Winter Getaways in Greenland – a must do!

 

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I am telling you – the Christmas season in Greenland simply does not get any cosier! There are orange Christmas stars in every house and office window, the days are getting shorter each day, there are always candles lit, and there are a ton of Christmas trees all over town. Oh yeah, and there is a ton of snow and northern lights!

I have personally been in the absolute highest of holiday spirits this year – baking up a storm nearly every other day with warm fruit compotes or cranberry something-or-others, and decorating the house with festive candles and a Greenlandic mobile. Cultivating cosy has been such an enjoyment!

Here are three ways and places you, too, can get filled with the winter spirit in Greenland!

Celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in Nuuk

Bid the sun welcome back in Ilulissat in mid-January

Have fun in the snow in Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq

Celebrating the Return of the Sun in Ilulissat, plus 4 Things I (Re)Learned About Greenland Doing It

IMG_4974  Southerly view over the Ilulissat Icefjord toward the sunrise, standing at Seqinniarfik. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.

First sunrise in 6 weeks

Yesterday the sun rose above the horizon in Ilulissat for the first time in six weeks. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing on 30 November last year? Probably not; it feels so long ago. Now imagine that you have not set eyes on the sun – the very thing you’re taught not to look directly at – since that day.

Needless to say, there’s a bit of a celebration in Ilulissat to bid the sun welcome back. Schools and offices close early, and everyone trudges in one way or another out to a viewpoint called Seqinniarfik in the UNESCO World Heritage Site to watch the sun come up over the mountains on the south side of the Ilulissat Icefjord, take a small skip across the sky, and go down again a mere 52 minutes later.

I joined the masses out there on the hill and was so happy the share the time surrounded by people. Much like most of my experiences in Greenland, it was an instant renewal of my appreciation for the country and a reminder about these 4 things I’ve come to learn about Greenland over time.

DSCN2786 Starting out toward Seqinniarfik. Check the tiny dots (people) on the top of the hill! And that’s not even the final spot. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016

 

1) Nothing comes on a silver platter

A nicely-plowed plank boardwalk all the way from the road up to Seqinniarfik could have been a dream, but this is Greenland, where even a well-defined sidewalk in town is sometimes too much to ask.

The route to Seqinniarfik was through sled dog territory and over natural terrain, perfectly easy to clear in summer but slightly challenging in winter conditions. The snow was crunchy sheets that didn’t always hold my weight, sending me sinking into knee-deep snow beneath. The high winds of the last two weeks continued and were so strong at my back it gave me a pressure headache and made me dread having to walk into the force on the way home. I didn’t dare to grab my camera out of my pocket for fear of either dropping it or, much worse, having one of my precious sealskin mittens blow away in the midst of a juggling maneuver.

Of course, I did dare because I just had to take a picture, but after even just a few minutes with gloves off, your fingers start to lose mobility to even press the shutter button. Then you have to make the really difficult choice between ‘getting the shot’ (or taking a selfie, let’s be honest) and feeling like you might lose an index finger. All mittens stayed thankfully in my possession but the minus temperatures rendered both my iPhone and digital camera frozen in place after a mere four or five times coming out of my pocket.

No, it’s not always a piece of cake to get out into the Greenlandic nature in winter, but it sure is worth it once you’re there.

 IMG_4976 Seqinniarfik selfie. At the top. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.

 

2) There are no words for how stunning Greenland is

Sometimes you can sit looking at the Greenlandic landscape and you could just cry. I have said this myself, and I have heard tourists say it, too. It is a natural reaction when you have so many impressions and feelings swirling around in your body that can’t get out in a normal way with thoughts or speech. Instead, they jump out themselves in a most physical manner.

This country is breathtaking and incredible. The nature is pure and raw and strong and powerful. In pictures I have seen other places that the world calls beautiful, maybe because they are colorful or peaceful, and I always think to myself, ‘Did those places challenge people’s willpower, make them stronger, and generally put humanity to the test?’ To me, that is beauty.

Greenland is not beautiful despite its extreme conditions. It is beautiful because of them.

 

3) The weakest Greenlander is still stronger than the average person

If someone had a mere single breath in him or her, they made an effort to reach Seqinniarfik, it seemed. It was not only the young school kids skating around in their high top sneakers on the icy rocks and holding their thin jackets overhead like sails in a summer breeze.

Not even poor physical condition could keep some people away from the hill. I saw older people out there walking through the snow at a pace of maybe two kilometers an hour, one foot in front of the other, but determined nonetheless to see the first sunrise in six weeks. I even saw a woman on her motorized scooter at the end of the road waiting, hopefully, for someone to pick her up on snowmobile. One could imagine they have done this every year for their entire lives. One could imagine this was maybe one of the few times they got out into the nature anymore.

 

4) Greenlanders do appreciate their own nature, even on the 25000th day

I have heard tourists speculate sometimes that Greenlanders probably forget how fantastic the landscape is since they see it day in and day out, coupled with their observation that Greenlanders rarely exclaim “Oh my gosh! How pretty!” and “Look at that!” toward things a tourist definitely would point out.

On the contrary, living close to and appreciating the nature is an innate element of Greenlandic culture. Regardless of whether one is in the biggest city in the country or in the smallest settlement, the nature is always there and always central to life. Greenlanders can be a people of few yet profound words, hence the lack the exclamations, and my own friend explained this very phenomenon in exactly this style.

She said, “Why ruin the moment with words about something that is already obvious?”

Touché.

DSCN2789 View over Ilulissat. Photo taken: 13 Jan 2016.

Polar darkness in Greenland

DSCN2686 Photo taken on 7 January 2016 at 12:40 PM

Come to my world for a minute. I’m in Ilulissat, Greenland at 69*N, some 297 km / 185 mi north of the Arctic Circle.

At this time of year, early January, Ilulissat is at the tail end of the polar darkness period. From the end of November until the beginning of January, the sun does not rise above the horizon.

The unknowing ‘southerner’ might think polar darkness is a formidable and scary period to be avoided at all costs. They might think that no sun = no light, or 24/7 nighttime. But in fact, this is not true, at least not in Ilulissat. (If we were talking about Qaanaaq, up at 77*N, it would be a different story.) The good news is that if you are a tourist who enjoys real experiences, can be a bit independent, and can accept just a few hours of light at the middle of the day – you could absolutely visit Ilulissat in winter!

During the polar darkness period in Ilulissat, there is actually quite a diverse range of different lights. Meteorologists have fancy words for them like night, astrological twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight.

The picture above is taken at the brightest part of the day, in the middle of the civil twilight time frame. Today, 7 January, that happens to be from 9:51 AM to 3:11 PM. This will extend for a few minutes each day until Tuesday, 13 January, when the sun officially rises above the horizon again. First for a transient 50 minutes and then gaining 10 to 15 minutes more sunlight each day.

By the end of the month, there will already be 5 hours of sunlight. By the middle of March (the height of the spring tourism season), there will be 12 hours of sunlight. And by the end of May, the sun will be up 24 hours a day – until the end of July!

Want to hear more? Read about the very first time I experienced polar darkness back in November 2013.

And follow me at @polarphile on Instagram and stay tuned here for more in-the-moment photos as I document the tail end of the polar darkness period in Ilulissat, the return of the sun, and the path full steam ahead into the light.

Review of “Village at the End of the World”

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Photo credit: http://www.villageattheendoftheworld.com/photos

Village at the End of the World is a 2013 British-made documentary about life in Niaqornat (70*N 52*W), a settlement with 52 inhabitants in northwestern Greenland. It is an extremely accurate portrayal of life in Greenland in terms of addressing current issues like identity, investment in the future and education, globalization, sustainable hunting, tourism, and Danish relations. Though this film only depicts the socially and physically small community of Niaqornat, these issues are universal. I recommend this film to anyone who wants insight into modern Greenland, but viewers should take care to realize that everywhere in Greenland does not look like Niaqornat in terms of size and structures.

Perhaps my only complaint about the film is its title. Sure, words and phrases like “remote” and “end of the world” are titillating to the average person, and I suppose that 293 miles/472 km north of the Arctic Circle does sound like the furthest place on Earth to most people…But these words are also plagued by the associations that the people living in this village are primitive or that you will not be able to relate to them. From my time in Greenland, I can tell you that that is certainly not true! I suppose that’s the plot twist viewers are supposed to learn for themselves, but my humble opinion is that the title would be better as “Village at the Top of the World” 🙂

On a personal note, watching this film is quite special for me. Seeing the nature but also seeing the people and hearing the language makes my heart happy. It is familiar, and it feels like home. The film is about as real as you can get because in a small country like Greenland, there are no stunt-doubles, props, or staging. For example, there is a scene where an Air Greenland helicopter lands at the settlement – I, myself, have sat in that exact machine! I have shopped in Pilersuisoq stores in settlements, and one really can find shoes for sale right next to the frozen goods. I know well the sound of walking through town and hearing sledge dogs howl, and even the radio broadcast you can hear in the film is the same as I listen to every day in Greenland.

I have not been to Niaqornat yet, but I have been to the general area twice. The Uummannaq Fjord is, and always will be, my favorite place in Greenland, so that’s another reason why watching this film was special for me. If you can find your way to Niaqornat or Uummannaq (it’s just one short flight, plus a very short helicopter ride, from Ilulissat), I highly recommend it! The air, mountains, and sky there are so pristine and distinct; they will be forever imprinted in the memories of all who set eyes on them!

A few more details about the film…

!!!! Spoiler Alert !!!!

One of the big themes of the film is that Greenland has a firm place at the table that is the modern world. It may be geographically far from some places on the globe, but isn’t everywhere? I agree with Sarah Gavron when, in her Director’s Statement, she calls Greenland “the heartbeat of our planet”.

The opening scene is quite poignant and makes the point that even in small settlements at the “end of the world,” there are people prioritizing the future and considering how to advantageously position the next generations so that they have a solid place in that future. Mathias, the schoolteacher, writes on the board, “What is my future?” and “I want to be…” and then opens up the floor to the young students. One boy wants to be a fisherman; one girl wants to work in Pilersuisoq, the “general store” of sorts; another boy wants to be a pilot. The teacher smiles at him approvingly and tells him that he must be good in English to become a pilot.

The modernity thread continues with the inclusions of technology throughout the film. At one point Lars, the protagonist, gets on Facebook and scrolls through his friends in Denmark, Mexico, and the United States. He says, “I feel close to other countries, even though they are far away,” (12:00). And later in the film you see that he dreams of visiting New York City one day. Another character, Ilannguaq, started his relationship with his girlfriend (a Niaqornat resident) via online dating! So yes, world, Greenland is firmly in 2014 with Internet technology! But they do have to pay an arm and a leg for such luxury 😉

Another theme in the film that is a bit more somber is that of identity and independence. It is primarily exhibited by the Niaqornat residents, who want to privately own and operate the fish factory that Royal Greenland shut down so that they can remain in their beloved home. But just peruse one of the Greenland newspapers, and you will soon see that the issues are oh-so-relevant at the national level, too. In the film, Karl (a hunter and the leader of the community) has a number of inspiring quotes, including:

“In my opinion, only we can secure our future” (22:58)

“We will need to act independently if this village is to keep its inhabitants” (46:25)

To find out if the Niaqornat residents buy the fish factory and preserve the existence of their settlement and the life they love, you will have to watch the film yourself!!

PHOTO GALLERY: Polar Darkness in Greenland

I ventured north to Ilulissat (69*N, or 297 km/185 mi above the Arctic Circle) in late November in search of the Greenlandic environment most people probably think exists year-round – namely, lots of snow, bone-chilling temperatures, and 24-hour darkness. It was not exactly as I expected, but regardless, what I found was a MOST enchanting winter wonderland!

Photo taken at 12:00 noon on 2 December 2013IMG_6302

Photo taken at 12:15 PM on 2 December 2013IMG_6306

Do you think you know the smell of Ice and Snow? Well, you have not lived until you try it in Ilulissat in wintertime! The combination of the mammoth icebergs in Ilulissat Ice Fjord and Disko Bay with the gossamer snowfall that floats effortlessly in the air is just intoxicating! It is also a feast for your other senses. The blanket of powdery snow on the ground is a bright complement to the colorful houses, and it makes an unmistakable crunch beneath your boots! Blow into a handful and watch how it glitters in the air like weightless diamonds. And your taste buds will thank you if you just go ahead and take a bite!

The temperature was between -8*C and 0*C (18-32*F) during the day, but with the deceivingly low humidity in Greenland, it never feels as cold as the mercury would have you fear! Let’s just say that my body has felt colder in Kangerlussuaq in March than in Ilulissat in November. However, when the wind blows – you do feel that!

The low-hanging sun was soft and quiet and romantic for a few hours a day – between approximately 11:30 AM and 2:00 PM. Its fleeting presence definitely gives a natural feeling that something is coming to an end, that it is time to slow a bit and hibernate a bit. In summertime, my body reacted very strongly to the long days. I always felt completely energized, and 3-4 hours of sleep was plenty for me to feel refreshed. So I fully expected the opposite reaction to the long nights – that I would struggle to stay away at 5:00 PM. But it was not the case!

Photo taken at 11:40 AM on 28 November 2013P1020668

Experiencing the darkness was truly my main target for this trip. Having experienced the electrifying Midnight Sun for a few weeks in summertime, now I wished to see the other side of the astronomical coin. My rookie expectation was that if the sun did not cross the horizon, then the sky would be dark. So on 1 December, I expected 24-hour darkness that would not end until mid-January.

It turns out “polar darkness” is a bit of a misnomer, at least in Ilulissat. Even when the sun does not cross the horizon, its presence is still noticeable enough to consider it light out for a few hours a day. During my trip (25 November – 2 December 2013), it was dark between approximately 3:30 PM and 10:00 AM. For example, the pictures above are taken after the last day with sunrise, at the lightest part of the day. The picture below is also taken after the last day with sunrise. Give it another 40 minutes, and the sky will be completely dark.

If you want to follow the ebb and flow of light above the Arctic Circle from the comfort of your own home, check out the IceCam, a 24-hour time-lapse camera located in Ilulissat.

Photo taken at 3:50 PM on 2 December 2013IMG_6322

In order to experience true 24-hour darkness, one must travel another 438 km/272 mi north to Upernavik (72*N, or 695 km/432 mi above the Arctic Circle). I have never been this far north, so my interest is certainly piqued! (The farthest north I have been is Uummannaq – 70*N, or 459 km/285 mi above the Arctic Circle).

By contrast, go to the capital city, Nuuk (64*N, or 266 km/165 mi below the Arctic Circle) and the sun will rise above the horizon every day of the year, though there will still be many hours of darkness. While I was in Nuuk (21-25 November 2013 & 2 December 2013) it was dark between approximately 5:00 PM and 9:00 AM. Here are some shots from Nuuk.

Photo taken at 8:00 AM on 22 November 2013IMG_6212

Photo taken at 9:30 AM on 3 December 2013IMG_6367

Photo taken at 10:30 AM on 3 December 2013P1020677

Photo taken at 11:00 AM on 3 December 2013P1020683

PHOTO GALLERY: Midnight Sun in Greenland

Photo taken at 10:15 PM on 28 June 2012 in Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N)P1000512

Photo taken at 11:00 PM on 22 June 2012 in Uummannaq, Greenland (70*N)P1000256

Photo taken at 11:00 PM on 25 June 2012 in Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N)P1000424

Photo taken at 11:50 PM on 5 June 2013 in Uummannaq, Greenland (70*N)P1010158

Photo taken at 12:30 AM on 29 June 2012 in Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N)IMG_0682

Photo taken at 12:30 AM on 8 June 2013 in Uummannaq, Greenland (70*N)P1010267

PHOTO GALLERY: Signs, Menus, and More Around Towns

A picture lasts forever! That is why I started snapping photos of signs around town, tourist information boards, restaurant menus, etc. Originally I did this for my own personal use, but I think it can be very helpful to anyone dreaming of or planning a trip to Greenland. It is hit or miss whether you can find this same information on the Internet, so I decided to share it here in one single place.

The menus can give you a great idea about average food pricing (all prices listed in Danish Kroner). And I think the photos give an accurate picture of what you can expect to find in terms of posted information when you arrive to Greenland, and in what language(s). Sometimes signs are posted in English, but oftentimes they are only written in Greenlandic and Danish.

DISCLAIMER 1: This is not a comprehensive gallery of every sign, menu, etc. in the given town. Nor is it a comprehensive gallery of every town.

DISCLAIMER 2: There is no guarantee that the information in the photograph will be valid forever. I indicate the season I took the photo so you will know if it is very recent or a bit older. By default, no picture is older than summer 2012.

DISCLAIMER 3: Sorry for the poor quality of some of the photos. As I said, I originally took the photos for my own personal use!

Signs in Ilulissat

Signs in Kangerlussuaq

Signs in Nuuk

Signs in Sisimiut

Signs in Tasiilaq

Signs in Uummannaq

PHOTO GALLERY: Signs/Menus Around Ilulissat

Suggestions for Proper Tourist Behavior posted at Ilulissat Hostel (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2604

Front Desk Hours at Hotel Icefiord (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2409

Many, many signs with practical information posted at Ilulissat Hostel (Spring 2013)IMG_2418 IMG_2417 IMG_2416 IMG_2415

Opening Hours and Menus for Restaurant Mamartut (Taken Summer 2013)IMG_4508

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Information about Greenlandic Buffet at Restaurant Mamartut (Taken Summer 2013) – I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT THE GREENLANDIC BUFFET IS ONLY SERVED DURING THE SUMMER SEASONIMG_4510

Opening Hours at Icy Cafe (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2414

Pizza Menu at Hotel Hvide Falk (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2449

Happy Hour Menu at Hotel Icefiord (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2473

Menu at Cafe Iluliaq (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2597

Menu at Naleraq (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2602 IMG_2603

Example of Buffet Menu at Naleraq (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2600

Examples of Daily Specials at Restaurant Ulo and/or Cafe Ferdinand at Hotel Arctic (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2592

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Menu for Cafe Ferdinand at Hotel Arctic (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2419

Menu at Restaurant Ulo at Hotel Arctic (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2420

Opening Hours for Ilulissat Hallen (Gym/Sports Hall) (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2509

Opening Hours for Ilulissat Art Museum (Taken Spring 2013) IMG_2574

Opening Hours for Knud Rasmussen Museum (Taken Spring 2013) IMG_2581

What the outside of the Craft Workshop looks like… Directions: With Ilulissat Tourist Nature on your right, walk downhill and this building is on the right (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2650 IMG_2652

PHOTO GALLERY: Greenland Towns & Settlements

Here is a one stop shop for town photos of every town and settlement I have visited, plus some quick facts! The order is clockwise, starting with East Greenland and finishing with North Greenland.

Sources: Wikipedia for coordinates… bank.stat.gl for population statistics 

Greenland // 2012 Population: 56,749 (Combined Greenland-born and other)

Greenland // 2022 Projected Population: 56,755 (Combined Greenland-born and other) // 2032 Projected Population: 56,184 (” “) // 2040 Projected Population: 55,386 (” “)

Tasiilaq // 65*N 37*W // 2012 Population: 2,004 (Town) // Photos date: 24-26 April 2013

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Kulusuk // 65*N 37*W // 2012 Population: 280 (Settlement) // Photo date: 28 April 2013

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Qaqortoq // 60*N 46*W // 2012 Population: 3,297 (Town) // Photo date: No Photo

Narsaq // 60*N 46*W // 2012 Population: 1,581 (Town) // Photo date: 15 August 2012

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Arsuk // 61*N 48*W // 2012 Population: 128 (Settlement) // Photo date: 15-16 August 2012

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Paamiut // 61*N 49*W // 2012 Population: 1,568 (Town) // Photo date: 16 August 2012

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Qeqertarsuatsiaat // 63*N 50*W // 2012 Population: 196 (Settlement) // Photo date: 14-17 August 2012

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Kangeq // 64*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 0 (Ruins) // Photo date: 21 April 2013

See here for summer pictures and a fun story about my friend’s afternoon in Kangeq. Her summer trip there was considerably more pleasant than mine!

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Nuuk // 64*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 16,181 (Town) // Photo date: 1 June-12 August 2012, 11 June 2013

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Qoornoq // 64*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 0 (Summer settlement) // Photo date: 3 July 2012

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Maniitsoq // 65*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 2,715 (Town) // Photo date: 18 August 2012

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Kangaamiut // 65*N 53*W // 2012 Population: 351 (Settlement) // Photo date: 20 August 2012

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Sisimiut // 66*N 53*W // 2012 Population: 5,571 (Town) // Photo date: 18 August 2012

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Kangerlussuaq // 67*N 50*W // 2012 Population: 513 (Settlement) // Photo date: 8-13 March 2013

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Aasiaat // 68*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 3,146 (Town) // Photo date: 19 August 2012

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Ilimanaq // 69*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 61 (Settlement) // Photo date: 8 April 2013, 11 June 2013

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Ilulissat // 69*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 4,621 (Town) // Photo date: 27 June 2012, 26 March-10 April 2013

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Oqaatsut // 69*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 50 (Settlement) // Photo date: 30 June 2012, 11 June 2013

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Qullissat // 70*N 53*W // 2012 Population: 0 (Abandoned) // Photo date: 24 June 2012

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Qaarsut // 70*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 171 (Settlement) // Photo date: No Photo

Uummannaq // 70*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 1,280 (Town) // Photo date: 22 June 2012, 5-6 June 2013

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