Kulusuk: Sneaking Into Greenland

Over the last decade, Greenland has opened up to increasing numbers of tourists. The Danish territory, with new powers of political autonomy as of 2009, inspires adventurous travelers with its extreme weather and dramatic geographies. Greenland is also incredibly expensive to visit, as there are no roads connecting towns and settlements along the coast. To get from town to town, one must either fly very pricey Air Greenland or travel by boat.

The easiest and least expensive way to visit Greenland is to book a day tour from Iceland to the Eastern Greenlandic island of Kulusuk, which is a 110-minute flight from Reykjavík‘s domestic airport. The day trip is not cheap. It runs €533 ($654) though August 20, and from August 21 through September 8 it is priced at €477 ($585). The day trip gives participants a guide-accompanied walking tour from the airport to the village, about an hour of free time wandering around the village, a tour of the village church, a brief discussion of Greenland and a viewing of a folk dance performed by a Greenlandic man, translated by the guide. The tour itself lasts around five hours.

The tour finishes up with a boat ride through an iceberg-laden bay back to a bit of shoreline adjacent to the airport. This boat ride, an inarguable highlight, costs an extra 150 DKK ($25).

The tour guide is an Icelandic man who’s lived in Greenland on and off for years. At the start of the tour, he gestured toward the glaciers and peaks across from the airport and told us that there were countless mountains and lakes in Greenland that had neither name nor number. Greenland is the world’s 12th largest territory, and the guide’s teaser of an introduction hit home just how vast a place Greenland is. The guide also provided information about Greenlandic life and culture. To my neophyte ears, his summaries struck me from time to time as a bit too absolute for inclusion in such a brief tour.

We made our way slowly to the village of Kulusuk. With around 300 inhabitants, the village is a small yet frankly fascinating place. There are brightly colored houses, a supermarket stocked with Danish goods, a post office and a church. The terrain is rocky. A picnic table at the top of a hill within the village permits a gorgeous panorama, which includes views of enormous icebergs. There is also a souvenir shop on the island, manned during my visit by the son of the tour guide. Villagers mostly leave visitors alone, though a few salutations were exchanged.

The tour is offered from early June through early September through Air Iceland. Though expensive, I found it to be worthwhile as a very basic introduction to Greenland. At the same time, I concluded the tour wanting more information about Greenlandic life and culture and craving more opportunities for exposure and immersion. By the time the Air Iceland plane had landed back in Reykjavík I had already plotted a visit to capital Nuuk for a blast of “urban” Greenlandic life.

For passport stamp collectors, this day trip is a special joy. Though there is no official passport control between Iceland and Greenland, vanity entry and exit stamps are offered free of charge to passengers.

[Images: Alex Robertson Textor]

Photo Of The Day: Flying To Iceland

Today’s Photo of the Day may seem a bit pedestrian: it’s a cup of (likely) mediocre airplane coffee. But the napkin comes with a fun fact about Icelandic settler Ingólfur Arnarson, whose trip from Norway took four days, and there were no napkins. Too bad he couldn’t fly Iceland Air, like Flickr user shapes of dreams, who snapped this on her way to Reykjavik. Bonus points for her stylish nail color, which she dubs Blue Lagoon. It’s a fun way to learn a little about your destination while enjoying one of air travel‘s last freebies.

Know any other clever airlines? Share your favorite travel photos with us in the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day.

Risqué Relics Inside Peru’s Erotic Art Gallery

There are plenty of museums around the world dedicated to sex. Besides the now familiar Museum of Sex in New York, the Czech Republic has a museum centered solely on sex machines and Iceland has one concentrating on the study of phallology (complete with hundreds of… ahem… male specimens). In Peru, however, an archaeological museum shows that our fascination with sex is far from a modern phenomenon.

One third of the exhibition space at Museo Larco in Lima is devoted to showcasing the world’s largest collection of ancient erotic artifacts, an aspect of pre-Columbian life that many people might turn a blind eye to. Spread throughout two rooms, the artwork is so explicit that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to enter the halls. The Moche civilization, who flourished from 100 A.D. to 800 A.D., represented pretty much every aspect of their lives in ceramics, and the ways in which they made love (and, as the exhibit shows, self love) were not exempt from being embodied in clay.

As you’ll see in the gallery below, not much of what happens behind closed doors has changed over the ages. What the erotic art gallery really teaches us is sex is a part of life, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – although, admittedly, it is something many of the museumgoers couldn’t help but giggle at.


8 Cool Cities For Summer

Many people’s winter vacation plans understandably revolve around sand and sun and colorful cocktails sporting tiny umbrellas. But summer in the states can be just as oppressive, whether you’re battling sweat-inducing humidity, malodorous public transportation, or overzealous mosquitoes. So for those who want to skip the sunscreen (I know, I know, you’re supposed to wear sunscreen all year round) and instead wrangle that favorite fuzzy sweater out of storage, here are eight cooler cities to visit. A few are in the Southern Hemisphere, offering a double helping of winter. Others have an Arctic vibe. And some made the cut because they stay relatively chilly all year round. Forget endless summer and embrace its polar opposite.

Anchorage, Alaska
Explore the U.S.’s northernmost city this summer by walking or biking the 11-mile Tony Knowles trail. The paved path curls along the spectacular coastline where you might even catch a glimpse of beluga whales along the way. And, since temperatures stay pretty cool, you won’t even break a sweat doing it.

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
If you think Canadians in general are nice, Newfoundlanders will blow your socks off – and then give you their own socks because your feet might be cold. St. John’s, the capital, is the foggiest, snowiest, wettest, windiest and cloudiest of the major Canadian cities. Have I sold you on it?Katoomba, Australia
Only an hour from Sydney, Katoomba is the main town in the Blue Mountains region – a wonderland of eucalypt forests and gorges where Aussies often vacation. Katoomba is also the home of Yulefest, where, throughout July, the entire place pretends it’s Christmas. Area restaurants and hotels serve up multi-course traditional holiday meals, even hiring local carolers and Santas to complete the picture.

Galway, Ireland
Summer temperatures in this west coast city don’t typically top 65 degrees and nights are frigid enough to justify rounds of Guinness at the local pub. At the end of July, Galway hosts an awesome Arts Festival, not to mention an incredibly popular seven-day horse race, the longest in all of Ireland. Be sure to ask a local lady’s help picking out the right fascinator for the event.

La Serena, Chile
Located 300 miles south of chaotic Santiago, La Serena is Chile’s second oldest city. A normally overpopulated beach town during the summers, La Serena transforms into a friendly, laid-back locale in winter, making it the perfect time to visit this “City of Churches.” There are more than 30 of them, many dating as far back as the late 16th century. Where better to keep warm?

Reykjavik, Iceland
It might be the land of the midnight sun, but you definitely won’t overheat in Reykjavik. Arrive by June 21 for summer solstice festivals that take place around the city, including ones where residents wear traditional Viking garb. Don’t think that you can shirk your sartorial duties just because it’s chilly, though; Reykjavik residents dress to impress when they go out no matter the season.

Queenstown, New Zealand
Known as the “adventure capital of the world,” spend your Kiwi winter skiing, bungee jumping, mountain biking, skydiving or paragliding. You can even go canyon swinging if choosing from several ways to launch yourself off from a 100-meter-high, cliff-mounted platform sounds appealing. I hear it’s easiest if you just let someone push you off the edge.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sure you can tango, eat the world’s best beef and load up on all kinds of leather goods, but you can do that any time in Buenos Aires. So instead check out a distinctly winter event this July: the Annual Buenos Aires Chili Cookoff. This ex-pat organized affair has quickly become a must-attend for locals, too. And word on the street is they still need judges.

[Flickr image via Unhindered by Talent]

St. Brendan: Did An Irish Monk Come To America Before Columbus?

Today is St. Brendan’s feast day. To the Irish, St. Brendan needs no introduction. For those less fortunate in their birth, let me tell you that he may have been Ireland’s first adventure traveler.

Saint Brendan was an Irish holy man who lived from 484 to 577 AD. Little is known about his life, and even his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia is rather short. What we do know about him mostly comes from a strange tale called “the Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator,” written down in the ninth century and rewritten with various changes in several later manuscripts.

It’s an account of a seven-year journey he and his followers took across the Atlantic, where they met Judas sitting on a rock, landed on what they thought was an island only to discover it was a sea monster, were tempted by a mermaid, and saw many other strange and wondrous sights. They got into lots of danger, not the least from some pesky devils, but the good Saint Brendan used his holy might to see them through.

They eventually landed on the fabled Isle of the Blessed far to the west of Ireland. This is what has attracted the attention of some historians. Could the fantastic tale hide the truth that the Irish came to America a thousand years before Columbus?

Sadly, there’s no real evidence for that. While several eager researchers with more imagination than methodology have claimed they’ve found ancient Irish script or that places like Mystery Hill are Irish settlements, their claims fall down under scrutiny.

But, as believers like to say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and there are some tantalizing clues that hint the Irish really did journey across the sea in the early Middle Ages. It’s firmly established that Irish monks settled in the Faroe Islands in the sixth century. The Faroes are about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. Viking sagas record that when they first went to settle Iceland in the late ninth century, they found Irish monks there. There are also vague references in the Viking sagas and in medieval archives in Hanover hinting that Irish monks made it to Greenland too.

%Gallery-155425%From Greenland, of course, it’s not much of a jump to North America. The monks wanted to live far away from the evils of the world and were willing to cross the ocean to do so.

How did they sail all that distance? In tough little boats called currachs, made of a wickerwork frame with hides stretched over it. One would think these soft boats with no keel wouldn’t last two minutes in the open ocean, but British adventurer Tim Severin proved it could be done. In 1976, he and his crew sailed a reconstruction of a medieval currach on the very route I’ve described. The boat, christened Brendan, was 36 feet long, had two masts, and was made with tanned ox hides sealed with wool grease and tied together with more than two miles of leather thongs. While Brendan says sailing it was like “skidding across the waves like a tea tray,” the team did make it 4,500 miles across the ocean. His book on the adventure, “The Brendan Voyage,” is a cracking good read.

Although Severin proved the Irish could have made it to America, it doesn’t mean they did. Severin had the advantage of modern nautical charts and sailed confident in the knowledge that there was indeed land where he was headed. So until archaeologists dig up a medieval Irish church in North America, it looks like St. Brendan’s voyage will remain a mystery.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]