Greenland July 2008


Helen Rose Hill Diary

I find cruising a very relaxing holiday and an opportunity to go to places I would not usually visit. I am not a beach person but I do like an opportunity to chill out on a holiday and read books. Where better to chill out than to visit Greenland! The cruise started from Greenock, a port near Glasgow so no going through airport security with long queues and the possibility of luggage being lost. Instead, you are welcomed on the boat with the minimum of fuss and luggage is delivered direct to your cabin. We sailed in a very stormy sea to Stornoway on the Island of Lewis  overnight. There were only four of us in the bar and the pianist continued to play despite the swaying of the ship. Fortunately, I don’t get seasick so I continued to enjoy the cocktails and the music until late.

On the Island of Lewis, we visited the Callanish Stones, a very fine broch and a traditional black house and sailed on to the Westmann Islands off Iceland. There were lots of Puffins and whales to be seen here and we climbed the Eldfell volcano which had erupted in 1973 and increased the size of the Island of Heimaey with a lava flow. I wondered why my feet and boots were warm at the top of the mountain but then I discovered little chimneys to let the heat out of the volcano which was still active. I have previously written about Iceland and my main focus on the cruise apart from, wining, dining and reading was to visit Greenland. Some of the other passengers had researched visiting Greenland and discovered the cheapest option was on a cruise as none of the settlements are connected by road.

We had three ports of call in south west Greenland at Narsarsuaq, Qaqortoq and Nanortalik. They were all interesting. Narsarsuaq was memorable for the boat trip among the icebergs to the glacier. We were very lucky with the weather and were the first cruise boats to call at the port this year due to the late release of the ice.  The ice pilot from Denmark guided us into the ports. It was strange waking up in the morning looking out of the porthole at icebergs. The ship was docked in front of an iceberg and tugs had to move the iceberg to allow the ship out of port! 

 We had trips in the fiord in small boats to the glacier. Our boatman had brought his boat a hundred miles as he farmed caribou further north. Be warned, everything is expensive here due to the very short season and the cost of travel. The fiords freeze over in winter and skidoos are the popular form of transport.  Only thirty cruise ships call in to the ports a year and we were the first so the locals were delighted to see us.  The cruise ship the previous week had not been able to access the area as the ice conditions were still too dangerous. Sailing among the icebergs was stunning with the blue and white colours and the unusual shapes.  When we were in the sight of the glacier, the engines were switched off to enjoy the tranquillity of the setting. The boatman served cocktails with ice from the fiord which could have been three thousand years old. The weather was unusually sunny and calm and we were closer to the glacier than has been possible in the last five years.

At Nanortalik, I was very impressed with the quality of the museum charting the history and culture of the Inuit people and the Norsemen from 982.  The legends were written in four languages and the English was perfect. The exhibition was laid out logically and interesting and easy to follow in a small restored village. In my travels, it is one of the best museums I have seen and in such a remote place. The local community put on a show of traditional singing and dancing in costume for us in the community hall and served us home made cakes and coffee. The local people were all friendly and seemed to enjoy our visit. The community can only be reached by boat and helicopter and is a typical settlement.

On Greenland, I learned a lot about the Inuits, the link with Denmark and the economy. Much of this  is highly political for a variety of reasons and it would not be appropriate for me to expand on it here but I found it all fascinating and I was ashamed of my ignorance of Greenland. I don’t know that I will ever go back due to the remoteness but I am pleased to have visited Greenland and considered the environmental questions it raised.  You can find further information on these ports online as I have only mentioned a few of my impressions. The arctic flowers and birdlife were also of interest. Survival is difficult in this harsh climate and I was reminded of Patagonia.

Coming attractions; Arran and the Mournes 

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