Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Around Copenhagen

There were a few places around Zealand (the region of Denmark that includes Copenhagen) that I'd read about as nice day trips from the city. So I got a train pass and did some exploring.

There is a significant Viking history in Denmark, though they did not base themselves in the hopeless flats of Copenhagen, preferring the fjord area at the modern-day town of Roskilde. I headed there to get a gander at some reproductions of Viking ships and the actual fjord they sailed.

Hilariously, it's hard to even tell this is a fjord. We're definitely still in Denmark, rather than the dramatic landscapes of Norway...

From Roskilde, I went on to the medieval town of Køge, which was definitely a quaint place to wander for a couple of hours and have an ice cream.

I also stopped at a more stately town called Hillerød, where the long winding street through town was lined with nice shops and restaurants, all leading down to an impressive castle on a lake.

But my favorite jaunt was going up along the north coast of Zealand, which is one of the easy access points to Sweden, which I hadn't realized until this trip is so shockingly close to Denmark... like on the other side of this Baltic access way.

I didn't go up the coast for the glimpse of Sweden, though, but instead to visit the seaside beach town of Hornbœk, which was so so lovely. Maybe part of my enchantment was because I got there after the significant heat of that day, which had made strolling the other towns a little unpleasant, and the cool breeze that was blowing across the beach, and the magical light that sets in at this latitude on summer evenings. But it was very charming and a place I wish I could have stayed longer.

By the time this post goes live, I will be back in the States, so I'm saying so long for now. I expect to be back here with more blog posts by mid-September, hopefully beginning an epic adventure I won't go into now (there's a complicated visa I need to procure so I don't want to jinx it) except to say that my next missive should be from Budapest...and then we'll go from there. See you then!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019


It was a total joy to spend several days in Copenhagen, with its amiable people, amazing food, walkable city center, easy public transportation, and beautiful, charming streets. I took a couple of walking tours to learn more about the city and Danish culture, ate way too much, and just enjoyed wandering for miles and miles (and miles and feet hurt) in circles around the city, taking pictures and just enjoying the general goodness of this place. Here are some highlights....

 This is in the utterly unique, independent hippie community of Christiania.


 "The Little Mermaid" statue, considered by many to be among the most disappointing tourist attractions in Europe, but I thought it was wistfully sweet, and all the young girls waiting to have their picture taken with it seemed happy. And a nice reminder that Copenhagen is Hans Christian Andersen ground zero.

 Some of the oldest buildings in central Copenhagen, which aren't actually that old by European standards; most of the city has burned down multiple times over the centuries.

 Coffee soft serve. YUM.

 The Mute Swan is the national bird of Denmark. I definitely saw a bunch of them cruising the canals like they owned the place, which was really funny when kayakers and boatloads of tourists were trying unsuccessfully to pass.

Danish strawberries: YUMMER.

Monday, July 1, 2019

So long, Greenland

Real quickly, before I do a couple of posts about Denmark, I just have to share some photos that I took from the plane window, leaving Greenland. It was a BEAUTIFUL take-off and view of the southern part of the island before we rose up into the clouds and left it behind. Made me so want to return and explore some more...

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Nuuk to Narsarsuaq

Unfortunately, the weather turned during my second night asleep on the ferry, and when I woke up on the second full day on the boat, excited for our stop in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk, it was drizzling a chilly rain and looking mighty gloomy out. 

I got up and walked the 20 minutes from the ferry dock to the old colonial part of town (which is what the guide told me to go see in the time we had) all the same, though I can't say it was my favorite part of the journey. It doesn't look so gross out in these couple decent pictures I got, but it was pretty gross out. Also, it was early in the morning, before most things were open, so the town had a forlorn, empty feeling to it. Which is funny, because Nuuk is by far Greenland's most populous city, with about 17,000 residents. (There are only about 55,000 Greenlanders TOTAL on the whole island.) In a way it's all fine because (1) the weather is gloomy and drizzly a lot of the time in Greenland, so I was getting a true local experience, and (2) from what I've heard Nuuk isn't the most stunning part of the island anyway. And I'm grateful I got at least a couple of hours there.

As I struggled to focus on the fact that this is just what Greenland is like and it's part of the experience, it stayed rainy and clouded over for the better part of two days. At several stops, it didn't even seem worth it to get off the boat, because there was nothing to see but mist and nothing to get but soggy. By the time we got to Qaqortoq, though, I was very antsy. And I'd been told by another tourist that Qaqortoq was her favorite town in Greenland. So I was going to explore no matter what. This ended up being lots of stops in many of Qaqortoq's absurd number of grocery and convenience stores per capita to dodge the raindrops, and spending more time than I might have otherwise marveling at how an entire wall of yarn....

...would be adjacent to an entire wall of rifles.

I think this tells you a lot about Greenlandic life.

I was also mightily impressed at how even these towns that it feels like Time forgot somehow have decent little sections of bright produce that must have come from so, so far away.

Qaqortoq has a collection of sculptures throughout town that add some artistic flair:

But as always, my favorite thing is just to wander and keep an eye out for a particularly pretty view or moment, a break in the clouds.

During this time of gross weather, the water was also more choppy, which meant that I was self-medicating with Dramamine, which I soon realized KNOCKS me OUT. Meaning I was whiling away hours at a time like the Greenlanders, dead asleep in my bunk in the middle of the day. (Though I stayed more dressed than those guys next door did.) So at the end of my ferry ride, when we reached its southernmost stop of Narsaq, it felt like it was probably good that the sea voyage was over. I could see myself just descending into a Dramamine-induced permanent haze and riding endlessly up and down the coast of Greenland, never to be heard from again.

Instead, I dragged my luggage ashore through the rain and the mist and turned to bid a fond adieu to the ship...

...slept off the rest of the Dramamine in a guesthouse bed in Narsaq, and the next morning (unable to find anyone to take my money for the stay and having to leave some cash on the counter of the reception desk folded into a piece of paper with my name and room keys...which is what I felt a Greenlander would probably do under the circumstances, so I hope it was okay) caught one last, hour-long boat from Narsaq an hour through the fjords (and past some shockingly blue ice bergs)... the town of Narsarsuaq, which has an airport which has one flight per week to Copenhagen. But before getting on that plane, I spent my last few hours wandering Narsarsuaq taking way too many photos of all the impossibly picturesque sights in every direction.

When the plane took off, I was sad to be leaving Greenland, for sure. The whole experience there still kind of feels like a dream. One I'm grateful for. The sweet, mellow people, the weird coziness of being a small amount of humanity set against that epic landscape, and so much of the island I'd still like to see...Hopefully someday I'll be back.

In the meantime: let's visit Copenhagen, shall we?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Ilulissat to Nuuk

After seeing as much of Ilulissat as I could in the time I had there, I boarded the Arctic Umiaq line ferry that travels the southwest coast of Greenland...

...and settled into my couchette bunk (the bottom left) for a 3 night, 3.5 day ferry voyage. There were some other tourists on the boat; they were generally very insular, mostly retirees, and all European. Most people on the boat were Greenlandic, traveling to see family or for work or studying. I shared my little bunk area with a Greenlandic grandmother and her two grandkids, and then there was a second group of four bunks (populated by an ever-changing--from port to port--group of random men who always seemed to be napping) with which we shared a little bathroom.

What I gleaned of the Greenlandic people during this half-week of intimately sharing space with them: they are generally quiet, respectful, self-contained people who are not effusive but are at root extremely friendly, trusting, and trustworthy. I had little choice but to leave all of my things on or around my bunk while I roamed the ship and even got off the ship at each port, and nothing went missing. By the end of the trip I was pretty lackadaisical about my things, just knowing they were safe with strangers here. The kids were allowed to run a bit wild, but that was actually kind of good to see, considering how mellow and controlled the adults seem to be. And everyone, young and old, runs fast and loose with the bedtimes, often staying up until the wee hours and then sleeping a good part of the day if they feel like it. Also: be advised that Greenlandic men, regardless of pot-belly size, are not shy about falling asleep on top of their bedsheets wearing only very skimpy underwear, regardless of who might walk by or how surprised she may be to see such a sight in a place where people are generally covered from head to toe against the weather year-round.

So anyway: we left Ilulissat on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, heading out past the massive icebergs once again. Sorry, but I just have to share another picture and a video...they're just so amazing.

And then, two or three times per day, we would pull up to a dock that usually looked a lot like this:

People would be crying and hugging and laughing and waving and reuniting and it was all very sweet. We would stay anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours, and we were welcome to get off the boat and explore the towns we stopped in. One that I was particularly excited to see was Sisimiut, which I'd heard is a particularly pretty place.

At the craft workshop, there was this one old man with very few teeth who had learned to say in English: "Danish Kroner. No card. Money, money, money!" He must have repeated it a dozen times in the five minutes I was in there and it sounded funnier and funnier to me each time.

Many of the towns we stopped in had these sets of whale jawbones, which bring good luck if you walk through them. I did.

And there were often really picturesque examples of traditional sod houses versus Danish colonial-style houses. The ship even had an on-board guide who would sometimes get off the boat and take us on a walking tour and tell us a bit about the towns we were stopping in. It was interesting to me how much our (Greenlandic) guide focused on the colonial history of Greenland rather than the long pre-European human occupancy. I'm not sure what that was about, but I was definitely left wanting more balanced information about the history of native Greenlanders and then the interactions between Greenlanders and then Europeans, when they arrived.

It wasn't so hard, though, to let this go and just focus on wandering and enjoying the great beauty of this coastline and the places we stopped. (Here: still Sisimiut.)

Whenever the breeze died down the mosquitoes emerged in FORCE. I kept trying to take a picture of the huge swarms of them. You can kind of see them as little specks of light in this shot.

There were also a few towns that the ferry officially stops at that don't have a harbor big enough for it, so instead we lowered a skiff and they transported passengers to and from the ferry that way while the rest of us looked on from the ship's decks. This is the picturesque town of Kangaamiut, where the skiff had to make three round-trips to bring aboard all the new passengers.

Past Kangaamiut, en route to Maniitsoq, we got to weave among the rocky shoreline a bit more, which was BEAUTIFUL.

And I particularly loved our passage into Hamborgsund, where we could see glacial tongues reaching down toward the ocean from among still-craggy peaks.

And just when I would feel like we were on the outer edges of the world, far, FAR from the things of man, another cluster of brightly-painted houses would appear, perched on the rocks. Just amazing that people live entire lives in such remote, isolated, tiny towns like this (Maniitsoq).

Okay, that covers the first half of the ferry trip. I'll save the second half for the next post.