Af­ter a serene voy­age high­lighted by glaciers and whale sight­ings, Green­land’s cap­i­tal of Nuuk of­fers sur­pris­ingly civ­i­lized charms, Mike Peters dis­cov­ers.

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Some­body on this cruise ship has a gun. He didn’t sneak through the air­port-style se­cu­rity at the ship’s gang­plank when we boarded.

He’s part of the crew, a sort of game war­den who was on this Arc­tic cruise ship’s ear­lier leg, which passed through the po­lar-bear habi­tats of north­ern Nor­way.

His job in re­mote ports along the Arc­tic Cir­cle is both to pro­tect shore-go­ing pas­sen­gers from po­lar bears and vicev­ersa.

At this point of our cruise, which be­gan aboard the Sil­versea Ex­plorer at Reyk­javik, Ice­land, we have swept along Green­land’s south­ern coast, where the odds of see­ing a po­lar bear are very re­mote — es­pe­cially in sum­mer. The wildlife sight­ings that lure pas­sen­gers to the rails are less fear­some: whales, rein­deer and seals.

The ranger’s gun is be­hind the bar.

This morn­ing, af­ter sev­eral days of stops at tiny vil­lages and a Vik­ing ruin, we’ve landed at Green­land’s cap­i­tal, Nuuk. The pop­u­la­tion is 16,000; since there are only 53,000 peo­ple in the whole coun­try, it’s a big city.

Our guide in the city is named Sa­lik, but he re­ally wants us to think of him as an av­er­age Joe.

“Life for me is like that of a city dweller any­where,” he in­sists.

In many ways, this pic­turesque city it­self is ea­ger to be typ­i­cal of the mod­ern world. There are gro­cery stores, of­fices and cof­fee­houses. The fine­din­ing res­tau­rant, Sar­fa­lik, starts its set-menu din­ner with an amuse-bouche of foie gras with goose­berry and arugula leaf on a small lava rock.

How­ever, the hunter-gath­erer life of the na­tive com­mu­nity is never far be­low the sur­face.

“Seal meat is the most de­li­cious in the world,” Sa­lik is soon telling us.

He knows that the tour group, mostly white, re­tired Euro­pean­swhoare civ­i­lized to a high sense of right­eous­ness, may not be sym­pa­thetic to the idea of eat­ing or wear­ing seal.

“We only kill what we need to eat,” he says, not­ing that there are 3 mil­lion seals in Green­land waters. “Stud­ies show that the pop­u­la­tion would be sus­tain­able if we hunted 1 mil­lion per year, but 200,000 is enough for our needs.”

He doesn’t wear seal him­self —“most peo­ple here don’t”, he says, though the hides of an­i­mals hunted for food are never wasted.

Pro­mot­ing the fur cul­ture is sen­si­tive: Seal fur is banned in most of Europe and the Amer­i­cas— to dis­cour­age un­sus­tain­able lev­els of hunt­ing and the slaugh­ter of seal pups — though the oh-so-soft fur is a luxe item in­many parts ofAsia.

Videos of bloody hunts stirred global out­rage decades ago— and Sa­lik is one of­many Green­lan­ders in the cap­i­tal ea­ger to as­sure us that such hunts are not only sus­tain­able but a key part of the indige­nous cul­ture.

There is, in fact, lit­tle else to eat on this vast re­mote is­land, which is why lo­cals are so fond of the taste of seal, which out­siders usu­ally find some­where be­tween bland and slightly un­pleas­ant.

“We also hunt rein­deer in a sus­tain­able way,” Sa­lik says.

In fact, lo­cal of­fi­cials say, the rein­deer pop­u­la­tion is too big, pos­ing a threat to the lim­ited veg­e­ta­tion on the is­land.

The fish­ing in­dus­try dom­i­nates busi­ness here, and the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is well-re­spected, in­clud­ing vo­ca­tional train­ing for ships’ of­fi­cers. There is a 10-year wait­ing list for hous­ing — per­haps one rea­son go­ing to sea is at­trac­tive.

A for­mer Dan­ish colony, Den­mark granted home rule to the huge is­land in 1979.

In 2008, Green­land vot­ers ap­proved the Self-Gov­ern­ment Act, which trans­ferred more power from Copen­hagen toNuuk, though the coun­try re­mains fi­nan­cially de­pen­dent on Den­mark. About 10 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion is Dan­ish — a bit higher in Nuuk, where many young Danes come af­ter univer­sity for a year or two.

Hav­ing ar­rived by cruise ship, weare par­tic­u­larly aware of Nuuk’s ge­og­ra­phy.

The world’s north­ern­most cap­i­tal — best­ing Rek­javyk, Ice­land, by a fewk­ilo­me­ters— Nuuk is perched on the south­west­ern coast of Green­land, about 10 km from the Labrador Sea and 240 km south of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. Po­lar bears are un­likely vis­i­tors, though ev­ery­body has a story about see­ing one.

For tourists, there is plenty to see.

Lonely Planet has de­clared Green­land to be one of the top 10 des­ti­na­tions for 2016, and Nuuk is a ma­jor rea­son: “The heart of a na­tion, Green­land’s largest city and cap­i­tal is fu­eled on fresh air, strong cof­fee and di­verse per­son­al­i­ties.”

Must-sees in­clude the­mum­mies at the Green­land Na­tional Mu­seum, which also of­fers in­sights into the indige­nous cul­ture with ex­hibits of col­or­ful na­tive cloth­ing and other made-by-hand ne­ces­si­ties, from kayaks to hunt­ing knives and spears.

Glimpses of moder­nity come at Green­land’s largest mi­cro­brew­ery, where you can stop in for a tast­ing flight of lo­cal craft beers.

Youcan explore ur­ban arc­tic liv­ing and the progress toward Green­landic in­de­pen­dence on a city and par­lia­ment tour—at the lat­ter, a sur­pris­ing num­ber of lo­cal lead­ers in this tra­di­tion­ally hunter-gath­erer so­ci­ety are women.

If you fol­low cur­rent events — or seek trivia for the next pub quiz night — you should know that Green­land joined the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity with Den­mark in 1973, but voted to with­draw from the EEC (later the EU) in the 1980s — years be­fore Boris John­son em­braced the idea.

On a sweeter note, you should know that in the city’s many ex­cel­lent cof­fee shops, you will never be served a cup with­out a slice of cake on the side.


Clock­wise from top: Tourists ap­proach an ice­berg on a raft in a harbor in­let in Green­land; the Green­land Na­tional Mu­seum show­cases the indige­nous cul­ture with ex­hibits of col­or­ful na­tive cloth­ing and other made-by-hand ne­ces­si­ties; the streets of Nuuk, cap­i­tal city of Green­land, with a pop­u­la­tion of 16,000.

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