Sunday, March 19, 2023

Michelin Stars in Greenland

Trip date: July 2022

Even though I had wanted to go to Greenland for a long time, this trip really came about because of a pop-up! The Faroese restaurant KOKS, which I had had the pleasure of dining at with my friend Aaron, decided to move to the beautiful Ilimanaq Lodge in Greenland while their new restaurant in Tórshavn is being built. When I saw this on Instagram I immediately texted my friend Forest in Paris and asked if she wanted to meet for dinner in Greenland!

I'll say right off the bat that this was not an easy reservation to book! Ilimanaq is a tiny village only accessible by boat (or sled dog in the winter) with no other places to stay besides the lodge. There are only 30 seats per night and there are also only 15 cabins. It was like piecing together a puzzle to get the dinner and cabin booked, the flights into Greenland, since they don't go every day, and the transfer boat to take us from Ilulissat to Ilimanaq. Similarly to when I went to the glorious Hayman Island, this transfer cost 600 DKK each way/ each person. And it wasn't fancy like the yacht in Australia! So just to get there and back was $170. 

This season it looks like the cabin, dinner, and boat transfers are all included for 8,700 DKK per person.

The boat transfer is generally 30 minutes but as it goes right thru the ice flow from the Ilulissat Icefjord it can take up to 2 hours if the ice is heavy. It was a spectacular ride, and loud! You could hear the smaller ice hitting the hull of the boat as we zoomed past large icebergs.

There was one other couple on our boat and it turned out they were from the same arrondissement in Paris as Forest. Small world indeed!

Luckily we took the advice given by the lodge to only bring an overnight bag, as the transfer boat was small and getting on and off it was a scramble. We had left our suitcases at the Hotel Icefiord and arranged for the Hotel Arctic to pick them up as that is where we would be headed upon our return. 

We arrived at the tiny settlement village, greeted by the lodge staff, and made our way to the check-in building which is one of the oldest buildings in town; originally built in the 1700s by the colony founder Paul Egede. Inside it is now quite hygge!

Once checked in we made our way to Bungalow #9 via a boardwalk. WOW! Each of the 15 A-frames sits on the edge of a cliff and has full ocean views. Ours was a standard cabin so we were in the inlet, the superior one's look straight out.

We walked onto the large deck, outfitted with sealskin lounge chairs, and entered the very Danish designed living room. So pretty! Upstairs there were two beds looking out to the sea (and no blinds! LOL!) The lodge was built in 2017 with sustainability in mind; all of the cabins have solar panels for power and the lodge uses an electric cart to transfer luggage.

The weather was just glorious, and we had bought a cold bottle of white wine from reception, so we spent the time before dinner sitting on our deck, enjoying the sun and watching the icebergs drift by. It wasn't long before we spotted a whale and her baby! We must have watched them for 30+ minutes, it was sooooo great!

When it was time for dinner we walked the short way back to where reception was. KOKS was housed in the other oldest building, this one originally the home of settler Egede. Head chef Poul Andrias Ziska and his team greeted us as we walked in which was very fun!

We were seated in a very pretty little room with just 3 other tables. The other rooms of the house had the other diners. The sun was streaming in and we were all just steps from the ocean and the icebergs drifting by. Magical!

We chose to have the wine pairings with our 20-dish dinner, which was an additional 3,200 DKK total; there is also a juice tasting available. They started us off with a lovely champagne to accompany a trio of 1-bite starters: mattak (whale blubber) wrapped in a "taco" of wild greens, seal blood tartelette with mussel and seaweed, and this gorgeous Greenlandic halibut with horseradish and dill.

As I had eaten at KOKS before, I knew that they serve hyper-local ingredients. And since we had already spent 3 days exploring Greenland, we knew that very little grows here so we weren't surprised by the use of whale and seal. But obviously that might not be for everyone. From the KOKS website "due to our geographical location in the North Atlantic, we do not have access to a broad variety of vegetables for a good part of the year. Therefore, it is not possible for us to create a vegetarian or vegan tasting menu."

All the dishes were small, most just a bite or two, which is perfect for me. There were a handful of lovely seafood dishes using shrimp, scallops, snow crab, and salmon. This scallop and caviar dish was wonderful!

After the seafood dishes we had a series of land proteins including muskox, reindeer, and ptarmigan which is a type of cold region grouse. The presentation was a bit shocking but the meat was delicious!

Special knives, inlaid with mother of pearl images of whaling boats, were brought out for our bowhead whale course. The meat surprised me by being very gamey, not what I expected. It wasn't my favorite.

We took a little break before dessert and stepped outside for some fresh air. And of course full sunshine at 10:45pm!

Dessert consisted of 4 small bites, all very unique both in presentation and ingredients. Limpet (small sea snails) made into a sweet cream and served in their shells, looked and tasted a bit like caramel. Fermented garlic fudge, was indeed fudgy! The roasted bladderwrack cake was the only thing I actively disliked from the entire meal, it's a type of algae. And the stone bramble and blood meringues seemed too pretty (and delicious) to be made of blood!

We also had some lovely Calvados after, so not everything was local!

It was a super unique meal and did not feel gimmicky but more an education about the ingredients and then elevated as you would expect at any Michelin starred restaurant. I am super happy to have been able to experience KOKS in both the Faroe Islands and in Greenland. 

We headed back to our cabin just before midnight and spotted the whales again! We stayed up way too late watching them and having a nightcap. And also it is very hard to go to bed when the sun is up!

The next morning we caught the tail end of breakfast in another of the lodge's buildings and then went on a settlement walk (an additional charge). Our guide was probably about 20 and was born and raised in the village. There are only 50 people who call Ilimanaq home and the new tourism that the lodge brings was directly responsible for him having this job. His friend was from another area of Greenland but was there training to be a guide also. 

It was a great little walk and interesting to learn a bit about the village. We learned that Ilimanaq was once a major fish processing center but the company moved to a larger city where they had access to more employees. Since towns are only accessible by boat or dogsled, no one could commute so most people were sadly out of work. 

There is a post office and grocery store but in the winter supplies get very low so people will trade things out of their own pantry. 

Our guide's grandmother was the pastor of the tiny village church until she passed, he was very proud of her and pointed out her house as well as his. 
After our walk we had lunch back at the lodge's main room, which is available as an add-on. We were very disappointed in this! 2 types of dried whale, 2 types of dried halibut, and dried reindeer. Basically a meal of jerky. 

I saw 2 women at the next table having lovely shrimp smorrebrod and figured that we had the appetizer and that the shrimp was the main. But when I asked our waitress she let me know that the shrimp was the vegetarian option! 🤯

When we went to board the transfer boat back to Ilulissat I noticed our captain on his knees on the dock reaching into the water and asked what he was doing. He told me he was getting dinner for the night and pointed to a bucket that had sea urchin he had harvested right from the dock!

Our trip back was just as gorgeous as the ride out there. The icebergs are just so amazing!

It was such an amazing overnight experience at Ilimanaq. It's expensive for sure but I'm so happy that I had a chance to go! Like nothing I've ever experienced before. KOKS is doing service there for 2023 also so if you are interested you can check into the booking here. I also had friends randomly in Greenland a few weeks after I was there and they were able to book just dinner and had a transfer boat back the same night.

Pro tip: Ilimanaq Lodge is proudly wifi-free so this is not the place for your remote work trip!

All photos of Ilimanaq here

Other posts from this trip:

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland

Trip date: July 2022

I met my friend Forest in the Reykjavik airport as she had just flown in from Paris. We sat and had a few drinks and a snack before boarding our flight to Ilulissat, Greenland. I knew Air Iceland Connect was a regional carrier, under the parent of Icelandair, but I didn't realize the plane would be a tiny prop plane! I'm such a nervous flyer anyway, and when I saw there were just 10 rows, I asked the flight attendant if we were all going to fit!

Luckily we all did, barely! Our seats were in row 9, so truly the back of the bus. There was actually a beverage service and the flight attendant handed out decent pretzel sandwiches. Luckily I was distracted by the gorgeous scenery on the 3 hour flight.

I was soooo excited to be going to Greenland, I'd wanted to go for a very long time and even had booked a trip years ago that I had to cancel. It wasn't a new country for me (Greenland is owned by Denmark) but Ilulissat is known as "the city of icebergs" and is 180 miles north of the arctic circle which is the farthest north I've been (before that I had visited Akaslompolo which is 110 miles north). I was also excited to experience true Midnight Sun. I'd been to Iceland and Sweden in the summer before, where the sun didn't set until 2 or 3am, but in Ilulissat the sun does not set at all from May 20th to July 20th! No sunrise, no sunset.

We landed at the tiny airport on the world's largest island, watched while a tractor loaded up our luggage, and met our shuttle driver from the Hotel Icefiord for our ride into town. We had rented an apartment from the hotel but still had to check in there first. No worries as we grabbed a glass of wine and sat outside on their terrace for our first views of Greenland... it was spectacular!

When we were ready to go to our apartment we asked for some ice and they told us it was from the icebergs! The drive to our apartment was a bit further then we had expected, it was over by the Hotel Arctic, and we were surprised by the shared kitchen and how sparse our room was. But we had a big terrace overlooking Disko Bay & the Jakobshavn glacier, the makings for martinis, and plenty of snacks. We were happy campers!
The next morning we walked about 30 minutes into town, past the main marina, on the side of the road.
The town of Ilulissat is the place you go for icebergs, in fact that is what the name means. This is the town where Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen was born. It's a small town, with just 4,500 people and about 2,500 sled dogs. Greenland doesn't have any roads connecting the towns so you go by dogsled in the winter or boat in the summer. 

We made our way out to the old power plant and picked up the Yellow Route hiking trail. The setting is just so gorgeous! I could not get over how clear the water was; how you could get a glimpse of how deep these icebergs went. And as we followed the trail around a curve, we could not believe how face-to-face we were with the Jakobshavn glacier!

You may be familiar with this glacier without even knowing it as it was the source of the iceberg that sank the Titanic. But that was just the most famous berg, around 4 billion tons of ice come off this glacier! The glacier is about 40 miles long and when cracks form, or pieces cleave, the sounds that come from it are amazing!

It was interesting to get a close look at the groundscape as well. It's really just rock, no soil, and some lichen/moss and tiny wildflowers. Since there isn't any soil, water just sits on the rocks attracting mosquitos the size of bumblebees. They are no joke and I highly recommend packing a head net!

This lack of soil was even more interesting when we came upon the cemetery. We learned later that the deceased are wrapped as mummies and then are covered with rocks. 

We followed the Yellow Route all the way around where it met up with the Blue Trail and then proceeded back into town, it was about 6 miles total.

Another day we hiked part of the Blue Route to Sermermiut. This is a much shorter and much easier trail as most of it is a boardwalk that starts near the heliport and the Isfjord Center. On the outskirts of town, before arriving at the trail, we passed what we had started referring to as "dog town" as all of the sled dogs in town were kenneled here. 

It's a little unnerving at first; dogs everywhere, most barking, some sleeping, but mainly just out in the elements. The Greenlandic Sled Dog aren't pets, they are working animals and similar to Icelandic horses, they are a specific breed and other dogs are not allowed in Greenland in order to keep the breed pure. 

On this day we saw a woman coming out of "dog town" and we said hello and asked if we could ask her some questions about the dogs. She was super nice and excitingly asked if we wanted to see her puppies. Uh, YES!
We followed her out to her kennels as she told us about her dogs. Turns out she is also a teacher in the town. The dogs went crazy when they saw her arriving back so soon; I'm sure they expected 2nd dinner! She called the momma dog out of her house and gave her some extra food to keep her busy while we held the fuzziest, cutest pups!
What an awesome experience that was! Pro tip- talk to strangers! 

Onto the trail we continued and within minutes the Jakobshavn Glacier was in clear view. It's such a spectacular sight!

The boardwalk is great as it keeps everyone off the tundra, the small shrubs doing all they can in the very short growing period that they have. This area is also the site of the Sermermiut archaeological site, an ancient Inuit settlement, which is protected only by people staying on the boarwalk.

The accessible trail ends at the base of a small hill. We climbed up over some rocks to this amazing lookout!

What a sight! And the sounds of the ice cracking! Amazing! We sat up there for a while just taking it all in; we were so lucky with the sun and warm weather. It was absolutely perfect.

If you are planning on hiking these routes in Ilulissat, I highly recommend doing the yellow first and then the blue. I think this order gives you the views in an "order" that you would most appreciate! We did this section as an out-and-back, but the Blue Route continues along for a couple miles as a loop if you want a longer hike. 

We made our way back to town and to the terrace of the Inuit Cafe. The smoked halibut sandwich and a local beer where both delicious! Halibut is about 80+% of Greenland's export income!

As we walked around town, we stopped into a very nice shop that was selling a lot of goods made of sealskin. As in many arctic regions, seal is still widely hunted in Greenland; there are said to be around 7 million seals found around the country. When seals are hunted (by rifle) every part of the seal is used. In fact the national dish of Greenland is Suaasat, a stew made from seal, and sealskin is the main source of income for many hunters. The skins make warm and almost waterproof clothing items.

When I was in the shop and asking about some of the products, a woman who was working asked if I was from the US and when I said yes, she let me know that sealskin was not allowed in the US. I thought that was really nice of her and not something that she had to do.

Another place we ate lunch at was Cafe Iluliaq, it's a popular place, being right in the center of town. We sat outside in the sun; I had a musk ox burger (an Arctic native animal) and a local beer. The burger was good but very gamey. The beer was delicious and also $15 for a pint! 

Greenland doesn't have a lot of overnight tourists yet, most people that visit are from the cruise ships. Not like Carnival cruises, more like posh NatGeo. In talking with some locals they mentioned that the cruise ships are actually detrimental to their economy as people don't really spend money on shore. Most overnight tourists tend to be Danish since it's easy for them to fly there and they have the financial means. Most of the seasonal workers are also Danish college students.  

The thing about being on an island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean is that the price of everything (if you can even get what you want) is very high. We went into a grocery store after lunch and it was quite interesting to see things like propane tanks mixed alongside milk.

There aren't a lot of places to eat and drink in Ilulissat in the evenings so one evening we decided to stay in, and dine al fresco on our balcony as the weather was incredible! Full sun at 8pm, full sun at 2am!

I had picked up these dried lamb instant meals in Reykjavik and they were tasty! Just add hot water and don your Viking cap!

We did have a lovely dinner at the Hotel Icefiord restaurant one evening. It started off rocky however as we had asked them to send a taxi to pick us up but it never arrived. After waiting for 1-hour while they unsuccessfully tried to find another, they finally picked us up themselves. It was frustrating but also interesting, being someplace that is just starting to be a tourist destination.

Our dinner was very good. They sent some lovely amuse of tapioca chips to start us off. I had a wonderful snow crab bisque and a reindeer filet. And we even had a cheese plate for dessert. 

And of course you couldn't beat the view at 11pm!

The next day after coming back from an overnight at the Ilimanaq Lodge (more on that later) we checked into the Hotel Arctic, described as the world's northernmost four-star hotel. Forest had booked us into The Puisi Junior Suite which is the nicest room at the hotel and has a living room area with huge windows and a full view of the glacier. It was a fantastic last stop on our trip; we'd be leaving the next day. 

This room was also the only that had proper curtains to block out the sunlight. I had heard that Greenlanders embrace the months of midnight sun since they have many months without it. I'm sure that more overnight tourism will result in more curtains but I was very happy to have a proper eye mask to sleep with!

We enjoyed some cocktails outside on the hotel's huge deck and then had a very good dinner at their casual spot Brassier Ulo. The snow crab and halibut were absolutely delicious! The hotel has a fine dining restaurant as well but it was closed when we were there for renovations I believe.  

After dinner we headed back to our room to finish our wine and stayed up way too late as the view was just so gorgeous and we didn't want this trip to end. In the morning we had a transfer to the airport via the hotel and waited for our flight in the tiny 2-gate airport.

Once onboard our flight attendant announced that we would be stopping to fuel up. Hu? Aren't we at an airport? No idea why, but we made a stop in the middle of Greenland for fuel. When the small plane landed, the captain got out and left the door open and the flight attendant directed us to all unbuckle our seatbelts until fueling had finished. That doesn't leave you with the safest feeling! I'm assuming that was all in case there was a fuel explosion and we needed to make a dash for it!

That refueling stop added over an hour to our flight time which made me late for my connecting flight out of Reykjavik. I won't review all the details of how that clusterfuck went, but suffice to say Icelandair held the plane for me and I ran through the airport in order to make it home. Pretty sure they only did that as I was Saga Class. 

All photos of Ilulissat Greenland here.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

First Stop, Iceland

Trip date: June 2022

Currently there are only two ways to reach Greenland; fly in from Copenhagen or fly in from Reykjavik. On my way there last summer I chose to use some points and fly Saga Class on Icelandair from Seattle to Reykjavik. 

I've had many very nice flights on Icelandair, especially when traveling in Saga Class. The only con is that the airline doesn't have layflat beds but if I'm getting off in Iceland it's a very comfortable ride. 

I had a snack and a glass of wine in the Saga Lounge at SeaTac, then settled in to 4F (and had an empty seat next to me!), did a little work using the free wifi you get in Saga Class, and enjoyed a really great happy hour followed by a delicious dinner. 7 ½ hours later we landed and I boarded the Flybus into Reykjavik. I always make reservations in advance so that I can just walk on but they have the buses lined up pretty well if you want to buy a ticket once on the ground.

I was booked in at the Marriott Ion City Hotel which was in the Hlemmur area, right on Laugavegur. This was my 4th trip to Reykjavik and I was staying in yet another new-to-me area. The main reason I booked this particular hotel is that I had a coveted reservation at Michelin-starred Ox Restaurant that evening, which was connected to the hotel. 

It was 11:30am when I arrived at the hotel and the front desk told me my room would be ready at 1:30pm. Great news as I was very much in need of a nap! I walked down Laugavegur and took myself to lunch at Messinn for a bowl of delicious lobster soup. It was excellent!

The Ion City hotel is very cute, nice modern design and the rooms are large by Europe standards (and only 16 of them). It is a little loud at night as it is right in the heart of the city, lots of bars and restaurants are close, but it wasn't too bad.

After my nap it was time to do a little happy hour crawl around town. First up was Jungle Cocktail Bar which more than a few people had recommended. 

It's a beautiful bar, and more importantly the drinks were fantastic! I had only planned on staying for one but the menu was so interesting and the bartenders so nice that I ended up having two. Highly recommend and during happy hour, from 4-6pm, drinks were only 1600 ISK instead of 2600 ISK!

My next stop was Kokteil Barinn, which is a full cocktail bar on its own, but I wanted to enjoy a glass of bubbles while sitting in their Champagne Train!
I had an absolutely gorgeous glass of 2015 Pol Roger Rosé for a fraction of the normal 3790 ISK since it was happy hour! And sitting in the vintage train car was very fun! I will absolutely come back here and try some cocktails in the main bar next time I'm in town. 

I walked down the block, back to my hotel, and checked in for my dinner at Ox. Hidden in the back of Sumac restaurant and behind a closed door, is the Michelin one-star restaurant. 11 seats are gathered around an open, old-fashioned looking kitchen and 3 chefs were busy preparing our 20-course dinner.

I had such a fantastic time here! My dinner mates were all super fun and interesting and the food was spectacular! The menu lists the dishes by ingredients such as salmon + spruce + sea urchin and then the chefs walked us through each dish, usually while plating it. 

Courses were paired with interesting wines, spirits, and juices and were hyper regional and seasonal. It felt like I was at a great dinner party with private chefs. I really loved it!

In the morning I packed my bags and left them at the front desk so I could enjoy my day in the city. I found the absolutely delicious Brod & Co just a few blocks down and bought a box of croissants and cardamom rolls to take to Greenland (I hadn't read about any bakeries in Ilulissat). One of the rolls even had licorice in it (Scandinavians love their licorice and I'm a big fan too!)

It was super sunny and warm out so I decided to take a long walk down to the waterfront. Strolling in Reykjavik is always interesting as the city is growing so much that there are always new things to see. And indeed parts of the town that I am pretty familiar with now have changed dramatically!

I did a big loop around the shipyard and marina and then made my way to the concert hall Harpa where I had lunch reservations at their newly opened restaurant Hnoss. They had a lovely 2-course lunch menu offering; I had a delicious lamb tartare smørrebrød and also a prawn salad one. I really only needed to order one of these but I couldn't decide between the two!

After lunch I stopped at Kaldi Bar and enjoyed a great gin & tonic outside on one of their picnic tables. The bartender joined me and while chatting I found out she was an actor and was in one of my favorite shows Vikings! A great way to finish up my quick Iceland visit!

What wasn't a great way to wrap up my visit was by realizing I had booked my Flybus for 3am instead of 3pm! After a frenzied call to the company I found out that there wasn't a scheduled bus for another 2 hours! I took a taxi to the main bus station and they graciously drove me in a shuttle to catch a bus on a different route that was headed to the airport. PHEW!

All Iceland photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

Michelin Stars in Greenland

Trip date: July 2022 Even though I had wanted to go to Greenland for a long time, this trip really came about because of a pop-up! The Faroe...

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