“I wanted to tell you, that song “Major Tom” and that beard guy (Walter’s boss), he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That song is about courage and going into the unknown.” – Cheryl
(a character from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty referring to David Bowie’s Space Oddity)
I used to be one of those people who thought that Greenland is just a place full of snow and icebergs. Yes, it was on my bucketlist but I thought that the only way to experience Greenland is through an Arctic Cruise. I thought it’s like going to Antarctica, can only experience only by a ship or cruise. Not until I saw one of my favourite travel movie – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
This movie inspired me to make my dreams happen, but this movie always gives me new life lessons every time I watch it. Apart from that, it inspired me to visit Greenland sooner, I told myself that I have to plan a trip here if I ever go to Canada or Iceland, the latter as the better option.
So when I planned my trip to Iceland recently, I took that opportunity to include Greenland in my plans. First of all, it’s expensive to go to Greenland if I will have a separate trip and since I am already in Iceland, then why not go to Greenland, too. Secondly, if the Northern Lights don’t show up in Iceland, there’s a bigger chance that I will see it in Greenland, because it’s more northern and more isolated.
And lastly, I want to be away with everyone I know for awhile and Greenland will be perfect for me to reflect on what I was going through at that time.
Greenland is the largest non-continental island in the Arctic, it looks huge in the map but it just actually just as big as Mexico only. It’s part of the Kingdom of Denmark but not an EU state, so your Schengen Visa is not valid if it didn’t specifically say “Greenland” by the Danish Embassy. I have to apply a separate visa because my current Schegen visa was granted by the French Embassy.
However, they only check the visa (I think!) when you check in to your flight as there is no immigration at Ilullisat airport, we didn’t even get any immigration stamp upon arrival!
Planning my trip in Greenland was easier than I thought. I don’t know anything about Greenland so I initially planned to just visit Nuuk, the capital. But as I was reading more about this country, I decided to just go to Ilulissat because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this is the most visited place by tourists in Greenland, so looking for accommodation and things to do whilst there won’t be that of a challenge or stressful for me as I only have few days left to plan this whole trip.
The only challenge I faced was looking for flights, there are only 2 airlines who flies here – Air Greenland and Air Iceland, and they only fly twice a week from Iceland so you really need to plan it carefully. I put my dates in between my Iceland dates because cancellation or delayed flights occur quite frequently because of the unpredictable weather in Greenland. I chose to stay for 4 days instead of 8 because it’s just too expensive for me to stay longer, lol!
Our plane is a smaller plane and we were around 15-20 people in the flight and most of us have our own row. Perhaps because it’s winter so it wasn’t that busy. I was lucky that I was seated on the right side of the plane, because that is the view you would like to see before landing Ilulissat, so you don’t need to take the helicopter tour, haha!
It’s just 3-hour direct flight but they still provided some refreshments and a delicious ham and cheese croissant! What I liked most is the “Traveller’s Journal” they have at the pocket of the seat in front of you, I enjoyed reading the stories from other previous passengers that I’ve even also shared my own! It will be fun if I will find it again someday if I go back in the future!
When I was checking for accommodation, I checked on hostels but the photos and reviews didn’t impress me much, it looks too isolated and depressing, something that I don’t want to feel during this trip!
So I looked on hotels, since I will be there for 4 days only anyway. I nearly booked Hotel Arctic because it is the reviewed as the best hotel in Ilulissat, but I am not fond of 4-5 star hotels if I am travelling solo because I find it harder to meet people and third-wheeling with couples, haha!
So I checked the 2nd best on Tripadvisor which is Hotel Icefiord, from photos and reviews, it looks hip and more lively, and it says it’s right at the centre, which I like more because I wanted to explore the bars hoping to explore the music scene of Greenland if they do have local bands or musicians, and if it’s just at the centre then I will not worry going back late at the hotel.
Unfortunately, Hotel Icefiord did not live up to its reviews for me. It was very quiet and empty like I was the only guest that time :(
After resting for a bit, I went out to check the town as there is nothing to do around the hotel and no one to talk to even! Then I realised, it’s 20mins walk to get to the centre of the town actually, because the hotel is at the other end of the town, a hilly part, and they do not have shuttle service. But I was like – well then, it’s a good place to hike then! Keeping the positive mindset in me, lol.
So I decided to walk the hilly roads going to the centre. I was supposed to join a City Walk Tour but when I found out that it is just a tiny town, I thought I could just explore it on my own. Yes you can, but actually you need a guide to tell you the history because otherwise, it will look nonsense because it’s just covered with snow! Haha! But it was too late when I realised that I should have just taken a city tour, especially when I started getting lost because each place just looks the same because of the snow.
Walking to town was a bliss despite getting lost. The houses were so colourful that made me wonder who decides the colour palette for them because it really complements each other! I was pinching myself that it felt like I was inside the movie of Walter Mitty :)
There were only few people on the road but I can see lots of dogs chained outside their houses. I didn’t have a map and my Google app stopped rerouting, perhaps because I totally got off the path to town. I realised later on when I saw a hiking map that I was doing part of the “Yellow Route” hike!
So I tried to stop by at a local bar to ask for directions and to try a local beer too (which I often do), but as soon as I entered the pub, it was a bit dark and dodgy, and at the corner of the room was a table of full of locals who looked like they have been drinking all day already or perhaps it’s just their rosy cheeks, I’m not sure, but they were just staring at me after I said hello, so I just left feeling defeated, haha!
Anyway, I still made it to the shop of World of Greenland (WOG), which is just only few steps from the bar I went to. This is where I booked all my tours for the next 3 days, I thought it’s good to visit them first and have some tips and insight on where to go because it’s a Saturday so there must be some happenings around town! But when I reached at 4pm they were already closed!
Good thing though, I saw Hotel Arctic’s shuttle at the WOG office, so I hopped in to get to Hotel Arctic to check their bar, Cafe Ferdinand. And finally, I had my first local beer! I’ve seen more guests and it felt livelier, so I told myself maybe I need to move there and spend my next 2 nights, it’s only a matter of 200 Danish Krone difference only, in exchange of my sanity!
But even if I wanted to stay longer at their bar, I took the shuttle’s last trip back to the centre because I need to get ready for our Northern Lights Tour that night.
From WOG shop, I walked back to Hotel Icefiord, it was a bit worrying, not because it’s not safe because it is safe in Greenland! But because I can hear a lot of sled dogs howling, so scary!
I got lost (again) because apart from I do that a lot (lol!) the streets were a bit darker I couldn’t remember how to go back and there were fewer “reliable” people on the street to ask for directions. But I still made it back to my hotel around 7pm and was a bit happy that Hotel icefjord’s restaurant and bar were already busy, finally.
But they do not have any form of entertainment so if the hotel was not far from the centre, I would have gone out. But the dogs scared me to even try it!
After having my musk ox burger dinner and few drinks at my hotel’s bar, I went to my room to get ready for my Northern Lights Tour. I was in Iceland for a week and didn’t see the Northern Lights, so I was excited that for sure in Greenland I would see it.
But lo and behold, they cancelled it because it was cloudy that night :(
The next day, I got up early for my Dog Sledding Tour, so after breakfast I walked towards WOG shop just to find out that the group have left already and I wasn’t even late yet! They were confused because they said they got everyone in the shuttle double checked before they left. Then we found out that I got my dates wrong! Pffft! My Dog Sledding schedule was on the following day, argh! So I left, nowhere to go and feeling defeated again, haha!
But walking back to Hotel Icefiord again was the deciding factor for me to check out and move to Hotel Arctic. Because I have fallen over hitting my hips and nobody was around to help me get up! So there I was lying on the slippery snowy road of Ilulissat waiting for sled dogs to eat me, lol!
But I used that moment to reflect again (not kidding!) because that was already the 3rd time I slipped during this trip (twice in Iceland), I was crying and laughing at the same time! But I’ve told myself repeatedly, that it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve fallen over, what matters is on how many times I get up, so I got up of course! LMAO literally, got off my ass :D
However, I will not allow all these series of “unfortunate” events ruin my trip. So I hurriedly checked out of Hotel Icefjord and I grabbed a cab to Hotel Arctic.
And IT. WAS. THE. BEST. DECISION. I. HAVE. DONE on this trip!
Everything just felt right as soon as I stepped on the lobby and strangely enough, I thought it will be harder to meet people in this hotel, but this is where I have met the best people I’ve met during this whole trip!
Hotel Arctic is the world’s most northerly 4 star hotel. They have upgraded my room to a suite with the view of the Igloo Rooms from my huge window and they allowed me to check in early without any additional charge.
I’ve had a wonderful “me” time that I’ve finished the book given to me by my therapist. I tried to meditate using my therapist’s meditation recordings. Perhaps, because it was so tranquil around me that meditation worked for the first time for me! Like, Walter Mitty, I zoned out for a while…
Then all of a sudden, everything was just peaceful around me. My heart was calm. My soul is lit. My thoughts were positive. My vision was clearer.
After having my buffet lunch at the Hotel Arctic’s Ulo Restaurant, I went to my Iceberg Sightseeing Boat Tour. The tour was like Antarctica zodiac cruise all over again for me! I’m not sure if that killed a little bit of my excitement because I just felt I’ve seen it already, but it brought back many happy memories from my Antarctica trip! I travelled solo there too and met a lot of wonderful travellers that are still friends of mine up until now.
Ilulissat means “icebergs” in Inuit or Greenlandic, because the town is located next to the sea filled with icebergs from the world’s most active glacier – Sermeq Kujalleq. It is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
The glacier is delivering the icebergs into the Ilullisat fjord where icebergs float as they hit the barrier at Disko Bay. They get stuck there until it melts and slowly drift out of the fjord going to the Atlantic. They say that the icebergs that hit the Titanic came probably from here, probably.
Even if we can already see the icebergs by walking around the town or by just our room’s windows, it is still recommended to go on a boat tour to admire it up-close.
At the tour, I felt happier when I saw the friendly André, the young boy from Brazil whom I’ve met at the same flight from Iceland. Whilst I tell him the series of my unfortunate events, he was excited to share that he went out the night before with Jack (another guy from our flight, too) and watched a local band perform in one of the bars, exactly what I was looking for to experience, hmph!
Anyway, after the tour, we went to a bar and had my half-pint whilst they have their late lunch or early dinner, I don’t know how to call it at 4pm! But we head back to our hotel to rest and get ready for our Northern Lights Tour that night. Besides, it’s a Sunday so there are no more happenings anymore at the bars in town.
However, our Northern Lights Tour was cancelled again :(
I just went to our hotel’s bar to drown my sorrow, lol! I was starting to lose hope that I’ll ever see the lights again as I’ve made an arrangement with the universe to show me some signs on which decision I should take. The universe was already talking to me at that time but I wasn’t paying attention, because it wasn’t the sign I wanted. Ha ha.
The next morning, I went to my Dog Sledding Tour after our breakfast. It’s a bit odd that I was the only one on the tour, I was thinking why didn’t they just put me on the tour the previous day then? But at least it felt like an exclusive private tour! And again, I had my “me” time once again, although I have my dog sled driver with me, he never spoke a word to me anyway, apart from “kaffe?”
Before you accuse me with animal cruelty shits, dog-sledding is not a tourist activity here, it’s their way of life. Ilulissat is a town in Greenland where there are more sled dogs than its people. You will see more dogsled yield signs than pedestrian crossing sign, so be mindful when you walk because sleds have the right of way. They are fast and quiet so be extra careful.
Dogs here are NOT pets. In fact, it is prohibited to have them as pets. They need to chain their dogs because it is against their law to let them loose, if they see an unchained dog, they have the right to shoot them. And before you judge them with your animal rights rants, this is their law because these dogs have killed and eaten lots of their babies already!
So if you see dogs there, don’t try to approach and pet them, they are wild dogs! The only dogs that are unchained are the puppies, but even if they are sooo cute, I was still afraid to approach one when I see lots on the road, because their mum might be just around and I might find the “peace” I was looking for, but in my resting place, lol!
The next activity that I joined in was the traditional Kaffemik, Greenlandic or Inuit for “Via Coffee”, it’s Greenland’s social gathering with coffee and sweets to celebrate life, like births, birthdays, or any achievements in their lives.
Of all the activities I’ve done on this trip, this is by far my favourite and the most unforgettable experience in this trip. I still smile whenever I think about it! I chose to do this activity so I can meet locals and learn their culture, traditions, and their way of life by visiting their personal homes.
Kaffemik is an Inuit tradition to invite people they know and do not know to celebrate with them. They usually post the invitation in their local supermarkets or any public notice boards for everyone to see, and lately they use social media and word of mouth.
If you are a visitor, chances are the more you are invited to attend to their kaffemik, because kaffemik started originally by inviting workers from the ships that visits thier place. It is sort of a reunion for them for old friends but also more of meeting and welcoming other people. They are more than happy to share their home and culture to visiting tourist/travelers.
If you have not seen any announcement or invitation, just check on houses with rows of shoes outside (because you have to remove your shoes whenever you enter any home here) and smell of baked goods and sometimes reindeer meat, then chances are there is a kaffemik going on and you can self-invite yourself!
Our kaffemik local host is Mr.Tom Fussing, a Danish man who settled in Ilulissat for about 45 years already. I was with a group dominated by Danish couples so they speak in Danish all the time, there were only 4 of us who are non-Danish speakers – myself, Jack, and a couple from London. I’m glad that they translate the conversations for us!
Mr.Tom (hmmm, Major Tom? Haha!) prepared the food and drinks himself! He baked the cakes, muffins, tarts, cookies, and some Greenlandic chocolates! He prepared pots of coffee and tea, and used his cute ceramic ware and table linen with Inuit patterns. He said his wife used to prepare when they host kaffemik, but when she passed away, he does it himself now. He has beautiful house ornaments especially some of his cross-stitch works!
After our kaffemik, Jack and I went to meet Kyle, Bob, and Andre at Naleraq Bar, apparently it was the same bar that I went in when I got lost, haha! All of us were on the same flight from Iceland, and we were all staying in Hotel Arctic. We decided to have few drinks first before having our dinner at our hotel to get ready for our last chance to see the Northern Lights that night.
However, as soon as we went back to our hotel, WOG was there to break the bad news that the tour was cancelled again for the third time! I was heartbroken because that was our last night already.
I just sat by the bar alone and ordered my drinks and dinner (which they have forgotten to cook btw!), whilst Kyle & Bob and the Danish couples I’ve met during the kaffemik were having their sumptuous farewell dinner at their own tables. And at this point, I zoned out once again (perhaps just the effect of the 4 bottles and a pint of beer, lol!) but this time I’ve finally listened to what the universe has been telling me for over a week now.
I’ve written this in my Iceland post, and here’s an excerpt:
“So I made a deal to the universe before my trip. I have a life-changing plan to make and I want the universe to give me a sign. I asked the universe that:
- If it shows me the Northern Lights then that would mean everything will be fine and will be back the way as it was in my life.
- If it doesn’t show me the lights, then that would mean that I need to make a change and take the challenge I’ve been dreading to accept.
Obviously, I wanted the first sign because I do not want to change anything in my life, I am positive that in my 2 weeks stay in Iceland plus Greenland, I would definitely see the lights because it’s winter, lol!
Then one week has passed in Iceland, I had 3 attempts, it didn’t show up. I went to Greenland for 4 days, I never even had a single attempt because forecast was always too low in all the 3 nights I was there!
Actually, it was in Greenland when I had my realisations that what the universe was actually telling me is that I cannot change anymore the things that are beyond my control. It reminded me that I truly needed to accept the challenge to make a change so I can move forward. And that Option No.1 is never an option at all to begin with.”
Then that was the moment when I have finally let go of something that is no longer serving me. True enough, after I got some clarity and peace of mind, the Northern Lights showed up the next night, but in Iceland though.
Lesson learnt? Never rely your plans in life by asking the universe for a sign, hahaha! Kidding :P
Space Oddity is a David Bowie song that was used in the soundtrack of the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This song can be interpreted in so many ways even if Bowie have already mentioned it himself that he wrote this song when he was high after watching a space movie. If I will relate this song with me recently, this song is about pulling myself away from people I know because not even a single soul would be able to understand me. But watching the movie again when I got back in Dubai, the female lead star, Cheryl, have said that song is about courage and going into the unknown.
This time, that scene when Cheryl was playing the song with her guitar at one pub in Nuuk that inspired Walter to jumped towards the helicopter and face his own fears was the highlight for me. This scene symbolises for me to start living your life how you are imagining it in your dreams by letting go of your all your doubts and fears.
In the following days from now, I’m about to embark to a new life-changing journey. After my trip to Greenland (and Iceland), I was finally at peace.
At peace with where I’ve been, at peace with what I’ve been through, and at peace with where I’m headed. It is still unknown to me for now, but I am ready to take that leap of faith…