Monday, September 22, 2014 Elul 27, 5774

Going Green

September 18, 2008 By:
Rita Charleston, JE Feature
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(Above and below): The many facets -- and faces -- of this ironically named country. Photos by Rita Charleston

It may not be on your Top 10 list of favorite places to visit. In fact, it may not make any list at all.

But Greenland should be on your list of places you must visit, for those who make the trek often declare it not just worth the effort but probably an experience you'll never forget.

Greenland -- a bit of a misnomer -- was settled by Eric the Red, the son of a Norwegian chieftain who was banished from his home in Iceland. Naming his new home in this way was an effort at convincing others of the fine opportunities awaiting them in this wondrous "Green Land."

The countrymen that followed did seem a little disappointed at first, but the new immigrants eventually established communities. Today, some are still visible, even though the populations are often sparse. Indeed, among the chief attractions in this area are the remains of religious buildings and farms dating back to Norse settlements that have survived for hundreds of years.

So here we travelers found ourselves -- a little more than 200 of us from many countries, including five Americans and four Israelis -- aboard the MS Fram, part of the Hurtigruten Fleet (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage), preparing not so much for a vacation but a true adventure.

As for me, when given the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to explore this magnificent island -- actually the world's largest. "Fram" in Norwegian means "forward." And so it was; once on board this well-appointed ship, it was all engines forward, to explore a kingdom of icebergs and native Inuits.

This is an amazing part of the world, one where winter brings long, dark days but rewards the traveler with incredible flickering northern lights. And, in summer, the sun shines day and night. The region is filled with incredible beauty, where whales, seals, reindeer, polar bears and musk oxen exist side by side.

(As for Jewish travelers, you have a better chance of bringing your bagels from home than finding one here, where the Jewish population is limited to U.S. servicemen at a base in Thule.)

Ice, Anyone?

In fact, one evening around midnight, I sat outside my cabin watching the sun cast a brilliant glow on the passing icebergs. I had to keep looking at my watch to remind myself of the time --whenever, that is, I could tear my eyes away from the stunning beauty that lay before me.

Although Greenland isn't always terribly green, in summertime South Greenland can live up to its name, which is one reason old Eric chose to live here.

During our travels, our first stops were supposed to be in Southern Greenland. However, as we soon found out, the ice fields, a remarkable phenomenon of this area, can be unrelenting, consisting of enormous sheets of frozen salt water in constant motion.

To avoid any trouble, our captain wisely propelled our ship northward. Whatever we missed in Southern Greenland was more than made up for when we eventually docked in a tiny, out-of-the way town farther north.

You might have thought movie stars or men from Mars had landed. Obviously, we and our ship were not familiar sights in this part of the world. As we watched from the top deck, many of the town's inhabitants came out to meet and greet us with a waving of hands and enormous smiles. Some even paddled down in their kayaks to get a better look at these "foreigners" from distant shores.

Those of us who disembarked received nothing but warm welcomes from everyone with whom we came in contact. Later, we moved on to other stops only to meet up with the same effusive welcoming committees.

We wanted adventure and more of it. So we kept sailing northward to places with exotic sounding names like Sisimut, the second largest city in Greenland with just over 5,000 inhabitants. Next came Qeqertarsuaq and Qullissat and others, all within reach when our Polar Circle Boats (small rubber vessels used for landings) headed for shore.

For more information, visit: www.Hurtigruten.com.


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