Granny Goes to Greenland


Granny and I Go to Greenland

Connie and Birthe on a dog sledge – photos by Connie Maria Westergaard

With an almost 80-year-old birth certificate my grandma had almost given up the dream of dogsledging through sparkling frost, sailing amongst giant icebergs and snowcapped black mountains and standing on the ice cap with nothing but ice in sight.

Greenland has always been the holiday destination of our dreams. This Winter Granny and I defied the cold, old age and a generation gap of 50 years when we traveled to a different world for eight days.

By Connie Maria Westergaard

Our first encounter with Greenland happens through the airplane’s window. My grandma, whom everybody else knows as Birthe Ewertsen, and I are desperately trying to look out at the same time on the snow-white landscape below us.

“Is this your first time to Greenland?” The female flight attendant asks. The answer is yes. Most of our lives grandma and I have dreamt of going to Greenland, or the Country of the People as the Greenlandic call it. Funny name for a country whose population could fit into a large stadium.

Granny’s 80-year-old birthday is just around the corner. And to celebrate it we have decided to defy the freezing cold, old age and a generation gap of 50 years and go to Greenland for eight days. It is a trip that will demand vigor on grandma’s part. Luckily she’s an active old woman, who travels regularly and keeps fit by dancing twice a week.

Silent Sunset

Sunset over the ice fiord

After a stop in Kangerlussuaq we arrive in Ilulissat on the West coast of Greenland, North of the polar circle. It is March and minus 19° Celsius (2° Farenheit). However, due to the dry air it does not feel unpleasant. The sun is shining which makes the snow sparkle like a blanket of tiny little diamonds.

The first thing that dawns on us is how fresh and clean the air feels in our lungs and on our faces. The next thing is the silence.

After arriving at Hotel Arctic we go for a walk in the surrounding area. We follow the path behind the hotel that leads down to the ice fiord. To our left is Ilulissat town, to our right are the mountains, and straight ahead out on the deep blue Disko Bay massive icebergs are floating around.

Only 50 kilometers (31 miles) down the coast is the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. Every single day all year round approximately 20 million tons of ice flows out into the ice fiord. Some of the icebergs are more than a hundred meters tall, which explains why the town is called Ilulissat. It means iceberg in Greenlandic.

Later that night standing on the hotel patio Granny and I experience our very first Greenlandic sunset, and that is the deathblow. After a few hours in Ilulissat we surrender to beauty in all its glorious blue and white colors. We agree that we have never before seen anything more picturesque.

Dogsledging in Ilulissat

Dogsledging in the Mountains

On our second day we wake up to the sounds of the sledge dogs playing outside our hotel. A quick look out the window promises another cold, sunny day. The sun is hanging low over the snowcapped black mountains, but on the other side of the harbor the town with the many red wooden houses and the approximately 4,500 inhabitants has already risen.

Grandma and I get ready for the ride of our lives, and an absolute ‘must do’ if you visit Greenland during Winter. Today we are going dogsledging.

We meet the sledge drivers and their sledge dogs on a plain on the outskirts of Ilulissat. We are wearing three layers of clothes, warm boots and seal skin outfits on top to keep us warm during the next two hours.

Soon we are driving at top speed across the frosty, glittering snow, while passing mountains on both sides. The area surrounding Ilulissat is hilly ground. Thus we experience the dogs running in front of the sledge, when it goes uphill, and behind the sledge acting as brakes, when it goes downhill.

Although it is a bumpy ride, it tickles your stomach when the sledge jumps over the big rocks. I must admit I am a little worried about Grandma, who is convinced she got the most speed-crazy driver of them all. We have to hold on tight in order not to fall off the sledge, and at times it gets rough. However, afterwards grandma has no regrets. That was an old dream come true back there, she says.

The icebergs near Ilulissat

Up Close and Personal with the Icebergs

One experience always exceeds the one before, when you are in Greenland. On our fourth day awaits another memorable experience of the cold and breathtaking kind.

Down in the harbor is a cutter waiting to bring us up close and personal with the icebergs we have been admiring ever since we arrived. We are a modest company of 12 sailing out, and not much time passes before we literally bump into the first fragments of drifting ice.

The sun is still shining and makes the ice sparkle, and we learn that ice is not just white. It is all shades between white and blue, and black if it is very old.

The ice creaks and breaks, when the cutter hits it, but the experienced captain keeps a safe distance to the icebergs, which are typically ten times bigger below the surface than above it.

Grandma and I are standing on the deck staring with disbelief up on the tall icebergs that surround us. Never before have we seen anything so magnificent and unspoiled as what is right in front of us.

Greenlandic Gastronomy

No visit to Greenland is complete without trying the local food and dishes. In Ilulissat it is possible, if you book one day in advance, to try a Greenlandic buffet at Hotel Hvide Falk.

Enjoying Greenland coffee

We fight our way through 37 courses in three and a half hours. Polar bear, which we are later told is a rarity, Greenlandic lamb, reindeer, musk ox, whale and all sorts of fish and shellfish go down well.

A Greenlandic delicacy is Mattak, which is raw whale skin and stomach. It is kind of tough and has to be chewed for a long time before it can be swallowed. We are quite sceptical about it, but we have to try.

My piece goes back on the plate faster than anyone can say yuck! Grandma on the other hand is chewing away – the woman who hates chewing gum – finding it rather tasteful. I do not see her take a second piece though.

We finish up with a glass of Greenlandic coffee. The ingredients Kahlua, whiskey, black coffee, whipped cream and Grand Marnier make Irish coffee look like water in comparison.

The next day we go for a guided walk in the Sermermiut Valley. We size up the situation and conclude that Granny is in a condition to complete the short distance. We are close to being wrong. Down in the valley she walks without problems, but when the guide takes us across the hill it is almost too much for her.

Birthe enjoys a moment of solitude

Walking uphill is hard on her 80-year-old legs, and even though the view of the ice fiord, the valley and the hills is beautiful, she hardly notices it. Even a supergranny like mine has her limits.

Nothing but Ice

After five days in Ilulissat our journey takes us southwards to Kangerlussuaq. Soon we realize that we have arrived in a different world than the one we just came from in Ilulissat. Kangerlussuaq is a former American military air base, which now is the center of Greenland’s air traffic.

Approximately 500 people live in the small settlement, where we will spend our last three days.

Unfortunately we arrive at a time where there is little snow. Thus the arctic desert looks barren and grey compared to the strikingly beautiful snowcapped Ilulissat.

But there is a reason why we have come, and that is the nearby inland ice. Not long after our arrival we are on our way again in an off roader to destination ice cap. It is only 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, but driving in Greenland on icy roads it takes us an hour and a half to get there.

Dogsledging in Kangerlussuaq

On our way we pass Russell’s Glacier, which stretches out its long arms in the landscape like giant waves of whipped cream on an ice-cream gateau.

We reach the famous Point 660, which is 660 meters high (1969 feet), on the ice cap. From the car our noses have been glued to the window for the last half hour. We cannot believe that what is all around us is nothing but ice as far as the eye can see. It looks neverending.

Our trip to Greenland ends as it began, with a ride on a dog sledge. It seems the perfect way to end it. On our last day we are riding on a sledge with 13 dogs in front across the frozen 185 kilometers (115 miles) long Kangerlussuaq Fiord with the clean, fresh air on our smiling faces.

For more information on Greenland:

Greenland Tourism & Business Council

Greenland Guide Index

Destination South Greenland

Destination Disko

Air Greenland flies from Baltimore (USA), Reykjavik (Iceland) and Copenhagen (Denmark)
Scandinavian Airlines flies from Copenhagen (Denmark)

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Connie Westergaard

Connie Westergaard

Connie Westergaard works in PR and lives in Denmark.