Mostly it’s pictures on a clear early autumn day.
Category Archives: Photographs
The only glimpses of Greenland during the long flight to Ilulissat on the west coast were of ice. This should be called Iceland I thought and Iceland from whence I had come, should be called Greenland given the wonderful varied hues of green across that country in summer.
I had done no reading. I had no expectations. To my embarrassment apart from media on the problem for polar bears with melting ice floes and vaguely knowing the people were Inuit, I knew little. From Borgan, the Danish TV series, I had a visual of a sparse settlement tumbling down a hill and a suspicion that tensions existed between Greenlanders and their legal “protectors”.
I soon got up to speed. Firstly our destination Ilulissat is on the west coast of Greenland, a 3.5 hour flight from Iceland and 250k’s north of the Arctic circle. From the hour plus it seems to take fly over this, the largest island in the world, it appears much of its land surface is covered in ice. Most of its small population lives along the ice-free, fjord-lined coast.
At the airport we are picked up and in the 10 minute drive to town, the driver volunteers that the icebergs are 30% smaller than they used to be. This is Ilulissat, the 3rd biggest town on the island. The word means “iceberg” and it is why we are here. This is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the “living” glacier which produces the largest iceberg flow in the northern hemisphere into the oddly named Disco Bay.
The first impression of the town is that the people, apart from the tourists at the café (which is run by Thai women) and the Danes who provide much of the tourist infrastructure, the people are all Inuit; 4,500 people live here with an island wide population of 56,000. Apart from a theory that the Inuit came from Mongolia, their antecedants are unknown
It is summer and a pleasant 10 degrees with some people in shirt sleeves. Good weather for a G&T on a balcony overlooking the bay.
Firstly some context: Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark which provides two thirds of the money. This town’s secondary source of funds is tourism, while overall the country supports a $1 billion fishing industry (and a huge Royal Danish refrigerated ship is a sight in itself). A more recent policy allows mineral resource (including uranium) mining and there is also a guest US air base in the north. One optimist even suggested the Americans could give them enough money to enable the self-sufficiency that would allow a break from Denmark.
Fishermen setting up lines for trolling and some of the catch
Like other very cold climate countries, Greenland has its share of social problems many centring around alcohol and unemployment.
The Inuit have lived in Greenland for over 4,000 years. Original houses were sunk into the earth and made of peat, driftwood and furs. Occasionally they built igloos.
Historically, whale fat was traded for sugar, salt and tools.
Now red, blue, green brightly coloured houses sit on concrete foundations in an erratic layout that mystified the town planner in me but seems to reflect the hilly stone outcrops of the landscape. Occasional apartment complexes stand out.
Dr Google reports: “Hans Egede’s arrival in Greenland in 1721 marked the new colonial style whereby wooden houses were sent up from Scandinavia as timber kits.The colourful tradition of the characteristic, brightly coloured houses began here. The colours were practical and indicated the function of the building: commercial houses were red; hospitals were yellow; police stations were black; the telephone company was green and fish factories were blue.”
Indeed the hospital on the point is still yellow and the houses are now a range of bright primaries.
Open ended thick pipes jut out from the foundations of many houses. They are attached to the water truck since the town has no reticulated piped water. When I asked why some houses had no water point, one young Greenland man told me that often the “old people” could be seen dragging blocks of ice, off the icebergs, up the hill to supply their water needs.
I am surprised by the size of the electrical goods shops near one of the 2 supermarkets. The TVs are huge, there are many DVD, baby alerts and other electrical paraphernalia. Then I realize that this part of the world is totally dark 24 hours a day in November and December until the sun fleetingly reappears in January. Watching TV would help to pass the dark hours.
In the 24 hour summer days however, flowers bloom:
Packs of small huskie puppies play around town and we were told they cannot be touched until they are 6 months old. Full grown huskies are chained up around the town. They work pulling sleds all winter but in the summer energy needs are slight so they are fed only twice a week.
The living glacier and its icebergs
Isulissat means iceberg and the Isulissat Icefjord is the fiord where the icebergs float into the bay from the glacier.
The next day was all about this, the reason we had come here. It was spent walking through the national park to the shore to see the icebergs, then flying over the glaciers in a 6 seater aircraft, and finally sailing the Bay in the night to see the icebergs from the water in the fading light —– although the sun doesn’t really go down at this time of year.
Below is the peat moss of the national park and the first sight of the icebergs at the end of the walk
Sailed them in the evening:
The Icefjord is the sea mouth of the 7 km wide Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea and therefore sometimes called “a living” glacier. Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the most active glaciers in the world.
(According to the air charter company)
- it regularly calves around 46 km of ice every year;
- It is one of the fastest moving (up to 40 m per day);
- if melted the amount of water could cover the annual consumption of water in the USA;
- it accounts for 10% of the production of all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier in the northern hemisphere;
- The largest icebergs calved are the size of 1.5 cubic kms of ice. This is the equivalent of 30 football fields covered by a layer of ice as high as Mount Everest.
- at their highest the icebergs can be 125 metres but not now
Irrelevant post scripts
Underneath, the charters and other well-oiled tourist experiences the town remains touchingly local and unsophisticated.
The best hotel in town is the Arctic Hotel on the cliff top overlooking the harbour. Our hotel although central was a version of Faulty Towers. One of our number did not have a phone in his room yet he was told to ring for room service; when he walked up to order dinner, he was told he would be rung when it was ready.
I leave a cardigan in a cab. The receptionist identified the driver from my description and rings her. The cabbie is off duty; after a number of calls, the cabbie is back on duty but says she does not have the cardigan.
At the airport the Philippino man behind the kiosk (and that’s another story – he thought the agent had organised him a job in Denmark) tells me the cabbie has been there looking for the owner of the cardigan; I cannot ring the hotel and give up; a fellow traveller arrives and hands me the cardigan. He saw it on hotel desk and on spec. picked it up and brought it to airport. The hotel receptionist who made all the calls appeared to have forgotten it
A short stopover
On the way back to Iceland we land for refuelling at Kangerlussuag population 499. The town which seems sparse and in the middle of nowhere, is known for its airport, which is Greenland’s major international transport hub. The airport’s Museum illustrates the town’s past as a U.S. airbase during WWII. A road runs northeast from town to the vast Greenland Ice Sheet. Here, Russell Glacier is a vantage point for ice-calving events.
It is farewell to the summer night in Greenland, the land of the midnight sun.
People are amused when I fly posh to London and then take the long underground ride to the centre with all my (overly cumbersome) luggage. What better way to enter this huge metropolis of 8.7 million, to experience its passing parade, the tide of humanity, than on a packed peak hour tube?
On one side, a young woman is reading Facebook in Polish, on the other a screen of Chinese catches the corner of my eye. These are the multi-cultured tired and the weary travelling from the outskirts on the Piccadilly line on a Thursday evening. (Mid-morning Monday the tube has a different profile from Paddington back to Bloomsbury, more polished, affluent, possible Tory voters.)
Since every shop, hotel, restaurant I visit is staffed by people from outside Great Britain, you have to wonder if the retail and service industries will simply implode if Brexit is carried to its extremes as some wish.
After a quick re-group I visit the somewhat disappointing John Sloane museum on Lincoln’s Inn Green. I find it claustrophobic and the Roman pieces badly curated; the Hogaths and the Canalettos were a pleasure though. After a quick visit to the British Museum’s Exhibition Room, I left – the crowds were stifling.
The 4pm to Bristol on Saturday was spent trying to follow the Oz elections on wifi courtesy of western rail though no result would be known for more than a week. Sunday saw a more than generous lunch catching up with 14 of the extended Bristol family, a pleasure to see the young ones had grown into fine young people since my last visit 5 years ago.
Back to London Monday morning. I lunch at Fortnum and Mason on a sardine pancetta salad. I first visited here wide-eyed in the 70’s and am underwhelmed this time. Perhaps the sophistication of food in Oz or perhaps the economic contingencies of the modern world…but this place has shrunk. The once glorious variety of delicacies seems to have been replaced by pre-packaged food. And the great indicator – the coffee – was not as good as the cup my local serves at home.
Indeed the coffee in London (except in Store Street) was definitely not up to scratch. Next to my hotel in the grounds of St George’s Church Bloomsbury (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor), I found a passable brew in a small pop-up but wondered that that they have the gall to charge nearly $5 a cup.
Out and about
A visit to the Wallace collection becomes an odyssey as the teachers are demonstrating and the buses down Oxford Street have been stopped, so I walk from Bloomsbury to Marylebone detouring to Bond Street and a schmick gallery. Left me cold.
Then a sentimental visit up river all the better to see the distinctive glass boxes both sides of the river near Tower Bridge.
A special time
One highlight of the trip and one of life’s unexpected small gifts…… I wandered into St Paul’s Cathedral. By chance it was time for Evensong . I was ushered into the choir stalls. The famous St Paul’s choir sang. Their voices soared into Christopher Wren’s ceiling and the purity of sound filled my head. Joy.
My old, dear and now dead friend, Dick Hall urged me to walk walk walk and look up when visiting a new city and I’ve always followed his advice. The street snapshot can give a clue as to the nature and energy of a place.
In London the tube also gives me much stimulation, not just people watching but the huge satisfaction in conquering it. The underground is like a complex 3 dimensional, often overwhelming, strategic game. This day there is a sign saying the temperature is 21 degrees and if you are “suffering from heat let someone know”. They have to be kidding! (Today in winter in Oz it is 24 degrees).
Wimbledon at last
Sunny though at Wimbledon. It’s a tick off the bucket list when I enjoy the famed strawberries and cream and score a seat at the men’s quarter finals.. not the big one between Murray and Tsonga but just as much fun, Berdych beats Pouille in 3. Besides who can resist an event that produces a 29 page booklet titled A Guide to Queueing?
Friends and paintings
Our friend Abi is a gracious London host. We have a few meals, see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Gielgud Theatre and spend my last day in London in a feast/frenzy of art – the National Portrait Gallery for the Annual Portrait Prize, the Courtauld where I saw my favourite Modigliani and the new wing at the Tate Modern where I have no time for the paintings but enjoy lunch in the new restaurant with its terrific London views. Thanks too, to Abi for the detailed tour of St Pancras station.
Last night in London I catch up with my old mate Jo the CEO who is ever soaring to new career heights in this big metropolis. We eat at the Holborn Dining Room and knock off a good bottle of red as well as….
A great city, so much to see and do, such business, some memories.…..
POST SCRIPT – three weeks later
On the way back from the Arctic, I spend a few more nights – this time out near Heathrow. On the Sunday I make my first ever trip to Windsor. The bus to Slough is a League of nations and the train to windsor packed with Chinese tourists. Perhaps it is because it is high summer but the crowds are fearsome and the queue for the Castle daunting so I put it off until late afternoon bring just a trickle of tourists.
The town is clearly “quaint” but still charming
I wander round this cutesy tourist town, past the restaurant/hotel of a famous chef who is smartly cashing in, and find some calm down the hill on the massive playing fields of Eton. I spend some time wandering the outskirts of that famed institution and contemplate the privileged people who have been schooled here, a metaphor for the inequality in the world.
When I finally get into the castle, the one surprise is the art work. Here for example is a Bruegel, there a Canaletto. The ceiling of the reception room is inlaid with gold worth Aus $40,000. The Royal collection has more than 30,000 pieces. I am not a Royalist and I see these riches as being held in trust for the nation.
Time to fly home!