Greenland - Luxury Travel Magazine
The Land of the Singing Ice
|By: Flip Byrnes, Issue 39 – Winter 2009|
|ACCORDING TO A TRAVELLERS’ SAYING YOU GO TO GREENLAND WHEN YOU’VE SEEN THE WORLD, BUT FLIP BYRNES ADVISES: DON’T WAIT THAT LONG.|
|I’m sitting on the dock of the bay, trying to watch the tide roll away but there is something wrong with this Otis Redding picture. In fact, I’m sitting beside a luxury metal igloo with wi-fi, a midnight sun is burning and, most importantly, there’s no tide but a bay choked with a car crash of icebergs.|
That’s what you get in Ilulissat in Greenland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. Ice in Ilulissat is like sand in the Simpson. In the excitingly named Disko Bay deceptively innocent looking icebergs bob like dangerous bath toys but that’s not the only deception.
In Disko Bay there are no discos and Greenland, well, it’s white. As another iceberg the size of a small state drifts past the igloo door, the lingering feeling is that nothing is quite as it seems.
Greenland is like no other place on the planet. When was the last time you sipped gin and tonic laced with ice from the dawn of time? Worn sunglasses at 1am? Stayed in a hotel where icebergs bump your doorstep?
It’s ironic that such a cold place as the Greenland east coast - in particular Illulissat where residents swap cars for skidoos – is becoming an international tourism hot spot. Bill Gates heli skis nearby and the US Speaker of the House and the German Vice Chancellor have chosen the town for international political conferences.
Two things lure such guests: the ice and the Hotel Arctic. Disko Bay is fed by the northern hemisphere’s fastest moving and most prolific tidewater glacier, the Jakobshavn Icefjord, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. Forty kilometers along, it produces 20 billion tonnes of icebergs which calve from the glacier annually, some a kilometre high.
That’s a lot of ice and you need somewhere to take it all in, which is where the Hotel Arctic, perched with a dress circle view of the Bay, takes centre stage.
While the clientele is decidedly international - they’ve hosted Prime Ministers, ten US senators, plus members of the Japanese, Thai and Danish royal courts - the hotel itself is pure Greenland. Ninety per cent of the staff is Greenlandic and whale blubber is on the menu. Icelandic singer/songwriter Bjork stayed here for two weeks on a “creative sabbatical” and as I sit listening to the moan and crack of ice, I almost believe I can hear the siren’s songs.
It’s tempting to stay here while the clock revolves and the sun never sets. Icebergs viewed close up reveal personalities, or so says rugged Danish fisherman Thorvill, who takes me on a midnight iceberg cruise aboard his wooden boat Else.
Else’s reinforced steel hull bashes her way out of the harbour, ramming small bergs and creating a channel. 10pm sunlight glints off the water revealing the houses of Ilulissat from a new angle, a collection of candy coloured smudges on white. And then there are the bergs. Thorvill stops the boat and we drift, silent amongst the icy outdoor furniture. He tells a story in Danish and by the dreamy looks of the other passengers, it is easy to imagine he is talking about the old Gods, Odin and Thor, of a time when icebergs ruled Greenland and the Vikings had only come as far as Iceland. But no, he is talking technically about the ice.
The clean, fresh air we can smell is ozone, bubbles trapped in the ice that release as Else scrapes and grinds through. The ozone also supports wildlife and one can imagine seals passing through for bubbly-ozone facials. Then Thorvill talks of Magic Ice. It is white, condensed snowflakes. When it melts, it refreezes blue on the icebergs. But in the water it becomes black ice and if you hold it in your hand it becomes transparent, like peering through a flawless diamond. I look again at the wooden boat and can think of another word for Magic Ice, invisible to captains and crews. Thorvill reads my mind. “It is Magic Ice” he insists “unless you hit it. In which case it becomes Dangerous Ice”.
Exiting the boat, Thorvill hands me a chunk of ice with instructions to put it my nightcap and listen carefully. Back at the igloo I place the ice in liquid and wait. It sings. Ozone, after being entombed in ice for thousands of years, is being released and singing. A song of release, as bubbles surface and disappear for good.
There is a travellers’ saying: “When you have seen the world, you go to Greenland”. Having touched the polar circles and the continents in between I would say don’t wait that long. There is no place as magical, as mesmerising, as the Land of Singing Ice.
|The Hotel Arctic|