Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

What are you doing here?

Air Greenland Copenhagen

Catching my Air Greenland flight at Copenhagen

And so the adventure begins. There are few airports in Greenland with runways long enough to accommodate flights from Denmark, so in order to fly to Nuuk (the capital of Greenland) I first have a four and a half hour flight to Kangerlussuaq. Immediately I realise why the flights to Greenland are so expensive, the plane must have only been about 20% full. I quite liked Air Greenland but they are some way behind other long distance carriers, they still give you a set time when the film starts, and the choice of films was dire (three dreadful rom-coms and three kids films), but there was an hour long documentary about Greenland cuisine which was quite interesting (Musk Ox looks like a particular favourite).

Air Greenland Kangerlussuaq

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Signpost at Kangerlussuaq Airport

Unfortunately I couldn’t see much during the flight over Greenland itself due to cloud, but the arrival in Kangerlussuaq was pretty spectacular, snowy mountains and ice covered fjords as far as the eye could see.

I had about 40 minutes in Kangerlussuaq before my connecting flight to Nuuk. It’s basically an old American air force base, and as such is very “Un Greenlandic” town. There is a road up to the ice cap (which covers a massive 85% of Greenland) which I’d have done if I had more time, but given that I’ll see plenty of snow and ice on this trip I didn’t feel it worth spending a night here. And I’m pretty glad I didn’t, looking round it just feels like a bunch of service buildings for the airport.

Boarding the flight to Nuuk was straightforward – there are no security checks on internal flights in Greenland which is refreshing. Should’ve taken a load of bottles of liquid on with me just for the hell of it. The flight to Nuuk was on an old DASH7 plane, felt like an old cargo plane of the ilk that frequently crashes into the Amazon rainforest in films. This coupled with the landing at Nuuk, which I’d read about on wikipedia “Heavy turbulence frequently occurs and could lead to a crash, with widespread loss of life and property” certainly added a bit of excitement to the journey.

The Seaman’s Home in Nuuk

Once in Nuuk I took a taxi to the Seaman’s Hotel, which is basically a budget hotel in everything but price. Perfectly comfortable though I didn’t exactly expect the Ritz.

Museum of Greenland

I spent the afternoon in the museum of Greenland which was absolutely fascinating. The artefacts themselves weren’t much to write home about, or indeed blog about, (old tools and utensils used by Greenlanders 100 years ago anyone? Or kayaks that are only 10 years old but built in a traditional style?) but the write ups about Greenlandic history were really interesting.

The touchy subject of Danish colonism was only briefly touched on and I couldn’t help but feel it had something of a Danish bias. Basically in an effort to reduce costs of healthcare and education provision the Danish government relocated a lot of families from smaller villages into Nuuk in the 1960s, which has led to quite a few social problems. There’s an apparent sense of helplessness at being caught between traditional and Western cultures, and families used to being self sufficient are now reliant on benefits they didn’t want in the first place. So although Greenland now enjoys the benefits of being a modern society it has come at a price.

At the back of the museum were a couple of inuit corpses which had been perfectly preserved in permafrost – was actually pretty grim not quite sure why there were on display really 😐

On the way to a museum a girl (maybe 12 years old?) said to me “What are you doing here?” in an accusative tone. Was a bit eerie didn’t exactly make me feel welcome – but then whilst Nuuk does get a few tourists it’s not really a tourist destination in the same way the towns in the South or around Disko bay are. I seem to remember from reading Lawrence Millman’s Last Places (an excellent read which I’d highly recommend) that he got rocks thrown at him by some children so I guess as welcomes go I could have fared worse.

Local but expensive beer

In the evening I headed to the Godthåb Bryghus which I’d seen advertised at the airport (Godthåb is the Danish name for Nuuk, and Bryghus means brewery). It’s basically a restaurant/brew pub, and as far as I saw on my trip the only brewery in Greenland. The beer was ok but the food was disappointing and it was expensive too. I’ll try not to continually moan about the cost of everything, Greenland is not a cheap destination and I knew this before I arrived, but I will say that according to http://www.pintprice.com the beer in Greenland is the most expensive in the world. At 70 Danish Krone for 400ml I can believe it (I make that £10.83 a pint, surely the most expensive beer I’ve ever bought and makes Oslo look cheap)

Afterwards I went for a beer in the Kristinemut bar, apparently the oldest pub in Greenland and again mentioned in Millman’s Last Places. I’ve heard it can get quite rough, alcoholism is a big problem in Greenland and specifically in Nuuk. But I figured it couldn’t be any worse than a night out in Reading – and sure enough it was fine, although as I was there quite early it was fairly quiet and no doubt gets a bit more lively later on.

Streets in Nuuk

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