans Island.

The island isn't much to look at: It's basically a 0.5-square-mile rock. But to Denmark and Canada, it's a matter of principle. "It doesn’t concern the water or the seabed, it only concerns this tiny rock,” Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, told Radio Canada International. “But it has attracted a lot of media attention over the years, just because of the fact that it has a certain symbolism being an Arctic sovereignty dispute and being the only Arctic dispute over land.”

It remains to be seen what the task force will come up with, but Byers suggests an entirely reasonable fix: Just draw a line down the middle.

[h/t Radio Canada International]

Meet the Exclusive Travel Club for People Who Have Been to 100 or More Countries

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

There are about 195 countries in the world—depending on how you define “country”—and most people have only visited a handful of them. However, for those with the means to travel far and wide, there’s one club that unites these wanderlust-stricken souls.

According to Lonely Planet, an exclusive organization called the Travelers’ Century Club only accepts members who have been to 100 or more countries and territories. The non-profit social club is headquartered in Los Angeles but has more than 20 chapters in the U.S., Canada, UK, Mediterranean, and Central Europe.

A few avid travelers founded the club back in 1954, and within six years it had attracted 43 members. Now, the club boasts about 1500 members, whose collective travels would put most casual vacationers to shame.

The club’s slogan is “World travel: the passport to peace through understanding,” and its mission falls in line with this ethos. Travelers’ Century Club board member Gloria McCoy tells Lonely Planet their members “seek to truly experience and appreciate the people and cultures around the world.”

By holding regular social events, inviting guest speakers, and offering presentations about different destinations, the club gives members the chance to learn about other parts of the world they might not have considered visiting. Members also have access to files containing “exclusive info” about far-flung and hard-to-visit destinations, all of which were written by club members who have personally been there and done that. Lastly, the club is a way for members to connect with like-minded people and perhaps even find new travel buddies.

The club’s official list of countries and territories visited totals 327. This is partly because it includes territories that aren’t always considered countries by the international community, such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Palestine. To join, members must fill out an application form and select the countries they’ve been to—even if they were just short trips or layovers. There's a $100 initiation fee, plus yearly dues.

If you aren't quite there yet, travelers who have been to 50 countries and territories can qualify as provisional members. This gives them access to meetings and some of the “bragging rights” that Travelers’ Century Club members get to enjoy.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

Inside the Coldest City in the World, Where It Snows 270 Days a Year

iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets
iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets

In much of the Northern Hemisphere right now, it’s getting colder and darker and the winter blues are setting in. But few places get it quite as bad as Norilsk, Russia, where residents won’t see a sunrise until mid-January. Worse yet, it's arguably the coldest city in the world.

One of two Siberian cities built in the continuous permafrost zone, during the winter, the city of more than 175,000 people can see cold snaps as brutally low as -78°F. Overall, Norilsk boasts a yearlong average temperature of just 14°F. (Some will argue that the Siberian city of Yakutsk is colder, but that depends on how you want to slice it: Yakutsk is indisputably chillier in the winter—an average temperature of -42°F in January!—but it has much hotter summers and so, when measured by its yearly average, is warmer overall.)

Then there's the snow. Norilsk “is covered with snow for about 270 days a year,” Vincze Miklós writes for io9, “and the inhabitants must deal with snowstorms one day out of every three.”

It's also incredibly isolated. Of all the cities in the world with populations of 100,000 people or more, Norilsk is the farthest north. Despite its relatively large size, no roads lead to it. The city, located 1800 miles from Moscow, sits 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and can only be reached by plane or boat. Surrounded by thousands of miles of untouched wilderness, Norilsk is so cut off from the rest of the world that residents often refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland.”

The city, we should stress, is on the mainland.

Despite it all, Norilsk is a relatively buzzing place. The city has public transportation, bars, cafes, churches, art galleries, a large theater, and plenty of modern amenities. And new people keep moving in.

The reason? Money.

Norilsk sits on one of the world’s biggest nickel, platinum, and palladium deposits, making it, according to the New York Times, Russia's richest city.

For much of the 20th century, those precious metals were mined by more than 600,000 prisoners detained in a nearby gulag. Today, the gulag is gone, and the people who work for the mines are paid rather handsomely for their work. With palladium selling for over $1000 an ounce, the metals extracted and smelted in the area—largely by one company, Norilsk Nickel—account for a whopping 2 percent of Russia’s entire GDP.

But there is a price to pay to live in Norilsk, and it has nothing to do with the cold. Mining has also made the city one of the most polluted places on the planet. According to National Geographic, “The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air is so high that vegetation in an almost 20-mile radius has died, and residents are forbidden from gathering berries or mushrooms due to high toxicity.” (That's a big deal, given that mushroom-hunting is one of Russia’s most beloved national pastimes.) Recently, mining activity caused the nearby Daldykan river to turn blood red. According to the Times, “At one point, the company belched more sulfur dioxide a year than all of France.”

Most residents are aware of the possible health consequences but don’t raise much of a fuss. "Norilsk Nickel feels like it owns the whole territory here," a citizen tells Victoria Fiore in her short documentary My Deadly Beautiful City, "so [people] are afraid to speak out against it." Their livelihood, after all, depends on the mine's success.

And besides, many people in Norilsk—a significant number of whom are descended from the prison laborers who helped build everything in this city—feel deeply connected to the isolated landscape they call home.

"It's beautiful and eternal," one man tells Fiore. "This is where I like to be."

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