A taste of Europe at Nunavut’s front door
“It’s an amazing European influence”
Just two hours away from Iqaluit, three very different bars sit a couple minutes walk from each other.
One bar, painted yellow and called Kristinemut, is packed with young Danes who spill onto the street with Tuborg lagers in hand, dancing to the latest Europop music sensations.
Across the street, Greenlandic Inuit, or Kalaallit, gather at Pub Maximut.
Here, a down-to-earth crowd is more than happy to chat about life over a pint in its wood-laden interior, which resembles a typical Irish pub, with sports games showing on televisions in the background.
Further down the street, the Hans Egede Skybar hosts the classiest of patrons, mingling in English for the most part, holding Greenlandic coffees made of whisky, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, coffee, and whipped cream.
This takes place in a room overlooking the city’s skyscrapers that features a pianist playing then-and-now classics.
These vastly diverse scenes represent indicative slices of Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. And its modern-European yet Inuit culture is now more accessible than ever, thanks to Air Greenland’s rekindled Nuuk-Iqaluit route.
This means Nunavummiut now have access to a realistic tourist destination outside Canada without having to change aircraft in Ottawa or Montreal —and Nuuk is a much cheaper alternative for a European fling.
For Angela Coulombe, who jumped on an Air Greenland seat sale from Iqaluit, Nuuk is a peek into what Iqaluit could become in the future, and she hopes Iqaluit can learn from Nuuk.
“I’d like to think this could be Iqaluit. Maybe in 20, or 50 years,” Coulombe said.
“It [has] an amazing European influence,” she said. “With the cultural comparison, social comparison, you get to talk to educated people to explain those differences.
“Where it’s similar, and where it’s different, and things that work here that maybe we could implement in Nunavut — [it] could really help Nunavut.”
Jumping on a local bus in Nuuk will reveal these differences: rolling hills covered with colourful houses and modern structures, including the University of Greenland, which looks in-itself like a small glacier tilting in one direction.
You can also see the port, with incoming cargo vessels and cruise ships, which dock year-round due to warmer ocean currents. And unlike Iqaluit, 12 buses are run by a local transportation company Nuup Bussii, which maintains six established loops.
They all, obviously, run on paved roads where there are also stoplights and pedestrian crosswalks.
Less permafrost also helps Nuuk build more structures directly onto bedrock, so stilts on buildings aren’t visible in the downtown core.
In the core, however, restaurants and bars flourish. Local draft beer, unheard of in Iqaluit, is brewed by Godthaab Bryghus and is delicious, but not cheap, ranging from $10 to $15 a pint.
And restaurants like Nipisa on the waterfront, with its five-course meals are expensive, but worth the money — it’s touted as the best restaurant in Greenland. The Katuaq cultural center right down town includes a theatre and an elegant café: the building features waving glass and wooden walls usually associated with Nordic city construction.
Modern buildings like this have been a long time coming for Nuuk.
An urbanization scheme started in Greenland after the Second World War, and in 1985, Greenland left what’s now known as the European Union to gain more control over the regulation of its fishing industry.
This also meant European nations could use Greenland’s waters to harvest fish, for a fee. Denmark also chips in with more than half a billion Canadian dollars worth of financial assistance per year.
From the 1980s onwards, infrastructure development has been on the rise. The result is that Nuuk is now many decades ahead of Iqaluit with paved roads, multi-storey buildings and pedestrian walkways — and even a brand-new $100-million shopping mall.
Even subtle European differences are dominant, such as two-pronged European electrical sockets, the use of the Danish kroner, and optional tipping in restaurants and bars.
The waterfront is roughly a 10-minute walk from any hotel in the city core and is filled with an array of statues by the shore — like that of Hans Egede, the Danish-Norwegian missionary who founded Godthåb, Nuuk’s former name.
The waterfront is also where the national museum holds its spooky, but world-famous, 15th century Qilakitsoq mummies.
Here, and in the art history museum, is where most of Nuuk’s Inuit culture is displayed.
The traditional way the Kalaallit people lived before and after European settlers arrived is shown in four heritage buildings packed with century old clothing, dolls, tools and boats, making the Iqaluit museum look like a post-office in comparison.
The fusion of Danish modernity and the traditional Kalaallit way of life finally meet at Nuuk’s country food market. Its designated store, called Kalaaliaraq, sells country meat — but not under a tent like Iqaluit’s country food market.
It’s located downtown, with a set price list, and handles everything from whale to seal meat.
With more investment in oil and mining industry set to boom in 2013, Nuuk looks set to become even more developed and modern in the future.
Social issues such as a lack of housing, a high rate of addictions and problems with access to adequate healthcare and education — not unlike Iqaluit — are expected to be addressed through oil and mining investments, as $4-million of Greenland’s 2011 $8-million surplus is going into student homes and health care.
“We’ve got a bright future because oil and minerals and mines,” said Per Steen Larsen, chief executive officer of Greenland’s largest privately owned company, Pisiffik. “And there’s so many possibilities because of the nature and the rich underground.”
He has one message for Nunavummiut: “Come over here. We’d like to see you.”
David Murphy recently visited Nuuk as a guest of Air Greenland.