Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandJust like the snail, we take our house with us, when we take a cruise along Greenland’s south-west coast. With the Hurtigruten’s ship - MS Fram as a base, we take the voyage into the very heart of the auspicious country and culture of the Inuit.

MS Fram lies sparkling in the Icelandic sun. The ship’s hawsers are like the biceps of a well-trained bodybuilder and are securely fastened to solid rock in the harbour in Reykjavik. The passengers are pouring in to join the voyage of MS Fram. We’ll be passengers to meet the polar universe for which the ship was built. Our cruise will take us across the Denmark Strait to the southern part of East Greenland, around Cape Farewell and then up along the west coast of Greenland. Expectations are high. Let’s go aboard now! 

It is very lively on the quay. A mixed array of suitcases is piling up, but there are people to do the heavy work and they will see that everything is taken on board. 

A dream travelling to Greenland

Tickets are shown at the gangway and we are allowed in to register, take photos and be welcomed aboard. It is advisable to remember to open an account on board, so all payments can be made without cash. Many passengers have travelled on the Hurtigruten before and there are many warm reunions between passengers and crew members alike. For many of them, this journey is a life-long dream about to come true. This ship and its fantastic journey right into the heart of the auspicious country and the culture of the Inuit is the answer to their dreams. 

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandThe sea ice off the east coast of Greenland drifts from the north on ocean currents.

A wilderness of sea ice on Greenland's East coast

Mira Kleist points over the side of MS Fram and says: - The sea ice is out there. It drifts with the ocean currents from the north along the east coast of Greenland and can for many months of the year keep the settlements along the coast cut off from the rest of the world. The captain tells us that a belt of sea ice lies 60 nautical miles off the coast.  

Mira Kleist, who was born and raised in Greenland, is also on board Hurtigruten’s expedition ship MS Fram as a member of the ship’s expedition team. And it is she, who teaches me the first Greenlandic word. While we look out across the almost infinite wilderness of sea ice, she tells me that IMMAQA is the Greenland word for »maybe – maybe not«. This word is good to take with you when you travel in Greenland. Not everything goes as planned or expected. Mother Nature and her forces can be both violent and unpredictable in Greenland. Like the sea ice that is presently blocking our planned stop in Tasiilaq. This said by an Inuit who, if anyone, should know about Greenland’s magnificent nature. 

What if we were the first ship this year to arrive at Tasiilaq on Greenland’s east coast? 

But it remains a dream. We can’t get through the ice and must sail for many hours along the edge. We admire nature’s creativity and imaginative artwork in the form of drifting icebergs and pressure ridges, where ice is piled up in fantastic shapes. There are also large hooded seals, both in flocks and individuals, diving from the drifting ice-floes into the cold, polar pantry. 

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandJacuzzi and speed demons in Greenland

Everyday life takes over on MS Fram. The lecturers are busy. On board this mini-university there are lessons and lectures in three languages about the culture of the Inuit and about the great experiences to come. Mira Kleist tells about Nuuk, Cecilia Malmstroem talks about Erik the Red’s journey from Iceland to Greenland and Stefan Kredel explains how snowflakes become a new ice age. And much, much more. The rhythm of the day usually follows the lavish 
meals served in the dining room. Halibut, salmon, Norway lobster, crabs and prawns in the company of lamb, roast beef and hams are just a small selection of the menu. Certain winners are the calorie bombs in the form of wonderful desserts, choice cheeses and masses of cakes. Another good reason to take a couple of extra walks on the deck in the fresh air, or to do as the others do, take a few extra kilometres on one of the exercise bikes in the gym.

View of Icebergs

And apropos leisure time, the outdoor Jacuzzi is a popular and well-attended pursuit. It’s a very special experience, to enjoy the contrast of having your body in the warm, bubbling water while you watch the icebergs drift by.  

Cruises are also social affairs. New friends are made and with 13 different nationalities on board, world-class opinions and views are exchanged. There is a rush for the outdoor deck chairs, despite the mist and rolling fog, but close to the coast the sun breaks through. Then it’s time to get out the books we brought with us, or borrowed from the ship’s library and do some of the leisure reading that we don’t usually have time for.

One day, a group of passengers declare: - We want to sail with the fast Polar Circle boats. We want to speed round ice-floes and other natural works of art made in glittering ice. We want to kick off with the dizzying speed of 80 wild, Japanese horses packaged and camouflaged as an engine with Yamaha written in flames on the side. We want to feel the cold and the wind and the spray of the salty sea in our faces. And so it was – for those who wanted it. Captain Trond Holten orders the engines stopped and the anchor dropped. The Polar Circle boats are put in the water and the speed demons are let loose.

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandThe ruin of Hvalsey Church is the best-preserved of the Norse buildings in Greenland. The church with the adjoining rectory and hall were built around 1300.

On shore with the oldest Norse church ruin in Greenland

The ruin of Hvalsey Church is the best preserved of the Norse buildings in Greenland. It is the first time our feet are on dry land since we left Iceland, so there is a lot of walking around amongst the ruins which date from the 1300’s. In addition to the church there is a rectory with adjoining hall. Greenland’s past comes to life beneath our feet. Imagine – a young couple from Iceland were wed here in 1408; Torstein Olavsson and Sigrid Bjørnsdatter. But after this event, the rest of the history of the place is lost in the winds over Hvalsey. The wedding at Hvalsey is the last sign of life we have from the Norse settlers in Greenland. 

A chat about fish and other marine animals in Greenland

The climate has gone crazy, say the fishermen I meet on the quay in Narsaq. Royal Greenland’s prawn factory has closed down, because the prawns have disappeared from our coastal waters. And then they add with enthusiasm: - In return, the cod have come back so now we fish for cod with our long-lines. 

Another fishing boat is on its way in with a load of cod. The unloading gear is positioned on the quay and soon a good stack of fish boxes packed to the rim with cod is on the way over the hill to the fish factory. 

Erik the Red’s Brattahlid in South Greenland

In Qassiarsuk, a settlement in South Greenland, Edda Lyberth receives us and tells us the story of Erik the Red and his wife Tjodhildur. About how the exiled Erik the Red came from Iceland and for some years travelled up and down the west coast of Greenland before finally settling in Brattahlid. His travels along the coast took place from 982 to 985, and with a flair for marketing, he went back to Iceland and told everyone about this auspicious land – Greenland. There was nothing wrong with his powers of persuasion; in the summer of 986, 25 boats set sail for South Greenland. 300-400 people arrived in Greenland and settled here with their livestock - sheep, horses and cows - in the deep fjords around Brattahlid.

The buildings we see today at Brattahlid are reconstructions from 2000. The ground plan of the reconstruction of Tjodhildur’s church is only 2 x 3.5 metres. The church is built of turf and Norwegian pine and spruce. The layout is extremely simple. What stands out most is the crucifix above the altar made by artist Aka Høegh out of driftwood. Tjodhildur’s Church is a consecrated church and must be treated accordingly. 

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandGertrud Rask’s Church in Qaqortoq is filled to bursting. Everyone is in their best clothes. There is to be a confirmation service in the church, which is named after Hans Egede’s wife. Hans Egede was the Norwegian-Danish priest who founded the colony of Godthåb in 1721.

Fest and joy and a sombre reminder in Greenland

We arrive in Qaqortoq early one Sunday morning. There is a festive atmosphere in the town. Greenland’s flag can be seen everywhere as the sun rises over the polar ice. 

People in the streets are dressed in beautiful, colourful national costumes. The reason for the celebrations is the confirmation ceremony that will take place today. The service will be performed in the new Gertrud Rask Church, situated high up above the harbour. The church is named after Hans Egede’s wife and gleams white in the sunshine like an iceberg. 

Although the church is quite full of confirmands and their families, we are waved inside to stand at the back of the church as guests. Thus some of us passengers from MS Fram were given a wonderful, enchanting experience on one of Greenland’s most important festive occasions.

The ship Hans Hedtoft which sank

The other church in town is called the Church of Our Saviour. It lies down by the harbour and conceals a sombre reminder. The door is locked, but we fetch Erik Petersen, who is the custodian at the nearby museum, and he is able to conjure up the key to the door of the church. Inside hangs a lifebelt from the liner Hans Hedtoft, which sank near Cape Farewell on its maiden voyage in January 1959 says Erik and continues: It is a sombre reminder and all that was ever found after the ship sank. The lifebelt drifted ashore in Iceland and 
was found by Magnus Haflidason, who was a farmer. It was placed in the Church of Our Saviour because Qaqortoq was the last port of call before the fateful voyage back to Denmark. 

The lifebelt is surrounded by wreaths of dried flowers from remembrance ceremonies held for the shipwreck. There is a large plaque where we can read the names of the 95 crew members and passengers who went down with the ship. The episode 
started a debate on the prudence of sailing to and from Greenland during the winter. – I was sixteen years old when I, like so many others from Qaqortoq, went on board the Hans Hedtoft to take a look at the new ship. And I stood on the quay and waved goodbye when the ship sailed out of the harbour, heading for open seas and disaster, ends Erik Petersen quietly.

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandMS Fram lying at anchor at the former mining town of Ivittuut where cryolite was mined from 1854 to 1968; a cutter from the Danish Navy sails by, heading for the nearby naval base at Flådestation Grønnedal.

The Cryolite Mine 
at Ivittuut

- Ivittuut is the most important place for us on the entire journey, say twins Lis Jørgensen and Per Darlem. We were born in the mining town in 1939. It was a busy town from 1854 to 1968 while the cryolite was being mined. Our father, Richard Darlem was an engineer and he died in 1953, only 41 years old. He was buried in the cemetery at Ivittuut, but we don’t know if his grave is still there. It’s been 53 years since we last saw it. But now we have travelled up here with our spouses to visit his grave. If it is still here! At the Hurtigruten office in Copenhagen, we discovered that MS Fram was going to make a call at Ivittuut.

And this is what MS Fram did. The anchor is cast into the water near the closed mine. The Arctic climate has turned the place into a ghost town. Nevertheless, there is a peculiar beauty to the noble decay. We are taken in boats to the still serviceable quay. In one hand Lis Jørgensen carries a long-stemmed, blue rose bought in Qaqortoq. With the other hand she holds her brother, Per Darlem. Hand in hand they walk up to the ridge where the cemetery lies. An enormous cross shows the way.

– Here he is, says Per Darlem with moist eyes after searching for a few minutes. The inscription on the headstone says, Richard Darlem, 1912-1953. Together, the siblings place their blue rose on the grave. – He was a good father say Lis Jørgensen and Per Darlem later, once they have got a little distance to the event. And they add: - It was good to have visited him. It has given us peace. 

Only one building is regularly maintained in Ivittuut. It contains a pearl of a geological museum and it is open when ships and people come to visit. 

The museum tells the story of the cryolite mine with a wealth of good photos and items from the years when the mine was active. For Lis Jørgensen and Per Darlem it is a goldmine – a journey back to the place of their childhood. 

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandThe silence is overwhelming at the head of the Eternity Fjord. The silence and the magic is broken only when the glacier calves huge blocks of ice.

Nuuk, the capital of Greenland

Greenland’s national museum and archives are situated in some of the old buildings in the colonial harbour. There is enough material here for many hours of contemplation about Greenland’s cultural history and past.

The mummies from Qilakitsoq

I head purposely toward the sensational mummies that were found by accident at Qilakitsoq in 1972 and later brought to the museum. The discovery includes the mummified bodies of six adults and two children. All the remains are more than five hundred years old. A sophisticated mummification process is known from Egypt and this was used for Egyptian pharaohs in particular.

But this technique has not been used in the case of the mummies in Greenland. Their mummification is due to a lucky combination of the site where they were found and is a kind of freeze-drying. And it is thanks to this, that posterity has received a unique glimpse into the clothing, illnesses, food and many other matters that affected people in the past.

Cruise with MS Fram in GreenlandTakuss

Let us end our voyage with MS Fram with another Greenlandic word. A word many of my fellow passengers hope will come to fruition. Who wouldn’t want to experience the glorious nature of Greenland and meet the Greenlanders again?  

So, instead of goodbye, let’s say; Takuss – See you!

Facts about MS Fram

MS Fram is Hurtigruten’s ship, introduced in 2007. MS Fram was built especially for navigation in Arctic waters. The culture and language of Greenland have inspired the ship’s interior and artists from Greenland have supplied the art on board.  

The concepts of the Inuit language are used to name the main areas of the ship. Qilak (heaven), Imaq (sea) and Nunami (onshore). On expeditions to Greenland, MS Fram is a floating, mini-university with lectures and films about the Arctic. The lectures are held in Danish, English and German.

Facts about the first Fram

The original polar ship Fram was built for Fridtjof Nansen’s North Pole expedition and launched in 1892. The ship completed a total of three expeditions.

The first was Fridtjof Nansen’s North Pole Expedition, the second expedition was led by Otto Sverdrup and its purpose was to map North Greenland. On the third and last expedition, Roald Amundsen was on board and this time it was the race to get to the 
South Pole first. On December 14th, 1911 Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole, one month before his rival, Robert Scott.

With these three expeditions, Fram became the ship that had been farthest north and farthest south.