After a very nice itinerary from Fairbanks to Nuuk that consisted of only 3 flights and an 8 hour daytime layover in Reykjavic (we went into town for a last taste of culture and sophistication), Ken and I arrived in Nuuk Saturday evening, April 30th. Despite a lost ski bag (which we've since recovered) the travel went smoothly. We even got exit row seats for the Seattle-Reykjavic leg.
The descent into Nuuk (town not yet visible).
After a full week here, all I can say is that Nuuk leaves me a bit speechless. The flight in was starkly beautiful, but all that beauty was laced, for me at least, with an element of terror. Looking down on a (literal) sea of ice and granite with a propeller buzzing next to your ear makes one keenly aware that a quick exit from Nuuk isn’t necessarily an easy feat. The place has a sort of lunar feel to it. Nothing but rock and ice, with buildings on the landscape that look very out of place. Sensible and stylish Danish design seems to have met its match here in the way of industrial building materials. Overall, the city’s architecture has a bit of an airplane-hangar-meets-country-cottage look. From certain angles, you can create a quaint panorama—but you can’t fool yourself for too long.
To add to Nuuk's other-worldly aspect, we are currently living in a very nice high rise apartment building (11 stories). Greenland functions under a public housing system imposed decades ago by the Danes—a system which no one seems to fully understand. What we do know is this: as a two person couple, we are entitled to a three room apartment (two bedrooms, one joint kitchen/living space). However, due to the long waiting list for public housing, most people (including us) are first placed in temporary housing, which allowably provides one less room for an individual or family than the number to which they are entitled. During this time of temporary housing, apartments are rent free. (Big bonus, because when we finally move to our permanent apartment, rent will be around 1000 USD/month). However, right now we have been placed in “pre-temporary” housing , and have been told we’ll be moving to our official “temporary” housing in six weeks. But our current "pre-temporary" apartment has three rooms, the number to which we are entitled. Confused? Yeah, so are we. What matters for the time being is that we’re not paying anything, so we haven't asked many questions.
Our dining room around midnight.
But back to our current apartment. Although this is my first experience with public housing anywhere in the world, the place has vastly exceeded my expectations. Strike the mental images you’re having right now of Chicago’s Cabrini Green. Leave it to the Danes to decide that public housing should include heated bathroom floors, beautiful wood flooring, glass walled showers, in-unit washing machines, standard issue down comforters, dishwashers, and closet space beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. We’re told that our apartment is on the nice end of the public housing spectrum here, so I’m trying to keep my expectations for the future low. Still, it's an incredibly nice apartment. And when I stand at the sink doing dishes with a state of the art faucet, cleaning the counters and the brand-new glass stovetop burners with a few easy swipes of the sponge, it somehow makes Nuuk feel even more surreal and isolated. At times like this I feel like I'm on some sort of high tech spaceship, never quite able to forget the cold and empty wilderness lapping at the door.
From what we've seen so far, Greenland is incredibly beautiful, and as remote a wilderness as I think remains in the world. We've already been skiing a couple of times, gone on small hikes to the edge of town, and realized that we're going to need to buy a boat to take full advantage of what is on offer here. But apart from the natural beauty, this is a strange and curious place. Most notably, it is a place of contrasts. Nuuk is extremely urbanized, with high density housing, an impressive bus system, and even its own suburb. Yet, real, live, bone chilling wilderness is only a 20 minute walk from any part of town. And the mixture of native people and Danes--some highly educated, some poorly educated, many living together in mixed income housing--in a country that has essentially been a colony of Denmark for 200 years weaves a very fascinating story that we're only beginning to understand.