Friday, October 21, 2016

At gå ind I Greenland

Sunrise on the North Atlantic Ocean, looking astern
Without a doubt my favorite day on board was when we cruised through Prins Christian Sund. The Sund is a 60 mile (100 km) long, sometimes only 1,600 foot (500 m) wide passage that connects the Irminger Sea with the Labrador Sea. This shortcut through the tip of Greenland is one of the most scenic places I’ve been. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise at about 5:30AM; at 6:30 the first foghorn sounded. I hoped that the fog would be gone by the time we got into the fjord at about 7:30 – 8:00. Sigh…supposedly there were whales we should be able to see at the mouth of the fjord. The fog in this area is fairly common because we have moved from over the relatively warm Gulf Stream to over the cold arctic current. At just about 7:30 the fog lifted and we had a gorgeous day of cruising. What greeted us were sheer cliffs of rocks that had been deformed by volcanic activity, erosion and intense metamorphism, during and after which they had been unceremoniously pushed down by the weight of a huge ice sheet that covers most of Greenland. The land is slowly rising because the ice sheet is shrinking due to global climate change. This long fjord system is mostly surrounded by steep
mountains reaching over 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) in height and finely cut by glacial activity. In some places you can see the ice sheet coming down through a narrow cut to touch the water. It’s in these areas that icebergs calve. The ice is an amazing range of white to deep blue-green and frequented by resting gulls and seals (of which we only caught a glimpse). Although Dave spent almost the entire passage on the top deck watching both sides of the sound, I preferred to stand on our balcony since it faced the mainland; I could also step back inside to hear the commentary and to warm up a bit. That side allowed me to see waterfalls, glaciers, the ice sheet and lots of gorgeous peaks. We were almost completely through the sound when we came upon Aappilattoq, one of the tiniest and least accessible villages in Greenland. There are about 130 people living in this town that can only be accessed by boat (in the summer) or by helicopter (year round). One of the activities we enjoyed thoroughly while on board the ship was to listen to lectures by people
Left: Ice sheet
Center T to B: Ice sheet, Aappilattoq and mountain, Visitors to the ship
Right T to B: Jagged mountains, close-up of Aappilattoq
knowledgeable about cultures, history, flora and fauna, and geology of the areas we were visiting. By far our favorite speaker was Jon Vidar Sigurdsson. He is a native of Iceland, a geologist, a wonderful photographer, and a learned and engaging speaker. In his description of Aappilattoq he related that during a visit to this town he had gone hiking. He said that you can walk only about one kilometer away from the water before you are closed in by the mountains and can go no further; the people living here are locked in on all sides either by mountainous terrain or by water. Evidently our cruise ship was a bit of a treat since some of the inhabitants jumped in their motor boats and came out to see us. Several people climbed one of the hills to watch us pass and a group of children ran along a ridge to wave at us. Although it’s a gorgeous place, I’m not at all sure that I could live in such a remote area.

Once we turned back toward open sea, Dave and I wandered down to the Lido deck to have
Left T to B: Steak, Strawberry tort
Center: Caprese Salad
Right T to B: Chicken Tikka, Cupcake
a bit of lunch. This is not my favorite place to eat on the ship since it is a rather confusing array of buffet tables with guests running willy-nilly carrying over-filled plates of hot food in search of that rare vacant place to plop down for a meal. We were happy to get a small table in a corridor where we could go in relays to find our lunch. Dave had a surprisingly good steak with wild rice; he found a piece of garlic bread that was also very good. I had a nice chicken tikka and some shrimp/fish curry with rice. Dave had a strawberry tort that he liked; I had a sticky cinnamon cupcake that was good.

The food item that was consistently good for dinner was soup. I don’t think that they served one that I didn’t like. These soups ranged from cold fruit concoctions to more traditional fare.
Left T to B: Salad, Sauergraten, Sweet/sour shrimp
Right T to B: Soup, Raspberry sorbet, Ice cream
This evening I had piña colada soup, followed by sweet and sour shrimp with raspberry sorbet for dessert. Dave chose a Caesar salad along with sauerbraten, and bananas Foster ice cream.

The next two days we spent sailing to and visiting two of the larger towns in Greenland.
Alaskan Lupine
Here’s a bit about Greenland, itself. Greenland is the world's largest non-continental island and the third largest country in North America; it is also home to the world's largest national park, Northeast Greenland National Park. Several successive Paleo-Eskimo cultures were active in prehistoric Greenland. The oldest appears to have been in the area at about 2500 BC. Specific groups populated widely separated areas on the coastlines, with small villages coming into existence between 2400 BC and 1300 BC. By about 800 BC the Dorset peoples, living on whales and caribou, had extended their range to both the east and west coasts, lasting until the Thule culture (Alaskan migrants) arrived in 1500 AD. However these weren’t the only immigrants; Icelanders and Norwegians, led by Erik the Red landed on the southwestern-most tip of Greenland and established colonies within trading distance of the Thule. Everyone shared well, living off of fishing and hunting until sometime in the 15th century when, with the coming of the ‘Little Ice Age’, many of these settlements disappeared. After these settlements vanished, the area was taken over by various Inuit groups; however, the Danish government kept its claims to Greenland and when contact with Greenland was re-established in the early 18th century, Denmark proclaimed its authority over the island. And although Greenland is self-governing today, it is still tied closely to Denmark, using their currency and rules of law. The US briefly occupied Greenland during World War II, building air bases and providing goods to the population.

It was a gorgeous day to be ashore in Qaqortoq. This is one of the larger towns in Greenland with a population of over 3,000. It was one of the early areas to be settled, with
Left T to B: Church, Grotesque carving, Traditional clothing
Right T to B: Outdoor gallery, Fountain
archeological remains dating back about 4,000 years to the Saqqaq culture. The current town of Qaqortoq (originally named Julianehaab or Juliana’s Hope) was an outpost of the General Trading Company, established in 1774 and was the center of the seal trade; it is still the home of the Great Greenland sealskin tannery. We’d heard that there was a very old church in this town and I expected to see a wooden stave church as I had in Norway, but this one is painted bright red with white trim. Inside there are seasonal wreaths that commemorate the wreck of the SS Hans Hedtoft (also referred to as the MS or MV Hans Hedtoft) and the sailors who went down with the ship. Just outside, and down in the town square is the oldest fountain in Greenland. Built in 1932, is shows whales with water spouting out of their blowholes. A bit farther along is the Qaqortoq Museum with its sod house. I was anxious to see the house, then disappointed because there was nothing inside and it looked like a mound of mud with vegetation on top. The museum, however, was quite nice. It is housed in what was originally the town's blacksmith's shop, had some wonderful paintings and glass works from some local artists plus a bit of historical information about the area. There were some ancient carvings that were to keep the demons away and probably did so since they were designed to be grotesque, although we quite liked them. There were also some nice examples of beading and embroidery. Dr Sigurdsson had talked about the art of the people in Greenland and Iceland, so I was anxious to see if any was on display. One of the traditional outfits was for a child’s first day of school and probably took at least a year to construct. It was made of leather with bits of fur to accent the collar, arms and legs plus a beaded ‘shawl’ that covered the child’s back and shoulders. The work was amazingly detailed, befitting the importance of this step in the child’s life. Upstairs in the museum was a guest room/attic. It was in this old house that Lindberg had once stayed. Although I would have appreciated shelter from the cold nights, I wouldn’t have found the guest room in the attic particularly inviting. Back outside among the rocks we found another sort of museum. The Stone and Man Project was undertaken to provide an open-air art gallery. Artists from Finland, Greenland, Norway, and Sweden carved 24 sculptures into existing boulders and rock faces between 1993 and 1994. Now there are more than 40 of these sculptures around the town. The depict subjects from sea life, to human faces, with a few whimsical creations thrown. 

Left T to B:Tomato soup, Guinea, rum cake
Right T to B: Souffle, Beef cordon bleu, Borscht
Once back on the ship, we concerned ourselves with reading, eating and watching the shores of Greenland glide by. Lunch was, again, a burger, fries and a hot dog. And dinner was the usual more formal affair. Both of our soups this evening were red. I had borscht while Dave enjoyed roasted red pepper and tomato soup. He tried the Guinea fowl and I had beef cordon bleu. For dessert I chose Grand Mariner soufflé and Dave enjoyed rum cake with ice cream.

Our visit to Nanortalik started out with weather just as pretty as the previous day, but as the fog rolled in, it got quite a bit colder. The name means ‘Place of Polar Bears’ or ‘Place Where the Polar Bears Go’ and is the southernmost town in Greenland; there are about
Left T to B: Travelers with iceberg, Fog coming in
Right T to B: Restored houses in museum, Man with yarn
1,337 inhabitants making it in the top ten of Greenland’s largest cities. Being so far south in Greenland meant that this was one of the first Norse settlements and one of the last areas settled by the Inuit. Every year a number of polar bears are sighted in the area, but they rarely present a threat to the people. This region is also well-known in mountaineering circles for its towering mountain peaks and vertical walls in nearby Tasermiut Fjord. People from all around the world come here to test themselves against these very challenging assents. Along with tourism, the economy has always rested on fishing and hunting, but in 2004 gold was discovered in sufficient quantity to make mining profitable. This is changing the look and atmosphere of the town, but on this morning with the contrast of bright sunshine and fog rolling in, the place was magical. Dave and I both decided that we’d have liked more time in this quaint little village than in Qaqortoq. The Nanortalik Open Air Museum is a village that has been preserved as it was in bygone days with examples of how the people lived along with their boats, tools, machinery, and clothing. Restoration and reconstruction has begun on even earlier dwellings with materials that meant to mimic the traditional ones. You could go into their sod house, and we did; Dave had to stoop really low and keep his head down; I only had to duck a bit. As with the museum attic in Qaqortoq, I would have appreciated a place to sleep indoors, but I wouldn’t have been particularly comfortable staying in this house for any length of time. Locals are trying to get a UNESCO designation and they should be given it; they have done a good job of curating the materials and the houses. Many of the houses faced a small bay that was home to water birds, and to our delight, had a small iceberg floating in it. Ice bergs are not common in the winter, but may block inlets in the spring after they have floated off from the glaciers that produced them. The ones we saw are what have failed to melt during the summer. Not surprisingly, the church is a big part of the community. During our visit the children’s choir sang for us; they were quite good. As we walked along the paths we passed one of our fellow tourists sitting on a rock wall. What drew my attention to him was that he held a bouquet of beautiful yarn. I nearly pounced on him to find out where he’d gotten this wool. He told us that there was a guy in front of the grocery store selling sheep yarn. Before we went back to the ship I passed up the souvenir shop with its free Wi-Fi and headed to the grocery store to buy skeins of Greenlandic sheep wool yarn – such a treat! This is a really nice stop and I wish we’d had time for more exploration.

Top: Chefs on deck
Bottom: Satay buffet offerings
Back on the ship, lunch was a fresh satay buffet on the Lido deck with our last views of Greenland obscured as we left in the fog. Once back out in the North Atlantic (specifically the Labrador Sea) we began to rock and roll. Dave was in heaven, but there were many aboard who wished for calmer waters.

My dinner consisted of cream of chicken and artichoke soup as a starter, followed by orange ginger pork with a special recipe for DAM (as in MS Zuiderdam) devil chocolate cake. Dave
Left T to B: Pasta figoli, Pork, Turbo
Right T to B: Chicken soup, Sundae, Chocolate cake
was disappointed in his pasta figoli soup because it had no beans, but he liked the manner in which his turbo was prepared. He was also not fond of the Hokey Pokey sundae because the apricot sauce wasn’t hot and there was only one heated almond sliver. He consoled himself with the fact that the ship was rocking with the waves making him feel as if he were back on the naval vessel on which he first crossed the North Atlantic. On that trip the ship was tilting so much that by standing upright and walking a straight line the sailors were actually walking on the walls of the corridors. I was happy that the seas we were encountering weren’t that rough!

Rainbow astern
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