The hotel's five igloos are beyond the place where I stayed, down a long boardwalk, past the sled dogs, near the shoreline. Made of shiny silver aluminum and looking like space pods, they are so hip that Prince Albert II of Monaco and singer Bjork have stayed in them. But they're used only from May to September.
And I do have to mention the food. The restaurants here serve Greenlandic specialties, and I had fresh halibut three times and a very fine lamb soup. No complaints. I also enjoyed a walking tour of Ilulissat with a local guide who pointed out all the sights, plus the fitness studio where she takes Zumba classes.
You may notice I have not yet mentioned global warming, which has been the major theme of every hand-wringing travel story about Greenland in the last few years. In my defense, let's just say that it is hard to whip up a lot of interest in the topic when you're wearing five layers of clothes, the temperature falls to minus 19 degrees Fahrenheit and you're freezing your eyebrows off.
And what about the northern lights? Well, I did go outside on two clear nights to look for the aurora borealis, which can easily be seen from September to April here in Ilulissat, 180 miles above the Arctic Circle. You just look north past the sled dogs and silver igloos, and there you are. But nature had other plans, for a full moon was hanging up above, shining like a winter midnight sun, blocking any other solar shows.
OK. So I stood outside in the sharp cold, listening to my jagged breath, wiggling my toes, hoping for a flash of green. Then I thought of my dad, who died last fall. I bet he'd have loved this place. I waved at the sky.
6 ILULISSAT SIGHTS
Besides the famed icebergs of Ilulissat, you'll notice:
-No trees! The land is bedrock and ice. In summer, you'll see wildflowers, sedges and small bushes.
-Lots of cars and taxis - but not a single road out of town.
-Traffic warning signs for sled crossings. Monument and a museum honoring Knud Rasmussen, a Danish-Inuit native son and famed polar explorer.
-Small wooden boats breaking through ice on Disko Bay. These old Danish boats seem to be able to function well in the harsh conditions when more modern boats would crack.
-An Arctic cemetery near the airport, where everything is white, even the crosses
-Lots of sealskin. With seal hunting banned in the United States since 1971 (except for Alaska native people), this is unfamiliar to most Americans. Greenland allows traditional subsistence seal hunting. The warm parka and leggings you're given for dogsled rides are sealskin. The seats at the airport are upholstered with sealskin. The hotel has sealskin lobby decorations. Shops sell sealskin purses and hats. The U.S. prohibits their import, so don't buy seal souvenirs.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: There's a small window - mid-February to April - when you can visit Ilulissat in winter. Air service is spotty or nonexistent in the coldest parts of the year. I flew five hours on Icelandair from Boston to Reykjavik, Iceland, then transferred to the city airport, then flew three hours in an Air Iceland Dash eight-propeller plane to Ilulissat.
Icelandair flies between seven U.S. cities and Reykjavik (( http://www.icelandair.com ).
THE TRIP: I traveled alone on a "Winter Madness" tour arranged by Great Canadian Travel. It included three nights in Ilulissat, three nights in Reykjavik, hotels, transfers and flights between Iceland and Greenland. Including the flight from Boston, the total cost was $3,376 plus a few hundred dollars for food and tours. The company also offers many trips and cruises in summer to Greenland (( http://www.greatcanadiantravel.com, 800-661-3830).
OTHER WAYS TO GREENLAND:
Continental Journeys offers winter and summer trips, including "The Best of Ilulissat in Winter" and a three-day dogsled trip (( http://www.continentaljourneys.com, 800-601-4343).
5 Stars of Scandinavia offers winter and summer trips, including "Winter Image of Ilulissat" (( http://www.5stars-scandinavia.com, 800-722-4126).
Adventure Life offers small cruises of Arctic Canada and Greenland (( http://www.adventure-life.com, 800-344-6118).
You also could book your own airfare and hotels and go on your own. For more on planning a trip to Greenland, see http://www.greenland.com and http://www.ilulissaticefjord.com
PACKING: Good winter gear is a must. You'll need snow pants, a parka, ski gloves, hand warmers and especially a balaclava that can cover your face in extreme cold.
Ellen Creager: email@example.com