POLAR BEARS: Guidelines for Encountering Polar Bears in Greenland

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http://www.naalakkersuisut.gl 

The polar bear is the king of Greenland. He is, after all, the official symbol of Naalakkersuisut, the Government of Greenland.

Greenland is not like Churchill, Canada, where there are tourist excursions to ride in an enclosed vehicle and get within a few meters’ distance of the bears.

The Government of Greenland prioritizes the safety of both humans and bears, and the Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture has released Guidelines for Polar Bear Encounters to give its official recommendations for how to act and what to do. It is originally published in Danish and GreenlandicI have translated it to English below and am sharing this information purely because it is good knowledge to keep in your back pocket.

It’s just good backcountry ‘street smarts’.

But in no way do I intend to scare tourists. If you are traveling with a tour operator or guide, your guide will be the one to take care of any polar bear encounter situation, IF one should happen. If you are traveling independently and planning to be in the backcountry by yourself (especially in the more known polar bear territories like Northwest Greenland, the National Park, and East Greenland), you will want to be a bit more familiar with these guidelines yourself.

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Published by:

Department for Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture

Department Head: Amalie Jessen

Work: +299 48 25 20 /// + 299 34 53 04

Mobil: +299 55 33 42

Email: apnn@nanoq.gl /// amalie@nanoq.gl

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Guidelines for Polar Bear Encounters

Polar bears can present a potential danger for humans, pets, personal effects, property, and other items. One must not act in any way that could provoke an attack.

The desire to take pictures of a polar bear does not justify any action that puts the person, another person, or the polar bear’s life in danger!

Feeding Polar Bears

Feeding polar bears or placing bait for them is discouraged because it causes polar bears to connect the smell of humans with food. The result can be that polar bears repeatedly seek out inhabited areas.

Polar Bears Outside Inhabited Areas

The best way to avoid an attack is to keep a good distance. Upon seeing a polar bear, one should leave the area. The Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture (via the area’s Hunting and Fishing Officer) must be made aware of the polar bear sighting. Contact information follows below.

What should one do if he sees a polar bear?

  • Keep a good distance from the polar bear. Leave the area.
  • Notify the Department for Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture (via the nearest town’s Hunting and Fishing Officer – contact information follows below) with as many details as possible about where you saw the polar bear.

The Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture provides a form to fill out when one has come in contact with one or several polar bears in the vicinity of an inhabited area. The form can be received after contacting the nearest town’s Hunting and Fishing Officer.

Movement of Polar Bears Around Greenland

Polar bears can be anywhere in Greenland, but the risk to see them is especially high around Upernavik and further north, and in East Greenland. In South Greenland, polar bears can be seen in the spring and summer seasons.

In areas where polar bears are seen regularly, one should carry with him some sort of deterrent equipment and know how to use it to drive away a curious polar bear.

  • Scream and wave your arms to make yourself appear large. This is often enough to make a curious polar bear go away.

In areas with high risk to encounter a polar bear, one should always carry a rifle in order to make a warning shot. With consideration of only the greatest emergency situation in which one must shoot at a polar bear, the minimum caliber should be 30-06. Blunt-tipped ammunition (soft point) will be the most effective.

If you are camping in a tent in areas with high risk to encounter a polar bear, one should always have a guard on site who keeps a lookout for bears. Tent camps should be set up so that sleeping tents and eating tents are places at least 50 meters (150 feet) from each other. Trash collection should also be placed far away from both the sleeping tents and the eating tents.

When looking for a spot to set up camp, one should avoid areas where:

  • there is an active glacier
  • there is sea ice
  • there are cliffs/canyons along the coast
  • there could be a polar bear den in the vicinity
  • there are footprints, fresh droppings, or carcasses of prey from polar bears
  • there is limited audibility, for example due to a river or running water

Polar Bears Near Towns and Settlements

A polar bear that comes close to inhabited areas must be driven away using a rifle warning shot, a flare gun, or similar. Metallic sounds, like that of banging two pots together, can also be used. Small boats, snowmobiles, or ATVs to chase away a polar bear can be used, but they must keep a slow pace (only a few km/h) as polar bears quickly become overheated.

“Problem Bears”

“Problem bears” are those that repeatedly return to inhabited areas, despite measures to drive them away.

Request for Permission to Kill Problem Bears

The permission to kill a problem bear is only allowed after being given permission by the Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture. Killing polar bears is absolutely the last resort, and the Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture assesses the necessity from case to case.

Requests for permission to kill problem bears should be directed to the Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture. It requires documentation such as:

  • Photographs of damage
  • Eyewitness reports
  • Photographs of the polar bear(s) in question

The Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture will be responsible for the killing.

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Recommended target points on a polar bear. Source: http://www.sysselmannen.no)

What should one do if one has been forced to kill a polar bear?

  • Write ASAP to the Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture via the nearest town’s Hunting and Fishing Officer with as much detail as possible about the situation.
  • Note that there are procedures for the actions related to a killed polar bear. The Department of Fishing, Hunting, and Agriculture will be responsible for all further actions.

Special Information on Polar Bear Cubs and Young Polar Bears

Source: Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (Pinngortitaleriffik)

Young polar bears and mothers with cubs are completely protected.

Polar bears give birth to their cubs in dens in the winter, typically around 1 January. They are weaned from the mother as a young polar bear around 2 years of age. At that time, regardless of sex, the young polar bear is approximately the same size as the mother.

In other words: if the young polar bear is not around the same size as the mother, then it is probably around 1 year of age and is NOT able to take care of itself on its own.

If it is approximately 1 meter (3 feet) long from tail to nose, then it is around 1 year of age and most likely dependent on its mother. If it is approximately 1,5 – 2 meters (5-6.5 feet) long from tail to nose and around 1 meter (3 feet) tall when standing on four legs, then it is around 2 years of age and can maybe take care of itself.

It is more likely that humans come in contact with a young polar bear. They are inexperienced hunters and so, they are often desperately hungry. They are typically easier to chase on the run.

There is not much difference in size between male and female bears in their very first year of life. They are measured in March or April with a straight line from tail to nose. At this time, 1-year-olds are around 147 cm long (4.8 feet) while 2-year-olds are around 172 cm (5.5 feet). The 2-year-olds are nearly the same length as their mothers.

Contact Information: Hunting and Fishing Officers

Each town has its own Hunting and Fishing Officer.

The following information gives the town name, the address, the name of the Officer and an alternate colleague, their work phone number, their mobile phone number, their fax number, and their email address. Click to enlarge.

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Cooking Suaasat, a Traditional Greenlandic Seal Soup Recipe

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When life gives you a bag of seal meat, make suaasat!

Suaasat is a traditional soup whose main ingredient is seal meat. It looks heartier than any stew I’ve ever seen and packs a distinct flavor punch like Arctic blood.

Many will say it is “old Greenland” food, and that’s probably true. I don’t think I’ve ever seen suaasat served in a restaurant, which would surely opt for a more modern carpaccio preparation instead. Not to mention, it most likely would not be the top seller on the menu as people who have not grown up with the tradition tend to think it’s an… acquired taste.

But I like it, and I approach suaasat like its French cousin, the Vichyssoise. Just because you don’t eat it on the daily doesn’t mean you cannot know how to make it.

So when some fresh seal meat more or less fell into my lap one day, I think my inner Inuit chef was screaming my name.

How does seal meat fall into one’s lap?

There’s a whole Facebook group dedicated to buying and selling things in Nuuk – clothes, housewares, skis, boats, puppies, and even food goods. I saw that my friend/colleague put up for sale bags of seal meat that her boyfriend had caught himself, so I jumped on the chance to buy some. If you’re not a hunter yourself, one usually just buys seal meat at Kalaaliaraq, the fresh Greenlandic market in city center, but it’s much more fun to get it from someone you know!

I wasn’t totally sure what use I would put my seal meat to, until an opportunity presented itself to learn how to make suaasat. So one evening, my American friend and I made ourselves cozy while her Greenlandic husband taught us about this recipe.

Suaasat Recipe

Cookware:

1 large stock pot
1 slotted spoon
1 shallow bowl

Ingredients:

1-1,5 kg (2-3 lb) seal meat, bone in
cold water
salt and pepper, to taste
4-5 handfuls white rice
1 large white onion, chopped
5-6 potatoes
spicy mustard

Directions:

Trim excess fat from the seal meat, leaving some on for flavor.

Fill a stock pot 2/3 full with cold water and place seal into the water.
Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil for 30 minutes. You will notice how the water almost instantly takes on the dark color of the meat.
The blood and fat from the seal will rise to the surface and create a foamy layer. Stir occasionally.

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Add the rice and onion to the boiling pot and continue to boil for 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and continue to boil for 20 minutes.

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After approximately 1 hour total cooking time, the suaasat should be ready. Using a slotted spoon, remove the seal from the pot and place into a shallow serving dish. Serve the soup alongside the meat, and with mustard on the side.

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Takanna!

(That’s Greenlandic for Dig in!)

Golfing in Greenland

Same same, but different.

That’s a phrase that can be used to describe a lot of things in Greenland. In the Arctic, certain climate, environmental, and infrastructural facts of life just make some things more challenging. But not impossible.

Like golfing in Greenland!

This morning I read online at KNR (Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa / Greenland Broadcasting Corporation) that two American tourists were especially impressed by the golf course at Nuuk Golf Club, and I just couldn’t resist re-posting here. Who wouldn’t love to tee off surrounded by the iconic mountains in Greenland’s capital city?

It is these small elements which surprise people and make Greenland special. And if you can believe it, there even used to be the World Ice Golf Championship in Uummannaq, Greenland which Steve Rushin, a Sports Illustrated writer, wrote into history when he included a chapter about it, called “Winter Rules,” in his 2007 book, “The Caddie was a Reindeer: And Other Tales of Extreme Recreation”.

This morning’s article, written by Apollo Jeremiassen, is originally published in Greenlandic and Danish here, but I’m providing my own English translation below so you all can read it, too.

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AMERICAN TOURISTS IMPRESSED BY GOLF COURSE

By Apollo Jeremiassen. 16 July 2015.

As as foreigner or tourist it is hard to imagine that a golf course can be found so close to the Arctic Circle, like in Nuuk. But two American tourists are impressed that they found such a hard and unique golf course.

The two American tourists, from California and New York, played at Nuuk Golf Club this past Monday.

Tourists from all over the world want to see and experience Greenland in many different ways. Some want to see icebergs that drift slowly in the mirror-like sea where, every once in a while, whales come with an enormous blow in the vicinity of large cruise ships with thousands of passengers on board.

But others want to play golf.

One golfer was American David Bandley from Los Angeles, California, who has his own plane for transport when he goes to meetings in different places in the world.

His handicap is around 10, which is pretty nice for an older American man to have. He thinks it is totally great that a golf course can be found so far north.

“When you think about the fact that you are so close to the Arctic Circle, it is just fantastic that a golf course can be found in Nuuk. I really enjoyed playing here, and you all can be proud to have a beautiful golf course such as this one”, Bandley says.

The other golfer was Mike McKaskey from New York, who says that Nuuk Golf Club’s course is totally different than those he typically plays on in USA.

“This one is totally different and difficult to play on because there are lots of rocks around the course. But you all must watch out now. Now I will be able to beat you,” McKaskey says.

And, Bandley says just for fun, that he will be the all time winner for the Greenland Open. “I will win. I will win the Greenland Open for golf!” he says.

KNR journalist Apollo Jeremiassen teases Bandley saying, “Do you really think that you can beat a Greenlandic golfer like me?”

Bandley responded quickly and proudly. “You can think that if you want! But when I get on this course, you won’t be able to keep up with me.”

Henrik Skydsbjerg of Tupilak Travel, who arranged the golf trip, tells KNR that after Tupilak Travel has worked with tourists for the last 8 years, it is only this year that they could first notice an increase in tourists in Greenland.

Experience Greenland on board Icelandair!

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Are you flying on Icelandair soon? No, the airline unfortunately has not yet decided to fly to Greenland, but you can still experience Greenland on board in two other ways!

1) Get inspired by this “Tip of the Iceberg” article about nature, gastronomy, and culture in Greenland on page 42 of Icelandair Stopover (summer 2015 edition).

2) Just look out the window! If you’re flying between North America and Europe on a day with clear skies, you can see Greenland from 30000 feet for approximately 45 minutes, and IT. IS. BREATHTAKING. Like this! (I’ve done this maybe 15-20 times and I’m still glued to the window for every second.)

DSCN2174First sign of Greenland! Sea ice off Greenland’s east coast, as seen from a westbound Icelandair summer flight, 45 minutes after takeoff from Reykjavík, Iceland. Time: 1815 UTC. Watch the LIVE video here!

DSCN2190Superglacial lakes making the Greenland Ice Sheet look like Swiss cheese, as seen from a westbound Icelandair summer flight, 60-70 minutes after takeoff from Reykjavík, Iceland. Time: 1840 UTC.

DSCN2198 Finally, the white gives way to blue and tan again. Greenland’s west coast, as seen from a westbound Icelandair summer flight, 90 minutes after takeoff from Reykjavík, Iceland. Time: 1900 UTC. Watch the LIVE video here!

FYI: It is much more common to be able to see Greenland on a westbound flight than an eastbound flight. Part of this is due to the time of day. Westbound flights typically depart in the evening (17:00) from Reykjavík and fly into the sunlight. By contrast, eastbound flights typically depart in the late evening (20:00 from east coast USA, 16:00-17:00 from west coast USA)  and fly into the darkness. Another reason is due to the flight route. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the westbound flights tend to reach higher latitudes (61*N – 64*N) more often than the eastbound flights, which just barely reach the southern tip of Greenland (59*N).

FYI: It is much more common to be able to see Greenland in spring and summer than in autumn and winter. In late autumn and winter, the sun has usually set too low to be able to see much, even though you’re flying into the sun. But in spring and summer, there is plenty of sunlight to illuminate super Greenland!

Are you interested to see more footage of Greenland’s landscape from the air? See my Through the Airplane Window: Videos of Flying in Greenland post!

Through the Airplane Window: Videos of Flying in Greenland

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Come fly with me!

Do you like flight videos? Are you the kind of person that likes to visualize what it looks like to land in a country before you travel there? Are you just daydreaming of Greenland?

Well, if you can look past the foggy windows (figuratively, that is) and, at times, shaky filming, then these videos of landing and taking off from various airports and heliports around Greenland (and at different times of the year) can give you the right impression that Greenland is the most majestic place on this earth!

Disclaimer: Every time I shoot one of these videos, I have the highest and most earnest hopes to edit them, add great music, etc. but it just never happens. So I’m abandoning those dreams and simply putting the videos here in their rawest form – take it or leave it! 🙂

The videos are ordered alphabetically by town name.

Illorsuit

Late Spring arrival to Illorsuit, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in North Greenland)

Ilulissat

Late Spring departure from Ilulissat, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in North Greenland, International Airport)

Kangerlussuaq

Late Spring arrival to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in Destination Arctic Circle, International Airport)

Kulusuk

Late Winter arrival to Kulusuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (settlement in East Greenland, International Airport)

Mid Spring departure from Kulusuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (settlement in East Greenland, International Airport)

Early Summer departure from Kulusuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (settlement in East Greenland, International Airport)

Narsaq

Late Winter arrival to Narsaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in South Greenland)

Narsarsuaq

Late Winter arrival to Narsarsuaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in South Greenland, International Airport)

Nugaatsiaq

Late Spring arrival to Nugaatsiaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in North Greenland)

Nuuk

Mid Winter departure from Nuuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (capital city, International Airport)

Late Spring arrival to Nuuk, Greenland via Air Greenland (capital city, International Airport)

Qaarsut

Late Spring departure from Qaarsut, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in North Greenland)

Qaqortoq

Late Winter arrival to Qaqortoq, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in South Greenland)

Tasiilaq

Early summer departure from Tasiilaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in East Greenland)

Uummannaq

Late Spring arrival to Uummannaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in North Greenland)

Greenland Ice Sheet

Mid Winter flying over East Greenland and Greenland Ice Sheet via Icelandair (no landing)

Early Spring flying over Greenland Ice Sheet and West Greenland via Icelandair (no landing)

Early Summer flying over West Greenland via Icelandair (no landing)

Greenland: Summer versus Winter Photos

It truly is difficult for me to decide when Greenland is most beautiful during the year. Summer is fantastic with long days full of ever-changing light, water that sparkles like diamonds, and clear blue fjords. But winter is also extremely striking with lots of snow juxtaposed by colorful houses.

I’ll let you be the judge! Here are a few photos to compare Greenland towns in both summer and winter versions.

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Kangerlussuaq has an Arctic desert climate and goes through an incredible costume change between summer and winter. Due to the settlement’s close proximity to the Greenland Ice Sheet, it can be one of the colder places in Greenland in winter, easily reaching -30*C / -22*F. Oddly enough, though, it can also be one of the warmest places in Greenland in summer, approaching 25*C / 77*F.

In winter, one can go dogsledding and snowmobiling and watch the Northern Lights. In summer, the activities transform to hiking, kayaking, and seeing the Midnight Sun. The Greenland Ice Sheet is a favorite all year round.

Read more about Kangerlussuaq on Greenland.com.

Here is Kangerlussuaq in winter version and summer version, looking westward from the top of Kitchen Mountain behind the airport. Which is more beautiful?

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Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, is a coastal city and usually has a fairly mild environment. However, climate change has made extreme temperatures, hot and cold, less surprising when they happen. This year, winter/spring was very long and very cold with snow showers still into April and May.

In winter, one can delve into city culture at Katuaq Culture House, the Greenland National Museum, and fine restaurants. In summer, it’s all about spending time in Nuuk Fjord, whale watching for 3 dedicated Humpback whales that return year after year, or walking in the mountains that surround the city.

Read more about Nuuk on Greenland.com.

Here is Nuuk in winter version and summer version, looking toward Colonial Harbor, the area where Danish colonists first settled in 1729. Which is more beautiful?

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Ilulissat is home to Greenland’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprising Sermermiut (ancient settlement grounds) and the Ilulissat Icefjord. Winter is full of Northern Lights watching, dog sledding, and snowshoeing while summer gives ample opportunity to sail around the Icefjord and to small settlements, bask in the Midnight Sun, and kayak.

Read more about Ilulissat at Greenland.com.

Here is the UNESCO World Heritage Site in winter and summer version, looking south over the Ilulissat Icefjord. Which is more beautiful?

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Tasiilaq is the only town in East Greenland, and is home to 60% of East Greenlanders. All others live in settlements of just 79 – 426 inhabitants. Winter is great for snowshoeing, heliskiing, and dog sledding. Summer is ideal for hiking through the Valley of Flowers and sailing through iceberg-filled waters.

Read more about Tasiilaq at Greenland.com.

Here is Tasiilaq in winter and summer version, looking north across the water at the Polheim Mountain. Which is more beautiful?

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The Nuuk You Didn’t See in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

IMG_7205Sassuma Arnaa (“Mother of the Sea”) statue in Nuuk. Made by Christian Rosing. Photo taken April 2015.

Remember that 2013 movie with Ben Stiller called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Remember how he traveled to Nuuk, Greenland with some package in tow?

Well guess what – the scenes weren’t filmed in Greenland at all! Upon a closer look at the film, I really had a field day picking out the familiar and false elements used to portray Nuuk and Greenland.

The Greenland scenes are only about 20 minutes of the movie, and in that span I noticed these 14 correct and incorrect elements. If you know Nuuk and Greenland, did you spot any others?

I’ll go easy on the filmmakers and start with the correct elements 😉

1. CORRECT: THAT’S THE TRUE AIR GREENLAND LOGO!IMG_9052

In this scene of the movie, Walter Mitty checks in at the airport for his flight to Greenland. The color, font, and logo behind the counter are all the unmistakable Air Greenland trademarks!

True fact: Air Greenland has had its name since 2002, before which this national airline was called Grønlandsfly for 42 years and used water planes in the old days!

2. CORRECT – THE BAR’S NAME HAS A REAL MEANING IN GREENLANDIC!IMG_9065

While there is no such bar called ‘Tuugaalik’ in Nuuk (or anywhere in Greenland to my knowledge), the word does have a real meaning in Greenlandic – “narwhal”. And, there is a fishing trawler boat by the same name in the Royal Greenland fleet.

If this movie was more accurate, the bar name would be ‘Skyline Bar’, ‘Takuss”, ‘Kristinemut’, or ‘Manhattan Night Club’.

IMG_5603Skyline Bar, the swanky piano bar at Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk. Taken March 2015.

3. CORRECT – THIS IS MAKKA KLEIST, A NORTH GREENLANDIC WOMAN AND DIRECTOR AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF GREENLAND!IMG_9066

I thought, ‘Hey, I know that woman!’ when this scene popped up! Makka Kleist is the fantastic Director at Nunatta Isiginnaartitsisarfia, the National Theatre of Greenland located in Nuuk, and I had the rare opportunity to spend an afternoon with her a few months ago. Totally in her element down at the Theatre, she kept me in rapt attention with her storytelling about Greenlandic myths and mask dancing.

DSCN1480Makka Kleist, Director at the National Theatre of Greenland, in her right element! Taken April 2015.

4. CORRECT: THAT IS THE GREENLANDIC FLAG IN THE BACKGROUND!IMG_9069

That red and white flag in the background is the real Greenlandic flag. It’s correct orientation is with the white portion on top and it symbolizes the Greenlandic nature. The Greenlandic flag is an important political and cultural symbol, and really many people fly a Greenlandic flag on their own personal flagpoles outside their homes.

True fact: Greenland’s flag first came to be on 21 June 1985, National Day. The white portions of the flag represent ice elements in Greenland – the larger being the Greenland Ice Sheet and the smaller half circle being icebergs and sea ice. The red portions of the flag represent water elements in Greenland – the larger being the sea surrounding the island and the smaller half circle being fjords.

5. PARTIALLY CORRECT: SIGNS ARE WRITTEN IN DANISH IN GREENLAND.IMG_9062

In the movie, “Udlejningsbil” is written on the rental car kiosk, which is Danish for “Rental Car”. As Danish is one of the two official languages of Greenland, this is an accurate portrayal.

BUT – If this movie was more accurate, the sign would also be written in Greenlandic. Greenland is a dual-language country, so everything is printed in both Danish, the colonial language, and Greenlandic, the mother tongue.

See here for examples of what signage in Greenland looks like.

Also, I do applaud the simplicity of the rental car kiosk, as this level of simplicity can be pretty accurate for some places in Greenland, but there’s actually no such kiosk in Nuuk! To my knowledge, one can only drop off rental cars at Nuuk International Airport, not pick them up.

6. PARTIALLY CORRECT: THAT IS THE AIRCRAFT REGISTRATION FOR GREENLAND!IMG_9068

See that alphanumeric code on the black part of the helicopter? OY-HZF. The “OY” part identifies the machine as registered in Greenland, and all the Air Greenland, AirZafari, GreenlandCopter, and Blue West Helicopters machines have a unique one. (FYI: AirZafari, GreenlandCopter, and Blue West Helicopters are companies offering tourist and charter flights).

BUT – If this movie was more accurate, they would show a true helicopter that operates in Greenland. Everything else about this particular helicopter is incorrect (more explanation below). It makes me wonder why they went the extra mile to pretty accurately portray Air Greenland’s Airbus but not its helicopters??

7. INCORRECT: THE AIR GREENLAND ATTENDANT’S SCARF IS A KNOCKOFF!IMG_9054

While the dark blazer and white shirt that the Air Greenland attendant wears are true to Air Greenland staff uniforms, I believe the scarf in the movie is a knock off representation of the designer Isaksen, with whom Air Greenland and its daughter companies have a partnership.

8. INCORRECT: NORSAQ, AIR GREENLAND’S ONLY AIRBUS 330-200, WOULD NOT FLY TO NUUK!IMG_9056 IMG_9061

First, a small aviation lesson for you: the length of a runway is the key factor that determines what types of aircraft can land on it. An Airbus could never land at Nuuk International Airport because at just 1799 m / 1.1 mi in length, the runway is too short.

And, if the Airbus were to stand next to the Nuuk airport building, I don’t think the size comparison would be quite this exaggerated. But maybe close! This is what Norsaq looks like standing at Kangerlussuaq International Airport:

P1000116Air Greenland’s Airbus 330-200, named Norsaq, standing at Kangerlussuaq International Airport in March 2013.

If this movie was accurate, Walter Mitty would be flying in a small propeller plane to Nuuk, like these Dash-8’s that Air Greenland uses for its seasonal international flights between Nuuk and Reykjavík and for year-round domestic flights around the country.

IMG_2824One of Air Greenland’s Dash-8 propeller planes standing at Nuuk International Airport in April 2013.

True fact: there is only one town in Greenland where an Airbus can land. That town is the aforementioned Kangerlussuaq, located on the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast. Air Greenland uses its single Airbus for year-round international flights between Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen.

9. INCORRECT: THERE WOULD NOT BE AN IN-FLIGHT MEAL ON A FLIGHT TO NUUK!IMG_9057

There is no such meal service offered on any Air Greenland flights servicing Nuuk – not on the seasonal international flights between Nuuk and Reykjavík, and not on the year-round domestic flights between Nuuk and several towns in Greenland.

If this movie was accurate, Walter Mitty would be drinking tea or coffee and eating a chocolate chip cookie on his way to Nuuk. Plus a licorice-flavored hard candy just before landing.

True fact: In-flight meals are offered on Air Greenland’s year-round international flight between Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen, and they look a bit more like this:

P1000044Airplane food on board Air Greenland’s transatlantic flight between Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and Copenhagen, Denmark.

10. INCORRECT: THAT IS NOT NUUK!IMG_9058 IMG_9059

There’s simply no way to fake what a real place looks like. That is not Nuuk’s landscape and it’s not the city, either. It’s Iceland! Although I don’t know exactly which town in Iceland.

If this movie was accurate, Walter Mitty would see glaciers, Nuuk Fjord, and Sermitsiaq, Nuuk’s iconic mountain, when arriving to the capital of Greenland.

P1010449View over Nuuk Fjord and Sermitsiaq mountain just minutes before arriving to Nuuk International Airport. Photo taken in May 2013.

Watch this video to see what it actually looks like to arrive to Nuuk.

11. INCORRECT – NUUK IS NOT THAT SMALL!IMG_9064

This shot from the movie reduces Nuuk’s size considerably to that of a sleepy fishing village. While that could describe other places around Greenland, it is definitely not what Nuuk is about!

If this movie was accurate, it would show a far more cosmopolitan, bustling, and vibrant town like this!

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View down Aqqusinersuaq, the main street in Nuuk city center. Taken June 2013.

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Nuuk city center. Taken June 2014.

12. INCORRECT – THERE ARE NO SLED DOGS IN NUUK!IMG_9065

The movie shows howling sled dogs and dog sleds along the side of the road, which is completely wrong because there are no sled dogs in Nuuk. Dog sledding is one of the Big Arctic Five elements, so the association between sled dogs and Greenland is on the right track, but the location is inaccurate.

If this movie was accurate, there would be no sign of dog sledding whatsoever, and instead there would be the usual dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels. Or Nova Scotia Ducktolling Retrievers like Kasik here, my host family’s dog.

IMG_6438Walking the dog at the Colonial Harbor beach in Nuuk. Taken April 2015.

True fact: The owning of sled dogs is directly related to the ability to drive them over winter sea ice for hunting and fishing. Therefore, sled dogs are only found where there is sea ice – in East Greenland and above the Arctic Circle on the west coast.

Another true fact: In sled dog regions, other dog breeds are prohibited because no risk can be taken that the Greenlandic sled dog’s incredibly pure genetics gets tainted. They have adaptations like extremely thick fur that lets them sleep outdoors 365 days a year, and they have innate super-canine powers like the instinct to know whether sea ice is thick enough to support a sled.

13. INCORRECT – THESE ARE NOT THE HELICOPTERS FOUND IN GREENLAND!IMG_9068

First of all, this is nothing what the helicopters look like in Greenland. Not the type, not the paint, nothing.

Second of all, outside of charter flights to Tele communications towers in the hills, helicopters aren’t commonly used in Nuuk and the capital region. Helicopters are much more common in North Greenland, South Greenland, and East Greenland where there is a network of settlements to service.

If this movie was accurate, they would show the actual helicopters used in Greenland like Bell 212’s, Eurocopter AS350’s, and Sikorsky S-61’s.

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Top: Air Greenland Bell 212 helicopter in East Greenland preparing for a passenger flight. Taken April 2013. //// Bottom: Air Greenland Sikorsky S-61 helicopter in Nuuk doing training missions. Taken April 2015.

True fact: Helicopters are the most important air transportation machine in Greenland! There are, in fact, twice as many helicopters in the Air Greenland fleet as there are fixed-wing airplanes.

Read more facts like this and about the flying experience in Helicopter Flying in Greenland, an article I wrote for the Visit Greenland newsletter in March 2015.

14. INCORRECT – THAT’S NOT HOW YOU SPELL EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL!IMG_9073

Lastly, I even found a mistake related to Iceland! They misspelled the now-famous volcano’s name, leaving out a J and an Ö. Do you know where they go? 😉

How to Stopover in Reykjavík, Iceland

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A Brief History of Tourism in Iceland

In less than a decade, Iceland put itself on the travel map with its Icelandair Free Stopover campaign. Located right in the Midatlantic, why not spend a night or 7 in Reykjavík, the capital city, at no extra airfare charge when to-ing and fro-ing between North America and Europe?

IMG_0311Photo taken from the top of Hallgrímskirkja in city center Reykjavík in May 2012.

I can remember when a former colleague and her boyfriend went to Iceland back in autumn 2009, and we all looked at them and said a collective “Huh?!” We knew nothing about the country to be honest, and they were the first people we had ever heard of traveling there. Now, with 969,181 tourists visiting Iceland in 2014, mostly from the UK and the US but also from as far as Japan and China, I would venture to say that this type of anecdote is a thing of the past.

Something tells me the Icelandic tourism gods are trying something new now, though. It’s no longer about the Free Stopover but more about the Return Visit or the Extended Stay. ‘There’s more to see!’ was recently the tagline on the cover of Reykjavík Living.

My Iceland Stopover

But if you’re like me, traveling between North America and Greenland, then the whole Free Stopover thing is still highly relevant and, in fact, necessary. Unfortunately the ‘free’ part is not applicable since Icelandair does not yet fly onward to Greenland.

The first few times in Iceland I tried the classics like getting all purified and mud-masked in the Blue Lagoon, being the youngest by a handful of decades on the Golden Circle Bus Tour, and seeing how Glacier Walking in Iceland compares to Greenland.

But often my transit time in Iceland is during pretty odd hours of the day – like 3 AM to 5 PM or like 6 AM to 10 AM – so I stay close to city center most times. Which makes me a great source of info for how to kill it during a stopover!

Top 7 Must Do’s on a Reykjavík Stopover

Without further ado, here is my personal list of tried and true things to do in Reykjavík city center. So tried and true, in fact, that if I’m in the city, you’re almost guaranteed to find me at one of these places!

1. Shop the Strip

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Ravens shop at Laugavegur 15.

Did you know that Reykjavík means ‘place of 10,000 kitschy things’? Just kidding, it means ‘the smoky harbor’ (I think), but anyway the city is chock full of shopping opps!

Laugavegur is the main east-west thoroughfare in Reykjavík city center, and in summer time it is closed for cars and becomes a pedestrian street. You could literally spend hours making your way from shop to shop. There’s a lot of super touristy stores where you can buy all the Made in China puffin magnets and Viking helmets your heart desires, but there’s also plenty of small, locally owned clothing and gift shops.

Sorry in advance that this list is woman- and gift-oriented 🙂 Check out:

* Kronkron at Laugavegur 63 for technicolored designer Icelandic shoes. They are a bit pricy, but literally one of a kind.

* Systur & Makar at Laugavegur 40 for handmade cards, lotions, fun jewelry, and small gifts.

* Fóa at Laugavegur 2 for fish skin accessories, woolen and wooden wares, and bone jewelry.

* Ravens at Laugavegur 15 for Greenlandic designer clothing and authentic handmade beaded jewelry.

Also, don’t let the thought ‘Maybe I can find this in the airport tax free’ enter your mind for a minute. As long as you have a permanent address outside Iceland, anything you buy anywhere in Iceland (over 6000 ISK / 40 EUR / 45 USD) is eligible for a 14% tax refund. Ask the cashier for the tax refund receipt, fill it out, and drop it off in Keflavik International Airport.

2. Grab a Coffee

IMG_5590Te & Kaffi coffee shop at Laugavegur 27.

There are a ton of coffee shops around Reykjavík. It makes sense, right? How else are you expected to stay awake long enough to enjoy all 22 hours of sunlight in summertime?

Visit Café Babalú at Skólavörðustígur 22, a colorful building just downhill from Hallgrímskirkja, for organic juices and yummy dessert crepes. In summer the upstairs patio is sun-soaked, and in winter you’re invited to make yourself cozy and stay a while with board games and Chai Latte.

Also try Café Haiti at the harbor at Geirsgata 7c for strong coffee and a story about how a Caribbean found herself in Iceland.

Or go to Te & Kaffi at Laugavegur 27 and order yourself a pot of Lapsang Souchong, a.k.a. smoked tea and affectionately known in my world as ‘the best tea there ever was’.

3. Visit the Greenland Centre

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Greenland Centre at Laugavegur 96. Photo credit: glc.gl.

This shop at Laugavegur 96 is near and dear to my heart, for obvious reasons but also because it has such a welcoming atmosphere. Browse fine clothing and accessories made from Greenlandic animal skins like reindeer, seal, and muskox. Whether you are on your way to/from Greenland or still dreaming to check off this #1 Bucket List destination, chat with the owners about Greenland and particularly South Greenland, their specialty.

4. Stuff your Face

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Salted cod entrée at MAR at Geirsgata 9.

Maybe I sound redundant saying that Reykjavík is filled with this, that, and the other, but Reykjavík is also filled with tons of restaurants! In the US, I’m a diehard fan of the Eater websites to tell me the hot places to try, so without it in Reykjavík, I admit that I tend to stick to what I know.

I love Kaffi Sólon at Bankastræti 7a for the quiet atmosphere indoors and comfort food. They pared down their menu a bit recently so my favorite risotto dish is just a memory now, but they’ve got a super burger (that’s literally the name) and many fish dishes.

Fish Market at Aðalstræti 12 is a full dining experience great for groups, and you better go ahead and start some endurance training for your stomach now. Their tasting menu is something like 9 mouthwatering courses and can be shared between many people!

MAR at the harbor at Geirsgata 9 is nice for a swanky lunch!

5. Gaze at the Outdoor Art Museum

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And by outdoor art museum I mean the oh-so-colorful graffiti that is all over Reykjavík. Some are beautiful, some are scary, some are abstract, and some are thought provoking, but all have the artists’ hearts and souls behind them.

6. Catch a Concert

I’m told Iceland is a musically inclined country. Hmm, I didn’t know it. Just kidding! Most of the world probably knows Icelandic music because of Björk back in the 90’s and more recently because of Of Monsters and Men.

Hey, here’s a trip idea for you!

In mid-June, hit Iceland for the Summer Solstice Festival and then pop over to Greenland for National Day (21 June). Greenland celebrates achieving Self Rule Government from Denmark in style and sunshine on the longest day of the year! Kayaking competitions, live music, and barbecues are just some of the day’s activities, and they vary from town to town. Nuuk, the capital city, throws the biggest shindig and it is just a 3-hour flight from Reykjavík via either Air Greenland or Air Iceland. You could also reach Ilulissat, Kulusuk, and Narsarsuaq directly from Reykjavík.

7. Count the Cool Cars

IMG_6436Photo taken in December 2013.

The Land Rover Defender must be the national car of Iceland because it is everywhere. I’m sure it’s for function in wintertime, but if I lived here, I would have one for purely for fashion! Man, it looks good.

Want to read about hopping from one Arctic metropolis to another? Check out the City Hopping in the Arctic article I wrote for our Visit Greenland newsletter in 2014.