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It’s way too hot, cool down with this trip report about my vacation to Greenland in January!

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Last year, in honor of a 'big' birthday, my husband gave me a voucher for a dinner anywhere in the world (and the trip to get there). I pondered and pondered where to go - the first idea was to go to one of the continents I had never been to (Asia or Africa). Other ideas were to go to the five smallest countries of Europe, each for one course of the meal. Since the trip ended up having to be after mid December (after fall semester ended and after the dog recovered from summer surgery), one might guess that I would go to someplace warmer than New England (where we live). No way!

We had been to Iceland for the summer solstice and experienced daylight for the entire two week vacation. I wanted to do the opposite and experience the dark and the Aurora Borealis. What better location than Greenland! I started investigating the options and quickly realized that we should leave after Jan. 1 – to avoid the Xmas holidays.

So we left for Copenhagen on January 3d. There are only two ways to get to Greenland and neither is from the US. You can go from Iceland or from Copenhagen. We opted to go via Denmark. And just in case there was bad weather or travel delays we decided to stay in Copenhagen for two nights before and after Greenland.

Copenhagen was wonderful. The tour company, Arctic Adventures, had made reservations for us at the Imperial Hotel near the central train station. The hotel folks were very nice and let us leave unneeded luggage there while we were in Greenland. We spent the time before Greenland walking and walking around Copenhagen – went to the Glyptotek Museum, the Rathaus tower for a city view, the National Museum, Botanic Garden, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Rosenborg Palace (and changing of the guard), Amaliesborg Palace, Little Mermaid statue.

Then it was off to Greenland, via Air Greenland. The airbus was packed. Four hours later we glimpsed Greenland as we landed at Kangerlussuaq Int’l Airport. The town is a former US Air Force Base (Sonder Sonstrum) and has about 500 residents. The landscape was so interesting – rocky, snowy, no signs of habitation outside town. But there was some light (not the dark we were anticipating). The thermometer at the airport registered -25C. Since there was no jetway we walked into the airport. I would mention at this time that we had brought parkas and boots (and more clothing) that could withstand -40F temperatures. It was cold but there wasn’t more than a dusting of snow.

We waited about an hour for our Dash 8 flight to Illulisat, a town further north. The plane stopped at two other villages before Illulisat and we had to get off and walk to the little terminals each time. Cargo was piled in the front of the plane where the first rows of seats are normally. We got to Illulisat at 2:45pm and the light was fading fast.

By the time we got to the Arctic Hotel it was completely dark. The Arctic Hotel was a very nice hotel (after all royalty has stayed there and it was the location for some summit meetings). The Arctic Adventure tour guide met us at the hotel and outlined the possible options for the next day. Then a nice dinner at the hotel and rested (we had shifted backfour time zones, after doing six zones to Copenhagen). We could see the Aurora Borealis all night from the window in our room. It was mostly white shimmering lights. We probably could have seen it better if we went outside away from the lights of the hotel, but it was too cold.

We did dogsledding the next day for 3 hours. I was dressed for the cold, but by the end of the trip I was colder than I have ever been. The temperature was about -35C. My husband and I each had a sled and Innuit driver – we just sat on the sled (we could jump off and run to get warm). The ride was wild, up and down rocky hills, through narrow paths, around corners. The daylight (faint) came as we were riding, but no sun. The camera batteries kept freezing, but my husband did get some fantastic pictures of the landscape and the dogs. It was so exciting! Then we had lunch at the local café – curry soup with shrimp and a platter with two kinds of halibut.

After lunch we took a walking tour (yes we were back out in the extreme cold) around Illulisat. The tour guide was a Dane who liked Greenland so much he stayed there. BTW, Greenland is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark and so there are quite a few Danes in Greenland. The native people are closely related to the Innuits of Alaska and Canada. We saw the harbor (frozen), the large food storage buildings (they bring in most of the winter food by ship during the summer), the church, the Karl Rasmussen Museum. Illulisat has a population of about 4500 people and about 3500 dogs. It’s the second largest town, only the capital Nuuk has more people. We had dinner at the hotel – it was too cold to go back into the village. We watched a little tv (on one of the two stations). Again, we saw the Aurora all night from our room. And heard dogs howling.

Next day, back to the airport for a flight back to Kangerlussuaq, where we were staying for two days.

Then we went on a muskox/raindeer safari. Kangerlussuaq actually had roads outside the town (leftover from the Air Force days) and we went all around. Saw some muskox from a distance and then some reindeer. The glacial valley was beautiful – the Ice Cap melts into the river flowing through Kangerlussuaq. Ate dinner at the cafeteria because it was handy. (there were some other eateries but they were again too far in the cold, and the taxis didn’t run in the evening). We were signed up for the Northern Lights tour but it was cancelled due to the cloudy conditions. Kangerlussuaq is known for the Northern Lights and there is a scientific research station devoted to their study in town.

Next day, took a tour with three other tourists to the Ice Cap. We followed a road that Volkswagen financed so they could drive cars on the Ice Cap for advertising purposes. We actually saw the sun when we were on top of a hill. The scenery was breathtaking and the temperature was quite cold. The Ice Cap was amazing – the ice was beautiful, the loneliness incredible. We couldn’t go too far on the ice, but they do actually have tours that cross it later in the spring. The Northern Lights tour was again cancelled that evening, but at least we got to see them in Illulisat.

The next day we flew back to Copenhagen and stayed at the Imperial Hotel for another two nights.

Then the last night we had THE MEAL. I had thought that I could have the birthday dinner in Greenland, but there really wasn’t more than hotel food there in the winter, so the dinner ended up being in Copenhagen. I had read through books while in the Greenland cafeteria and decided upon a restaurant called Peder Oxe. It was a very lovely restaurant, on a quaint square. My husband told our waitress that we had come all the way from Connecticut to eat there. After that the waitress and manager couldn’t have been nicer – they gave us wine and desserts and took our pictures (constantly). The food was great but most of all it was a wonderful ending to a memorable trip!

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