A Snapshot of Internationals in Greenland (2016)

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Last year I wrote about some statistics and figures related to the nationalities of Greenland’s residents, and I thought I would do it again with the most recent figures to see if there are any significant changes this year over last. (The short answer is: no).

As of 1 January 2016, 11% of Greenland’s population of 55847 people is foreign born, which equates to a whopping 6021 individuals who hail from 51 different countries. This is literally only just a few handfuls of people more than last year, so the proportion of foreign presence is staying quite stable.

Danes account for the vast, vast majority of internationals in the country (76%). Faroese account for 5%, and Icelanders and Thai, 3% each. Filipinos and Swedes account for 2% each, and all others are 1% or less per nationality, including people from Norway, Germany, USA (39 individuals, or 0.6%), Poland, Other Asia, Other America, Other Africa, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Great Britain, Romania, Canada, China, Oceania, Iran, Holland, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, Lithuania, Slovakia, Russia, Other Europe, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Austria, Lebanon, Belgium, Hungary, Turkey, Ethiopia, Iraq, Japan, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Ukraine, Morocco, India, and Syria. In that order!

The distribution of internationals around the country is also very stable this year in comparison to last year.

  • 62% of internationals live in Nuuk (3733 people, which is actually about 100 people more than last year)
  • 7% of internationals live in Sisimiut (414 people, which represents a slight decrease actually)
  • 6% of internationals live in Ilulissat (384 people, which is slightly more than last year)

And, it’s still true that no matter where you are in the country, you will always be in the minority compared to Greenland-born residents.

  • The 3733 internationals in Nuuk still account for only 22% of Nuuk’s population.
  • The 414 internationals in Sisimiut account for 7% of Sisimiut’s population.
  • The 384 internationals in Ilulissat account for 8% of Ilulissat’s population.

Think you could hack it is an international in Greenland?

All figures based off of data published by Statistics Greenland on their Statistics Bank.

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Cultural perspective: Violence is a cultural norm in USA

skaermbillede-2016-11-05-kl-19-54-29 Screenshot from a True Activist online article

There’s a whole line of sociology about getting perspective on the good and bad parts of your own culture only after you have traveled elsewhere and seen a different way to approach something.

After spending the better part of the last four years outside USA, a huge takeaway for me is that violence is a deeply-engrained part of American culture, so much that it’s a part of 18 everyday phrases (see the examples below). But I’ve also learned that it’s not necessary; everywhere in the world is not this way. There is another way to live!

Violence in the media

I stopped watching the news in USA long ago because the entire broadcast comprised stories about violence – murders, school shootings, fires, fights – and finished with a sweet little 2 minute spot with a feel-good story. Not just here and there, but every single night. I was over it – completely sick and tired of having such negativity in my life by way of the television.

Violence is not necessary

Hey newsflash, America! You know what’s NOT happening on a daily basis everywhere in the world? Pointless deaths due to gun violence, gun accidents, gun miseducation, inadequate screening for weapon ownership, or whatever you want to call it. People don’t come out of the womb wanting to kill people. People aren’t born as racists. They learn it from the society they live in, and then it is fostered and supported by their society’s laws and policies.

Thankful to get out

I’m so glad I now live in a place where people literally gasp in horror when they hear stories about the depravity in USA, because it is so far from what they know about respect for life and the treatment of other human beings. 

Violence engrained in American English language

I thought I was far enough away that I didn’t really have to think about violent USA anymore, but it actually started coming back in my thoughts through language, of all things. 

When you live abroad and use a foreign language or two as your daily communication, you often find yourself searching through the Rolodex of words flying around in your head in multiple languages. Often times what comes up are sayings – phrases that actually have no (or hard-to-see) relevance when directly translated. Lately I’ve realised that WAY too many times I’m pulling forward sayings that use death and violence nonchalantly, and frankly it is embarrassing! I’m ashamed that such phrases are in my top-of-mind vocabulary.

What kind of society is USA if daily language talks about death or killing? No wonder there’s so much violence and depravity in that country – it’s completely the norm! It’s so normal it’s mainstream. 

Here are 19 American English slang sayings that normalize death, killing, and violence in general. Do you use any of these? Have you ever thought twice about what you’re actually saying?

  1. “Killer” to mean either really cool or really hard
  2. “To die for” to indicate that something is highly desired or high quality
  3.  “Start with a bang” to say something had an impressive beginning
  4. “Kill me now / Shoot me now” to express boredom or displeasure
  5.  “I wanted to die” to express boredom, displeasure, or embarrassment
  6.  “[My legs are] dead” to say you’re exhausted and totally out of energy
  7. “My parents are going to kill me” to mean you’re anticipating being in big trouble
  8. “Like I need a hole in the head” to indicate something is unnecessary or undesired
  9.  “Making a killing on” to say you earned a lot of money from something
  10.  “I would kill for” to express an extreme longing/wishing feeling for something
  11. “Don’t shoot the messenger” to ask to be excused from fault
  12.  “I’m dying” to say something is hilarious
  13. “On my deathbed” to exaggerate a feeling of illness.
  14. “Kill time” to say how to spend a certain amount of minutes or hours until something else happens.
  15. “Trigger happy” to say someone makes quick decisions or simply does things on a whim without thinking them through.
  16. “There was a gun to my head” to express being coerced into something against one’s will.
  17. “Shooting himself in the foot” to mean someone does something that is not in his best interest and ruins things for himself.
  18. “Could die a happy woman/man now” to mean something was so perfect and wonderful that they don’t need anything more in life.
  19. “Backfired”, usually with reference to a plan, to say something went completely in the opposite direction it was supposed to.

The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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I bet you expected a picture of a breathtakingly beautiful fjord with a mirror-like sea and northern lights floating overhead, didn’t you? For that you can just take a scroll through the @ilovegreenland Instagram account. Ok, ok, here’s a picturesque shot to hold you over.

skaermbillede-2016-10-21-kl-18-39-00Photo by @danielkordan, regrammed by @ilovegreenland

While it would be an incredible understatement to call the inescapable natural beauty of Greenland just a ‘cherry on top’ of the experience, for me the best thing about life in Greenland is actually intangible and wholly impossible to capture through a lens.

The best thing about Greenland is that there is no societally-imposed glorification of busy. Instead there is a prioritization of one’s own happiness and never apologizing for that. So if that means keeping busy because you want to, great. If that means keeping an open schedule, also great.

Through four and a half years I have collected a lot of stories and impressions, but one red thread holds solid no matter the person, season, town, or situation: personal time is sacred. There is generally an 8-hour workday, and all other time is protected and reserved for whatever one wants to do. This manifests itself in so many different ways – being in the nature sailing, or reindeer hunting, or spending the weekend in a hut… preparing a delicious home-cooked meal to enjoy with friends or family… doing a hobby like painting or knitting or working out… or doing nothing at all!

Let me back up a few steps…

What is the glorification of busy?

It is the view that always doing something is a good thing, whether that be work-related with tasks, projects, and business travel, or related to private life, with extracurricular activities, dinner parties, and other goings-on.

It is the putting of plans or work on a pedestal.

Where did this come from?

I believe first world countries these days are to blame for this glorification trend. When places get nicknames like “the city that never sleeps,” clearly being uber busy, stretched thin, completely over-worked, over-jetset, and always having a full social calendar has become the norm, and people love it because ultimately it is a status symbol. It means one is important, trusted, sought after, powerful, connected, needed, wanted. It means success.

But is busy synonymous with successful?

Research on productivity  in the workplace shows that no, being busy is not necessarily synonymous with success, at least not in USA. USA is arguably the busiest country in the world, but with converse productivity levels. It is the No Vacation Nation, as Americans are proven to take hardly any holiday time, to answer mails while ’relaxing’ on a white sand beach, or to simply not be granted paid holiday at all. I think we all can relate to the feeling that nothing gets done well when one has too many balls in the air at the same time. Have you heard of the phrase “work hard, play hard”? It’s a phrase that came into my vocabulary on Day 2 of undergraduate at the University of Virginia and pretty much never left.

What’s wrong with being un-busy?

What I wonder more and more is why people feel guilty about not answering an email after work hours, why someone feels bad to turn down an invitation for weekend plans because they want to do something else instead, why someone apologizes for doing what makes them happy.

I hypothesize that the glorification of busy also equally comes out of a fear of appearing lazy, uncool, unwanted, forgotten, solitary, and unsuccessful – especially on a personal level. A stigma associated with not being busy perhaps starts all the way back in grade school, a period when fitting in and being accepted are of the utmost importance, and carries through to adult life.

Professional versus personal success

I also hypothesize that the societies that glorify being busy are the same societies that primarily define success via professional indicators – job title, number of subordinates, sky miles, and income, to name a few, which then lead to a domino effect of commodity-based indicators of success like house size, car ownership and style, clothing, and so on ad nauseam.

In contrast, there are societies that define success in other ways, namely via personal indicators – quality of relationships, good mental and physical health, access to nature, becoming a parent, and the big one, happiness.

Greenland absolutely falls into this category. I’ve actually heard it said many times that Greenlanders just aren’t driven by earning money the way other cultures are, so one must incentivize through other means. I don’t totally agree with that, but certainly Greenlanders know that money doesn’t buy happiness and have harnessed the ability to seek pleasure outside the workplace.

My place on the busy-not busy scale

To be painfully honest with myself, I am on the busy side. When I zoom in a few levels and look at my day-to-day, I always have something whether it’s training, a brunch date, or a kaffemik. The week starts more or less open, but a free Saturday never stays so for very long.

Take this past weekend, for example. I’ve been out traveling for work for 6 weeks, and what do I do when I finally land in Nuuk? I drop my suitcases at the foyer and run back out to my friends’ house for the evening. Actually, it’s the family with whom I lived whenever I was in Nuuk for the past three years – my original host family, my family. And then on Sunday, I was on the go with training, brunch, an Art Walk around the city, grocery shopping, socializing with a friend, and picking up some new things I bought.

That being said, I don’t believe I necessarily glorify being busy because I also really love – and need – time to myself. While I suppose I can sustain extended periods of busy, I can also ‘crash’ really hard into periods of doing nothing. Believe it or not, I am an introvert, or so the Meyers-Briggs test has said several times since I was 15.

Hedonist, YOLO-head, dream-chaser

Busy bee or not, I have definitely internalized the Greenlandic mentality of prioritizing one’s own happiness.

As a highly independent individual from the start, going for what I wanted was never a weak spot, but I was always told I was a bit of a black sheep for it – the only one with such a strong will. Now imagine this personality being immersed in a culture that cultivates exactly this type of personal independence nearly to a fault and screams, “Do what’s best for you!” You can’t help but get an added jolt of chutzpah.

My decision to move to Greenland was the ultimate display of this. The reality is that I left all and everything and everyone in USA because I wanted to do what made me happy. I jumped off a cliff. I put myself first, and I don’t apologize for it.

Hedonist, YOLO (you only live once), and dream-chaser were the nicer insults some people gave me regarding my decision, but I also went up against “selfish”,  bat-shit crazy”, “abandoner”, and “mentally ill”. They said, sure, they might also like to jump up and move to Spain but obviously that was never going to happen because it wasn’t realistic. They said they didn’t agree with my decision and didn’t think I should go. And so on.

You know what criticisms people in Greenland gave me? None. I was met instead with congratulations from all and words of encouragement. Nobody I know from Greenland has ever made me feel bad about my decision, and that speaks volumes.

Fly WOW air

IMG_3378My latest rec for getting to Greenland cheap so you can spend the money where it counts!

Greenland is expensive. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way.

Short of some pretty astronomic miracles, the Air Greenland and Air Iceland prices won’t be decreasing much.

But what if I told you the solution could be WOW air?

No, WOW air does not fly to Greenland yet, but traveling with this newcomer budget airline from Europe or North America into Reykjavík (a major connection hub for Greenland) could at least make one leg of your journey much cheaper.

Not long ago I flew on WOW air for the first time and I’d like to give it the Polarphile seal of approval (I just made that up) along with an honest pledge that I would seriously consider flying with them again in the future. High marks for service, price, and personality; low marks for convenience (as someone traveling to/fro the DC Metro Area).

Post-script note: I already booked my second flight with WOW air just two months after this first trip. Despite having a free points ticket with the competitor, black out dates prohibited me from using it when I needed to. Since I was forced to use real money, booking with WOW air helped me save over 500 USD versus booking with the competitor.

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The motivation: As someone booking their ticket just 11 days before departure, I was what you call ‘price-motivated’ – exactly WOW air‘s target market.

The bottom line: 11 days before departure I bought a transatlantic flight between continental Europe and North America for 294 USD, which did include some extra purchases of mine like seat selection, cancellation protection, and 1 piece of heavy hand luggage.

Regarding the seat selection fee, this applies to choose any seat in the aircraft, not just priority seating with extra leg room, like on other airlines (I don’t think those seats even exist on WOW air’s machines). I really didn’t want to get stuck with a middle seat in front of the exit row, and truth be told, I wanted to see out the window to Greenland when flying overhead. It’s a little ritual of mine.

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Regarding the luggage fee, 5 kg of hand luggage is included in the ticket price. One can elect to purchase an additional 7 kg allowance for a fee, or else check a bag for a fee.

The Experience: 

So what had me saying “Wow“? Plenty!

* Hand-luggage only travelers are the new Business Class. WOW air offers a separate check-in line for those traveling with hand-luggage only. Therefore, I got to bypass a line of around 50 people when I arrived to the airport, which I found to be a so lovely surprise!

* There are electrical outlets under each seat. This was maybe my biggest WOW moment, in fact. Not even Icelandair offers this in economy class!

* The planes are perfectly fine, just like all other Airbus machines. Maybe I was expecting a matchbox for some reason, but the economy seats are just like any others I’ve been in, and the seats themselves are very comfortable. I flew in their new Airbus.

* They’re funny! Anybody whose business model includes launching a gigantic purple people eater into the sky has to have a sense of humor, right? And, a la Southwest Airlines out of the United States, when you take away in one department (think: the free sodas and snacks) you have to add in another. Check the Vomit-meter on their Sick Bag in the seat pocket!

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The Critique:
There’s literally only one thing that made the experience a drag – WOW air does not service IAD (Dulles International Airport) outside Washington, D.C.! If WOW air flew out of IAD I would be hooked. Hands down.

Instead, flying into/out of BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport) creates some logistical nightmares for anyone trying to connect with D.C. or Northern Virginia, like me. After 9 hours of flying, this is the absolute last thing you want, especially in this area. Not to mention, there’s no TSA Pre-Check line at BWI security. Huh?!

45 minutes on the B30 Metro Bus from BWI to the Greenbelt Metro Station before riding 1 hour on the Metro from Greenbelt to Vienna, plus an Uber, to reach my destination in Northern Virginia, which otherwise would have been just a 22 minute Uber ride from IAD. That’s what it took for me to get home after landing at BWI.

And I’m a lucky one with a Global Entry status. I don’t even want to think about how much time I would have used if I had had to wait in the standard customs line.

These public transportations cost just an additional 21 USD, so clearly the pricing still makes a compelling economic case, but somewhere on the Metro I found myself wondering if crashing on my bed still fully clothed and dead tired due to an extra 2 hours of transit was worth saving approximately 275 USD. What do you think?

Aside from that big ticket item, there are a few things that could polish up the experience to match the competition in terms of value proposition, but nothing that’s a huge game-changer for me.

* It would be fantastic to have wi-fi onboard. I would gladly pre-purchase it along with the laundry list of other add-ons. What’s another 10 USD?

* A self check-in kiosk would be great!

The Facts:
WOW air flies to Reykjavík from Montreal, Toronto, Boston, and Baltimore in North America (and soon from Los Angeles and San Francisco, too) and from 17 European cities including London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and others.

WOW air advertises their base fares and then offers a whole host of optional fees and charges, plus various taxes. For example, at first glance my 294 USD ticket looked like it was going to cost just 129 USD. And really, many of the “electives” are virtually unavoidable so you have to pay extra no matter what. Is it really realistic to travel across the Atlantic with only a purse?

WOW air offers a wide selection of food and beverages on board for 250-1500 ISK (2-11 USD, or 2-11 EUR). Note that even non-alcoholic beverages like water, soda, and coffee/tea must also be purchased for 300-350 ISK (2-2.50 USD, or 2-2.5 EUR). The pricing is nearly exactly the same as you’ll find in the airport stores, at least it was for the wine, water, sandwich, and yoghurt I bought, so no need to nearly miss your boarding call to try to save some pocket change on refreshments.

All in all, given the late notice of booking and the distance traveled, I would say the 294 USD on Wow air is well spent. But given the circus involved in getting between BWI and the DC Metro Area, I would say there’s definitely grounds to think long and hard whether the cheaper airfare is worth the extra transit steps.

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.

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.

Greenland-isms: Life in Greenland through American Eyes

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Photo credit: Kunuk Abelsen via Visit Greenland Flickr account

Geologically, Greenland is part of North America, but subterranean tectonic plates know nothing about cultural similarities and differences! If you only visit Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, you would conclude that Greenland is more European than North American. (You can thank the Danes for that.) If you visit smaller towns and villages along the coast, particularly in North and East Greenland, you would probably say that Greenland is like no other place you have seen before, and that it has an identity all its own.

This piece focuses on the differences between Greenland and the United States because they are what I love about the country. Why travel to a foreign land just to get more of the same thing you know from back home? These differences are what hooked me from the very start, and they are what bring me back to Greenland again and again. Some are just facts of life, some are fun and silly, and some are monumental. If I had to boil it all down into a nutshell, I would say this: Greenlanders take time to enjoy life and their loved ones; they don’t let life pass them by.

You can be the judge when you visit, but here’s a list of Greenland-isms I noticed after only a short time in Greenland (in no particular order).

FACTS OF LIFE

  1. Use of the Metric System (and Celsius). This came as no surprise to me since 98.5% of the world’s countries use these systems. But the United States of America is not one of them, so Americans better study up on their metric-to-imperial and Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversions or else download a nifty conversion app, otherwise you might find yourself at a loss ordering a cold one or checking the weather!
  2. Localvore = Carnivore. A localvore is someone who wants everything they eat to be fresh, organic, and wholesome and to come from an 80 km / 50 mi radius, give or take. It’s a ‘new’ craze that started on the west coast and is slowly creeping into mainstream America. Greenlanders are the original localvores, but only because they are also carnivores. Farming is simply not possible because a permafrost Ice Sheet covers 80% of Greenland, and the terrain that is exposed is primarily rock. Meat and fish are the only local items here, save a few small farms in South Greenland experimenting with crops like potatoes, strawberries, and even beekeeping. (Just so you know, every fruit and vegetable and dry good you would ever want IS available in Greenland, but it is imported.)
  3. Use of chip-and-pin cards. All of Greenland’s credit card machines are set primarily for chip-and-pin cards. Most of them are able to accept American cards without pin codes, but some vendors and cashier clerks are more knowledgable about the process than others. To be safest, only use cards with pin codes – i.e. debit cards. If you must use credit cards, be sure to call your bank well in advance of your trip and set up a pin code for the card. Otherwise, exchange cash for Danish Kroner before your trip or visit an ATM once you arrive.

MONUMENTAL

  1. Hygge is religion. Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) is best translated to “coziness” in English. It is the art of being totally happy and content and heart-warmed by your surroundings, whether it is curling up on the couch with your dearest and good wine, watching a film with lots of popcorn and candy, or sitting around a dinner table with your close friends and laughing until your cheeks hurt. Many Greenlanders will prefer weekend hygge while Americans will opt for going out to restaurants and bars for entertainment.
  2. Work/Home Balance & Sanctity of Holiday. My hunch is that this ‘phenomenon’ exists everywhere but the United States. There’s no other way to put it than when Greenlanders are at home, they are 100% focused on their loved ones. If I could make a Venn Diagram of work life and home life, it would just look like 2 circles with no overlap. Of course there are busy days, but they are more of an exception than a rule. Add to this 6 weeks of paid time off, 6 months of paid maternity leave, and even paid paternity leave, and you’ve got plenty of evidence that this a culture that values a healthy balance of professional and personal life. Juxtapose that to Americans who get a few weeks of holiday if they are lucky, feel guilty about it, and still answer work emails while sitting on a white sandy beach.
  3. There is a Circle of Trust. It is not uncommon to see children running around or to see babies asleep in prams outside, seemingly unattended. The uptight and xenophobic American might go as far as calling that child neglect, but really it is just a sign of small communities that feel comfortable around their fellow countrymen. It is downright refreshing, to be honest!
  4. There’s no such thing as bad weather. Is it pouring rain outside? Is there a meter (3 feet) of snow on the ground? Is it -25*C (-13*F) outside? Doesn’t matter. Maybe air traffic will get delayed, but life on the ground in Greenland doesn’t stop because of a little bad weather. People still walk their dogs, wait at the bus stop, go on runs, and carry on with life as usual.
  5. Office culture. There are so many points to note here about idea-sharing, respect, and productivity, but really it’s the tangible elements that are most different from the United States. 1) Floor plan: Greenland is fond of the open floor plan with many peoples’ desks in one room. Why have small, anti-social cubicles when you could see each other’s beautiful smiling faces?! 2) Lunch time: The occasional café lunch date is fun, but usually Greenlanders stay at their own offices to eat – but certainly not at their desks. Offices have their own full kitchens and dining rooms to eat in, and everyone sits down together like one big happy family. The larger offices even have their own canteens/cafeterias/chefs.
  6. Possessions are cared for with the utmost attention. Everything is expensive in Greenland. Everything. Single cucumbers are $5+, iPhones are $900, shoes and clothing are 2-3x the price as in the United States, and you don’t even want to think about the Internet prices. Not only are items expensive, but also they are not in endless supply. In smaller towns and villages, if something is out of stock on the shelves, it could be a week or more before the container ship comes with replenishment. Therefore, Greenlanders do understand how to care for their possessions and conserve a bit.

FUN & SILLY

  1. Coffee is religion. There are three rules. 1) No time is a bad time for coffee. 2) It only comes in strong, stronger, and strongest. 3) Anything other than french press is heresy. Also, coffee time here is not the quick Starbucks grab n’ go style like in the United States. For the record, Starbucks does not even exist in Greenland. Instead, it is a whole experience with espresso machines, fancy glassware, stylish french presses, and sealskin cozies – even at home!
  2. Licorice is also religion. Licorice tea, licorice hard candy, licorice ice cream, you name it! In all honesty, this one might be THE hardest for Americans to grasp. In the airport I once heard an American squeal, “What is it with you people and licorice!?” I laughed to myself as I silently chewed licorice gum. Lady, I admit that I, too, was once a licorice-hater, but that was before I tasted the good stuff. Now I’m hooked!
  3. Clothes dryers are not in fashion. Many people don’t even own a dryer, but even the one’s that do still prefer to hang clothes on a drying rack. And sometimes the drying rack goes outside on the terrace (or hung on the outside of the railing), even in cold temperatures!

And, finally, there are products and items that just look different:

  • Parents push babies/children in something that looks more like a flat-bed pram than a stroller with a seat.
  • Condiment bottles like ketchup, mustard, and pommes frites sauce (which Americans know as Ranch Dressing) don’t have screw tops but rather a tiny cap that never comes detached from the bottle.
  • Toilets have 1 large button split into 2 parts – a small side and a large side. You can take a wild guess what the difference is.
  • Sidewalks are not raised or colored differently. You just have to know that to the right of the light post is the sidewalk and to the left of the light post is the road. And that sometimes a car or bus will pull up on the sidewalk right behind you to pick up a passenger.
  • No tea kettles or pots of water on the stove here. The norm is to boil water (for hot drinks or for cooking) in an electric water boiler. It’s faster and cheaper.
  • Don’t look for street names on signposts in this country. Instead, they are affixed to the sides of nearby buildings. By the same token, don’t look for many traffic lights either!

So there you have it – 18 ways that Greenland is totally unique from the United States, and better for it, despite sharing the “North American” label 🙂

How to Get to Greenland

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Photo credit: Visit Greenland

After more than a few handfuls of trips between the United States and Greenland, traveling northward has become second nature for me. But how quickly I forget that, not long ago, I too was a first-timer wondering how on Earth to get to the top of the world! So, after my friend over at The Fourth Continent taught us about How to get from Down Under to Up Over earlier this month, I decided to share 6 basics about traveling to Greenland (with a focus on the United States/North America as the starting point), plus bonus material of a few veteran tips and a step-by-step look at my typical journey starting from Washington, D.C.

SIX BASICS

  1. There are 0 direct flights to Greenland from the United States/North America. Sorry about it.
  2. There are 2 worldwide cities with direct flights to Greenland, listed here from closest to furthest distance from the United States/North America. Look on the map and realize that both of them take you past Greenland just to bring you back west… 😉
      • Reykjavík, Iceland ( NOTE: There are two airports: Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavík Domestic Airport. Both are used for international transportation to Greenland. See Routes section below).
      • Copenhagen, Denmark
  3. There are 2 airlines that fly into Greenland, each with distinct routes in different seasons. See #5. Note: for anyone that is a very thorough researcher, you may have found mention of smaller airlines also offering service to Greenland (namely Greenland Express and Aluu Airlines). However, neither has produced consistently reliable flights and therefore I make no mention of them here.
  4. There are 6 international airports in Greenland, listed here in clockwise order starting in the east.
      • Nerlerit Inaat (East Greenland) – CNP
      • Kulusuk (East Greenland) – KUS
      • Narsarsuaq (South Greenland) – UAK
      • Nuuk (Capital Region) – GOH
      • Kangerlussuaq (Arctic Circle Region) – SFJ
      • Ilulissat (North Greenland) – JAV
  5. 2 big factors determine which airline and which route you will take into Greenland. Ask yourself these questions, and look below at the various route/season combinations.
      • When do I want to go to Greenland?
          • If you want to travel in summer, both airlines will be flying out of Reykjavík, and you can travel on nearly every day of the week.
          • If you want to travel in winter, only one airline will be flying out of Reykjavík, and you can only travel on 2 days of the week. If you need more flexibility or your dates are fixed, it might make more sense to connect via Copenhagen.
      • Where do I want to go in Greenland?
          • It always makes the most sense to connect through Reykjavík with a direct flight to your destination, season permitting. If you are traveling during summer, you can reach all 5 regions of Greenland via Reykjavík.
          • If you want to travel to Kangerlussuaq, specifically in autumn & winter & spring, check the economics – depending on ticket price and availability, it might make more sense to connect via Copenhagen than to connect via Reykjavík plus take a domestic flight in Greenland.
      • International Routes & Seasons. (*** Disclaimer: these routes and seasons are pretty set, but always refer to the airline booking systems for the most up-to-date information, linked above in #3.)
          • Copenhagen – Kangerlussuaq (Air Greenland, year round)
          • Copenhagen – Narsarsuaq (Air Greenland, summer)
          • Keflavik – Nuuk (Air Greenland, spring & summer & autumn)
          • Keflavik – Ilulissat (Air Greenland, summer) NEW – 2016!!
          • Keflavik – Kangerlussuaq (Air Iceland, summer) NEW – 2016!!
          • Reykjavík – Nuuk (Air Iceland, year round)
          • Reykjavík – Kulusuk (Air Iceland, year round)
          • Reykjavík – Ilulissat (Air Iceland, spring & summer)
          • Reykjavík – Narsarsuaq (Air Iceland, summer)
          • Reykjavík – Nerlerit Inaat (Air Iceland, spring & summer)
  6. You can also travel to/around Greenland via cruise ship.

MY TYPICAL JOURNEY (Washington, D.C. to Nuuk, Greenland via Reykjavík, Iceland)

Step 1: It always starts with a 6-hour direct red-eye flight, via Icelandair, from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. to Keflavik International Airport in Reykjavík, Iceland! Just like clockwork, I select the departure around 20:00 and arrival around 06:30 the next day, local time.

For Americans/North Americans not starting in DC, Icelandair also operates flights from Boston, New York, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Anchorage, and others, and WOW air is also a reliable newcomer with budget North American flights from Baltimore, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal, and soon to be Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    • Veteran Tip: Difficult as it is to sleep on the plane when you are so very excited to get to Greenland, DO IT! When you land, you have jumped ahead 4 hours from EDT (or 5 hours from EST) directly into Iceland’s morning, and your next chance to sleep won’t be for many hours!

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Step 2: Next is a typically a 12-hour layover in Reykjavík, Iceland. The flight to Nuuk, Greenland does not leave until the evening, although if you’re going to Narsarsuaq, Greenland or Ilulissat, Greenland, for example, there are morning/afternoon departures, which are a bit more humane 🙂

You have many choices of what to do during a layover, depending to some extent on which airline you fly into Greenland with (which, in turn, depends on what time of year you fly…).

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    • If you take Air Greenland to a destination in Greenland, you will fly out of the same airport you arrived to (Keflavik International Airport). The Keflavik airport is a bit south of Reykjavik city center (45 minute drive), so you can either stay out of town near the airport or you can go into town and come back.
        • ‘Stay out of town’ option: You could hit the nearby Blue Lagoon, a popular natural geothermal spa. Reykjavik Excursions provides round-trip bus transportation, and you can hire luggage storage at the spa. Or you could do another excursion, of course.
        • ‘Go into town and come back’ option: Reykjavik Excursions provides bus transportation for this option, too, which I highly recommend over taking a private cab. For one thing, it’s cheaper (30 USD round trip, versus 200 USD round trip using a private cab) and for another, there is free wi-fi on board. You can hire luggage storage at the BSÍ Bus Terminal while you sightsee around Reykjavik.
        • Veteran Tip: Unless you have a definite plan or an excursion booked first thing upon arrival to Keflavik International Airport, I suggest killing time in this airport for a few hours before making your way to Reykjavik city center or elsewhere. Remember, it’s quite early in the morning, and if you go into Reykjavik too soon, you run the risk that the shops, cafés, and sights are not open yet. Better to stay put with a guarantee of wi-fi and strong coffee 😉
        • Veteran Tip: For extreme flexibility with your plans, you can wait to buy bus tickets upon arrival to Keflavik International Airport. Like clockwork, buses leave 30 minutes after every single international arrival, so check the schedule for your ideal bus departure. Tickets can be purchased at the Reykjavik Excursions kiosk. After baggage claim, follow the signs to Exit/Customs Declaration, and the kiosk will be on the right just before exiting the airport.
    • If you take Air Iceland into Greenland, then you might have to transfer to a different airport (Reykjavik Domestic Airport). Please note: the flights to Narsarsuaq, Greenland and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland leave from Keflavik International Airport while the flights to Nuuk, Greenland and Ilulissat, Greenland and Kulusuk, Greenland leave from Rekjavík Domestic Airport.
    • Reykjavík Domestic Airport is in Reykjavik city center so you must go into town no matter what. See the ‘Go into town and come back’ option and veteran tips above. A one-way ticket via the Reykjavik Excursions bus costs 18 USD, versus 100 USD for a private cab.
        • Veteran Tip: Reykjavik Domestic Airport is very small with just a small cafe and places to sit. These days, there IS free wi-fi inside, so that’s a plus! Check-in does not begin until 1 hour before departure, even for international flights, so there is no need to arrive to this airport very early. Stay in town as long as possible!
        • Veteran Tip: Always be prepared for delays or cancellations, and check the Departure Schedule frequently. Delays are a harsh reality of traveling anywhere in the world, but remember that you are flying in the Arctic. If there are unstable conditions in Reykjavík, in your Greenland destination, over the Greenland Ice Sheet, or anywhere in between, it is best to stay put until conditions improve. If a cancellation occurs, the airline will provide overnight accommodation for you, meal vouchers, and transportation to/from airport/hotel.

Step 3: Finally, Greenland-bound! The final step is a 2-3 hour direct flight from Reykjavík, Iceland to Nuuk, Greenland. It is a lovely flight, and with good visibility, you can see down to East Greenland and the Greenland Ice Sheet!

Flight time is still typically 2-3 hours even if you are not going to Nuuk.

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Total travel time: Up to 24 hours.

Total ticket price: Don’t even think about it.

Total experience of traveling to the best country in the world: Priceless.