The Vikings Conquer Qaqortoq, Greenland

Welcome to Qaqortoq! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“The difficult is what takes time. The impossible is what takes a little longer.”

-Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer.

Viking Cruises’ Viking Star was greeted by brilliant sunshine and unseasonably-warm temperatures when she dropped anchor off Qaqortoq, Greenland early this morning. Glistening in the amber-tinted hues of dawn, she lowered her tenders just after 7:00 am, and guests were heading ashore by 7:25 am.

Viking Star, at anchor off Qaqortoq, with tender service in progress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star, at anchor off Qaqortoq, with tender service in progress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Before we talk about Qaqortoq, a note on Viking’s tender operations. Viking’s lifeboat tenders are as advanced as they come, and are substantially more spacious and elaborate than other tenders I’ve been on. They also have sliding transparent “glass” doors on either entryway for great views, but also shelter from the elements.
Alongside, guests embark tenders from Tender Deck A, which is accessed from the aft elevator bank. Rather than climbing down a rickety ladder or stepping onto a flip-out metal pontoon with low shell door clearance, guests walk down a gently sloping ramp that has them level with the exact deck height on the tender. The tenders come flush alongside the ship, which reduces the risk of guests accidentally falling off of the more traditional tender platforms.

Viking Star's tenders arrive pierside in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star’s tenders arrive pierside in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Once in the tenders (which even have TV screens highlighting the acceptable tender rules and regulations), it was an easy five-minute ride across the bay to Qaqortoq, where a morning of self-guided exploration awaited us.
The most populous town in Southern Greenland, Qaqortoq has over 3,000 full-time inhabitants – over double the size of Nanortalik, which we called on yesterday. It’s also more prosperous: buildings aren’t in the same state of disrepair, and income-generating industries like fishing, shipping, and tourism are evident. There is also a larger presence of people from Denmark living in the city, presumably there on overseas business.

Qaqortoq is a rather hilly settlement. It wouldn't take too long to get in shape here! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Qaqortoq is a rather hilly settlement. It wouldn’t take too long to get in shape here! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Even here in Greenland, there is beauty. It just takes on many different forms. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Even here in Greenland, there is beauty. It just takes on many different forms. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

While Qaqortoq lacks the otherworldly charm of Nanortalik, it also doesn’t feel as isolated and cut-off from the modern world as the latter does. In Qaqortoq, local shops opened to welcome visitors from the Viking Star, while high school kids were put on assignment to roam the town and practice their English with disembarking passengers. For most of these teenagers, English is their third language, after Greenlandic and Danish.
Like yesterday, our explorations in Qaqortoq were entirely self-directed. And like yesterday, it left me with the impression that Viking would do well to offer an expedition-style cruise product that visits more remote destinations like this. Being able to tour around, independently, and still soak in the history and culture of this place has been a wonderful treat.

At the edge of town, civilization disappears...and the remote wilderness of Greenland takes over. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At the edge of town, civilization disappears…and the remote wilderness of Greenland takes over. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Qaqortoq harbour is a busy place indeed, with fishing vessels and cargo ships coming in and out. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Qaqortoq harbour is a busy place indeed, with fishing vessels and cargo ships coming in and out. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Judging by this building, I'd say there's a sense of humor here... Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Judging by this building, I’d say there’s a sense of humor here… Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Qaqortoq is a rather hilly settlement. It wouldn't take too long to get in shape here! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Qaqortoq is a rather hilly settlement. It wouldn’t take too long to get in shape here! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

It’s also time for me to mention how well-planned this itinerary is. This is the first time that Viking Star has called on Greenland, or any of these ports of call. While some crew members have been to these ports before on contracts with other lines, many have not. And, certainly, this crew hasn’t all worked together as a team in these ports before.
What’s remarkable is how well-prepared everything seems. Our lifeboat tenders were lowered yesterday and went to scout the location of the floating dock in town, and to set up Viking’s tent, banners, and bottled water (complimentary) coolers. Tender operations then began smoothly, and on-time. Viking crewmembers were stationed throughout town, ready to help with directions or questions; remarkable considering that these crew members may have never set foot in this place either.

Guests and locals alike enjoy coffee...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Guests and locals alike enjoy coffee…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and conversation. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and conversation. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Schoolchildren being led down the city's streets. High school students were positioned throughout town to answer guests' questions. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Schoolchildren being led down the city’s streets. High school students were positioned throughout town to answer guests’ questions. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The reason I mention this is that I’ve been on voyages that have been “firsts” for some cruise lines, and more than a few have been total disasters in terms of planning and coordination. This isn’t like that at all. I don’t know if Viking sent team members to scout these locations in advance, but someone has clearly done their homework. The crew aboard Viking Star made it look like they call on Qaqortoq every day.
Even better, our departure time was pushed back to 3:00 pm to give guests extra time to roam around the city and enjoy what was a warm, sunny, and wholly unseasonable day in Qaqortoq.

The Viking Invasion! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Viking Invasion! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Nearby, fishermen bring in the catch. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Nearby, fishermen bring in the catch. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Boats are as ubiquitous outside houses as cars. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Boats are as ubiquitous outside houses as cars. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Once all guests were back onboard, Vik

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