Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Where next?

As per my last post, having visited all the countries in the arctic does pose a question – where next? I guess I could just do a fortnight in Spain like everyone else but I’m just not that good with hot weather.

Despite all my travelling in the arctic I’m yet to see a Polar Bear, and I understand that Churchill, on the Hudson bay in Northern Manitoba is one of the best places in the world to see them. Better still, I found out you can get a train there with via rail
http://www.viarail.ca/en/trains/prairies-and-northern-manitoba/winnipeg-churchill

There are no roads that far North, so it’s either that or a very expensive flight. The 1000 mile journey takes two days from Winnipeg but I reckon it’d be quite fun. Actually for a long time now I’ve wanted to travel right across Canada – would be great to incorporate this into such a trip but it’s unlikely I’ll ever have the three months or so it’d take to do it until I retire.

So it’s on the back burner for now but one day I’ll make it.

Taking Stock

Following my recent trip to Greenland I’ve now been to all eight arctic nations (defined as having some territory within the arctic circle – in the case of Iceland only just, half the island of Grímsey just sneaks in) I’m going to attempt to list them out, as much as a way for me to keep track as anything else. Pretty much without exception these were all incredible trips, I won’t write much about them now but hope to fill out the details for at least some of them on this blog at some point.

Norway
Probably the country I’ve been to the most.
January 2005 – Tromsø – my first time in the arctic and first time I saw the Northern lights
April 2010 – Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen) – the furthest North I’m ever likely to go
Various other trips to Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø.

Sweden
Only been once, went to Stockholm and ran in the midnattsloppet (literally midnight race), a nighttime 10k road race around the island of Södermalm.

Finland
Couple of trips, once to Helsinki and a road trip from Tampere to Karelia.

Russia
Flew to Kirkenes in Norway, then got a mini bus to Murmansk on the Kola peninsula, spent a few days there then got the train down to St Petersburg.

USA (Alaska)
Two week road trip around Alaska, taking in Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Talkeetna, Fairbanks, and Whitehorse in Yukon.

Canada
Went to the Yukon as part of the trip above.

Denmark (Greenland, Faroe Islands)
Recent trip to Greenland as I’ve written about on here, also a trip to the Faroe Islands in June 2005 as part of a three week trip to Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland.

Iceland
Once as part of the trip above, and a road trip last year around the North West fjords.

I kept a journal on the 2005 trip I did to Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland so I’ll probably write that one up next. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away and confirmed my love for the far North.

There are actually two ways to define the arctic, either anywhere above 66° 33’N, or anywhere North of the 10 degree isotherm, where the average temperature of the warmest month (July) is below 10 degrees. Both of these are depicted on the map below.

Back home

I was again grateful I’d chosen Hotel Nebo in Copenhagen for my overnight stay, as they had a late checkout of 11. Still being on Greenlandic time (is 4 hours enough to get jet lag?) and getting caught up in the bank holiday spirit a bit too much in the pubs last night meant that even getting up for 11 was something of a struggle. Got to the airport in plenty of time for my afternoon SAS flight back to London.

And so my Greenland trip ends – I hope to be back there one day, I’d like to go to the far South and see the fjords, and also the settlements in the East which are meant to be more traditional than life on the West coast. One day.

A day of airports and travel

I’m due to fly to Copenhagen today, via Greenland’s international airport at Kangerlussuaq, but the first leg of my flight has been cancelled. There is an earlier flight to Kanger, so I got up at 6 in order to try and get on it. I didn’t have any more internet access left, my mobile couldn’t register with the Greenlandic network, and there was no landline in the room, so I went down to breakfast as soon as they opened. The very helpful hotelier phoned Air Greenland for me and managed to get me on the earlier flight. She also gave me a lift to the airport which I was very grateful for.

Ilulissat Airport

Ilulissat Airport

Plane at Ilulissat airport

Plane at Ilulissat airport

The earlier flight gives me 3 hours in Kangerlussuaq which is probably a good two and a half hours too many, but I’m just glad I’ll be able to make it to Copenhagen tonight.

There’s not a huge amount to do in Kangerlussuaq, for those staying overnight there are musk ox safaris, and trips up the road that goes to the ice cap, but I won’t have time for either of these. Instead I have a look at the Greenland keyrings and pens in the three gift shops, and have a couple of beers at the airport bar.

Airport Bar Kangerlussuaq

Airport Bar, Kangerlussuaq

The flight from Kangerlussuaq back to Copenhagen is absolutely packed, which is in stark contrast to the three quarters empty flight I experienced on the way here. I later find out it’s a bank holiday in Denmark (and maybe Greenland too?) tomorrow which probably has something to do with it.

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Because of the time difference (you lose four hours), I’m not back in Copenhagen until 10pm local time. Other transatlantic flights I’ve done West to East have always been overnight, but I guess the flight time is not quite long enough for Air Greenland to do this, the four and a half hour flight time would not be long enough to sleep. I lucked out massively on choosing the Nebo hotel, very reasonable price (for Copenhagen) and a great location right next to the Central station. I go out for a few drinks in town and the bank holiday tomorrow means it’s quite busy out, which is a nice but a bit of a shock to the system after the relative solitude I’ve had in Greenland over the last week and a bit.

Hotel Nebo, Copenhagen

View from bedroom at Hotel Nebo, Copehagen

Cancelled

It’s my last full day in Ilulissat, and indeed my last day in Greenland as I fly back to Copenhagen tomorrow. I’m due to do two walking tours today, one to the old settlement at the ice fjord and also a guided city walk. Not for the first time this trip it turns out I’m the only one booked on both. All credit to the World of Greenland tourist office, I think they felt sorry for me having already cancelled my Monday boat trip, so they did the city walk with me despite me being the only person on it. As I’ve already been to the Ice Fjord I don’t mind missing that one too much really.

Oldest house in Ilulissat

The oldest house in Ilulissat

The city tour was really interesting, we went round the old town and saw the oldest houses in Ilulissat which were built when the Danes first arrived here. Then we went down to the harbour and saw some of the fishing boats. It was amazing to see what were quite traditional fishing vessels, but capable of landing sharks (although they don’t catch many of them, partly due to quotas). Fishing is the main industry here, followed by the council in Ilulissat (which covers everywhere from here to the North coast of Greenland, making it the worlds largest council in terms of area covered, an area 14 times the size of Denmark), then tourism the third biggest sector for employment.

Ilulissat

Ilulissat

My tour guide also talked about the supply ships that come into the harbour here. They’re a bit better at breaking through the ice than the AUL ferry I had caught to get here a few days ago, but even so they have no supply ships for three to four months over the winter. The supermarket shelves get very empty, and the arrival of the first boat of the year is met with a massive shopping spree by the local populace.

I was told by the tour guide that the Icy Cafe did the best coffee in town, so headed here for a coffee and to warm up after the tour.

Ilulissat Icefjord

Ilulissat Icefjord

As I mentioned my guided trip to the Ice Fjord had been cancelled, and although I’d been before I decided to walk back over there to find out if I could “hear” the ice, any cracking sounds or whatever. Unfortunately it was actually quite windy when I got there so all I could hear was the breeze, and a couple of huge crows squawking overhead.

Sled sign Ilulissat

Road sign in Ilulissat

In the evening I headed to Café Iluliaq, where I had a pretty decent stir fry. They had a big screen showing the Manchester United v Manchester City game, which seemed pretty popular with the locals. Murphy’s bar is connected to Café Iluliaq and I had a quick beer there afterwards, there was a huge room with a stage at one end which was closed and just the bar area was open.

I had a look on teletext when I got back to my hotel, and to my horror my Air Greenland flight to Kangerlussuaq tomorrow is cancelled (from where I’m going to catch a connecting flight to Copenhagen) There is an earlier flight so I’m hoping I can get on that, I’ve had a fantastic time here in Ilulissat but don’t really want to be stranded for another day, I’ve got a hotel booked in Copenhagen as well as an onward flight the next day to London and it’d be a massive pain (and expense) if I have to rebook all of that.

Dog Sledding Ilulissat style

Having had my previous two day trips in Greenland cancelled due to a lack of numbers, I’m fairly chuffed to find out both my planned trips for today are going ahead.

Dog Sledding

Dog Sledding

First up in the morning it’s dog sledding. I did this once before on a trip to Tromsø in Northern Norway, but felt like I couldn’t really come to Greenland and not go sledding. Especially in Ilulissat, where there are dog kennels all around the town. The dogs used to have the run of town, but it was decided about twenty years ago that all dogs over six months old need to be chained up when not out sledding. The chains are long and they have a decent space to run around, but understandably when chained up for the first time at six months old wail for days, poor things. But then as I learnt in Norway, these aren’t pets, they are work dogs, almost half way between wolves and domestic pets I guess.

Dog Sledding Ilulissat

Dog Sledding

It’s just me and the sled owner Jens. I don’t think he spoke much English so we didn’t chat much, but I was happy sitting on the back of the sled with him sat on the front shouting at the dogs occasionally. The dogs were amazingly responsive to his calls, turning left or right or just hurrying up, the calls were along the lines of “yip yip yip” and “yo yo yo” rather than the stereotypical “mush”, not sure where this came from.

Dog Sledding Ilulissat

Dog Sledding

There was one particularly steep hill where the dogs where struggling to make it up, Jens got off and was pushing the sled. I offered to get up but he told me to stay put, but felt a bit useless as the dogs and Jens strained up the hill whilst I sat back relaxing.

Dog Sledding Ilulissat

Dog Sledding

It was a slightly different set up to the sledding I did in Norway. The Norwegian dogs were arranged in 4 sets of pairs, with the strongest two dogs being the lead dogs in front. The Greenlandic system seems a bit more basic, where each dog is just attached on a rope to the sled, and they’re all free to move around as they please (left, right, front, back etc). It seems to work well enough, although did require Jens to untangle the ropes every time we stopped.

Dog Sledding Ilulissat

Dog Sledding Ilulissat

I was slightly disappointed not to have a go at driving a sled as I had done in Norway, but it was a fantastic feeling to be sat on a sled travelling through the wilderness and taking in the scenery.

Naleraq Ilulissat Lunch

Lunch in Naleraq

After the sleding I had lunch in Naleraq, which is a bar/restaurant. I can’t remember the Danish (or indeed Greenlandic) name for the lunch I had but I think it transalted as fish plate and was five different types of fish, apparently a traditional dish. Washed down with a Danish lager which seems to be equally as traditional.

Boat trip Disko Bay

Boarding the boat for our trip out into Disko Bay

My second trip of the day was a small boat trip out into the Disko bay to view the icebergs and Ilulissat Glacier. As the ship was quite a bit smaller than the AUL ferry I’d been on a few days before we were able to get really close to the icebergs, which was absolutely incredible, I must’ve taken about 200 photos but none of them could really do it justice. The conditions were absolutely perfect too, the sea was so calm it looked like marble, and the sun was beginning to set.

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay

Boat trip in Disko Bay