Ilulissat: "Paris of Greenland"

Ilulissat: "Paris of Greenland"

 
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 My flight from Copenhagen stopped in Kangerlussuaq, the flight hub of Greenland.  There's nothing in this town except the airport, built here because of the milder inland weather.

My flight from Copenhagen stopped in Kangerlussuaq, the flight hub of Greenland.  There's nothing in this town except the airport, built here because of the milder inland weather.

 Flying over the ice sheet that covers Greenland. 

Flying over the ice sheet that covers Greenland. 

Greenland is not a place that many people I know have been to, and it isn’t often featured on travel blogs as a destination for tourists. The extent of my Greenland knowledge was “Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice”.  I saw a character go to Greenland in a movie once, but it was completely inaccurate because all of the scenes were shot in Iceland. On transatlantic flights when the plane would fly over Greenland, I would be pressed up against the glass, taking in the sight of the dramatic snow-capped fjords that surround the massive island of ice.  I didn’t want to be on another plane flying OVER Greenland, I wanted to get on a plane TO Greenland.

I found an incredible deal on a one-way flight to Dublin, Ireland for $99 on Wow Air this past July.  I wanted to visit my friend Conor McNeill in Belfast and we made plans for a photo road trip around Ireland.  Since I didn't have a return flight yet, I wanted to add another destination to the trip, and Greenland was at the very top of the places I wanted to go.  I flew out of Dublin and connected through Copenhagen in order to catch a flight to Greenland. I had two nights booked in the last available apartment on Booking.com in the town of Ilulissat, and that was the only advance booking or plan for my trip to this country that was just a big white blank in my mind. I had never heard of Ilulissat, but I read that it is the “Paris of Greenland”; the place to go to see glaciers, icebergs and sled dogs (funny... all things that don't exist in Paris).

 A house overlooks Disko Bay on the edge of "downtown" Ilulissat. Photo shot on medium format film.

A house overlooks Disko Bay on the edge of "downtown" Ilulissat. Photo shot on medium format film.

I was reluctant to travel solo to Greenland because I couldn’t determine whether I would have any phone reception while I was there, everything that I read suggested that wifi was unavailable or pay-per-use at most restaurants and hotels.  I had also read advisories not to hike alone in Greenland because you’ll often be the only person on a trail, and the weather can change suddenly, creating a disorienting, potentially hazardous scenario.  It was a hard to talk any of my usual travel companions into joining me (flights were a little steep, and Greenland didn't seem to be any more affordable once you're there).  A friend I had never traveled with before, Pat, was an immediate "YES!" when I asked if he'd to join me on this adventure above the Arctic Circle. 

The extent of my Greenland knowledge was “Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice”.
 Is this real life? Stepping off the plane at the Ilulissat airport, this place is already so colorful and photogenic. Photo shot on medium format film.

Is this real life? Stepping off the plane at the Ilulissat airport, this place is already so colorful and photogenic. Photo shot on medium format film.

 The apartments where we stayed on our arrival in Ilulissat. 

The apartments where we stayed on our arrival in Ilulissat. 

I flew to Ilulissat alone from Copenhagen, then found my way by taxi to the apartment. The first hours in Greenland were already challenging, every last person from my flight made their way outside to their waiting hotel shuttles, and there weren't any taxis to catch outside of the airport. I had to ask an airport employee to phone for a taxi, and once I got to my apartment, I had no choice but to turn my cellular data on (and pay a whopping $15 per MB) in order to message my host while I stood outside in the cold trying to figure out how to let myself in.  

When my companion Pat finally found his way to the apartment, we set out on a walk to explore Ilulissat.  It was some early hour of the evening by then, but since it was summer in Greenland, the sun would not set until around 11 pm each night.  This gave us many hours of daylight each day to explore at a relaxed pace.  

 
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 Sled dogs tied up for the off season. Unfortunately sled dogs are somewhat wild, and there were signs around town warning not to approach or pet them.

Sled dogs tied up for the off season. Unfortunately sled dogs are somewhat wild, and there were signs around town warning not to approach or pet them.

 A very sweet sled dog pup. This friendly puppy and his litter-mate were outside our apartment so we broke the rules a little and gave them some pets. Adorable as they were, they smelled like rotten fish (sled dogs are fed fish scraps and seal meat).

A very sweet sled dog pup. This friendly puppy and his litter-mate were outside our apartment so we broke the rules a little and gave them some pets. Adorable as they were, they smelled like rotten fish (sled dogs are fed fish scraps and seal meat).

During our stay in Ilulissat, it was easy to find out way around, to join tours, and to find places to eat where we could pay for a few minutes of internet access (which cost something like $7 for 30 minutes). My fear had been that we would not be able to do any activities or tours without having pre-booked tour packages before our arrival. We joined a kayaking tour of Disko Bay (which was amazing), as well as helicopter trip to Jakobshavn Glacier (so epic).  Having a few days in Ilulissat was essential because some days the tours were fully booked, since July is the peak (albeit small) tourist season.  The weather was also predictably unpredictable, and windy, rainy days had boat trips and helicopter tours cancelled. 

Greenland has my favorite Scandinavian and Icelandic treat: soft serve with black licorice sprinkles!
 

Ilulissat Icefiord

 Hiking to Ilulissat's main attraction, the Icefiord

Hiking to Ilulissat's main attraction, the Icefiord

 

After returning to Ilulissat from a side trip to Disko Island, it was tough to find accommodation on short notice.  We were able to snag a room at the Hotel Icefiord, which cost more than I usually like to pay for a place to sleep. This was the main drawback of not having planned our trip in advance, the lack of choice for hostels and hotels (literally this was the only place available between Airbnb, Booking. com, and walking into various hotels to ask if there was vacancy. The location of the hotel was lovely, however, and we got to watch the icebergs float by as the midnight sun set on Disko Bay, which one could argue was worth the $225 a night alone.

 View from our room at Hotel Icefiord, when the sun finally set at midnight. 

View from our room at Hotel Icefiord, when the sun finally set at midnight. 

As our wallets became thin after a week in Greenland, I considered our next destination and hoped to fly to the capital city of Nuuk.  I found with great anxiety that upcoming flights within Greenland (and out to Iceland or Denmark) were multiplying in price and becoming unavailable.  You would think that after all of my travels, I should have known that that is how flights work… but in most places, I have found it to often be more cost effective to keep trips open-ended to allow for flexibility, rather than the all too common scenario where I’m paying hundreds to change a flight or extend a trip.  After weighing the costs, I reluctantly booked a flight out to Reykjavik, as adding a trip to Nuuk would have cost far too much at that point. Nuuk, I'll come back for you! 

Disko Island, Greenland

Disko Island, Greenland

Ireland Summer Roadtrip

Ireland Summer Roadtrip