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Greenland - Icebergs, bare rock and amazing scenery

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#1
A report of holidays in West Greenland in 2007 and East Greenland in 2008, originally published on Slow Travel but rewritten for Slow Europe.

The website with all our pictures is here.


Some background.

We have always been fascinated by the north. After holidays in Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland, Greenland was definitely next on the list. Our first holiday was in July 2007 when we spent 10 days in West Greenland. We loved it so much that we went back to spend a week in East Greenland in July 2008.

Thirty years ago few people visited Greenland and there was no tourist infra structure. Now all settlements have a tourist office which provides tourist information as well as booking trips.

Tourism reached West Greenland first and most people still head here for the icebergs of Disco Bay and Ilulissat, which is on everyone's ‘must see’ list. It is at the mouth of a long ice fjord filled with icebergs from Sermeq Kujalleq, the most productive glacier in northern hemisphere. It is one of these icebergs that is thought to have sunk the Titanic.



The other major attraction is Erik the Red’s settlement of Brattahild in the south of the island which is reached by a short ferry ride from Narsarsuaq.



Fewer people visit East Greenland which is wilder with very little settlement. Most visitors stay in Tasiilaq or Kulusuk.



A few brave souls make it as far as Scoresby Sound further north. This is polar bear country and we have heard stories that anyone leaving the settlement is given a rifle (and shown how to shoot it) in case polar bears are seen. These are killers and not the cuddly pets they look in the pictures.

Options of getting to Greenland are limited. There are no direct flights from the UK or the States to Greenland. The main airport is at Kangerlussuaq on the west coast which has a daily flight from Copenhagen and flights from Keflavik International Airport in Iceland during the summer months. Narsarsuaq further south has a less frequent service.



The airport for East Greenland is at Kulusuk which is served by flights from Reykjavik Domestic Airport. For those just wanting a taster, it is possible to do a day trip to East Greenland.

Once in Greenland, Air Greenland run a network of feeder services between all airports. There are also ferries in the summer months (the sea is frozen during the winter). Perhaps the best known is Arctic Umiaq Line which runs a service from Ilulissat in the north to Qaqortoq in the south and calls at all the major settlements. This provides an excellent way to see the country for those who don’t want to join one of the large cruise liners.



Our 2007 itinerary looked like this:
• Fly Manchester to Copenhagen
• Day in Copenhagen
• Fly Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq and onto Ilulissat
• 3 nights in Ilulissat at the Arctic Hotel
• 4 nights on Arctic Umiaq Line to Narsarsuaq
• 2 nights in Narsarsuaq at the Narsarsuaq Hotel
• Fly Narsarsuaq to Copenhagen
• Fly Copenhagen to Manchester

We booked this through a travel company based in Denmark as we couldn’t find a UK company that could arrange what we wanted to do. We had a courier from the company on the ship with us who led guided tours around settlements visited. There were tour reps at the Arctic Hotel who arranged day trips from there. Since we went in 2007, Arctic Umiaq now no longer sail as far as Narsarsuaq.

Our 2008 itinerary was booked through a company that has since gone out of business.
• Fly Manchester to Reykjavik
• Day in Reykjavik
• Fly to Kulusuk for 3 nights in Kulusuk Hotel
• Fly from Kulusuk to Tasiilaq for 4 nights at Hotel Angmagssalik
• Fly from Tasiilaq to Kulusuk to pick up the flight to Reykjavik
• Free day in Reykjavik (just in case the Greenland flight was cancelled due to bad weather)
• Fly Reykjavik to Manchester

All the hotels had tour guides based in them who were responsible for running a wide range of trips for visitor
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#2
Overall Impressions

Greenland is the largest island in the world. The centre is covered by a massive ice cap and the isolated settlements are scattered along the coast built on barren ice scraped rock. The east side is wilder and more sparsely settled than the west.

Flying across the ice cap is exciting with just a few peaks of rock sticking up through the ice.





Approaching the coast, glaciers can be seen with small deep blue lakes of melted ice.



There is little vegetation and no farming apart from the far south, where sheep are kept and a few crops may be grown. Flies can be a problem in the summer months and a mosquito net may not be very glam0rous, but a necessary travel accessory.



There are no roads outside the settlements, which have a network of gravel roads between the houses. it seemed as if every household had a car even though there may only be a couple of miles of road.

All transport is by air or sea during the summer months when the sea ice has melted. In winter dogs sleds are still the main means of travel in the north and there are more dogs than people in the towns.

Fishing is very important - for food as well as export - and every settlement has a fish market. It is essential to leave one's own prejudices at home when visiting Greenland. Hunting seal and whale was necessary to eat, be warm and have light in winter. Mattak (the layer of blubber under the skin of seals and whales) was vital to Greenlanders' diets. The fat has a high concentration of vitamin C which is essential in the absence of vegetables in the diet. Greenlanders have great respect for their quarry and regard unnecessary killing with disfavour.





Greenland produces no milk, very little meat, virtually no vegetables or other foodstuffs (except seafood). All of these come from overseas in large container ships. In places where the sea freezes during the winter there is a huge storage shed next to the harbour to store enough food and household requirements to last through the winter.



The shops in the settlements are small but surprisingly well stocked carrying everything from clothes to white goods and hardware.



Houses are built on solid rock and well insulated service pipes run everywhere above ground.



Many houses are not on mains drainage. Toilet facilities consist of a a pedestal with a tough yellow plastic bag which is collected for disposal at the sewage plant. Raw sewage goes straight into the sea. The micro-organisms in the sea are so active it is broken down in 2-3 days and does not present a health hazard. Few houses are on mains water and water has to be collected from special points in the streets, which are always painted blue. There is a communal bath and shower house provided. All the tourist hotels have running water and flush toilets.



Traditionally Greenlanders had lived in turf houses during the winter. Walls were made of cut turf carefully stacked. The only timber came from drift wood. Entry was through a long low passage. These were communal buildings and the inside was divided into small living and sleeping quarters for different families.



Cooking took place on a stone table. The step down to the door limited ingress of cold air and the inside of the houses got very hot and people were often virtually naked.



Around the 1960s the Danish Government embarked on a major rehousing programme. The turf houses were replaced by blocks of flats. Although the Greenlanders welcomed the improved accommodation it presented problems as they no longer had sheds for skinning and cutting up seal meat, keeping dog meat and so on. Washing (and sometimes fish) can be seen hanging on racks outside the windows.



Many families now prefer to live in separate, brightly painted wooden houses scattered around the settlements. Greenland has no timber so the buildings are prefabricated in Denmark and shipped in.



The culture shock of the sudden change in way of life led to social problems. Alcohol became an issue, and still is to some extent and suicide rates are high, especially in the 'black months' of October and November. The Arctic Circle cuts across Greenland just south of Kangerlussuaq on the west coast and just north of Kulusuk in the east. It gets 24 hours daylight in the summer but the downside is 24 hours darkness in the depths of winter although the south of the island will get a few hours of twilight.

Icebergs can be seen down the coast of Greenland. Although they look beautiful they can be killers. If they capsize or calve, they can cause a tidal wave up to 30’ high and visitors are warned not to walk along the shore line because of this. Sea temperature is about 0°C and survival time in the water is a few minutes. Greenlandic fishermen never learn how to swim as they know if they know the sea will claim them.

There is a small cemetery outside every settlement where there is a layer of soil and in sight of the sea (heaven is in the sea, not the sky). There are no names on the plain white crosses as the Greenlanders believe that the skills and characters of the name are passed on from the deceased to a new baby given the name. Putting the name on the cross stops this. Each autumn a few spare graves are dug before the ground freezes for the winter.



The Greenlanders speak Greenlandic which is completely different to any other language and difficult to learn. Danish is also spoken. There is some English spoken by hotel staff and tour operators.

The first Greenlandic word everyone learns in the west is 'immaqa' (maybe), a concept resulting from the unpredictability of the weather and other things. Centuries of separate development has meant that the language in the east is very different and there they say 'upa', which means the same but with a lesser degree of certainty

Local place names can be confusing as there are Danish names (now less used eg Rodebay) and Greenlandic names (Oqaatsut) for the same place. Names can refer to geographical features as well as settlements. Thus Kulusuk - island and village - is also known as Kap Dan - headland, island and village.

Greenland is not just expensive, it is very expensive. The towns, though the standard of living is good, are nonetheless very much 'on the edge' and have a distinct frontier feeling. There are few shops. Places are small and distances immense. It is a place for boots and hiking, not strolling and shopping.




Dogs - Essential transport

Dogs are working animals and are an essential means of transport, especially in the winter months. In areas where dogs are used, keeping of all other breeds of dog is banned to make sure there is no interbreeding.



Greenlanders are not sentimental about dogs, they are motive power not family pets. Their lack of sentiment towards their dogs should not be misconstrued. They look after the dogs well and are concerned for their wellbeing and fitness. They need to be well cared for to make sure they are fit to work. Pampered pooches they most definitely are not!



No affection is shown to the dogs. A handler wants his dogs to be dependent on him (for food and instruction), but slightly afraid of him (to ensure respect and obedience). Discipline might involve the odd thump or well placed kick, but this is no worse than a dog might expect from another dog and is in no way cruel. Dogs are good for work for up to seven years. Then they are shot.



Dogs spend their entire life from birth to death in the open without shelter. Because they usually lie on the rocks (where it is dry for them) they often go unnoticed until they move. The law requires dogs to be chained when not working, except for bitches and puppies for six months after birth. Apart from a little howling the only noise from the dogs is at feeding time - then all hell breaks loose. Food includes seal, whale, fish and, if none of those are available, commercial feeds. Dogs are fed daily in winter when they are working , but only every other day in summer when there is no work. Apart from feeding they are generally very quiet and immobile, ignoring you as you walk by.



Visitors are always warned not to approach the dogs. The dogs are not naturally aggressive, but if you walk into their territory you may be attacked. Apparently this would normally be by the least dominant dog in the pack trying to assert its dominance over you. Puppies often approach out of curiosity. It seems best to ignore them, partly in case they follow you, partly to help the owner by not getting the puppy to like affection. Also if mum is around she may see you as a threat to her pup and defend it.

Apparently handlers' whips are not used to hit the dogs - the side on which the whip is cracked is a direction instruction. We were also told that if the handler falls off his sled nearing home after a trip there is no way the dogs will stop for him. Returning on foot after such an incident is invariably noticed by neighbours and subject to much comment.

Sisimiut the southernmost limit of winter dog sledding. Further south there are no sled dogs so other breeds may be kept as family pets.

In winter it is possible to arrange to go dog sledding. In summer a visit to a dog handler is often possible and is a fascinating visit.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#3
West Greenland 2007 - Ilulissat and the Ice Fjord

The Airbus flight with Air Greenland from Copenhagen took about four hours. All their aircraft are painted bright red. We wondered if this so they will show up clearly if they crash on the ice cap.....



There was spontaneous applause from everyone on board when we landed at Kangerlussuaq, the main international airport for Greenland and the old US Søndre Strømfjord base. It is located by a long fjord some way from the open sea at a site specially chosen for being free of fog. The terminal buildings are small and get very busy when the airbus arrives. Forget duty free shopping as there is just a small shop selling some souvenirs.

We had a short flight to Ilulissat in a Dash 7. It was crystal clear now and we had a marvellous view down onto the bare rock and small lakes of coastal Greenland. The sea was deep blue and we saw our first icebergs.

We spent three nights at the Arctic Hotel built on the edge of the town overlooking the sea. It is a large modern hotel with smallish but adequate en suite bedrooms with good views. Breakfast buffet was ample if somewhat limited in variety. Dinner was fine but service was excruciatingly slow, still the view was incredible. The hotel ran an hourly bus service down to the town.



Ilulissat is the third biggest town in Greenland with a population of about 5000. The brightly coloured houses are scattered around the hillsides with a few blocks of 1960s houses.



The fishing harbour is very sheltered at the mouth of a river and is full of small fishing boats and trawlers. Larger vessels dock at a quay next to the fish processing plant and the huge shed which is used to store food for the winter when the sea is frozen and no supply ships can get in.



There are a couple of supermarkets in the town and a range of smaller specialist shops. Tourist agencies have basic tourist information and also sell trips. There is also a bank with ATM.



Everyone goes to Ilulissat to see icebergs. Icebergs of every shape, size and colour can be seen from all parts of the town.







It is a beautiful location at the mouth of a long ice fjord filled with icebergs from Sermeq Kujalleq, the most productive glacier in northern hemisphere. The biggest icebergs get stuck at the mouth of the fjord until they have melted enough to escape. They then get caught in the southbound Labrador Current which takes them north up the coast of Greenland before turning south along the shores of Baffin Island and mainland Canada. It is thought that the iceberg that sank the Titanic started life here.





There is a lovely circular walk from Ilulissat to the SERMERMUIT VALLEY, which was the site of Greenland's largest settlement in the C18th. Now all that is left are a few lumps on the soft boggy ground above the ICE FJORD.



We then took the loop around the headland past the power plant which dropped us back down a very steep slope into Ilulissat.

It is an easy track down the valley. Soil has built up here with arctic and bog land plants. The track then climbs up over the bare ice scrapped rock of the headland, where few plants can survive.





The views are amazing as the sea was full of ice. Some of the icebergs are as large as islands - several kilometres long and hundreds of meters high. Some have gullies carved down the sides cut by melting water. Others had jagged peaks looking just like mountains. We kept hearing the crack and whooomph as lumps of ice broke off.



https://www.sloweurope.com/community/media/ilulissat-ice-fjord-3.1943/
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#4
West Greenland 2007 - Trips from Ilulissat

Evening Boat trip

The EVENING BOAT TRIP to the ice fjord in one of the small fishing boats are another of the highlights of Ilulissat.



These take you out through the icebergs into the ice fjord. Big lumps of ice were avoided, medium ones nudged until they moved, small ones were charged and crunched over. Small fishing boats were returning to Ilulissat after the day’s fishing.



Icebergs can be white or varying shades of blue. White are mainly made of packed snow which contains air. If the ice thaws and refreezes the air is lost and the iceberg is blue.



Big lumps of ice were were avoided, medium ones nudged until they moved, small ones were charged and crunched over. It was a dull evening with no sun - really atmospheric. At one point the skipper shut the down and the boat drifted silently among the ice. It was eerily quite, the only noise being a whooomph every few minutes as some ice fell off a berg somewhere.







As we sailed back to Ilulissat the clouds began to clear and it was a glorious sunny evening when we got back to the hotel. We wondered what to do next until we realised it was nearly 1am and time for bed.



Oqaatsut

OQAATSUT (Rodebay in Danish), is a tiny settlement about ten miles north of Ilulissat. It has a population of 50 people and 200 dogs.



Apart from these trips which bring in a little money, it is a very traditional way of life depending on fishing.





Wooden walkways connect all the houses. There is no water supply to individual houses and there is a small communal service house with washing machines and showers. The church has a small school room attached to it. It does have a football pitch, a patch of bare, almost level ground with rather wonky goal posts.



There is no shop or post office, although the building on the pier is now a restaurant mainly catering for the tourist trade. The H8 painted on the roof was the identification code for flying boat pilots who brought the mail.

 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#5
West Greenland 2007 - Down the west coast on Sarfaq Ittuk

We spent four nights on Sarfaq Ittuk on its weekly run to the south.



Cabins were pleasant, the small ship was clean and modern and the staff excellent. A good breakfast was served from the cafeteria and there was free tea and coffee all day, so we didn’t need lunch. Dinner was excellent and very ample. There was an excellent courier on board, who was Greenlandic and an academic at Copenhagen University specialising in Eskimology. We had inclusive city tours with her at the main settlements and she also gave a talk on Greenlandic history and culture.

Much of the journey was on open sea. We were lucky as it was flat calm all the way. We sat on the deck in the sunshine and watched the scenery and the icebergs. Informal visits to the bridge were welcomed as long as the sea conditions were good and not approaching or leaving a settlement. The crew spoke Danish but no English.


Glaciers between Sisimuit and Maniitsoq


Approaching Maniitsoq


South of Qeqertarsuatsiaat


Approaching Narsaq


Between Narsaq and Qaqortog


Between Quqortog and Narsarsuaq

At one point the ship changed course as whales had been spotted ahead. at first all we could see were their spouts of water in the distance. As we slowly moved towards them we could see they were hump back whales ‘jumping’ with their massive tails in the air. They were also jumping, rolling and crashing back into the sea along side of us. It was impossible to count them, but we think there must have been at least 20. We followed them for about 30 minutes by which time they got bored and disappeared.

Sarfaq Ittuk is very much a local ferry and just carries passengers. In the larger settlements the boat docked by the settlement. The arrival of the boat is a great event and it seems as if all the population come down to the quay to board, meet or just look and talk.



There was a small ticket office on Sarfaq Ittuk which had to be lowered to the quay at most ports of call.



We had been intrigued by the amount of luggage that many locals were carrying. We were told that many were going to occasions where traditional costume (which is very bulky) would be worn.



Sarfaq Ittuk was too large to dock at some of the tinier settlements. Here the ship’s tender had to be lowered to take passengers and luggage (including baby’s pram and wheelchair) ashore.

 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#6
West Greenland 2007 - Ports of Call, Aasiat to Nuuk

Sarfac Ittuk is very much a local ferry and visits most of the main settlements down the west coast of Greenland. There is often time to go ashore and see something of the town. The further south, the greener it became.

Aasiaat
Aasiaat at the southern end of Disco Bay is the first port of call. With a population of just over 3000, it is the fifth largest town in Greenland. Fishing is the primary economy but the town is also the centre of higher education for North Greenland with a college and business school.





Sisimiut
Sisimut is the second largest town in Greenland after Nuuk, with a population of 6000. It is the northernmost limit of winter navigation by sea, and the southernmost limit of winter dog sledding.

Brightly coloured houses are scattered round the harbour, which is lined with old warehouses.



The centre of town with a small shopping centre is a short walk from the quay.



Danish settlement started on this site in 1764 based on whaling. A photogenic whalebone arch marks the entrance to the old town with a small brown wooden church, old houses, warehouses, sheds and boats. This is now a museum site. The blue painted Bethel church was built in 1775 and is one of the oldest churches in Greenland. It has an external ladder giving access to an upper floor.





There is also a reconstructed turf house on the site, although this has a wooden roof rather than the more traditional turf roof.



Maniitsoq
Maniitsoq is at the mouth of a fjord and is surrounded by steep cliffs. Its name means ‘rugged place’ and spreads across several small islands linked by bridges. The brightly coloured houses are scattered on rocky outcrops and linked by wooden bridges and staircases. It has a busy small craft harbour.







It has a population of just under 3000 and like other Greenlandic towns, the economy is based on fishing, however high grade nickel and copper ores have been found in the area and their are plans to exploit these.

Nuuk
Nuuk is the capital of Greenland and the oldest town, as well as it’s largest settlement with a population of around 16,000. It is built at the tip of large peninsula at the mouth of the fjord complex backed by large mountains.



The slopes overlooking the harbour are covered with long and dreary looking 1960s apartment blocks with the town centre with shops and cafes in the middle of the peninsula. The award-winning cultural venue Katuaq is also here. This is a modern building which houses the Art School, exhibitions, concert hall and a cinema.



The oldest part of the town and the old colonial centre which was originally called Godthåb, is on the west side of the peninsula in Kolonihavn. This was the old harbour and the shore is lined with warehouses.



This is now a museum complex with exhibitions of Greenlandic history and life, with national costumes, tools dogsleds and kayaks as well as the Qilakitsoq mummies – 6 women and 2 children who were found close to Uummannaq. Old oil presses can be seen outside one of the buildings.



Hans Egede's house, the oldest house in Greenland is here. Egede was a missionary and the founder of Godthåb. The house is now used for official government receptions.



Nuuk has laid claim to be Father Christmas’s true headquarters ever since Donald Duck visited the town with his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie to see Santa in a Walt Disney cartoon film in 1934. It has a large post box full of letters to Father Christmas.



It is worth joining a guided tour of the town as it is a long way to walk from where Sarfaq Ittuk docks and there are few taxis for hire. The day we visited there were 10 of us in a big bus with the bus driver’s brother sitting at the back for the ride. The boat had docked at 6am on a bitterly cold morning with low mist.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#7
West Greenland 2007 - Ports of call, Qeqertarsuatsiaat to Qaqortog

Qeqertarsuatsiaat
The name means ‘the great islands’ and the settlement was developed as a trading station for seal skins and whale blubber. For a short time it was the largest settlement in Greenland. It’s population now is just under 250 and Sarfaq Ittak only makes a very short stop here. . Its other claim to fame is that the last known Great Auk in Greenland was hunted near here by one of the villagers in 1815.





Paamiut
Paamiut is a mix of brightly coloured wooden houses and 1960s apartment blocks on the edge of a narrow coastal plain surrounded by rocky hills.



It had been an important whaling and fur trade centre. During the 1950s cod boom its population grew to 10,000 but fish disappeared virtually overnight in 1989. The population plummeted and there was major unemployment. It now has the Maritime Training School, handicraft cooperative and a candle factory.

The beautiful wooden church was built in 1909 which looks a bit like a Norwegian Stave Church but without the decorative carving.



The museum is made up of five old stone and timber buildings: governor’s residence, old trading post, goat house, post office and carpenters house which still has the bell at one corner which was rung when there was work available.



Narsaq
Narsaq is a pretty settlement sprawling across the grassy slopes under the peaks of peaks Qaqqarsuaq and Tasiigaaq. Its name means ‘plain’. The flatter ground and relatively mild climate (-17°C in winter but 22° in summer) make sheep farming possible.



A shrimp processing plant opened 1952 using labour provided by forcibly evacuating near by villages. This now doubles as a slaughterhouse for the region’s sheep. An enterprising local company collects icebergs to make into designer ice cubes for export.

It is a pleasant walk up the road behind the town for views across the fjord which was still filled with many small icebergs in July.



The area is dotted with Norse ruins and some historians think this may be site of Erik the Red’s settlement rather than Qassiarsuk, near Narsarsuaq.

Qaqortoq
Qaqortog is the largest town in South Greenland with a population of around 3000. It is an attractive settlement of brightly coloured buildings huddled around the harbour, surrounded by mountains. In early July, everywhere was bright yellow with dandelions.





It was a boom town in the 1930s and most of buildings date from this time. It boasts having Greenland’s first piped water supply, bath house and fountain. It now prides itself as a cultural centre with ‘Stone and Man’ sculptures carved on boulder around the town. The best are on the cliff beside Torvevej, behind the tourist office. This sells a range of local craft items. Greenland’s only industrial tannery is found in the town.



 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#8
West Greenland 2007 - Narsarsuaq

Narsarsuaq is in the south of Greenland. The climate is warmer, the scenery flatter and more fertile and there is even a small plantation of trees.



The pier is about 1km from the settlement and the ‘airport bus’ meets passengers to take them to the hotel.



We spent two nights at the Narsarsuaq Hotel. The building is a little soulless but our room was large, comfortable and with an excellent shower room. The buffet at breakfast was ample and served in a clean but rather dark cafeteria reminiscent of a better class transport cafe. Dinner was upstairs in a rather grand dining room and was excellent.

NARSARSUAQ is tiny with a population of less than 200.





It consists of a few buildings around the old USAF airfield, Bluie West One, which has been reopened for internal flights in the south of Greenland and a few international flights to Denmark and Iceland. This must be one of the scariest airstrips in the world as it ends at the fjord.



East Greenland 2007 - Walks from Narsarsuaq

There are two very easy walks from Narsarsuaq, up Signalhojen behind the hotel and Flower Valley

Signalhojen
There is an easy walk on a rough gravel road to the top of SIGNALHOJEN ( signal hill) behind the settlement with good views across the airstrip and surrounding area.



Flower Valley
The most popular walk is up FLOWER VALLEY. The road from the airport continues up past the old hospital site and then a well made gravel track which climbs above the glacial valley of the Kuusuaq river which brings melt water from the glacier.







The walk ends at the huge cliff. It is possible to climb up this on a rough path using ropes to assist the climb. This brings you out onto the top of the plateau with views across to the glacier and down into the valley. We had been told by the hotel guide that the going up was tough but coming down was even worse. We admired from the bottom.



The valley is very fertile and in July there were many different species of wild flowers.


Arctic poppy


Harebell


Thyme


Alpine mouse ear


Actic Lupin

There are more flower pictures here.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#9
West Greenland 2007 - Brattahild and Eric the Red

QASSIARUQ lies across the fjord from Narsarsuaq. Now a small sheep-farming settlement, it is thought this is the site of BRATTAHILD, the original Norse settlement in Greenland. Erik the Red was a turbulent character who was outlawed from Iceland in 982AD. That meant that anyone could kill him without falling foul of the law themselves. As he had plenty of enemies he decided moving on would be good for his health and settled in the south of Greenland. He set sail with 25 ships and about 500 men, women and children with their belongings and animals. Only 14 people made it to Greenland. By 100 the colony was over 3000 inhabitants.

The Norse settlers disappeared from Greenland in the early 1400s. No one knows exactly why and there have been suggestions of starvation, disease overgrazing, disagreements with neighbouring Inuits and even kidnapping by Chinese pirates.

In 1924 Frederiksen, a sheep farmer, re-established a settlement here. His house is now a small museum and community centre. The bright red painted church was built a few years later. Inside it is simply furnished with white benches and a small boat hanging from the ceiling in thanksgiving for keeping sailors safe.







Qassiarsuk is a small scattered settlement with a post office and shop selling everything from bullets to fridges.



It is a very fertile area and all flat land is used as pasture for sheep. It was bright yellow with dandelions in July. There are several scattered sheep farms. Despite the warm summers, winters with temperatures down to -20°C mean sheep must be kept indoors





In the 1960s remains of a small church dated to about the year 1000 were found.
This was thought to be the church built by Erik the Red for his wife Tjodhilde. Erik's son Leif visited Norway in 999 where the king asked him to take Christianity back to Greenland. The converted Leif came back home with two priests. Tjodhilde converted readily, but Erik would not give up his own beliefs. Tjodhilde told Erik she wanted a church. As he refused she locked him out of their sleeping chamber until he complied. Eventually he gave in and built a church, but out of sight of his house.



Foundations of houses have also been found with the remains of floors and animal stalls.





Erik the Red’s house and the church have been reconstructed.

The house is a typical Viking long house made from turf blocks and roof resting on a wooden frame. There were no windows and a small chimney to let smoke from the central fire escape.



Eric and Trodhilde would have slept in a small sleeping chamber at the end of the house. Young girls slept in a separate upper storey. Everyone else slept on benches along the sides of the walls. There was a stone floor with central fire. Fuel was mixture straw and cow dung.





The church was simply constructed from turf with a wooden front and door, surrounded by a circular enclosure. It had a small window above the altar. Inside there were wooden benches around the walls and the small altar was separated from the nave by a square doorway.







A 19thC Inuit turf house has also been reconstructed on the site. Traditionally this would have been entered by a long low passageway. Now there is a small door so visitors do not have to crawl in. Inside it was divided into separate eating and sleeping areas for different families.



 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#10
East Greenland 2008 - Arrival at Kulusuk

The east coast is barren, cold and virtually devoid of settlement. Ammassalik region where we went, has a population of under 4,000. About half live in the main settlement of Tasiilaq. The rest live in scattered villages such as Kulusuk, where the airstrip is.

The flight from Rekjavik Domestic Airport to Kulusuk is exciting. In early July, the sea ice was only just thawing and there were plenty of icebergs. As we approached the coast we flew up the fjord into Kulusuk with the sides of the mountains nearly touching the tips of the wings. The plane banked and came into land on the gravel airstrip. Planes can only fly in clear conditions and flights are often cancelled due to mist and bad weather.





By the end of the week when we left a lot of the sea ice had melted.






Kulusuk airport is tiny with a small terminal building with an even smaller craft shop. It was built by the US Air Force in 1956 as part of their early warning defence system. Now it is purely civilian.



Leaving the small terminal building all you can see is bare rock, sea and ice.







There is a gravel track leading past the the oil terminal, hotel to the small settlement. There are few cars on the island and no taxis. Most people prefer quad bikes in the summer and dog sleds in the winter. In early July there was still plenty of snow around







We were stopping in KULUSUK HOTEL a long low building with small, basic but comfortable en suite rooms. We had full board and the dining room had a magnificent view across the bay with the icebergs. Meals were self service and excellent.



One evening a drum dance had been arranged. Anna, the local expert brought two of her young pupils along to entertain us. The Drum Dance is an Inuit tradition which has survived on the east coast of Greenland. The 'civilising' influence of missionaries put paid to it in the west, but it is returning. There were various forms of dance, including entertainment, shaman spell casting or mating rituals. It could also be used to settle civil disputes - the successful claimant was the one who got the most laughs or applause.



Anna performed a mating dance much to the embarrassment of a group of Asians who didn’t know how to react when she sat on their laps. Michael being the perfect gentleman, stood up, offered her his seat and swept her a bow.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#11
East Greenland 2008 - Kulusuk

Kulusuk is a tiny settlement about 45 minutes walk from the airstrip. Apart from the scenery, guide books list two attractions; the cemetery and the church. You really do need to like nothingness.





The cemetery at the start of the village, has white crosses in sight of the sea, as the Inuit regard the sea as Heaven, not the sky. Graves do not have names as there is a tradition that the skills and characteristics of the deceased are passed on to later generations with the same name. If the name is written on the grave, this link is broken.



The brightly coloured houses of the village are scattered over the bare rock hillsides.







There is a small shop with even smaller post office attached, which sells stamps and deals with the mail.



A small privately owned craft shop only seems to open when there are tourists. In the community centre, as well as washing machines, there is a small craft workshop where locals carve tupilaks (small figures) from animal bones. There used to be a strict ritual involved in making the tupilak which could be quite grotesque with two heads and strange body shapes. They were originally regarded as magical beings who could be made to cast spells over others. Now they are tourist souvenirs.

There is no water supply to the houses in the village and all water has to be collected from pumps spread round the village.



The church is a small, pretty wooden building built by shipwreck sailors using wood from their ship. Inside is simply furnished with green wooden pews and small font in front of the altar and a small boat suspended above the organ. These are traditionally found in churches of sea faring communities for protection of those at sea.





Drum dances and a short kayaking display are performed behind the church for tourists who have come on the day trip from Iceland. This time it was a male performer and again performing a mating dance. Having seen Anna perform I had the advantage of knowing what to expect. He began by performing in front of two young girls who turned bright scarlet and were terribly embarrassed. The next woman tried to ignore him and the fourth kept a stoney face. I decided to play it for all I could, beckoned him to me and ended by giving him a big kiss - one of the advantages of being elderly.




Eat Greenland 2008 - Excursions arranged by Kulusuk Hotel

There is an English speaking tour guide based in the hotel who arranges excursions for visitors. There aren’t a lot: trip to see a glacier, trip up Kap Dan and a ‘town tour’ of Kulusuk.

Boat trip to the glacier
The boat trip in a small fishing boat crosses the Ikaasaartik to the APUSIAAJIK GLACIER. As it was a lovely sunny day and surprisingly warm on the water, with hardly a ripple.



There were still plenty of icebergs, although by the end of the week many of these had melted.



There were good views of the glacier front.





Kap Dan
KAP DAN is the southernmost point of the island and the site of a now demolished radar station built by the Americans. There are now radio masts at the top of Isikajia mountain. This is reached up a well graded track. We rode up in the very battered hotel mini bus and walked back down to enjoy the scenery. It was a bitterly cold day with strong winds, low cloud and mist hiding the views.





 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#12
East Greenland 2008 - Tasiilaq

Tasiilaq is the main settlement in east Greenland with a population of about 2000. It is reached by a ten minute helicopter flight from Kulusuk. On a clear day this must be one of the best short flights in the world.

The helicopter takes nine passengers and flights run regularly throughout the day. Some checked luggage goes behind the crew and is held in place by straps. The rest goes in the tail with carry on luggage which is taken off you at the helicopter.



There is then a bench seat for 5 passengers behind the luggage straps. The middle passengers have quite a restricted view. There is a double seat on either side of the helicopter. This is a bit of a squash especially when the door was closed but gives the best view..



Leaving the terminal building the helicopter flies over Kulusk and the brightly coloured houses can be seen below. The flight then takes you along the fjords surrounded by bare, dark rocky mountains with snow, U shaped valleys and small islands. The mainland of Ammassalik is bare ice scratched rock with lakes.









Gradually Tasiilaq came into view with painted houses scattered along the coast, before landing in the airport.



We stopped in HOTEL AMMASSALIK which is owned by the same company as the hotel at Kulusuk and was comfortable if a little busy. It is set high on the hillside above the settlement and had super views down to the football pitch and across the bay to the far hillside. Football is big here and there were closely fought local derbies being played most evening.



After Kulusuk, Tasiilaq felt big with tarmac roads, cars, road signs and street lights.





It has a large harbour and the main supply ships dock here as well as cruise ships. Smaller ships carry goods to the smaller settlements.



The cruise ships berth in the fjord and passengers are brought ashore in small tender boats.



The East Greenland hospital is here.



There is a very stylish modern church.







The old church is now the Ammassalik Museum and contains East Greenandic masks, Tupilak figures, kayaks, sleds and other artefacts.



Outside is a reconstruction of a turf house. These were communal dwellings made up of separate bays for each family. Cooking was done inside over an open fire on stone slabs. Despite outside cold in winter the houses were very hot and people were often virtually naked.





Outside is an example of an umiaq, the seal skin covered boat which was larger than the kayak and traditionally paddled by the women.

 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
#13
East Greenland - Excursions from Tasiilaq

There were two English speaking tour guides based in the hotel who arranged excursions. These included a walking trip up flower valley and a boat trip to the deserted village of Ikatec.

Ikatec
IKATEQ is a small deserted village on the opposite side of the island from Tasiilaq which was only accessible by boat. It didn’t have a proper harbour and we had the choice of shining up the cliff or transferring into a smaller boat that could land on the ‘beach’.



At its height the population of Ikateq was over 200. There were only three employed positions, catechist, shopkeeper and settlement manager, everyone else earned a living by hunting and fishing. The remains of the fish drying racks can still be seen.



There was no fresh water and all drinking water had to be collected from rain water or melting icebergs.

The population dropped to 28 by 1996 when the village was abandoned. The inhabitants moved to Tasiilaq, leaving one old woman and three sons, who moved out when their mother died. The houses are still used for holidays.



Elsewhere the foundations of old turf houses can be seen.



The school survives, complete with all the desks and books. The ghosts really are alive and well still.



The church is looked after and has the occasional service. This arrived prefabricated from Denmark and it took seven trips in an umiaq to get it here.





The small graveyard with its plain white crosses is on one of the few places with any depth of soil. Spare graves were dug in the autumn before the ground became frozen.



There was even a small football pitch, on the only flat area.



Flower Valley
FLOWER VALLEY is a lovely walk from Tasiilaq past the cemetery into a wide and very fertile valley. It follows a well made track and you can't get lost.





On close inspection, the ground was covered with wild flowers in July.





The Broad leaved willowherb is Greenland national flower.



There are more flower pictures here.

The track continues up past a series of small waterfalls into the hills.







Into the hills of Sermilikvejen
Another good walk from Tasiilaq took us along the coast before crossing a bridge and following the track up into the hills to the lake supplying water to the town.



It was an easy walk on a well made track leading us up into the hills of Sermilikvejen, to the north of flower valley. We didn’t see a soul.





There is a map showing walking tracks around Tasiilaq here. We did these two walks by ourselves. The tracks were easy to follow and took us safely into the hills with no risk of getting lost.


We had two great holidays in Greenland and fell in love with the place. It is now appearing on the cruise itineraries, but to really see Greenland, you need to stay in the settlements, rather than see it from a ship.
 

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