To a certain extend, it started in Paris in 1992. I was flying home from a project meeting there. As the plane rolled along the taxiway and was about to enter the runway, the pilot announced that we normally would be next for take-off, put that a Concorde was about to fly to New York and Concorde flights had priority, so we had to wait for the Concorde to leave and that this would be a rare chance to see a Concorde start up close. I had a window seat which happened to be on the left side of the plane, so I had a good view of the starting Concorde. It was quite impressive and I thought "I'd really like to sit in there one day."
In 1994 I was going for a conference in the US. Although the conference was in Los Angeles, I considered flying first to New York on a Concorde and then with a domestic flight to Los Angeles. That was the first time I actually inquired about the price of a ticket and I was surprised how expensive it is to fly Concorde. The price (about $6000) was way out of my financial league and about three times the amount I was paying for my entire conference / vacation trip. So I buried the dream and assumed that I'd never fly in a Concorde.
Until the following year.
In 1995 I was in London for the BBC Proms and preparing for the "Last Night of the Proms" includes standing in a queue and waiting for extended periods of time. Which is partly passed by reading newspapers. And in the travel supplement of one of the newspapers (possibly "The Times", but I'm not sure about that) was an advertisement for a company that offered Concorde flights. So I wrote to them and asked for their brochure. Beside "lunchtime flights", flights to New York (with return trip on the QE2) and day tours to the Monaco Grand Prix, they offered a three day trip to Greenland with the return flight being on a Concorde. This was only the second time that they had offered the Greenland trip and the first time that they would fly Concorde to Greenland itself (the first time had a 'normal' flight between Greenland and Iceland and the Concorde landing only in Iceland). Given that I wanted to fly Concorde and I like cold climates anyway and I had never been to Greenland and that the whole vacation did cost about half the price of a one-way regular Concorde flight to New York, the decision was obvious: My next vacation would be to Greenland, returning on a Concorde.
So on June, 2nd, 1996 I was on an Icelandair flight from London to Keflavik Airport, Iceland. The plane arrived about 15 minutes before midnight and there was about half an hour wait to the airport. Keflavik Airport is a rather nice airport to hang around in, since in some aspects, it feels more like an art gallery which just happens to have a runway outside than an airport. And while almost all of Iceland is too far south to have a 'real' midnight sun, it doesn't get really dark either, so there was not only a good view of the glass window at the airport and the sculptures outside the airport, but also some great views flying in along the coast of Iceland, which looked interesting and unique, which caused further travel plans. ("One day I'll go to Iceland for a vacation." It took me another four years before I really got there, but I finally made it.)
Shortly past midnight we went back on the plane and continued to Greenland.
The first night in Greenland was in Kangerlussuaq, which is about as 'middle of nowhere' as you can get while still being in Europe. Kangerlussuaq used to be mostly an refuelling station during the cold war and thus, on first sight, seems to consist of a landing strip and an airport building. Which is quite sufficient, since the terminal building just happens to be the only hotel around, so you more or less go directly from the plane to your room. (There are a couple of additional buildings about a mile away, after all it used to be a functioning airbase, so there are such important commodities as an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley and a golf course, but that gives the place even more of a 'lost world' kind of feel.)
The next morning we were northbound for Ilulissat. There were two hotels available there and I got a room at the Hotel Arctic. Ilulissat is on one side of a small bay and the Hotel Arctic is located on the other side, so it has a nice view across the bay towards the icebergs and toward Ilulissat. [The other hotel was the Hvide Falk (White Falcon), which is directly in the village.]
There was some time off in the afternoon, so I walked around and looked at the icebergs floating in the Atlantic.
Ilulissat is located on land tongue, with the small bay (more like an inlet) on one side, but a much larger bay, the "Ice Fjord", on the other side. The Ice Fjord is the most interesting area near Ilulissat, since that is where the icebergs come from. At the end of the fjord is a large glacier, which pushes forward roughly 70 feet per day. The tongue of the glacier is pushed into the bay, where the front of the ice breaks off and becomes icebergs. Near the glacier edge, the icebergs are close together, especially since the bay isn't that deep and the icebergs still scrape over the ground, while being pushed by the other ice coming behind them, until they get out of the bay and into the Atlantic Ocean.
So in the evening there was a guided walk across the land tongue of Ilulissat to the outlet of the Ice Fjord to see the huge icebergs drifting into the ocean.
The fjord itself is rather long (about 30 miles), so it's not possible to see the glacier edge from the area around Ilulissat (at least not during a short evening walk). So the second day started with a helicopter flight over the icebergs and the glacier to a landing site close to the side of the glacier.
That helicopter flight had one of the least comforting pre-flight announcements I've ever heard and it was roughly along these lines: "I need to inform you that there are life jackets under your seat in case of an emergency on water. But frankly, don't bother. The only other helicopter around is the one flying in front of us, which couldn't pick you up, since it's fully loaded and, given the water temperature, you'll be well dead of hypothermia until the helicopter is back or a ship can reach you. So you might as well forget about the life jackets and just drown. Have a nice flight."
In the afternoon there was a short tour of Ilulissat, which consisted mostly of playing with the sledgedog puppies and visiting the little church near coastline and the local museum, which previously was the home of the local hero of Ilulissat, the Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen (who, at least according to his bust outside the museum, looked somewhat like Jackson Browne).
In the evening it was time for the Midnight Sun Cruise, which was a three hour ship tour between the icebergs in the Ice Fjord.
While it was rather cloudy on the first day and only a few glimpses of sun were visible during the morning and afternoon, the clouds had mostly departed for the evening, so it was really a cruise in the midnight sun and the icebergs just looked amazing.
The next day was already the last day of the tour and it was time to fly back to Kangerlussuaq in the morning. The Concorde, coming in from London and bringing the next group of tourists (which were doing the reverse tour I was doing, i.e. coming in with a Concorde flight and flying back with a regular flight), was already at the airport. But first it was time for a little sightseeing tour of the area around Kangerlussuaq and a (much too short) view of the local musk oxen.
After a barbeque by the lake (next to the former officers club of the airbase), it was time to fly Concorde. After a short photo opportunity on the taxiway it was time to board the plane. [While I was standing around, one of the locals asked me whether there was any serious problem, since he assumed, logically, but fortunately inaccurately, that this was the regular Concorde going New York - London and that it had landed due to some kind of technical problem.] The start was as impressive as I thought it would be when I saw a Concorde start in Paris four years earlier. And I was flying back to London on the first Concorde flight ever out of Kangerlussuaq.
Back to other travels