In addition to having lived as an expat in six wonderful countries, I have been fortunate enough to have visited many more, and in this blog I wanted to share some highlights of my past travels, starting with a business trip I made in March 2013 to Nuuk in Greenland.
Living at the time in Amsterdam, it was necessary to travel to Nuuk via Copenhagen, as the only scheduled service to Greenland from mainland Europe was a daily operation by Air Greenland from Copenhagen to the international airport of Sondre Stromfjord, or Kangerlussuaq, as it’s known in Greenlandic. From there, a domestic flight took me on to the small airport in the capital, Nuuk.
In fact the Air Greenland flight from Copenhagen features in the 2013 film, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, starting Ben Stiller, as the story takes Walter on a mission to Greenland. His arrival includes an hilarious scene at the car hire counter at Nuuk Airport, check it out if you haven’t seen it.
As a regular flyer, I rarely see a landscape from the air that I feel I haven’t seen somewhere before, but my abiding memory of flying over Greenland is one of sheer amazement and awe. The endless tundra, the stunning contrast of land and sea; oh to have been a great photographer on those flights, to do justice to those magical views.
My trip involved spending 8 days in Nuuk, including a full weekend, which offered a great opportunity to be a tourist. So many business trips are ‘in and out’ in nature, that you often don’t have time to even register where you are, let alone take in the sights, but the chance to spend a weekend in such a special place was very welcome.
My hotel for the duration was the 4 star ‘Hotel Hans Egede’, named after a Missionary who visited Greenland on many occasions in the early 1700’s, and who is credited with founding the capital city of Godthåb, the city now known as Nuuk. It was a comfortable, centrally located hotel, and I particularly remember the excellent ‘Hereford Beefstouw’ steak restaurant, where I spent several evenings.
Nuuk is a small city, and most of the major areas are easily navigated on foot (weather permitting), so my weekend as a tourist was accomplished with just the assistance of a local map, and recommendations from my business hosts and the hotel concierge.
I should point out that at the time I visited (2013), whilst Internet access was perfectly possible, the prices were very high, certainly in comparison to what I was used to elsewhere. I did subscribe to the hotel’s wifi service over the weekend, where the rate was around $30 for 24 hours.
Among the highlights of my weekend as a tourist was a visit to Nuuk Cathedral, a simple one km walk from the hotel. Originally built as the Church of Our Saviour in the mid 1840’s, it became Cathedral of Greenland on May 6th 1993. It is probably the simplest of buildings to be awarded Cathedral status, but it’s simplicity does not detract from it’s beauty – its stunning red wood panelling making it a fitting focal point for the city.
In front of the Cathedral is a bronze bust of Jonathan Petersen, a well known Greenlandic songwriter who played the organ at the Cathedral, and also wrote the music of the Greenlandic National Anthem.
Adjacent to this area is a striking hill top statue of city founder, Hans Egede, its prominence emphasising his importance to the people of Nuuk.
Next on my list was Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu, the Greenland National Museum. The museum is home to a number of local archaeological and historical artefacts, together with displays of life in Greenland through the years. The highlight however was the display of 15th century ‘mummys’; three mummified women, and a young child can be viewed, fur clothes still vey much intact. The mummys were part of a group of 8 discovered at the archeological site of Qilakitsoq in 1972.
Unfortunately, I was not able to take photographs inside the museum, but a picture of the mummys can be seen here:
Throughout my stay, everyone I met, both in my business related activities and when out an about in Nuuk, were really friendly and welcoming. Native Greenlanders are Inuits, and they make up almost 90% of the population, with the majority of the remainder being expatriate Danes. The local population spoke mainly in Greenlandic (or Kalaallisut, as its known locally) with Danish also being used, but I found that most people I met were able to speak English, certainly enough for me to make myself understood. Throughout my travels, I’ve always been humbled by the fact that I only really speak English, yet in the vast majority of countries I’ve visited, wherever English is not the first language, it’s still very likely that I will be understood.
As might be expected, the weather was cold with daytime temperatures around zero, and plenty of snow on the ground; however, as can been seen in many of my photos, during my stay a significant thaw occurred. Two shots from my hotel room, taken 48 hours apart illustrate this change:
Access to the hotel became interesting, due to the river running in the main street adjacent to the entrance!
Food and Drink
I’ve already mentioned the excellent steaks that were available at the hotel restaurant, but two other venues warrant highlighting:
Godthaab Bryghus – A great restaurant and brewery, serving typical pub type food, alongside traditional Greenlandic dishes.
Sushi Huset – I was taken here on my last night for a farewell dinner. In addition to some strange variations on sushi (including items of whale meat), we also enjoyed delicious Thai style dishes. However, the highlight of the evening came towards the end with the serving of traditional ‘Greenland Coffee’.
This after dinner drink is made of freshly brewed coffee, combined with a mixture of Whiskey, Kahlua and Grand Marnier, topped with whipped cream. Whilst that may sound quite wonderful, what makes the drink unique is how it’s made, and specifically how the Grand Marnier is added – I’m sure this is how the term ‘Northern Lights’ came about – watch the YouTube video below, especially from 2.1o.
I flew back home the following day, again via Sondre Stromfjord and Copenhagen and as I traveled I was able to reflect on an amazing visit, full of unique experiences, and great people. I dont know if I will ever get the chance to return, but it is one trip that will live long in my memory.
What I didn’t accomplish
Despite being in Nuuk for more than a week, there were 2 things that I’d hoped to tick off my ‘must do’ list, that I was not able to achieve – firstly, seeing the (real) Northern Lights; despite staring at the sky in the evenings, they never appeared. Secondly, I had hoped to go whale watching, but I learned that these trips were only offered in the warmer Summer months. I guess you can’t have it all!