Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Tag Archives: Ilulissat

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

Advertisements

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

Chilling Out by the Icebergs

It’s a bit windy here in Ilulissat today, which unlike Nuuk is unusual here I’m told. It’s warmed up a bit though, must be close to 0 degrees today.

Hotel Avannaa Ilulissat

My hotel, the excellent Hotel Avannaa

My planned boat trip to the old settlement at Oqaatsut was cancelled due to lack of numbers. I was looking forward to it, but knew when I booked it there was a strong chance this would happen. It’s almost May but it’s still very much winter here, and therefore still “off season”. It did give me the chance to look around town and walk down to the Ice Fjord (the Ilulissat ice fjord is about 20 minutes walk from town, and is fed by the most productive glacier outside of Antarctica, so is a must for iceberg fans) There was a group of Greenlandic people down there on a guided walk, but once I got past them it was very quiet, eerily so. It suddenly crossed my mind that now would not be a good time to encounter a polar bear, although I’m not sure they come this far South (despite being at 69° North!)

Ilulissat Icefjord

Ilulissat Icefjord

I walk back into town past some of the vast number of sled dog kennels that are littered around the outskirts of town. My presence starts a wave of barking which you’d think would drive the locals mad, but apparently they’re used to it! I also achieve a first for my trip in that I successfully buy alcohol from a Greenlandic supermarket. Managed to get in before the ridiculous late afternoon curfew.

Ilulissat Icefjord

Ilulissat Icefjord

Also back in town I looked round the Ilulissat museum which is dedicated to the polar explorer Knud Rasmussen who is from here. It’s a fairly small place but very interesting to learn about Rasmussen and a little about the history of Ilulissat.

Icefjord Hike Ilulissat

Hiking back from the Icefjord

I had back to the hotel for a couple of hours and am again horrified at the incredibly expensive internet. In Nuuk I paid 200 Danish Krone for 24 hours wireless access at the Seaman’s Hotel, here it’s 50 Krone for just one hour, although at least this time it doesn’t have to all be used in one go.

Sun over Ilulissat Icefjord

The sun trying to break through the cloud above Ilulissat Icefjord

In the evening I had a beer at the hotel arctic which is the most upmarket hotel in the town. It advertises conference facilities and I was told they have political conferences here as despite the cost of getting everyone here, it works out cheaper than having them in Denmark as the security costs are drastically reduced, such is the isolation up here! Like most hotel bars it’s a bit souless, there are some quite nice views over the Disco Bay but the whole place looks a bit tired, they don’t really make the most of it. It didn’t really feel like a 4* hotel, but then we are miles from anywhere and 69° North I suppose.

Ilulissat Houses

Houses in Ilulisssat

Back at the hotel I watched a bit of Greenlandic TV – there is one national Greenlandic channel (KNR), one Greenlandic “local” channel which only seems to show adverts (Arctic TV up here in Ilulissat, there was a Nuuk equivalent NuukTV) and 3 Danish DR channels. There are a load of other (foreign) satellite channels but either access is blocked or the reception is good enough to receive them.

Disko Bay

Wake up as the ferry pulls into Aasiaat at 8am. This the first AUL ferry of the year to make it this far North, and it’s clear why, the sea is still covered in a layer of ice. I guess they’re used to that here though and sure enough the ice is thin enough for our ferry, the Sarfaq Ittuk, to plough on straight through it.

Aasiaat Harbour

Aasiaat Harbour

We stop for just half an hour at Aasiaat so once again there’s no opportunity to get out and see the town which is a shame. Up until Aasiaat I saw a handful of icebergs, but once we leave and head up through the Disko bay the sea is suddenly chock-a-block with them, the vast majority coming from the Ilulissat Glacier (or Sermeq Kujalleq to give it it’s Greenlandic name) which is the most productive glacier outside of Antarctica.

Iceberg Disko Bay

Iceberg in the Disko Bay

It’s a pretty spectacular few hours sailing through the icebergs, the ship having to constantly change direction to find a way through. It’s absolutely freezing out on deck, so I tend to spend half an hour or so outside taking photos before going back into the warmth of the aft lounge.

Iceberg Disko Bay

Iceberg in the Disko Bay

About 2pm we arrive in Ilulissat, an hour behind schedule but I don’t think many people were complaining, it’s pretty amazing we made it at all given all the ice. I get a lift to my hotel, Hotel Avannaa, from the very friendly Faroese lady who runs it. It’s a really nice hotel with an amazing view over the bay and I’m glad I chose to stay here.

View of sunset over Disko Bay from Hotel Avannaa

View of sunset over Disko Bay from Hotel Avannaa