May 2007 Feature
From Baltimore to Greenland in Spring
By Ted Heck
The world’s largest island becomes more accessible to adventure travelers in the U.S. this month, when Air Greenland begins its first direct service from the United States.
“Convenience” is the keyword of airline officials to describe their decision to use Thurgood Marshall Airport in the Baltimore/Washington corridor to provide frequent service to the island. Visitors to Greenland in the past alighted from an occasional cruise ship or flew from Iceland or Denmark.
Boeing 757 service begins with five-hour flights on Thursdays, May 24 and May 31. Additional flights will be added on Mondays during June, July and August.
Tour operators and media participants learned of the ambitious program during a fam trip last fall, when Flemming Knudsen, Air Greenland CEO, and his managers outlined their goal of attracting 6,000 Americans this season.
We were shepherded for a week through astounding landscapes and unusual villages by officials and guides from local and national tourist offices, the airline and its booking agency Aviareps.
Othmar Grueninger, of Grueninger Travel Group in Indianapolis, was sure he could transmit his enthusiasm about the island to his clients: “This is a once in a lifetime experience. Grand scenery—the mountains, icebergs sometimes cracking apart in magnificent fjords, glistening glaciers. And wonderful friendly people.”
Shannon Stowell, who runs Adventure Travel Trade Association, added, “It’s a completely different world to explore. A wide range of experience from hard core to luxury. And it’s inspiring to see how man has carved out a way of life in such a different environment.”
The fam trip landed in Kangerlussuaq, the largest airport, with a museum that commemorates the role of the former U.S. Army Air Corps base during World War II. Our first sightseeing adventure here was a bus trip up to the polar ice cap that covers 84 percent of the huge island. Greenland measures more than 800,000 square miles. It is nearly 1,700 miles long and up to 600 miles wide. Cameras clicked furiously as some of us walked carefully on the ice or hung on tightly during bumpy snowmobile rides.
The tour continued in coastal villages Ilulissat and Sisimiut and the capital city of Nuuk. In Ilulissat, where sled dogs outnumber residents, we learned how crucial dogs have been in the long history of hunting and fishing. In Sisimiut we saw the importance of fishing to the nation’s economy in a visit to the Royal Greenland shrimp factory. High tech equipment peeled, washed, sorted, packaged and froze shrimp for shipment to Europe.
Genial guides from the villages exposed us to Danish, Greenlandic and Inuit history, which goes back 4,500 years. They made sure we saw important museums and art galleries.
The National Museum in Nuuk had interesting artifacts and paintings. We viewed Qilakitsog mummies from five centuries ago. The meeting room in the town hall itself looked like a gallery, with huge tapestries that were copies of paintings by a leading Greenlandic artist. Ilulissat’s museum highlighted the life of polar explorer Knud Rasmussen. The rooms in Sisimiut’s archives provided fine examples of native and Danish cultures.
During sightseeing in Nuuk or in the small coastal villages with brightly colored wooden homes perched on rocky terrain, our group found the local people to be hospitable. A high percentage of the country’s 57,000 people speak both Danish and Greenlandic, but many also speak English, especially in shops and tourist-related public places and hotels.
Accommodations and Packages
Our meals were, of course, oriented to seafood: shrimp, crab, halibut, salmon---even whale, seal and reindeer too. Prices seemed reasonable for these readily available foods. But prices were higher for vegetables and other imported items.
In Nuuk, the four-star Hans Egede charges about $230 per night. Visit www.hhe.gl
Tour operator Othmar Grueninger said he would be coming back to Greenland to see the Northern Lights and musk oxen and whales that he missed on this fam trip. He is organizing a trip for an August departure. Call 800-225-9919; www.ambassadair.com
Aviareps, GSA for Air Greenland offered a sample package: $2,250 per person, double for four days, with a welcome dinner, breakfasts and tour guides. Half of this ($1,100) is for a regular economy flight. Flexible economy and business classes are $500 and $1,500 higher. A second package deal of eight day is priced at $4,000 per person double.
For information visit www.greenland.com or call the Danish Tourist Board, 212-885-9700; www.visitdenmark.com. Call Air Greenland at 877-245-0739; E-mail email@example.com; www.airgreenland.com