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Ericksfjord and Brattahlid

Ericksfjord and Brattahlid

It was an early start today as we headed out on the Zodiacs on a cruise through the icebergs. The sun was already shining over the fjord as we began our cruise – although it was freezing cold flying along in the zodiacs. We were completely surrounded by icebergs of all shapes and sizes with shades of white and blue. We even saw one iceberg losing its balance and turning over in the crystal clear waters. We were also lucky enough to spot a couple of seals playfully diving under and over the icebergs.

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We finished our cruise and returned to Rembrandt where Johnny was waiting with some spirits to warm us up after our Arctic adventure.

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The rest of the morning is spent sailing towards Qassiarsuk, the home of Eric the Reds Brattahlid. Upon arriving in Greenland, Eric the Red chose what he believed to be the best Fjord for himself. He named it Ericsfjord and it is here where he established his farm Brattahlid. In the year 1000AD, Christianity was introduced into Greenland, but Eric did not agree with the new religion. Nevertheless, he allowed his wife Tjodhilde to build a small church at the farm. I was really excited to visit Brattahlid and its many historically significant sites.

We arrive into Eriksfjord,  drop anchor and enjoy lunch overlooking the settlement. After lunch we leave Rembrandt in the zodiacs and head towards a small jetty, which is our landing point. We then set off along a red dirt road towards Tjodhild’s Church, the church that was built by Erik the Red’s wife Tjodhild at the beginning of the 11th Century. It is also believed to be the first Church ever built on the North American Continent.

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Continuing along the dirt road we walk past the current church of Qassiarsuk

before coming upon the Museum area, where there is a perfect reconstruction of Tjodhild’s Church and a Norse Long House.
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We were welcomed to the museum area by David a native Greenlander who was to be our guide. David was extremely informative and gave us a very interesting explanation about the history of the Norse and Thule people and their way of life. He explained how the Church and Longhouse were sympathetically reconstructed using timber and turf in 2000. The internal dimensions of the church are just 2 x 3.5 metres (6.5 x 11.5 feet) and although it is a bit of a squeeze, there is actually room for 20 – 25 people. Although we preferred to view the beautiful interior in groups of 4.

After exploring the reconstructed Church David led us into a replica of Eric the Red’s Longhouse. Inside there is a central fireplace, cooking utensils, axes, reindeer and seal furs and a loom with stone weights. The walls are around 2 metres thick – providing plenty of insulation. Again our Guide, David, gave a fascinating explanation of how the house would have functioned and how Erid the Red and his family would have lived during the 10th Century.

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For me the time I spent exploring Brattahlid and learning about the Norse history was a definite highlight. Whilst both are reconstructions the small church and Long House really brought to life the way the first settlers on Greenland lived. The hardships they faced and how they dealt with them.

After the museum area we had free time to head back through the town to where the Zodiacs had docked. I stopped to enjoy the view from Leif “The Lucky” Eriksson’s statue, which is located high up on a hillside above Qassiarsuk.

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Leif was the second son of Eric the Red and he is considered by many to be the first European to reach North America, centuries ahead of Christopher Columbus. However, the details of his voyage are a matter of historical debate, with one version claiming his landing accidental, hence the nickname Leif The Lucky.  Another explanation is that he had sailed there intentionally after learning of the region from earlier explorers.

 

After saying goodbye to Leif I headed back down the hill to return to Rembrandt. Back on board we sat on deck and enjoyed a drink under the last few rays of sunshine before heading to the dining room for Farewell Drinks with the Captain and Crew.

Unartoq Fjord – Puiattukulooq Bay and Eriksfjord

Unartoq Fjord – Puiattukulooq Bay and Eriksfjord

We awake on Day 6 to clear blue skies with a few clouds hanging over the high mountains that surround our current location. After breakfast we head out in the Zodiacs to the rocky coast. The waters are calm and they perfectly mirror the landscape of peaks, valleys, cliffs and icebergs.

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We land between the spectacular valleys of Narsarsuup Qaava and Akuliarusesuaq. As soon as we land we begin walking on this amazing landscape – trying to avoid the hundreds and thousands of mosquitoes that frequent this area. Luckily I had been pre-warned before I left the UK that mosquitoes could be a problem so I was sporting a rather fetching mosquito hat, which was quite possibly one of the best things I’ve ever purchased for travelling. Whilst others struggled with mosquitoes in their eyes and mouth I was able to walk freely with no mosquito distractions.

Today’s hike was under the imposing presence of the Innap Qaava Ridge,

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The terrain was rocky, steep and quite difficult to navigate. The two guides decided to do two hikes an easy and a difficult one. I decided to stick with the easier route as it allowed more time to stop and admire the unique scenery and landscape surrounding us.

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After a couple of hours we return to the rocky beach and take the zodiacs back to Rembrandt. As soon as we are all back on board the Captain raises the anchor and we start our way back North returning to our origional destination of Eriksfjord. The distance that we need to cover is just over 100 nautical miles. For the first time we head out into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and sail along at a rapid speed. The afternoon on board was filled with many activities. Johnny the Hotel Manager opened up the “Ship Shop” where we could purchase some Rembrandt memorabilia. Jordi gave a very interesting lecture on the Polar Ecosystems, which gave us all a greater understanding of where we had been sailing over the past week.

Just before dinner the call came over the intercom that a Minke Whale had been spotted. We all rushed to grab our cameras and coats and headed up on deck where we jostled to get the best vantage points. In the distance several big blows could be seen, which turned out to be 3 groups of Fin Whales with each group containing 5 0r 6 whales. We approached the Fin Whales and soon the ship is surrounded. For what seemed like minutes but was in fact nearly two hours we stood on deck watching and admiring these amazing animals in their natural habitat. It was definitely the highlight of the tour.

After dinner Isabeau gave us a fascinating talk on Norse History in preparation for tomorrow’s visit to Brattalid, home of Eric the Red.

Lichtenau, Unartoq Hot Springs and Vagar

Lichtenau, Unartoq Hot Springs and Vagar

We sailed through the night and in the morning we woke to a foggy day close to the small settlement of Lichtenau. After breakfast we took the zodiacs and landed on a sandy beach right in front of the settlement.

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The village was founded  by Moravian missionaries in 1744 and the origional church is still intact and open to visitors.

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The area had been previously occupied by Thule inuits and a small Norse community. Today Lichtenau is home to just 5 people – there are more houses than people! In Summer the small population of this settlement increases in numbers due to visitors from other towns coming and staying to help with the turnip and potato plantations or simply to visit family. We met up with two sisters who had come to look after their Grandmothers house. Whilst they were sisters one of them was Greenlandic and the other Danish. Thirty years previously the father of the Danish sister had arrived into Lichtenau as he worked as a sailor. He had an affair with a local woman and the Greenlandic sister was conceived. He returned to Denmark not knowing that he had a daughter. When the Greenlandic sister was in her twenties she went looking for her father and found out that she had a sister. They now visit each other regularly travelling to both Greenland and Denmark.

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After visiting the church and walking around the settlement the fog and had lifted and the sun shining so we decided to explore the surrounding area. We climbed to the top of the hill dominating the area, where there are remains of a norse settlement. As well as seeming some beautifully coloured vegetation we also came across a couple of sheep.

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We continued to explore the beautiful surroundings strolling along the rocky beach where you could see the most beautiful view of Lichtenau Fjord. Some of us climbed up to the top of the hill overlooking the settlement were we were treated to some stunning views over Lichtenau, the Fjord and the lakes on the other side of the hill. Having built up a very healthy appetite we returned to Rembrandt and due to the improved weather conditions we were treated to lunch on deck. It was so special to be eating a BBQ lunch of salad and burgers on deck whilst sailing from Lichtenau Fjord to Unartoq Fjord.

Late in the afternoon we have a short briefing before heading out in the Zodiacs. We land on a small beach on the East side of Unartoq island. From there we take an easy 20 minute walk to the famous hot springs.

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As we approached the hot springs I could see a small changing room next to the first and largest pool. The pool itself was full of locals from the nearby settlements who were enjoying the hot springs.

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Further downstream lay a second pool, which was deserted so we all headed there.

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Tentatively I stepped into the warm waters of the pool. The contrast in temperatures was quite startling and once inside the soothing, warm waters of the spring I really didn’t want to get out! Reluctantly after half an hour we all decided that it was time to leave the pools and return to the ship. I have never got dressed so quickly – not even bothering to remove my swimming costume I quickly got dressed. Struggling to put on my clothes whilst shivering in the cold air. Thankfully I soon warmed up on the walk back to the ship and within minutes was enjoying a hot shower.

 

Qaqortoq and Hvalsey

Qaqortoq and Hvalsey

Today we woke up docked in the town of Qaqortoq. It is the biggest town in South West Greenland and the capital of Kujalleq, one of the provinces of Greenland. After breakfast I headed ashore and explored what Qaqortoq has to offer.

First stop was the tourist information office, which has a large selection of souvenirs, maps and postcards. I decided to take the opportunity to buy some postcards and stamps and went outside to a small seating area to write my postcards whilst admiring the view.
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At 10am we had all arranged to meet at the museum for a guided tour and explanation of the Thule culture.  img_0312 img_0319

The Thule inuit came all the way from Alaska and emigrated eastward across the arctic region. They landed in Greenland around 1000AD and were very quick to colonize this part of the island. The museum contains a number of artifacts such as kayaks, seal bladders, harpoons and clothing. The Thule used dog sleds to travel over land, but quick boats such as kayaks allowed them to move fast and follow migrating animals for hunting. This was a very important part of their culture and they would use every part of the seals and the whales that they hunted. Seal blubber, for example was turned to oil, which was used in lamps as well as heating turf houses and igloos. The Thule culture is very important to Greenlanders who still keep it alive by hunting seal and whales and by building their own kayaks using traditional methods.

After the museum we have a couple of hours free time to explore the town. As you wander around the town you can’t help but notice various sculptures, which have been carved into the rocks. The amazing Stone and Man project was created by a Greenlandic artist called Aka Hoegh. She commissioned artists from around Scandinavia to create shapes and reliefs from natural stone. Her wish is to turn Qaqortoq into a sculpture gallery, which will never be completed.

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One of the other must see sights in Qaqortoq is the fountain. Not only is it the oldest fountain in Greenland, dating from 1928, it is also the only fountain in the whole of Greenland!

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After days of not seeing any locals or even a town it was nice to visit a real Greenlandic Town and get a sense of living on this unique island. After a very interesting morning we headed back to the ship.

Once we were all on board we set sail for Hvalsey. Just as we were settling down to lunch a cry came up that a humpback whale had been spotted just ahead of the ship. Running down to the cabin to grab my camera I then went on to the deck where everyone was crowded around trying to see the whale. We slowly approached the whale, which allowed us to get a really good look as it swam and dived in front of us. It was a definite highlight of the trip and I was so excited by the whole experience.

After lunch we headed to Hvalsey, which is the site of Greenland’s largest and most preserved Norse ruins. The origional farmstead was established by Eric the Reds uncle in the late 10th Century and it was a major centre in South Greenland until the 15th Century. The most interesting site at Hvalsey is the church, with its rock walls still standing next to a whole complex of dwellings and barns. A wedding, which took place at the curch in 1408 is the last documented event to occur during Norse times in Greenland. The couple left Greenland and settled in North Iceland in 1413. Over the next 100 years the last norse settlements in Greenland slowly died out.

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After an explanation about the history of the site and the events that took place there we were free to walk around and explore the surrounding area. A few of us climbed to the hill overlooking the ruins, where we saw some amazing views of the settlement and the Qaaortup Imaa Fjord. After a couple of hours we made our way back to the small jetty where we landed and took the zodiacs back to Rembrandt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qalerallit Imaa Fjord and Glaciers

Qalerallit Imaa Fjord and Glaciers

After spending a quiet night at anchor in Qalerallit Imaa Fjord we set sail towards one of the three glacier branches that dominates the head of the Fjord.

The landscape was completely different from the scenery that we had previously witnessed. Lush green farmland and fields were replaced with rocks and ice. Again we were so lucky with the weather as the sun shone over the heavily glaciated area.

After breakfast the zodiacs were prepared and we jetted off to the Greenland ice cap. It was an amazing feeling to step onto the ice cap, which extends all the way from here to the northernmost tip of Greenland.

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Sadly due to a number of environmental factors the  ice cap is melting and retreating at a rapid rate. Only two weeks before the exposed rock in this photo was completely covered in ice.

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Slowly these rocks will become colonised by vegetation and it will begin to resemble the green land that we saw yesterday.

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After spending a couple of hours exploring the ice cap and the glacier scenery we jumped into the zodiacs and took a cruise along the glacier front to get a closer look. There were some amazing ice cliffs, which were coloured a very vivid blue. This is due to the pressure created by thousands of years of snowfall squeezing all of the air out of the ice leaving just a crystalline mass.

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After a short while our impromptu mini cruise was over and we returned to Rembrandt for lunch. Once on board the Captain raised the anchor and we left Qalerallit Imaa Fjord and headed North East to Manitsoq Island  sailing via Ikersuaq Fjord. We slowly sailed past rocky cliffs and the captain expertly navigated numerous icebergs of varying sizes. On arrival at Manitsoq Island the Captain decided to try and squeeze through the gate to the island, which is just 30m wide. Two of the crew went ahead in the Zodiacs to guide the ship through the gap. The entrance is situated between sheer cliffs and steep mountains on either side offering great views and spectacular scenery. Once Rembrandt had passed through the entrance into the long bay area, the captain found a suitable stop to drop anchor and for us to explore the surrounding areas. Within minutes we had donned our rubber boots and life jackets and were back in the Zodiacs heading to shore. Once on land we took a short walk uphill to the lowest part of the mountain ridge that surrounds the cove. From here the views were spectacular – we could see the bay, the fjords and some of the smaller islands that surround Manitsoq Island.

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 After a short break to enjoy the views some of us decided to continue on and hike up the mountainside. It soon became obvious that this was an area used for hunting as we saw several reindeer bones and even a set of antlers along the way.

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We continued our climb up the hill with an elevation of 350m above sea level. From the lookout point we could see the Rembrandt waiting for us in the bay below and we also saw a mountain lake nestled between two mountains.

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After taking in the stunning scenery we began our ascent downhill. When we reached the lower levels and were closer to the location of the Zodiacs Jordi received a message from the Bridge telling him that the ship needed to leave the Bay as soon as possible. The tide was rising and the wind increasing, which was bringing icebergs closer and closer to the narrow entrance. The Captain decided to sail the ship into the open waters and then the Zodiacs would come back and pick everyone up. We all sat on the sound of the mountain watching Rembrandt sail away into the open waters and would could appreciate how difficult it was to navigate the entrance way of the island.

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Within no time Rembrandt was back in open waters and the Zodiacs returned to take us back to the ship. Once on board we set sail for the town of Qaqortoq, the largest town in Southern Greenland and the forth largest in Greenland, which was where we would dock for the night.

Eriksfjord, Gardar and sailing to Qalerallit Imaa Fjord

Eriksfjord, Gardar and sailing to Qalerallit Imaa Fjord

After a surprisingly good nights sleep I woke to a beautiful warm and sunny day – not what I was expecting from Greenland. I don’t think I’m going to need my thermals, scarf and bobble hat!

We spent the night anchored in the still waters of Itilleq Bay and this mornings itinerary included a short trip to the beach jetty at Itilleq followed by a 4km hike to the former Norse settlement of Gardar.

After a very hearty buffet breakfast we had a briefing about the Environmental Policies of travelling within the Arctic regions, the Code of Conduct when going ashore and most importantly how to get on and off the small Zodiac boats safely and without looking like a complete idiot.

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After that it was life jackets on ready to board the boats and start the days activities. After a short boat ride over flat, calm waters we disembarked onto a small wooden jetty, where the dirt road to the small town of Igaliku starts. Once we were all ashore we started the hike passing through lush, green farmlands, a far cry from what I was expecting Greenland to be.

 

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After just over an hour we reached the small settlement of Igaliku, which houses some impressive Norse ruins known as Gardar. In 985 AD Einar, a good friend of the founder of Greenland, Eric the Red, settled in Igaliku and named his farm Gardar. During the Norse period it became a very important area housing the Parliament where all laws were established. Following the introduction of Christianity to Greenland at around the turn of the millennium, the religion became so powerful that a bishop was appointed in 1124 and the impressive Episcopal residence of Gardar, was established shortly afterwards. Today the site is just ruins but our guide Isabeau gave a detailed explanation as to how the site would have looked in the 12th Century with a Cathedral, a Bishops residence, with several rooms, an Assembly Hall, Bell Tower, Tithe Barn, Smithy, Cowshed, barns and Well.

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Nowadays Igaliku is a small settlement inhabited by 30 people who stay there the whole year round, but this number increases in the Summer due to an influx of Greenlandic visitors from other settlements coming to visit friends and family. There are also a huge number of tourists who come to visit during the Summer months to see the ruins at Gardar. Today the town was really busy as the previous night there had been the annual Igaliku Party and around 300 people from neighbouring settlements had come for the celebrations.

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After a short wander around the settlement it was time to hike back to the jetty to take the Zodiacs back to the Rembrandt. Once everyone was back on board it was time for lunch and for the Rembrandt to set sail to Qalerallit Imaa Fjord where we were going to drop anchor for the night. We soon left Eriksfjord and slowly sailed into Ikersuaq Fjord where the scenery was very different. Here we encountered icebergs and sea ice, which made our progress slow but it was so exciting to see such spectacular scenery close up.

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The afternoon was spent either on deck watching the magical scenery float by, chatting with the other guests in the bar and reading. By 8pm we had reached the head of Qalerallit Fjord and the anchor was dropped while we all enjoyed dinner onboard.

South Greenland Adventure

South Greenland Adventure

After a short flight from Reykjavik I arrived into Narsarsuaq on the Northern Shores of Eriksfjord. Narsarsuaq village is based around the airport, which was built in 1942 by the US Military, but now only Commercial jets land there and it is the main gateway to Southern Greenland. The airbase was used extensively during the Second World War providing a stepping stone for US planes on their way to Europe. It was also used by US Military during the Korean war. Today the village has a fluctuating population of between 130 and 160 inhabitants and facilities include a school, medical facilities, youth hostel and hotel including a restaurant and bar, a cafe, supermarket and a fascinating airport museum.

Narsarsuaq was also where I was going to join s/v Rembrandt van Rijn my sailing home for the next 7 days.

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Our guide Jordi welcomed us off the plane and we made our way straight to the ship in a convoy of minibus taxis. There were 27 of us on board a combination of nationalities from English to Swiss, Dutch and French. We were welcomed on board by John the Hotel Manager and after being introduced to the whole crew we sat down to the first of many amazing meals on board Rembrandt. After dinner our guides for the week, Jordi and Isabeau, gave us an overview of the weeks itinerary and I went to my cabin very excited for the days ahead. img_0470 img_0472