We were groggy when we arrived in Iceland at 6:30 AM (2:30 AM EST) after our 6-hour flight from New York JFK. We had a 3-hour layover before our flight to Greenland departed, so we grabbed some breakfast and found a bench where my wife took a nap and I read an article about Greenland in the latest addition of Rolling Stone magazine of all places. What a coincidence.
Iceland was pretty much the same as I remembered it when we last visited in 2003. The weather was chilly, windy, and rainy as we walked across the tarmac to board the 50-seater IcelandAir Dash-8 prop plane.
It was a 3-hour flight between Keflavik, Iceland and Nuuk, Greenland. As I gazed out of the window, I saw nothing but white. I assumed I was looking at clouds since the weather was so crappy when we left Iceland. However, as we were making our descent on Nuuk, I realized I had not been looking at clouds our entire flight. I had been looking at Greenland's massive ice cap that covers 80% of the island.
Now that we were no longer over the ice cap, I could see brown snow-capped, rocky mountains and dark blue bodies of water. Descending lower still, I began to see the brightly colored buildings clustered on a stretch of brown-grey land almost as if someone had spilt a box of Skittles. The buildings were red, yellow, blue, green, purple, and other colors.
The Nuuk airport is very small. There were no visible customs officers or security checkpoints. There wasn't even anyone to stamp our passports. We just picked up our luggage and headed towards the young Greenlandic man who was holding a sign with our names written on it. His name was Peter. I was surprised he spoke English so well. He told us that all students in Greenland are required to learn Greenlandic, Danish, and English in school.
During the ride to our hotel, we couldn’t help but notice the bold colors of the buildings. Peter told us that there used to be a color code for building identification many years ago but these days, people paint their houses any color they want. It helps break up the monotony in winter when the city is snow-covered.
We also noticed a lot of construction both to the roads and buildings as we were being driven around. Peter told us that living this far north, the people have to take advantage of the short summer season to get all the construction done before the harsh arctic winter sets in.
After checking into Hotel Hans Egede, my wife and I headed out for a walk. Our hotel was located on a busy 2-laned street. There was a steady flow of cars and buses as well as people. As my wife and I walked the streets, I did notice a few double-glances. After all, there was no one who looked like us. However, I was struck by the friendliness of the people. They would smile and nod. A few curious people approached us with questions. One young lady, who spoke English very well, wanted to know if my wife braids hair. We met some other Greenlanders who didn't speak much English but wanted to know where we were from and what we like to eat. I think my most memorable conversation was with some older people who were trying to speak to us in Greenlandic. It didn't seem to matter that my wife and I didn't speak their language. The conversation was accompanied with a lot of handshaking, smiling, and Charades. I still have no idea what we were talking about.
We spent the rest of the day taking a city tour, visiting the Greenland National Museum, and dining at the Charoen Porn Thai Restaurant. All of these activities, except the restaurant, were a great introduction to Greenlandic culture - past and present. The next day, we boarded the flight to Ilulissat where we would experience Greenlandic societies above the Arctic Circle.