Let the adventure begin!!! That is what I told myself full of enthusiasm at the end of March (a different March…), when I decided to travel on my birthday in a dog sledge. Experience told here.
My search on the internet got me to Greenland, perfect for “dog sledding” at the end of winter. I knew so little about Greenland. I had been to Iceland two years ago. At the time, I realized I could get to Greenland unbelievably fast. It could take between an hour and a half and three hours by plane from the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik (depending on the coast you choose to land on).
Since I am speaking about Iceland and Greenland, someone there told me their names should be changed between them: “Iceland” is not that “icy” just as “Greenland” is not even remotely “green” J)). They say that the Vikings called it “Iceland” to discourage the appearance of other possible inhabitants of this shore. And a man stepped on the land of Greenland and called it “green” just to fool the people with this attractive name and make them come and populate this savage area. Isn’t it cool?
HOW TO GET TO GREENLAND
Swimming, if you’re cool J)).
By plane, however, is a more doable option… From Iceland, from spring to autumn, by Air Iceland and from Denmark, all year long, by Air Greenland. These are the options I have found.
By ship? Nope… You can travel on water only inside Greenland. Or you might pay for some international transatlantic cruise that has a stop in Greenland too.
I flew Air Iceland, a regional company that you can use for inside flights in Iceland or to the Feroe Island and Greenland. Which I did…
WHEN TO GO TO GREENLAND
Well, I wanted to go there on my birthday so I got there at the end on March and the beginning of April. A perfect period! Snow all over the place, minus 15 degrees Celsius (but no less than that), fairytale landscapes, blue skies sometimes covered by clouds that bring snow. However I truly felt I had stepped in Greenland!
It is important for you as a tourist to decide when you want to go there depending on what you want to do.
During winter, until April, you have cool options – the Northern Lights, dog sledding, a trip among the icebergs by ship, hiking on various paths and a flight in a helicopter over the glacier.
During summer, you have the midnight sun, you can travel by ship to see the whales, you can hike on longer trails and you can fly in a helicopter over the glacier.
WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR LUGGAGE FOR GREENLAND
Reading the guide that I got before leaving, what do you think I did? I started looking online and in the shops around the city to buy clothes for “the North Pole”…
And here I am looking in the dedicated shops for clothes for a Greenland winter: cold, but dry.
“Insulating layers” – this is what the guides say very often. I am supposed to wear a few good layers. To keep me warm, but not sweaty and to be able to take off something if I need or want… So I will not wear a T-shirt and over it the warmest pullover I have. This is not good! And no cotton!!! The cotton T-shirts, the jeans, the cotton sweaters are a noNoNO for any outdoors activity there.
In order to be obedient and not to leave any piece of skin become a victim of the cold, I start buying tens of caps of different types (a hood as well), socks of all possible animals, super-protection gloves, the five fingers type that are thin, the five fingers type that are warm, to the very warm ones, the mittens, ski glasses, sunglasses, special sunglasses for a very strong sun, snow shoes, special blouses – short-sleeved, long-sleeved, black, pink, white, ski trousers, under which I will wear polartec trousers, under which I will wear a type of long johns that allow the skin to breathe, keeping the heat inside. I even bought plastic underwear J. But they are special, you cannot mess with them…
And that is all! I stopped before having to have a credit for this type of shopping.
WHERE TO GO IN GREENLAND
I let everything to an Iceland travel agency, mountainguides.is.
They organize trips, with hotel accommodation and transportation to Greenland. (I was told later that once in Greenland, I can buy trips there. That is using worldofgreenland.com)
My destination was Ilulissat – the most popular touristic destination of Greenland, the Ilulissat fjord being a part of the UNESCO Patrimony. I was surprised to find out that the small town founded in 1741 as a trade center, is the birth place of the famous Pole explorer Knud Rasmussen. And it is a place where tourists from around the world come to see the huge icebergs that come into Disko Bay. In fact, the name Ilulissat means “iceberg” in the local language.
Sitting in my bed in Bucharest, I found it difficult to find the town on the map. My God, I cannot believe the location of this town! I discovered that I was going to the end of the world! The town is on the west coast of Greenland, somewhere beyond the Polar Circle, very close to… Canada! It is five hours behind Romania.
However there are other places where you can go in Greenland – one being the capital, Nuuk, which is on the western coast as well, a bit lower.
And for those who are afraid to fly, just like myself, the eastern coast means a shorter flight to Reykjavik, of about one four and a half. Here there are too some beautiful places to be seen. And there are enough organized trips. I understood that the polar bears can be seen here more than in other places. They come from the north, on blocks of ice. And they, poor things, go all the way to the south looking for households, as they are hungry.
Anyway, Ilulissat suggested, I said “yes” and… I am going forward!
On the Reykjavik airport, ready for the check-in for Greenland, I look in admiration at some of the people so very well equipped for the arctic areas. I have never seen such boots in my life, but they look very professional. I am an amateur, still I have some boot, two pairs of them even, appropriate for a sort of a more… Romanian North Pole.
I have more than enough time to admire the “outfits” of everybody on the small airport, I go to the snacks shop too, since they have announced that the take-off will be delayed. It has just snowed abundantly in Reykjavik and they have to defrost the plane… repeatedly.
My God, when I see outside the small plane, with the thin wings, I suddenly feel like staying in Iceland and bathing in the geothermal pool.
To keep my mind occupied, I read again the info about the five days stay in Greenland:
- a bit more than a 3-hour flight from Reykjavik to Ilulissat;
- in the evening, at about 10 pm, I will go on a two-hour tour to see the Northern lights. As the weather is perfect for this!
- the next day, on my birthday, I have a two-hour dog sledding tour. At lunch-time. This is the shortest and the lightest tour of them all, no difficulties or risks involved. There are other options: a 4-5-hour tour, on a more difficult path, that is not recommended to those who have problems with the spine, because it is very bumpy… Or even an eight-day tour, to the north of Greenland, with sleeping in tents and all that. Cool!
- the next day, a two and a half-hour trip on a ship among the icebergs;
- on the fourth day, a two-hour snowshoe walking tour on the coast. The shortest and the easiest tour, as I cannot venture on a more difficult one…
- on the last morning, a 90-minute sightseeing tour on a helicopter, with a 30 minutes stop on a mountain close to Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, the most productive in the Northern Hemisphere. And then, good-bye Greenland!
After about two hours of warming up the plane, when the snow stopped, we are all taken to the plane. All, that means 15 people. That all. In a 30 seats plane.
We even have a stewardess. How about that?
I place on the seat next to me all the devices I have, I cross and pray, then I give myself courage, remembering the information that the pilots flying in the Arctic area are very good. God help us! I am calmer now, after the take-off was all right and there are no turbulences.
We cross the sea between Iceland and Greenland, and then the landscape becomes spectacular! You get the feeling that there is a different planet down there.
When water is seen in the distance again, I look at the watch and I realize we are getting close. I even see the small town!
Three hours of a perfect flight in a plane that gave me courage, no matter how small it was… No unpleasant events, so I took hundreds of photos and tens of films on the way.
There she is, beautiful as she is… This is the beginning of a poem about Greenland. It is still work in progress hihi.
I look at the small town all covered in snow and I am amazed.
The more we descend, the more colorful and nice the picture becomes!
Houses all over the place, this is all I can see… Where am I going to stay?
There we are! We have landed perfectly! Phew!
Do not think that there is a bus there to take us from the plane to the airport terminal. We have to walk. The airport is a very small building, where we wait for the luggage in front of a small baggage carousel, then we get into a small bus that takes us each to his/her hotel. Not a very big one…
As soon as I set foot in Greenland I was sure that my nostrils will freeze. But no… This is not a Romanian frost, this is a special type of frost… But it is freezing!
Inuugujog – I hear. They tell me this means “Hello!”. I forgot the word immediately after hearing it, as it seemed too complicated J.
WHERE TO STAY IN ILULISSAT?
There are very few hotels in the town. One 4-star hotel, two 3-star hotels and some starless locations, airbnb and… that is all.
My hotel is better, the people who booked me a room here say, even if it only has 3 stars, not 4. Hotel Icefiord, that’s how it is called. It is 1 km from the center of the town, but the view is worth it, as the hotel is close to the water.
I get my room, I take pictures from the window and I turn down the heat as it is so hot here that you’d think they want to cook me! Then I go out for my first walk and to have the first contact with the new world here. (I speak as if I were Columbus…)
What can be seen in the distance is the Disko Island. The second largest island in Greenland. And the first? Well, the first is… Greenland hihihi. I liked that.
A corner of the town makes me feel like I were on a postal card. It is all just so beautiful here! And so quiet!!! And it is freezing! But I am very well dressed. It wasn’t in vain my filling the suitcase with all the clothes.
I walk the streets up and down, closer to the water or towards the center of the town.
The first shock is I cannot keep my eyes open!
The light is so strong because of the snow that covers everything, that not even my sunglasses are enough. So I choose to wear some ski glasses or something. God knows what they are! You’d say I am a Ninja Turtle…
I notice after some hundreds of meters of walking that every house has two means of transportation: a boat and a snowmobile. Both are essential for living here.
For the days when you don’t want to take either the snowmobile or the boat, you have the public transportation. Or the taxi. The tank is so cool! (I have even seen two normal taxis, driven by people who have multiple functions in the town).
I would have never expected this! The bike is present on the snow-covered streets too. It is a bicycle with thick wheels, something I see for the first time in my life.
These girls have no problem to ride the bike at some minus 15 degrees C.
And, of course you can travel by sledge here. If not here, I have no idea where you could really use the sledge…
The Greenland child plays alone in the street. And I walk and walk in the snow… And I have to climb. Since I live close to the water, I have to climb in order to see the town.
And since I was speaking about transportation, I also see the police and the ambulance on my way. They are active even here, in this 5,000 people town.
The sun goes down, but I am still exploring the place. There are areas that look like cut out of a fairy tale. Or of a Santa movie…
At the limits of the town where houses are fewer, I am surprised by a very bizarre sound. I have a good ear, but I cannot understand what this is. It becomes louder. It sounds like a group… meowing.
What do you know! The meowing comes from… dogs. Now that I see all the dogs in the area, I associate the sound they make with some sort of a wolf howling, but… somehow domestic and nice. (I have no idea how to explain something like this, but it is like nothing else I have ever heard in my life).
On sole slopes, there are a lot of dogs, sitting at quite a distance from one another. In pairs of two, usually. And some are alone. They are tied so that they cannot get close to each other and start fights. They are the sledge dogs.
I am told that there, in the snow, is the place where the dogs rest, eat and sleep. There is no dog-house or any shelter where they could go at night.
I am there at exactly the time when someone feeds them. A true show starts!
Frozen fish, this is what they are fed. And the dogs seem to enjoy the food.
I leave for the hotel and I have to admit that I am overwhelmed by all the images I have seen today.
I have continued to explore the town during the next days, before and after the paid trips. Even if the sun is hidden behind the clouds.
Do you see the plane in the picture? Had I had the terrible weather now when I came, I would have to be on perfusion in the plane…
During my walk in Ilulissat, I found some blocks of flats too. Small and colorful. They don’t look at all like the ones we have… But they are made to resist in the terrible conditions there.
I was very surprised by the fact that I did not find any pharmacy, coming from the country where pharmacies are like mushrooms after the rain, all over the place… Well, I have looked for one here for a very long time. They don’t have one. There is no pharmacy in the town. There is just a hospital, where you go if you are seriously ill. If you are not, you buy some medicine from the supermarket and get better.
I am curious what people here do.
First of all, they hunt and fish, they tell me. Next, there are the services – people work in shops and banks (in “the bank”, in fact, because I only saw one…), in social services and so on. And only in the third place, there’s the tourism.
Two teenagers who don’t have to worry about tomorrow, talk to each other in the middle of the road. I try to take a photo without disturbing them, wishing to capture the typical figure of a Greenland person.
I pass by them and try to listen to the language from which I cannot understand a word!
When I came here, I thought they speak Danish, as Greenland is an autonomous territory, but part of the Kingdom of Denmark (the money they use here are the Danish crowns). But people do not speak Danish, but Greenlandish or whatever this language is called. They learn Danish in school. Just like English. But don’t be happy: you might meet a lot of people who do not understand at all English.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN GREENLAND
…that is what I tried
As picky as I am in Romania when it comes to food, when I go abroad I like to test the “most local” local foods.
In Ilulissat, there are not a lot of places where you can go. I was amused when, before getting there, I looked for a top 3 of the restaurants in Ilulissat. Somehow, in the top three where the only three restaurants the town had J)).
I went through the snow, up the hill, to one of the restaurants – Mamartut (a name I could never remember…)
A restaurant in the snow, I could say, having in view that, to get there, you had to swim in snow.
At lunch time, I am lucky! I understand that in the evening, you have to make a reservation or you’ll never get a table.
I took the menu and I ordered a traditional plateau, although there were things not very appealing. But I wanted to test…
They explained to me each thing on the plateau, but do you think that I remembered anything when I took the fork? I was lucky that the fish really looked like a fish… I could not take it for chicken J.
To have some idea about what I had eaten, I took the list from the menu: fish, a lot of fish (from cod, smoked halibut, salmon, cat fish and other that I have no idea how to write), lamb, shrimp, caviar from I cannot remember what fish, reindeer paté and other small things… I have to admit that I started with the SEAL and WHALE meat (some small bits on the plate).
The price for all this? About 30 Euros.
The main dish was reindeer meat. It was about 26 euros.
The food is food, but the view is even better, especially since the air is very clear.
I came here once again, charmed by the sensational view more than by the traditional food. This time I tried something else:
Whale carpaccio – about 13 Euros
I had o very strange sensation when I tried it. It tasted like… ice. I don’t know how to tell you. It was a thin slice of meat that tasted like a piece of ice.
There are some restaurants down in the valley, closer to the center of the town. Not many. I found two and tested both…
On my way to one of them, a local man passes by me carrying the “capture” of the day. The man has done his duty, he takes the food to his children. I wonder how he is going to cook them? On a bed of cabbages?…
The Inuit Restaurant is small and nice, and stands out of the snow like a hexagon…
To be able to eat here, you have to respect the rules. So, no spikes inside, because you’ll ruin their floor…
Here I ate a whale steak, because they did not have any pork J. I paid about 23 Euros.
The first time in my life when I tasted whale meat was some years ago, in Iceland. I did not like it very much.
I am not a fan of the whale steak now either. It has a taste of… how should I say? Of pork liver, with a consistency of beef muscle.
In the center of the town, you can eat at Café Iluliaq, too.
This is like some sort of a fast-food. The difference is that you do not buy pork, beef or chicken hamburger, but… musk ox. What? I look up to see what it is. From the photos, it looks like some sort of a spectacular buffalo.
… that I ate J)).
It’s 21 Euros! (My man, the whale was cheaper!)
In the area there is some sort of a fishery, where the local people can buy the catch of the day. I have no idea if and how many tourists buy from here, but I came in out of curiosity, to see what they sell.
It is not the right time (in the afternoon), so they have very few things.
However I saw a lot of fish hanging in the windows of the houses. Just like clothes let to dry… It is cod. People let it dry and this way they can eat it the entire year.
I have found two supermarkets, in two different areas, where you can buy food and things for the house, office supplies or clothes.
Don’t think you will find in the supermarket all the products you are used to finding in the ones at home. It is very difficult to bring things here, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. They have to be brought from the continent and that is why, if you find them, they have a big price. But you can buy here the strictly necessary things. I have bought a lot of Nordic sweets and soda – I kept feeling like drinking something with bubbles.
The restaurant of the hotel
If you don’t really feel like getting dressed and going through the snow to the restaurants in the town or if you have tried the very few options, a very comfortable solution is to dine at the hotel.
I did not choose this solution one evening because I was lazy, but because I had tested everything beyond the hotel.
I ate here a reindeer soup and, the main dish, fish. On this occasion, I noticed that there were no children among the tourists. I did not see them during the trips I had, apart from a 10-year-old boy who had come with his mother. Otherwise, there are only grow-ups. There are a few married couples, some friends and, unbelievable, a lot of lonely people, just like me. Both women and men. (No, nothing suitable for me J)))
SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN GREENLAND
…to be more precise, what I have bought in Ilulissat
You don’t have many options. Don’t think you’ll find God knows how many souvenirs shops, with hundreds of products, like in any touristic place in Europe or elsewhere.
I very much wanted to buy something “theirs” and something really special was the seal fur!
This has no use for me, as I don’t intend to photograph myself naked on it J). But it seemed to be special. So I bought it.
On the back of it, I found a note saying: “traditional hunt conducted by Inuit communities for subsistence purposes”. So this is a necessity, not a caprice, a fun.
I saw in many places seal furs and reindeer skins made in the form of… a canvas. They were stretched with ropes on some frames and placed either in the lobbies of hotels or on the walls of certain buildings.
If you don’t want the fur, you can buy a souvenir made of reindeer horn. They have hundreds of models! And they are so expensive… The price is higher if the sculpture is more detailed and bigger.
These sculptured figurines are called tupilaq. In the Inuit religion in Greenland, tupilaq was a vengeful monster, made by a wizard or a shaman, from parts of animals. He was given life through ritually singing, then he was put in the sea to look for and destroy certain enemies.
Now, these objects are among the most wanted souvenirs.
From bone, the people of these places make other objects that are useful: bracelets, bottle openers, different tools, supports. From skins and furs they make wallets, bracelets, necklaces, rings, pendants…
I have even discovered the factory where they make these souvenirs – a small workshop, where the locals work ignoring any intruder. Among them, there are the objects they did, exposed, so that you can choose whatever you want or what you can afford to buy…
I thought appropriate to buy something from here, as a sign of appreciation for the work of these people.
I found a unique Eskimo, without a face hihi. Either the artist got bored and left the masterpiece unfinished, or this was the artistic vision. I chose it because I could not decide from all the faces I saw, which were terrible, tough, furious, hideous.
As small as it is, it cost me 35 Euros!!! They had some larger, that would make you drop… no, not dead, but definitely penniless.
After I bought the piece, I looked around the shop and at the way the man sculpted.
The hotels have these objects exposed in their lobbies, for sale. Necklaces, broaches, hair pins, pendants and other jewelry. They also have wonderful pictures from Ilulissat and Greenland, with icebergs, the Northern Lights and even with food.
If the woman in me did not give in to temptation, the child could not resist: I bought a local stuffed animal to have it in my collection of toys brought from all over the world.
I considered it very valuable, because it is written Greenland on it. Just like on the cap I bought on my first day.
If you have finished with the one or two small souvenir shops and the ones inside the hotels, you can spend your money in supermarkets…
In one of them I found some boots that I was supposed to have here… Very cool boots for the Arctic areas, both for adults and for children. They resist to temperatures up to -40 degrees C, so you have no problem.
And with great pride, I find a product with Dracula on it! Romania, Romania, I feel like shouting, but I restrain myself. I smile, I leave the item there, since I have no idea what’s its use…
If you go into the Tourism Center, get your card ready…
You can buy a Greenland bicycle, for example J. The type that has wheels as wide as my palm!
Seeing that I am looking at it, a shop-assistant showed me on the phone the ride he had the previous day on a similar bicycle. He was a bit upset that he could not be fast on the snowy trails, because of the dog sledges.
Close to the bicycle there is a reindeer fur. And a sledge. You can buy both.
And here is the right cap for the minus a lot degrees. It is a seal fur cap! (I look like uncle Mitica from the leather shop J). I have to admit, it is warm. I could not wear it for too long.
What else did I buy? Well, postcards for the entire Romanian people, a few key chains from reindeer horn (some mini tupilaq), magnets, a CD of a Greenlander composer and singer (Rasmus Lyberth), some bags with local herbs (angelica) good for different foods or just mixed with butter and eaten with bread.
And that is all about my shopping in Greenland.
And that is about all with Greenland and my birthday that lasted for 5 days J)).
I get on the small plane, but safe, on a day as clear as the one when I came here and I salute Ilulissat from above! I identify now a lot of places.
On the plane, I notice amused that our flight attendant, immediately after the take-off, sits on the seat in front of me and starts… knitting!!!
Can you tell me you saw anything like this on your trips by plane? I thought she was very funny!
For three hours, I review the film of the experiences I had in Greenland. The story of each and everyone of them, here:
- the spectacular Northern Lights
- the dog sledding
- the ship trip among the icebergs
- 5-hour walking tour on the coast, with snowshoes
- the helicopter tour to the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere – Sermeq Kujalleq
…And to end it all: 5 days in Greenland – the flight from Iceland + stay in a 3-star hotel + the 5 trips I mentioned above = 2,925 Euros. And that is without the money paid for food, internet, souvenirs and… the Canada Goose parka, my present for my birthday J)).
An expensive present. One enough for five consecutive anniversaries… But it was worth it!