During our 5 hour layover in Narsarsuaq, Frank arranged for Blue Ice Tours to take on a fast boat to see the Norse ruins across the fjord. Unlike Hvalsey, these ruins had actually been painstakingly reconstructed recently, and featured a guided tour inside the rebuilt home of Erik the Red and Tjodhilde's Church. The tiny church was the first church built in North America, by Erik for his wife, Tjodhilde after her conversion to Christinity. It was the first Christian church built in North America, in the year 1000. The church was reconstructed 1,000 years later in the current town of Qassiaruk, on the shores of the same fjord where Erik and Tjodhilde lived.
We arrived in Narsarsuaq after a short helicopter ride and walked outside expecting to be met by someone from the tour company. We saw a couple of guides unloading a van, and asked them about it. They didn't know about our tour, but offered us a ride to the office, which was 100 meters away. In case you're not familiar with the metric system, 100 meters is about half a block, but we weren't sure which building they meant, so we took them up on the offer for a ride.
Inside the office, Frank met with Jacky, the fellow he had been e-mailing for several months about the tour. Jacky told us that he would take us to the boat. He drove us about a mile down the road to the dock, where there were a number of small fishing boats and powerboats tied up. He spoke to the boat captain, and waved as we got on. I had thought he was going with us. We set off in small white speedboat across the blue green water for a 5 minute ride to the other side. The captain dropped us off, and asked when we would return. Frank told him we had two hours, and he looked a little confused. "Ok, maybe Jacky will get you."
I got a little nervous about this, since it was not clear if this fellow had any intention of taking us back, or we would have to swim across. I was pretty sure we would freeze to death within about 10 feet of the shore, so this was not a good plan. I noticed a number of boats passing back and forth, and figured if nothing else, we could pay someone to take us across before our flight to Nuuk departed. I made a mental note not to spend my cash, just in case we needed money to bribe someone.
We saw a sign pointing down a long dirt road toward "Tjohilde's Church" and the "Cafe Brattahlid". Frank thought we could have lunch at the cafe. The road was covered with red dirt, similar to the red dirt in Hawaii. This was the first time we had seen this kind of dirt. I started calling it the "Erik the Red Dirt" as it started covering our shoes and pants legs. Alex particularly enjoyed kicking up a red dirt cloud as we walked along.
Along the way, we passed the Leif Erikson Hostel, a long rectangular yellow building that looked like a triple-wide trailer with a number of bright orange kayaks in front. I thought of it as the "Leif Erikson Memorial Trailer," conveniently located near the Leif Erikson Memorial Statue, and down the hill from the Erik the Red Memorial Statue.
Leif Erikson was the son of Erik the Red, and was called "Leif the Lucky" by the Vikings. According to the Icelandic sagas, Erik the Red had been banished from his colony in Iceland in 987, and set out across the sea to find a new place to live. He happened on this fjord, and settled down with his wife and children, and a few others. When his banishment was over, he went back to Iceland to recruit other settlers to come to Greenland. Supposedly, he named it "Greenland" as a ruse to convince others to join him, since most of Greenland is actually covered with ice and snow. Looking out over the verdant pastures as we walked this road, we could see why he would call it "Greenland" and actually mean it. This fjord, Erik claimed for himself and actually lived here.
Erik's son Leif, was also an explorer. He had heard a story from a man name Bjarni of fantastic lands to the west. When Leif came of age, he set out with a small group to find these lands, and discovered "Markland" (Labrador) and "Vinland" (Newfoundland). His small group settle in Vinland, but didn't last long due to hostility between the Norse and the natives. Leif eventually returned to Greenland and his story was written down in one of the Norse sagas. He also brought the Christian faith to Greenland from Norway, and his mother, Tjohilde, was an early convert.
We walked about a mile down the Eric the Red dirt road, past farmhouses, barns, and various statues and pieces of art commemorating the Viking settlers and this little town's place in history. There were sheep grazing on the hillside, and a stone farmhouse that reminded me of Scotland. Alex got sidetracked by a rocky little stream running down to the sea and took a break to throw stones into the water to see what kind of splash he could make.
We stopped at a small red church and went inside, thinking it might be Tjohilde's Church. It was not the church we were looking for, but the modern church used by the people of the town. Of course, I named this the "Erik the Red Church," because I'm corny like that. The church had a lovely, but simple interior, with lamps hanging from the ceiling. One of the lamps was in the shape of a ship. Alex was intrigued by the candelabra at the altar and wanted to know if it was a Menorah. Several of his school friends are Israeli, and he has often expressed an interest in becoming Jewish so we can have a Menorah and "eight whole days of Christmas." I've explained to him that it would be eight days of Hannukah, but he doesn't seem to get that part.
My son's lack of religious education aside, we spent a little time looking around the church. We noticed that across the road there was a large rectangular pit with a placard marking the spot where Tjohilde's Church had originally stood.
We kept walking and walked down a narrow path through some lush, tall grass past a few more farmhouses and toward the site of the rebuilt home of Erik the Red and Tjohilde's Church. Outside the church is a short stone fence with straw on the top. In front, is a small wooden arch with a brass bell. The church was a tiny little building, with a turf roof and wooden door in front. It looked like a very elaborat child's playhouse. We tried the door, but it was locked, and we were disappointed not to get to see inside. A small placard outsided indicated that there was a guided tour at 10:30, and it was 10:30, but there was no guide anywhere to be found.
Across the path was the house, which looked like a wooden door pushing out of
a hillside. The house was covered in turf, so it seemed to blend into the surroundings organically. I half expected Bilbo Baggins to peek out of the door, since it looked so much like a Hobbit house. The door was locked, so we couldn't peek inside, and since there were no windows, we didn't know if this was just a shell or if there was anything to see inside. We thought maybe they just stuck a door and a chimney on a hill, just so you would get the idea of what the house looked like.
We decided to head down the road to the Cafe Brattahlid for a bite to eat. As we were walking down, we saw a woman in a long, white wool tunic approach. She waved and called out, "Are you here for the tour?"
We told her yes, that we would like the tour. She apologized profusely for being late, and started to lead us back to the tiny church. Alex suddenly was beset by a nosebleed, and was dripping blood on the ground. Frank asked for tissues, but I had left my backpack at the Blue Ice office, and had nothing but my camera and wallet with me. The woman said, "There is a restroom in the cafe, near the door!"
Alex started running toward toward the Cafe, and Frank trotted along behind him. I sat down with the woman on the stone wall surrounding the church and exchanged pleasantries. She told me that her name was Inga, that she was originally from Iceland, and that she works here in the summer. She runs the cafe and the tours during the tourist season, and goes home to Denmark during the winter. She seemed to enjoy her work tremendously.