Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Tag Archives: Nuuk

Killing time in Nuuk

Well despite a brief let up in the wind last night, it’s firmly back up to “blowing you off your feet if you’re not careful” level. Not quite sure what that equates to on the Beaufort scale, but am a bit concerned about my ferry trip tonight. Can we even sail in this?

Given the wind the hike around Little Marlene is still out of the question so I’ve got a second lazy day to kill in Nuuk waiting for my ferry which departs at 21:00. Probably one day too many in all honesty, I have to check out of the seaman’s hotel by 10 and I kind of feel like I’ve done everything there is to do in town.

The high street in Nuuk is quite small but I had a look round what there was of the shops. There aren’t a great range of shops but if you’re want to buy an iPod or flat screen TV you’re in luck as there are at least three gadget/technology shops.

Nuussuaq

On the walk to Nuussuaq

For lunch I headed over to Nuussuaq, which is a suburb twenty minutes walk east of town centre. On the walk there I go past several more grim housing estates including one which has a completely burnt out flat. There’s a fair amount of graffiti, the usual tags and “Fook the police” written a couple of times. I get absolutely soaked walking over to Nuussuaq, find a reasonable cafe called Isikkivik where I just about dry out before heading back into town.

Nuussuaq

Nuussuaq

All in all it’s quite a dull day killing time in Nuuk again, although I console myself that this does seem to be a feature of travel in the North, flight/ferry/bus timetables being what they are here. I remember once I had to wait two hours at a bus stop in Shetland in the pouring rain for one of the only services of the day, I guess you just have to settle into it and accept it.

With so little to do I feel proud of myself that I managed to stay out of the pub (Takuss again) until 15:10, but the fact it didn’t open until 15:00 had a large part to do with this. Alcohol does seem to be very highly controlled here, you’re not allowed to take any booze whatsoever into the country with you, and once there you can’t buy it in the supermarket in the evenings or at weekends (exactly when you want it surely), and of course it’s very expensive.

Spend a few hours having a couple of beers and watching the tennis, hoping the wind will die down before my ferry. No such luck though and as I walk to the ferry terminal I’m almost blown off my feet again.

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Greenlandic Weather

Woke up to the sound of wind howling against my window, it’s blowing an absolute gale out there. I was supposed to be doing a boat trip in the fjord today, but as with all tours in Greenland it’s dependant on a minimum number of people booking, and despite another two hardy souls signing up were were still three short, which given the weather I was slightly relieved about.

Nuuk

Nuuk

I thought this might happen (even before the weather turned) and had a hike planned for today, apparently there’s quite a good one you can do from Circus Lake near the airport around the mountain Little Marlene. Looks like it’d be a good four or five hour trip from the centre of town though, and given the weather and the fact I’d be going out alone I don’t really fancy it, which does give me the chance to have a lazy day and finish looking around town.

Breakfast at the Seaman’s Hotel is a Scandinavian buffet type affair, although disappointingly without any fresh fish or vegetables which I’ve always seen in the other North countries. I do like the canteen at the Seaman’s Home though, it’s kind of a cross between a school canteen and workers /transport greasy spoon, you know where you are with it and for Greenland the prices are pretty reasonable. Judging by the clintele in the canteen most of the other guests here are Danes, and look like they’re here on business.

Hans Egede Statue Nuuk

Hans Egede Statue in Nuuk

So after a leisurely breakfast I brave the elements outside. Now it would be churlish to come to Greenland and moan about the weather, but being English at the very least I have to comment on it. The combination of the strong wind, the cold, and the rain/snow (must be pretty close to 0 degrees as we seem to be experiencing both) makes for a pretty miserable day of sightseeing. I’m also starting to wonder if my planned 40 hour ferry ride up the west coast which leaves tomorrow night is going to be a bit of an ordeal, I don’t have great sea legs at the best of times 😐

Nuuk Old Town

Nuuk Old Town

I wandered round what’s known as the old town, which is probably the nicest part of Nuuk and could almost be a traditional Greenlandic village, no huge ugly tower blocks here. There’s not too much there but the houses are pretty. There is a statue of Hans Egede (the Norwegian Lutheran missionary who founded Nuuk), and a nice looking church although it’s locked so I can’t look around. After about half an hour in the elements I need to warm up so went for a tea in the cafe at the shopping centre. They don’t have milk but have sachets of “coffee whitening powder” – not seen anything like that for a few years but I guess up here you have to make do!

Nuuk Old Town

Nuuk Old Town

Had lunch afterwards at the culture centre, which has an excellent cafe. I had possibly my best meal in Nuuk here which was the fish of the day (cod).

Afterwards I walked past the infamous “Blok P”, probably the worst of the massive estate blocks that were built in Nuuk to house families that were moved here from surrounding villages in the 1960s. This one building used to house 1% of the entire Greenlandic population. It’s now boarded up and graffiti daubed so looks like everyone has been rehoused, which I don’t think many people will be too sad about.

Block Blok P Nuuk

Blok P, 1% of Greenland’s population used to live in this one building

In the evening I went for a drink at the Skyline bar which is on the top floor of the Hans Egede hotel. The Hans Egede hotel is a self proclaimed “international hotel” and looks nice enough, I would probably have stayed here but it was fully booked the nights I’m here. There are quite nice views from the bar but it’s your typical hotel bar really, and by that I mean soulless and over priced. So I moved on to a bar called Takuss which I really liked. There’s a canoe on the one of the walls, and the TV was showing eurosport which had the snooker world championships on (what’s not to like?)

A very drunk Greenlandic woman kept trying to have a conversation with me, she didn’t speak much English and was speaking a mixture of English and Danish (I understand a little bit of Danish as I once learnt some Norwegian which is incredibly similar) From what I could understand she seemed keen to express her disapproval at foreigners taking “her stones” which I understood to be a reference to foreign mining companies who are prospecting a lot in Greenland at the moment. She was also keen to explain that Greenlandic people love to dance and she left to go to Kristinemut to do just that. Takuss was my favourite bar in Nuuk, it seemed to be the only place I went where both Greenlandic and Danish people drink.

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